Archive for the ‘Salley Sutmiller M.S.’ Category

How Does God Treat Depression?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

depressionDepression affects one in ten Americans at some point in their lives. Oklahoma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has one of the percentages of adults that meet the criteria for depression in the nation.

In my practice treating depression, I often see the pain of depression compounded by my client’s having some or all of the following beliefs. “I’m a Christian, I shouldn’t feel this way.” “If my faith was stronger, I’d feel better.” “I’m so blessed, how can I be depressed?” “I need to spend more time in the word.” “Pray more.” “God is not happy with me.”

So, if you or someone you love is struggling with depression, and self condemnation, let me share with you the way God treats depression. We’ll be looking at Elijah, who James describes as “a man with a nature like ours.” (James 5:17)

1Kings 17-19:18 tells us of Elijah, a man who was hated by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He prayed that it would not rain until he said, and it didn’t rain for three years. He made provisions for one meal to last for three years. He raised a dead boy to life. In between some of these events, he went into hiding where God sent ravens to feed him. Perhaps the most famous event was when he called ?re down from heaven. After the prophets of Baal had been praying to their gods all day long to no avail, Elijah dug trenches around the altar and ?lled them with water. He then soaked the offering and altar with water three times, and prayed. God sent ?re that consumed the sacri?ce. Elijah then gave the people the order to destroy the prophets of Baal.

God does not remind Elijah of the reasons that he should not feel this way–not even one! He doesn’t tell him to “suck it up,” “have more faith,” “count your blessings,” or “pray harder.” Instead, God sends an angel who touches Elijah, and says to him, “Get up and eat.”

I tell you all this so that you can realize that this man with a nature like us was a man of great faith and was used by God in a mighty way. He was a solid believer.

After all this, the next thing we see in Scripture is Elijah hiding from Jezebel’s death threats. But more than just running away, he’s in the desert praying to die, crying out to God that he had had enough–he couldn’t do it any more.

So, we have this great man of God, fearful and depressed, praying to die. God’s response is the part of the story I want you to pay attention to. God does not remind Elijah of the reasons that he should not feel this way–not even one! He doesn’t tell him to “suck it up,” “have more faith,” “count your blessings,” or “pray harder.” Instead, God sends an angel who touches Elijah, and says to him, “Get up and eat.” Elijah looked beside him and there was food and water. After a time of rest, the “angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him” and told him to rise and eat. God then spoke to Elijah softly and reassured him of God’s plans and Elijah’s future success.

God responded to Elijah’s depression by sending support, the angel touched him and fed him. He allowed Elijah to rest and sleep. God took care of Elijah’s basic needs and required nothing of him.

So, I think we can safely say that God would not have us beat ourselves up or feel shame in being depressed. There is no shame in needing help!
The end of Elijah’s story is spectacular–check out 2 Kings 2.

Salley Sutmiller, M.S.

For more articles on depression, click here.

Myths of Forgiveness

Monday, April 8th, 2013


“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”   -Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)Give-Forgiveness

Scripture has much to say on forgiveness, and there have been many books written on the subject.  In doing research for this article, I have read scripture plus three of those many books and thought a great deal about my own experiences and those of the people I counsel.   I have concluded that forgiveness, in and of itself, is a simple thing.  The problem is that it must, by nature of the actions that need forgiving, be attempted and accomplished in a sea of emotions.  Being able to navigate that sea requires a good understanding of the nature of our hurts and what forgiveness really is.

Forgiveness is the best medicine for most of the hurts we experience in life, but is frequently harder to accomplish than living with the pain. Why?  I would suggest that we have an inadequate understanding of forgiveness. Our faulty understanding may come from a belief in often-stated myths about what forgiveness is.  In this article, I will explore three of the more common of those myths:

  • You must forgive and forget.
  • If you forgive, you must reconcile with the offender.
  • Forgiveness means letting the offender off the hook.

Forgive and Forget

I had a professor who told us that forgiveness was divine and that forgetting was senility.  Yet, I have heard many people claim that if you couldn’t forget you had not forgiven.

Forgiving and forgetting are two entirely different things.  The Greek word for forgive has to do with sending away or letting go of something.  It is a deliberate action–an act of will.   I believe that is what is referred to in Psalm 103:12 (As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.) and Jeremiah 31:34 (Their sin I will remember no more.).

Those passages do not mean that God has forgotten our sin, but that He no longer remembers it against us.  Jesus’ death makes that possible by actually bearing our sin and thus taking it away from us. God is omniscient–He cannot forget.  Our brains are designed to remember.  Memory is essential to our lives and our brain’s mission of caring for us.  Without memory of past hurts and experiences, we are susceptible to being hurt over and over–we wouldn’t know whom to trust.  So, memories remain, but forgiveness takes away their power to hurt us.

Forgiveness Equals Fellowship

Many people struggle with forgiving because they believe they must resume fellowship with the offender.  Matthew 5:23-24 (Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.) makes it clear that reconciliation is the desired outcome.

Although reconciliation is the ideal, it is not always possible.  Hamilton Beazley in his book, No Regrets, says that reconciliation can be a part of forgiveness, but is not required.  There are times when it is necessary, for our own healing and freedom, to forgive someone with whom it is impossible to reconcile with due to physical circumstances such as death or incarceration.

Fellowship requires reconciliation.  Sometimes we need to forgive someone with whom it is not safe or in our best interests to fellowship with. The apostle John, in his first epistle, teaches us that fellowship with God and with others is based in the light, which refers to truth and reality  (1 John 1:5-8).  Those who continue in lies and denial are walking in darkness and cannot fellowship with those in the light (2 Corinthians 6:14).   When an offender refuses to acknowledge his sin, he is left in darkness.  We are not to reconcile with darkness–it is not safe to do so.

Fellowship also requires trust.  When someone lies to me or otherwise abuses me, he is not trustworthy.  Without evidence of true sorrow and repentance, we are wise to withhold trust.   If someone has stolen from me, I don’t leave him alone in my house.  I do not have to be a doormat.  Forgiveness is not a signal that I’m willing to put up with abuse.

Forgiveness is for us and is necessary for our healing.  It frees us from the power of those who have offended us.  Fellowship is reserved for those with whom we can walk in truth and light–those we can trust.

Forgiveness Let’s The Offender Off The Hook

In fact, the opposite is the truth.  We cannot forgive someone without being able to place blame on them.  It might be easier to just find some reason to excuse them, but we can’t forgive those we excuse.  There is no healing for us when we, through making excuses, invalidate our own hurt and pain. To forgive, we must acknowledge that hurt and pain, and place the blame squarely where it belongs.  We must hold the offender accountable for their actions in order to truly forgive them.

When we forgive, we let go of malice and vengeance toward the other person.  We let go of our obsession with thoughts of their offense and making them pay.  We do not excuse their action or release them from justice or the consequences of that action.

In order to truly forgive, we must understand that forgiveness is for us.  When we don’t forgive, we are imprisoned by our own feelings.  We will remain stuck in the past and become bitter in the future.  Forgiveness allows us to live in the here and now with a heart full of joy and hope for the future.  We can truly walk in the light.

“When we forgive, we take God’s hand, walk through the door, and stroll into the possibilities that wait for us to make them reality.”  Lewis Smedes

For Further Reading:

  • The Art of Forgiving by Lewis Smedes
  • Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes
  • I Should Forgive, But… by Chuck Lynch

Salley Sutmiller, M.S.

Mrs. Salley Sutmiller


Secrets of a Long Marriage

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Since Adam and Eve, people have been marrying and learning to live with another person in the most wonderful and the most awful circumstances.  The first couple was married at least 130 years and probably closer to eight or nine hundred.   How did they do that?  (I know, it probably helped that they weren’t given choices!)

Using my own experience (38 years) and that of others, I’ve come up with a list  of habits (you may be able to come up with others) that will increase the probability of your having one of those long lived marriages.  Consistently following these secrets will also increase the likelihood of living together in a reasonably happy manner.

You may notice the conspicuous absence of the word love.  That is not an oversight. We tend to think of love in terms of feelings, and real love is more about what we do than how we feel.   That said, in no particular order, here’s the list:

It’s not personal:  It’s really important to know that the way your partner treats you is about them and how they’re feeling, NOT about you. I act the way I do because of who I am not what you do.  Our own thoughts and feelings provoke and dictate our actions toward others.

Benefit of the Doubt:  I don’t know about you, but I always think I deserve the benefit of the doubt.  Why?  Because I have the benefit of knowing my intentions.  Giving the benefit of the doubt is all about realizing that I can only see the actions of the other and being willing to assign the best motives to those actions.  Think about it.  When was the last time you set out to make your partner angry or to hurt his feelings?  Assume the best!

Date night:  This may be the most important thing on my list. It’s one of the few things I will nag my marital clients about. Having fun together helps you remember why you like each other, emphasizes your commitment to the relationship, and keeps the day to day problems in perspective.

Listen well:  The Bible says to be quick to listen and slow to wrath, and God gave us two ears and one mouth. I think that’s a good reminder of the importance of listening over speaking. The more I listen, the more I understand.

Understanding:  Research shows that the majority of difficulties we have between us and our partners can be solved if we feel heard and understood.  We frequently spend our time trying to make others understand us. That approach keeps us in a win-lose situation.  If we each make the goal of our conversations (positive or negative) the understanding of our partner, we both walk away feeling understood.   Seeking to understand each other makes a win-win scenario much more likely.  The more I understand, the more willingness I have to work with my partner and the easier it is to solve problems.  Remember that understanding does not necessarily mean agreement!

Sense of humor:  Laughter truly is good medicine, and a sense of  humor is an asset in most situations.  It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously which keeps us open to each other and open to looking outside the box for solutions.

Patience/forbearance:  In the old King James English, this was called “long-suffering”.  I think that sums up one aspect of patience quite clearly.  To be long-suffering, you must suffer long!  Add to that the ability to wait upon your partner to get to the place you are (whether that is a physical or an emotional place), and you get the idea.  Not only does this include a certain generosity toward your partner, it can often keep you from doing something regrettable in the heat of a moment.

Commitment:  My dictionary defines commitment as the “the act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action.”  Persistently and consistently acting as if your marriage is more important than either individual is at the heart of long healthy marriages.  You have to be determined to stay married.

Kindness:  Andrè Gide once said, “True kindness presupposes the faculty of imagining as one’s own the suffering and joys of others.”  True kindness will cause us to put aside our own activity to make the other’s life better in some way.  It usually comes in a lot of small behaviors–anything that enhances the life of our partner.

Forgiveness:  1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love is not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered and that it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.  Forgiveness is the ability to pardon an offense along with the anger or resentment that comes with it.  It is not a denial of the offense or the consequences of the offense, but the decision to let it go.  I often advise clients to keep a record of rights, instead of a record of wrongs.  It helps.

Anger Management:  Paul’s letter to the Ephesians teaches us that we can be angry and not sin.  He reminds us not to let the sun go down on our wrath, and goes on to advise us not to give the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:26-27).

I’ve found it is not good to let our wounds fester.  Most of the time, it’s better to endure the pain in the moment and resolve the issue at hand.   My anger isn’t the problem, it’s what I choose to do that causes the problem.  If I don’t take things personally and maintain an attitude of patience and kindness, I can better give my partner the benefit of the doubt.  Then, I’m ready to listen and understand, setting myself up for a good night’s sleep and a happier tomorrow.

There’s nothing magical about any of these things.  Anyone can cultivate these habits and be successful, but it does require thought and effort.  Although simple, they’re not easy!

Salley Sutmiller, M.S.

Mrs. Salley Sutmiller

The Joys of an Empty Nest

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Fall is in the air, the season is about to change.  Like the seasons of life, the empty nest transition takes place over a period of time.  It can be a difficult time marked by feelings of emptiness, loss, and a longing for what was, OR the empty nest season can be a time for awareness, reflection and re-evaluation about your marriage, your children and yourself.

With only two of you living in the home, more time is available to spend with your spouse (this thought should not invoke fear!).  Schedules are less hectic allowing you to talk with each other versus talking at each other in passing.   Some couples discover they have little in common at this stage.  If so, give thought to finding something you both enjoy….remember when just being together was more important than what you were actually doing?  Consider using this time to explore new recreational activities and entertainment venues together.  Sharing ideas with each other can lead to great conversations.

Adult Children
It’s very gratifying to form relationships with your adult children…to watch them making and enjoying their new life apart from you.  A word of caution may be in order here.  With adult children, your role changes from one of parenting to consulting.  If you have allowed your child to make decisions and take consequences for those decisions early on, this transition is easier.  As a parent, you offer opinions, thoughts and input because “you know best”.  As a consultant, however, your opinions will be more influential if you wait until they are invited.  You are still the parent, but your approach, parent or consultant, could determine how glad your children are to see you coming.

Redefining Your Self

What happened to all those labels that used to define me?” you ask.  You were someone’s Mom, someone’s Wife, the Cook, the Chauffeur, the Nurse, the Event Coordinator, etc.  The empty nest season offers you an opportunity to revisit past dreams, desires and ambitions.  The choices are vast;  you could  learn a hobby, take a class, or engage in recreational activities.  You could enlarge your social circle, focus on a career, or volunteer for your church or a non-profit organization.  Begin by listing your dreams and desires, then gathering information to help you choose the direction you want to go.   Some resources that could be helpful include your church, the YWCA, walking or running clubs, book clubs, or community colleges.

This is also the season for grandchildren!  They bring a special joy to life that balances the void left by their parents.  Opportunity presents itself once again to teach, guide and influence, only this time the perspective is wiser, gentler and tempered with patience.  If you don’t have grandchildren, let your seasoned life benefit others through mentoring programs at church or within the community.  Making a difference gives you self worth.

Let the empty nest season be a new beginning for your marriage, your children and yourself…..Enjoy!

Salley Sutmiller, M.S. and Lois Trost, M.S.W.

The Honeymoon Is Over—Now What? Part One: FAITH

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I’d like to say that honeymoon never ends, but that might create unrealistic expectations.  Since unrealistic expectations are responsible for a lot of newlywed angst, I’m going to focus on some ways to build a solid marriage based on reality, not expectations.

What follows is the first installment of a three-part series emphasizing three broad areas:  Faith, Fellowship, and Fun.  Each contributes much to everyday marriage and perpetuates the bond you began to build during that wonderful honeymoon.

As a Christian, I believe that everything rests on faith, so let’s start with that.  My faith is in God, the creator of all things and in Jesus, the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 11:3 and 12:2).  This faith informs the way I live my life as an individual and as a partner in marriage.

How does this work?  The best thing I do for my marital satisfaction is to nurture my faith by being in close relationship with God, the creator of marriage.  The more closely I follow Him, through individual Bible study and prayer time, the more I feel loved by Him and am able to extend that love and grace to others—especially my spouse.

I learn that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness rebellion and sin (Exodus 34:6-7); so, I extend compassion and grace, I make effort to be slow to anger, to abound in love, and forgive the sins against me (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).

I learn that Jesus is at God’s right hand making intercessions for me (Romans 8:34); therefore, when I think my spouse is off base, I am before God interceding for him.

I learn that I’m to be thankful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18); so, I thank God for my spouse even when I’m not happy with him.  It keeps the balance.

I learn that love, as described in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), is about what I do, not how I feel; therefore, I concentrate on showing love, rather than feeling love.

As you cultivate your faith as an individual, there are also things to do, as a couple, which will cultivate closeness between you.   These are just suggestions, feel free to add to the list.  As you grow individually, share that with each other.  Find a church body you both feel comfortable with–worship together and serve.  Share with each other the joys and difficulties of service.  Go on a mission trip together.  Join a small group with like values where you will be loved and supported as a couple.  Spend some time studying and praying together.

I want to end by saying that our faith is to strengthen and encourage us, not to be used as a weapon of warfare against each other.  So, be diligent to cultivate your faith as an individual and as a couple.  The benefits are great.

Salley Sutmiller, M.S., LMFT

A Time For Every Season

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Mrs. Salley SutmillerHappy New Year!  As we begin a new year and a new decade, I’m reminded of the preacher’s words in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (New International Version):

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to

gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

From cradle to grave, our lives are full of seasons.  Some are good and some are not so good.  Some seem short and some seem as if they will never end.  Some produce rapid change and sometimes we think that nothing ever changes.  Sometimes we feel like we just get settled in, and then unexpectedly, it’s time to move on.  For better or worse, seasons always come to pass, not to stay.

Marriage, too, holds many times and seasons.  In addition to the routine ups and downs that are unique to marriage, you have the ups and downs of two individuals and any children they have.

Good seasons are welcome and we seem to cruise through without much thought.  It’s during times of stress and crisis that we find out what our marriages and we are made of.

It’s important to realize, during these difficult times, that they will pass—things do change.  Having difficulty in our marriage and with our spouse doesn’t mean we have a bad marriage.  It means we have problems we need to resolve.  It’s really easy, but not helpful, in our attempts to escape our stress to blame our partner and focus on the negatives.

The key is to establish good habits that can sustain us in good times and bad.  In the spirit of the New Year, here are some suggestions for maintaining balance that is important for all seasons.

  • Don’t shut down, but keep the lines of communication open.  Sharing stresses divides the load.
  • Don’t overreact to bad times, but act in a manner that encourages good times.
  • Don’t blame others or the marriage, but realize that you can get through this time and grow together rather than apart.
  • Don’t focus on the cause of the problem, concentrate on finding solutions.  Work as a team. Your spouse’s problem is your problem.
  • Don’t withdraw from your spouse, but continue to spend time together doing things you enjoy.
  • Don’t forget that your spouse is your friend and treat him/her accordingly.

Remember seasons change, and often, the times of greatest satisfaction are on the other side of the storm.

Salley Sutmiller, M.S., LMFT