God and Blood Pressure


His blood pressure was higher than it had ever been. There had been no changes in his medications nor any changes in his overall health, so I asked him if there were any life situations that might be impacting his stress levels.

“I am under a lot of stress right now,” he said. “I am going to be retiring next month and I am really worried about it.”

He was 70 years old and his career as a salesman had been successful. As his retirement seemed both earned and due, I asked what about his exit from the workforce he was worried about. The main source of stress for him was a common one for men in his circumstances. He did not know what he was going to do with himself. He had always lived a life of purpose, but his purpose had always been work-centric. Without work he had no goals, no objectives, no goal for which he could strive.

“Are you a religious person?” I asked, “are you a part of a faith community?” I explained that many people find purpose in serving others. As a man of character and integrity it seemed that mentoring others might be something he could do.

To my surprise he seemed less interested in my mentoring suggestion than he did in my question about faith, for this was what he addressed in his response. “I have never been into organized religion,” he explained, “but I am a very spiritual person.” He shared that he had been raised Jewish but that he was “very interested in Jesus of Nazareth” and that he had been to the Holy Land several times. He spoke of being in Galilee and on the mount where Jesus’ gave the Sermon on the Mount and other meaningful moments from his travels.

I wish he had not arrived late for his appointment that day, for this was one of those “non-medical” conversational detours that I wish I could have followed further. I could not continue the conversation further, but this did not keep me from later wondering if there wasn’t a connection between his fear of retirement and his non-specific faith. When he spoke of “God” he spoke of a “being”, but not of a person, of someone who was “there” but not of someone who was near. His faith was a hope for something but did not include a belief in a specific something or someone. It seemed his faith lacked definition and as a result lacked purpose. He did not have a specific “who” or “what” kind of faith and as a result he did not have a “why” for the rest of his life.

His blood pressure revealed that lack of purpose and meaning is not without consequences. His readings had previously been normal, it was only when retirement became real that they started to rise. There is comfort in having an understanding of our place in life, and of our place in the next one, and unease and stress associated with lacking a sense of who we are and where we are going.

His concerns reminded  me of a common Christian saying, “I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” There is peace in knowing that God has a purpose, even when his purposes are not known. Peace it seems, and for some perhaps, lower blood pressure!

-          Bart

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A Parent's Joy


 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” The Apostle John wrote these words to his friend Gaius almost two thousand years ago. The same words were written to me 25 years ago when my mother-in-law wrote the verse in a Bible she gave me. It seems she and the Apostle John had something in common. Their greatest desire was  that their children would continue in the faith.

As my children have reached adulthood, the power of this sentiment has grown on me. There are many things I wish for my children. I wish them physical and emotional health, lives free from pain and anxiety, happiness, as well as joyful relationships with their spouses and their children. I wish them success, recognition in their careers and freedom from financial worry. All of these things are important but they all pale in comparison to my desire for them to know God and walk with Him.

As much as my chidren’s lives of faith bring joy, I can imagine no greater sorrow than watching them walk away from God. It has been my greatest fear since their were born. This hope for faith and fear of falling led me to pray for them ceaselessly, carefully teach them the bith the what and the why of Christian faith, and tried to be a role model. I have worked hard to pass on my faith but that does not take away my fear.

I am not alone in these feelings. In recent years I have witnessed firsthand the heartache of godly parents whose children no longer believe. I know a man who is a church elder who has a son living with his girlfriend. For his son, church no longer matters. A missionary couple who has spent over 30 years working to bring the Christian message to strangers across the globe has shared with me their grief over their atheist son. I have recently been praying for a pastor friend whose son who has angrily rejected the message his father had taught him since childhood. The pain of these parents is real.

While each of our children are in different places in their faith we have one thing in common. We are neither in control of, nor responsible for, the choices our children make. Each person must personally respond to the call of God. No parent can do it for them. As hard as we try, there is no secret recipe or magic formula for passing faith on to our children. No one can take credit for the faith of their children, nor can anyone take the blame for the lack of faith in their children. 

Our children choose for themselves. Which may be why their correct choices bring so much joy.

- Bart

What Forgiveness Looks Like


I knew before she said a word that something was wrong. As my front office employee hurried down the hall in my direction the look of concern on her face was unnerving. She was clearly upset. “Dr. Barrett there is a patient at the desk yelling at Alisa. He is very angry and mean and I think we need your help. He is telling us we don’t know what we are doing, that we are lying to him, and demanding that we take care of his problem right now. He says we have been refusing to fill his prescriptions, but we never received the request. He won’t listen to anything we say. I think we need you.” She turned and walked away, confident I would follow her.

I did, and as I turned the corner into the front office I saw the patient at the front desk, visibly upset and annoyed. He saw me as well, and his body language instantly softened, as if he realized he had been caught acting poorly and that I was there to deal with his behavior. He softened, but he was still frustrated and angry.

He proceeded to tell me that he had a problem with my office and office staff. He told me that his pharmacy had contacted our office four times about a refill request and that we had not responded. I calmly told him that this was not possible, because all requests come in electronically and are never ignored. In fact, I told him, our policy is to address every refill request on the day that it is received, so I did not think the problem was with us.

In a stern tone he made it clear that he did not believe me. The pharmacy had repeatedly assured him that our office was to blame. He told me that he did not know where the mess up was but that he wanted us to fix it. I told him that we would.

I then went on to tell him something about our office. “We provide outstanding service here. If there is an issue, all you have to do is let us know. You do not need to yell, or demand, or threaten. We take care of people here.” He remained unpersuaded. I told him I would call his pharmacy and get to the bottom of the matter and call him with an answer. Still perturbed, he turned and left the office.

After he left the staff filled me in on some of what the man had said. He had been rude and demeaning and loud. They were clearly shaken. Because we work so hard to provide service, we don’t get very many complaints and even fewer angry patients. They were not accustomed to being treated in such a fashion.

I went to my desk and immediately called his pharmacy. When the technician came on the phone I gave her the patient’s name and told her that we had not received any of the refill requests. “Our records show that we sent them four times,” she said.

I asked her if they had been sent electronically, and she said they had. Confused as to how they had not appeared in our electronic record, I asked her to check and see how and where they were sent. She came back on the line and said, “We sent them to Dr. Somer’s office.”

Problem solved. He had changed doctors a few months earlier, and the refill requests were being to the wrong office! I ended the call and immediately dialed the patient’s number. I told him what had happened and that we had approved his medications. I then explained that our office had done nothing wrong. I also told him that his actions had been inappropriate, that his anger with my staff was not deserved. I explained that his words had been hurtful and that if he wished to remain a patient in my office that he needed to treat my staff with respect. I said that they deserved an apology, but that they were very forgiving people, and would be willing to serve him in the future.

There was a moment of silence on the phone. “Are you telling me I need to find another doctor?” he said, with a tone that implied defensiveness and offense. “No,” I said, “I think the best outcome would be for you to apologize and for us to go on to have a long and beneficial relationship.” He was non-committal in his response and ended the call.

That was almost 5 months ago. Not once in those 5 months did I see him in the office or hear from him. I assumed that he had indeed changed doctors and that I would never see him again, which made his appointment this week very surprising.

He was extremely pleasant when I walked through the door and greeted me warmly. He was in the “baseball room”, the exam room decorated with baseball art and Angels souvenirs. He asked me if I was an Angels fan, and for a few moments we exchanged stories about ballgames we had seen. I went on to address his medical condition, doing a brief exam and refilling his medications. As I finished up the visit I looked up from my computer and said, “I cannot tell you how delighted I am that you decided to stay with us!”

He smiled and said, “I told myself I should be happy if I was allowed to stay!” I gave him a reply that I have shared with many patients, “I am a man of faith, and my faith teaches me that God is far more concerned with where I am and where I am going than He is with where I have been. I am looking forward to taking care of you.” And that was that. The past was forgotten, and a new relationship was started.

After he was gone, I went to the front office and asked the staff how their interaction with the patient had been. “He was so nice!” was the unanimous reply. They were all happy that he was back, and especially happy that he seemed to appreciate them and their work.

As they shared their feelings a thought came to my mind. This is what forgiveness looks like.

 - Bart

James Gunn, Ryan Bounds and Bart Barrett... Idiots!


People are idiots, myself included. It is an inescapable part of human nature. While it can be partially controlled through experience and effort, our innate idiocy cannot be eliminated. Like chronic disease it can be controlled but never cured. The wise among us will learn to suppress our idiocy, to recognize it when it raises it head, and to resist its temptation, but none are immune. Young people, particularly young men, are the must susceptible to its influence.

When I reflect on my earlier years I cringe at the foolish things I did and said, the times when I embarrassed or hurt others with acts that the young Bart thought funny or clever but mature Bart would never even consider. My warped and poorly controlled sense of humor inadvertently offended friends, family members and coworkers on far too many occasions.

I am extremely grateful that I did not grow up in the era of social media. My stupid jokes and comments of the past were heard by only a few people, people who knew me and my tendency to misspeak, or people who out of necessity gave me the benefit of the doubt. In almost all cases, people were able to place my remarks in context, and ignore, forgive or tolerate. They had seen me be kind, generous and caring, so they did not assume that my attempts at humor accurately reflected my character. If some of the in poor taste comments from my past were tweeted or Instagrammed I would now be a pariah, condemned by the world.

Many of my verbal faux pas came to mind this week when I read what had happened to James Gunn, the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Some people who were offended by a political stance he had taken took it upon themselves to search his Twitter feed. They went back far enough to find  crass and offensive “jokes” in his feed, jokes from a time in his life when he found scandalous and cruel sounding jokes to be funny.

When these old jokes were brought to light the response of the mob was swift and devastating. The Disney company terminated their relationship with him, ending his involvement in the Guardians franchise. They released a statement condemning his past words and distancing the company from both Gunn and his posts. His career may never fully recover.

 I read some of the offensive tweets. I saw their offensiveness, but in some of the tweets I also saw the humor. Some of the jokes he wrote were very similar to jokes I heard told by standup comics years ago, jokes many people found funny at that time. In all of the tweets it was obvious to me that he was joking, that the words were reflections of a warped sense of humor, not of a warped man.

James Gunn is not the only person in the news who has been destroyed by the recently discovered words of his youth. Ryan Bounds is Assistant United States Attorney. He graduated from the top law school in the country and has been an attorney for 20 years. He has received numerous accolades and awards and was recently nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of appeals. His nomination was withdrawn this last week over things he wrote when he was a college student over 20 years ago.

While the positions he took in his writings were within mainstream thought, the language he used was stern and offensive to some. The articles he wrote contained terms that were derogatory and needlessly inflammatory. He wrote as if he was only 20 years old and did not know any better.

People opposed to his nomination dug deeply into is past and presented these college writings as evidence of racism and poor character. Bounds, like the vast majority of male college students, was revealed to have once been an idiot. The fact that he was now a noble man who was gifted and talented in his profession was irrelevant. He had done something stupid years ago and he needed to pay. Our world shows no grace and has no mercy for those with whom we disagree. “Once an idiot, always an idiot” seems to be the motto of the day. The reality that good people can do dumb things is completely ignored.

As a person who tries to be good but who has done some really dumb things, I find this discouraging. I work hard each day to be a better, kinder and more compassionate man and would be devastated to have a poorly phrased joke or the words of my former self be the basis of another’s opinion of me. Nor will I judge others in this way. I choose to not be a part of the mob. I choose to evaluate others based on the person they are, not the person they once were, for this is how how God chooses to see people.


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How to Stay Happily Married for a Long Time


36 years is a long time to be married to the same person. I know this because people keep telling me it is. Lisa and I went away this weekend to celebrate our anniversary. When I talked about our plans, the standard response of others was, “How long have you been married?” I replied with the answer, and the consistent response was, “Wow, that’s a long time!”

Another common question is, “How do you stay happily married for so long?” The best answer I can give to this question is one I heard from a pastor named Stuart Briscoe. When he and his wife were asked this after their 60th anniversary he replied. “Keep your promises and live a long time.”

Marriage is about keeping promises. Happily married couples remember the promises they made, and keep them joyfully. When I got married I made promises to Lisa. I promised to love, honor and cherish her for the rest of my life.

When I promised to love her as my wife, I was promising more than ongoing affection. The marital promise was a commitment to love her completely, totally and sacrificially. It was a promise to love her more than anything else, more than work or career, more than children, more than friendships, more than life itself. She has no challengers, no competition, for my love. She wakes each morning and goes to bed each evening knowing she is loved. This is the promise that I made.

A promise to honor is similarly profound. It implies supreme respect. Honoring means giving value and weight. In marriage this means that I talk about her differently than I do anyone else. I don’t demean, belittle or insult. I don’t tell jokes at her expense. At every opportunity, I work to elevate her in the eyes of others. As an imperfect person, she has faults and will make mistakes. When she does, I do not share them with others, or focus on them. I focus on what is good about her in my heart and mind.

Cherish is a beautiful word. It implies a tender devotion, affection and kindness. It means that I will forever hold Lisa precious and dear to me. Because I cherish her, I will protect her from hurt and harm. I speak kind and affirming words. I work to find time for her, for she is my greatest interest, my perfect hobby. I find her beautiful, special and wondrous, and reflect on these aspects of her all of the time. She is my one and only.

I have imperfectly kept my promises, but these promises are ever before me. Each day of my life I work to better fulfill them, to be a better husband. I do this because she deserves it, and because I made a covenant before God to keep them.

The result has been a happy marriage for 36 years and counting.