Forgiveness and "bad" feelings

25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan. Matthew 18:25-27, CEB

We have gotten accustomed, in our culture, to perceiving forgiveness in terms of our emotions only. The most common definition, I would guess, goes something like this: Forgiveness is what happens when all my negative feelings about my wrongdoer are gone. It’s such a common definition, in fact, I suspect many might be thinking, “Of course that’s forgiveness. What else is there?”

Yesterday we talked about forgiveness in money-lending as refusing to demand repayment (or refusing to take action in the form of punishment). We see that again in this parable. We see no indication of how the master may have felt, other than compassion, which does not mean he didn't have other, more complicated feelings as well. In a few days time, we're going to examine in detail how we could apply this mentality (refusing to demand repayment) to our own forgiveness situations. But first, this:

I’ve spent the past few weeks reading about and lamenting the sexual abuse scandal that continues to plague Christianity. I’m not a naturally empathetic person but my heart breaks for those victims, their families, their congregations, their communities. I can't help but be dissatisfied in our culture's definition of forgiveness and its focus on feelings. How will a sexually abused child ever get rid of all of their negative feelings towards their abuser?

We could answer this in one of two ways. When we’re locked into a definition of forgiveness that is about emotions we’re stuck with this answer: God has to do it. There’s an element of truth to that of course. There is no forgiveness without God and God is actively involved in all acts of forgiveness. All the same, this strikes me as a somewhat unsatisfying answer on the whole. And I have two reasons for this.

1. Some people have been harmed too greatly to get past their negative emotions.

2. If we simply say, “God has to do it,” then we are not wrestling deeply enough with the question of how we encourage people to practice forgiveness. God needs to be active for forgiveness to take place, but we must also be active. If we do not need to act, then why does God encourage us to be forgiving?

More to come.

Forgiveness and Biblical Metaphors

Every seventh year you must cancel all debts. 2This is how the cancellation is to be handled: Creditors will forgive the loans of their fellow Israelites. They won’t demand repayment from their neighbors or their relatives because the Lord’s year of debt cancellation has been announced.

Deuteronomy 15:1-2, CEB

In Deuteronomy 15, God encourages his people to take care of one another, and to lend money freely. He tells the people that he will bless them such that there will be enough to go around. Generosity will not be a burden on the generous. In fact, he instructs his people that, every seven years, debts owed should be cancelled by the lender. This is done so that there will be no poor among God’s people, so that no one will acquire a debt that becomes too overwhelming.

This passage is, on the surface, about economics. It’s also about more than that. It lays the groundwork for one of the most primary metaphors used in scripture, and by Jesus himself, for understanding interpersonal forgiveness.

In the example of money-lending, forgiveness is the result of the lender not demanding repayment from the borrower. Forgiveness is not so much what the lender does to the borrower, but what the lender does not do. The lender does nothing when they could have done something (such as demand repayment or some other form of compensation, like throwing the borrower in jail).

I’ll say more about this tomorrow. But, in the mean time, think about this: What if forgiveness is an action? What if forgiveness is about something as simple as not demanding compensation for wrongdoing?

Generosity

I have not always appreciated generosity for the gift it is.  Generosity isn’t just about sharing the last cookie or perhaps making a sacrificial financial donation to a worthy cause - I understand that kind of generosity and have myself been the grateful recipient of such generosity.


Generosity from Brown’s perspective is new to me.  Here’s what she says, “Learning how to set the boundaries that allow us to be generous in our assumptions about others.  The challenge is being honest and clear with others about what’s okay and not okay.”  p. 150 Braving the Wilderness


What does this mean?


Here’s how it works with me.  If my husband does something that irritates me, I am quick to assume the worst.  I might think - he did that to irritate me.  He doesn’t care about me.  He doesn’t understand me.  My husband is a jerk.  This is the opposite of Brene’s call to generosity.


When my husband does something to irritate me and I remember to be generous in my assumptions - I might think:  Huh.  What’s that all about?  I wonder what he was thinking and I am curious to ask him about his choice.  Is he doing okay?  Is he tired?  Does he need help?


Generous assumptions result in curiosity and inquiry, not judgment.


As I am learning to practice Brene’s kind of generosity, our conflict has decreased and my sense of love and well-being has increased.  It’s really lovely.


For the most part, my husband does not wake up in the morning and set out to drive me nuts.  He is doing the best he can and it is quite wonderful.  Living generously, I can say the same about me.  


Why not live more generously?  How can it possibly hurt?

Giving and receiving

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is actually a by-product of practicing the spiritual discipline of not judging.  I don’t know why, but I am often astonished at how quickly someone is able to help me if I ask.


Problems that seem confounding to me often have clear, often simple solutions that others can explain to me.  I hope this is also true in the reverse.


Once I learn, through trial and error and often a fair amount of failing, who can be helpful in situations that I find impossible to understand, the beautiful side-effect is a deepening cache’ of folks I can call on in my time of need.


This frees up my time for the things that I can help someone else with - time I previously wasted spinning in uncertainty and a skills deficit in areas of life where I really, truly need to ask for help in order to resolve an issue.


This doesn’t have to be major stuff.  For example, when I study and prepare for a message series, I always cram too much into a single outline for a weekend message.  I will ALWAYS have this tendency.  Twenty years in and I STILL CRAM TOO MUCH IN TO A SINGLE MESSAGE OUTLINE.  What I have learned is that Scott, our co-pastor at NSC, can read my notes in 3 minutes or less and suggest to me what he thinks is my strongest point, what is extraneous information, and where in the outline I stop one message and go on to a completely new message.  I rely on Scott to help me in my weakness.  He never has this problem, and that’s great, because I could not be helpful in solving it for him.  But he has another area of message delivery that I can sometimes provide advance feedback on and I hope he finds it as helpful as I find him in my own preparation.


This is no big deal.  The world will no crash down around us if we do not practice this exchange of feedback.  If I go way too long in a message, the checked out faces in the room will teach me to stop talking.  But this kind of mutuality is helpful.  The scripture refers to this I think when it says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  It is not suggesting a cover up.  But it is saying, I think, that when we love and trust one another, it is a natural thing to rely on one another to cover our perennial weaknesses.  This strengthens the whole of a community.  It is helpful.


If Scott were to judge my over-preparedness, then I could not ask him to help me and in fact, he wouldn’t be very helpful even if I asked.  His judgment would negate his capacity to help.  


Is judgment getting in the way of love in your life?

Integrity

Integrity requires that we choose to live courageously by our core values over the comfort of taking the easy way out when faced with a tough decision that calls our values into question.  Recently someone offered me a high profile speaking engagement that may have helped our local community spread the word about our ministry.  They also required that I sign a release form that gave them ownership of the content I would present.  I chose not to speak.  


In past years, I might have been distracted by the perceived opportunity to share with our larger community all the wonderful things that I believe Northstar Community participates in out of my unbridled enthusiasm for our mission.  I wouldn’t have thought about the implications of willingly signing over my creative and proprietary rights in the process.


Today, I realize that this was not a respectful request when the speaker (me) was not being paid or even acknowledged for their work.  This is not an integrity move, and it took more courage than it should have for me to respectfully decline the offer.


Many carrots will be dangled in front of our faces that will tempt us to make decisions that are not consistent with our core values.  One way I am learning to distinguish a real carrot from fake fruit is giving myself time to make decisions.  All decisions.  Even small decisions.  Pausing to prepare, think about the implications of my choices, notice and acknowledge times when I want to avoid acting with courage - this time is necessary for me to live with integrity.


It’s not easy.  What shortcuts have you been tempted to take?  How have you allowed an “opportunity” to blind you to the cost of pursuing it?

Decency

In Brene’ Brown’s model of “B.R.A.V.I.N.G” - the first three things - boundaries, reliability, and accountability are fairly obvious and oft talked about concepts.  But  V is for “VAULT” really caught my attention.


The skill set she puts in this category goes like this:  “Learning how to keep confidences, to recognize what’s ours to share and what’s not.  The challenge is to stop using gossip, common enemy intimacy, and oversharing as a way to hotwire connection.” (p. 150 Braving the Wilderness)


These concepts are all ways Brene says we use fake connections to imitate true belonging.  When we gossip it feels all connected...until we imagine others gossiping about us.  Oversharing feels like intimacy until we realize that we shared with someone who was not safe and the sharing backfires.  Common enemy intimacy is when we experience a connective zing based on connecting with others based on who and what we are against.  This intimacy is particularly pernicious because it often joins us to people we with whom we share no common core values.  


This is why my Republican friends are rightfully upset because their Democrat friends are now labelling them a rascist because they voted for President Trump in the election.  My Democrat friends are devastated that their Republican friends say, “Hey, there is no way I could vote for crooked Hillary.”    The name calling and the connection each political party feels when they gather together and bash the other is an example of common enemy bonding.  Each is making assumptions that the other side believes are false.  But here’s the real problem.  We are making enemies out of people who are not enemies.  This is a problem.  


Folks, beware this kind of bonding.  It’s indecent.

Accountability

I am currently stalking the news articles coming out of Chicago and the Bill Hybels disaster.  Hybels, Senior Pastor for decades at Willow Creek Church - a wildly popular mega-church that was begun by Hybels in the suburbs of Chicago - ultimately ended his career under the cloud of sexual misconduct.


But first, everyone went to great pains to dodge accountability for these accusations.  The women were ignored, intimidated and eventually publicly maligned in an attempt to hold onto the image of this man who many had revered.


Eventually, the house of cards came tumbling down and now the entire board and the two newly appointed Senior Pastors have resigned as a first step in trying to make amends for their own blindness.  Much is left to be done before anyone can say what will come of this tragic fall of one man and the system that was so invested in his reputation that they failed to require him to be reputable.  


Taking responsibility is just plain hard.  But it is part of respectability.


This is not the first powerful Christian leader ultimately wrecked by his own hand nor will be be the last.  But it is a cautionary tale and we should listen.  Power, whether it is power in business, church, or at home, is a very potent and potentially toxic poison.


It is not good for any of us to feel like we are above the standards of decent human behavior.  


Don’t know what human decent behavior looks like?  That’s ok, many of us have to learn these practices as adults.  But learn we must lest we continue to perpetuate relationships where power rules and the peace that passes all understanding is nowhere to be found

Reliability

I am most vulnerable to resentment and a host of other self-defeating attitudes when I disappoint myself in some way.  I do care about what others think of me and often rely on a team of trusted friends and loved ones to help me decide how to think, feel and behave.  Whether I follow advice or strike out on my own independent decision making, I have learned that being reliable is a thing that I need to practice.


Reliability is not has hard as it sounds.  When paired with decent self-care, I have figured out that I can be reasonably reliable.  At its core, reliable means that when I say “YES!” I follow through and do it.  When I say “NO!” I do the appropriate actions that fit with my no.


I am currently reading and rereading an excellent book called Dopesick by Beth Macy.  In it, Macy unpacks the current opioid crisis from both a historic and personal perspective.  The stories are heartbreaking and achingly familiar.  Toward the end of the book, yet another of the young women who she had followed through her opioid addiction succumbs to the lifestyle and is found dead in a dumpster.  She wrote of the extended family’s tragic response - continuing to bicker, judge and blame one another for either “enabling” or following “tough love” principles.


She implied, I think, that this was just more missing the point.  


It make me think about being reliable.  I find in my own recovery work that it is a skill that is desperately needed.  This is a tough affliction, and more than anything, I suspect families need to learn everything they can, get clear about their core values in loving their afflicted one, and reliably apply these principles.


Recently I participated in a funeral service for a woman who I did not know but loved.  I had come to love her by knowing her parents as they faithfully attended our Family Education Program (that educates family about the disease of substance use disorder and offers support and encouragement for families as they make difficult decisions).  These folks were RELIABLE in their measured, healthy, loving response to their daughter, even though she herself resisted treatment.  At her death, this mom and dad grieved and were sorrowful but they exhibited little to no regret, recrimination or blame.  I find this remarkable and extremely unusual.


I suspect their own reliability gave them the gift of  no regret, recrimination or feelings of blame to work through.  Their compassion for both self and others was beautiful.  They had done their best; they had been reliable; they had lived with boundaries.


Tomorrow, we will talk about the third of 7 skills that strengthen us and reduce the likelihood that we will wallow in resentment.

Respectable Living

In yesterday’s blog, I told a story about a time when I set, held and respected the boundary of self-respect.  I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time.  I thought I was  mad and not going to take the belittling and insulting behavior of another anymore.


Resentment is the feeling we get when we think life is unfair; shame is the feeling we have when we believe that we are broken, wrong and of no worth.  People do not MAKE us feel resentment or shame.  


Which means, I believe, that the number of times we wrestle with both might just be related to how we treat ourselves than how others treat us.  Feel resentful, envious, jealous and maybe a pinch unworthy?


What better way to take a different path than to behave respectably.  Do good.  Be kind.  Work hard.  Learn from mistakes.  Live our life not constantly looking around and asking how others are evaluating our life.


This is the best boundary work we can ever do.  Boundary work, it turns out, is one of 7 skills Brene’ Brown says we need to strengthen our capacity for courage.


It isn’t about asking others to treat us as we hope to be treated.  We decide to live in such a way as to be satisfied and unashamed of the life we are making.  How others evaluate that?  That’s their problem.


As an adult looking back on that dinner table debacle, my family’s socio-economic status was barely different than the frat boy’s situation.  At that point in time I had an intact family and he had a family dealing with grief and loss and a new move to a new city and who knows what else.


His accusations were unfounded, but if I had been insecure, freaked out, emotional and neurotic, I might have believed every stinking word he said.  Not because it was true, but because I lacked boundaries.


A strong back is the result of knowing who we are, deciding to live congruently with the values we profess to believe, and sometimes be willing to stand alone when our boundaries are under attack.  It took decades before I developed a more consistently practiced strong back, but it is kind of neat to look back and realize that way back then I had one small spark of dignity within me.  To that young girl I say, “Way to go!"

Self-assurance

One of my most shaming moments, in my whole entire library of shaming interactions, happened over a Thanksgiving meal during my Senior year of high school.  I had this boyfriend, and he had a family that was extremely different than mine.  His mother had passed away, his father traveled a ton for work, his older brother was off at UVA, and he had a younger sister who was a junior at our high school.  I was often outraged by the lack of adult supervision he and his sister had when his dad traveled.  I felt sorry for the whole lot of them, even the oldest brother who seemed like such a frat boy and pain in the neck.  I in no way felt inferior to these suffering people, so it came as quite a shock to find out that they viewed me as beneath them.  


Here’s what happened.  The older brother was rip roaring drunk by the time dinner started.  We were barely through the gourmet appetizers when he began teasing me.  The teasing quickly devolved into taunting.  He called me names.  He disparaged the neighborhood I lived in.  He suggested I was a social climber.  And just let me tell you, when I was in high school, I owned “social” and this guy I was dating?  He was new to the school and did NOT.  Just to be clear.


The father in this family of sufferers said not one word.  My boyfriend said not one word.  I realized I had no one to defend me and from somewhere deep inside me I realized that I may literally live on the other side of the railroad tracks, but I was better than this.


I stood up.


I walked to the kitchen and called my mom and said, “Come get me.”


I returned to the dining room and said something along these lines, “Let me tell you guys something.  In my house, this guy here,” I pointed to my boyfriend, “is treated with respect.  And just so you understand this point, no one really likes him that much.  And guests in our house?  They are treated with respect.  You do not deserve to have a guest at your table.”  And I walked out with what I hope was regal and righteous indignation.


Hold the clapping.  I ended up dating that boy with the bad family for three more years.  I should have called it quits that very day.  


But I had a moment when I belonged to myself and it was good.  I felt no resentment for my treatment afterwards, just continued sadness and not too much admiration for the family that would behave like that.  When you do the next right thing, there is less room for resentment or other hard feelings to fester.  Unfortunately, I did not use my good sense to break up with the boy or the family.  You win some; you lose some.  But here is something I am trying to remember every day:  if I do not belong to myself, respect myself by being respectable, and stand up for myself when others treat me with disdain - I need to first and foremost give myself a kick in the pants.  It is awful when people treat us as unworthy or less than but it is worse when we treat ourselves that way.  We, above all others, can choose to live in a way that confirms for us that we deserve to be treated well and require that as a condition of relationship.

Shame and Belonging

Sure, when the discussion at work devolved into a discussion of personality, my kid could have gotten distracted with feelings of inadequacy, shame or most likely resentment when told by the vendor that “I have never connected with you interpersonally.”  But this is counter to radical sacred belonging.  My kid had to dig deep and decide what was at stake.  Was their value at stake?  No.  Was this vendor’s livelihood at stake?  Yes.  Far better, one could even make a case that it is far more sacred, to not get distracted with petty insecurities to the detriment of helping another person keep their job.  In this way, whether or not these two ever “connect interpersonally”, my child has lived out of BEING by valuing compassion for another and considering the vendor’s need (she needed to know that her job was at risk due to poor performance AND learn what she could do to save her position) over any light and momentary freak out about interpersonal connection.  


In my case, I had to accept that my belonging in my family from my father’s perspective was contingent upon me denying my own conclusions about where I was most needed during a family crisis in deference of his preference.  This violates the core meaning of belonging.  What would happen if I chased after the approval of my dad at the expense of my own conscience?  I would then violate my own value of being a woman with a strong back and a soft heart.  This I cannot do.  And if I had - then that would have been on me.  


Listen up, this is very important:  I have on many, many, many occasions violated my own sense of right in a vain attempt to chase after the acceptance of others.  Oh the stories I could tell about my abandonment of core values in order to win over another person.  Hot shame courses through me as I think of times when I abdicated my own sense of goodness, rightness or fair play in order to feel the approval of another. I acknowledge the constant pull in both small and large ways to chase this high of perceived acceptance.  There are no guarantees that I can remain self-aware enough to consistently maintain a strong back and tender front approach to life.  


But here’s the thing.  It does not deliver.  It’s a sham.  Better that we lose belonging in some situations shooting for authentic expressions of who we BE then falling into the pit of shame when we realize that even our best efforts to chameleon ourselves into the good graces of others doesn’t produce true belonging.  In my opinion. ( But you should listen because I have a ton of experience with losing for all the wrong reasons!)


Maybe tomorrow we will talk about what I learned during one of my most shaming interactions EVER

Fake Belonging

If resentment is bitter indignation over a perceived treatment of unfairness, if what we desperately fear is disapproval and rejection, then all of us are vulnerable to succumbing to the temptation to belong.  Honestly, belonging is a big deal and we should all work diligently in the pursuit of both accepting others and providing a place for them to belong AND being people who behave in ways that make it possible for others to accept us into their circle of trust.  


But at what cost?  Again, I turn to Brene’ Brown to guide my thoughts on what I believe is a core spiritual principle:  imitate God by being caring, inclusive and relationally present AND respect yourself in the process.


True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.  True belonging doesn’t require you  to CHANGE who you are; it requires you to BE who you are.  P. 157 Braving the Wilderness


And this:  it means that not everyone will embrace belonging as a spiritual practice.  Think about what it requires to value belonging in this sacred way.  It means that we must NEVER EVER ask others to change who they are in order to make us feel more comfortable.  It requires us to BE who we are even when it puts belonging at risk.  If we change who we are in order to fit into a system that demands that we change, did we ever belong?  No.  We never belonged.  In any system where power is used to manipulate even one person to change in order to gratify another, this is a system that cannot handle sacred belonging.  


How many of us have chased after belonging only to discover that belonging in its most sacred sense was never going to be something the person whose approval we craved could give?  What has that cost us?

Power and Belonging

Since the decision I made two years ago to return home to my daughter and trust my mother into the care of others my family has experienced some major relational shifts.  When I told my dad I was leaving, he stopped returning both texts and phone calls.  The only communication I have had with him since that day has been angry written communication clearly expressing his disappointment in me.  For my part, I have accepted this loss of belonging as necessary for my own mental health.  He says I abandoned him in his time of need; I would say that he made it impossible for me to belong.


In Brene’ Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, I gained some vocabulary for what happened when I made the tough call of having a strong back and soft front.  First, let me explain what that means to me.  I practiced having a strong back when I dug deep inside myself, through prayer and contemplation, to make my decision about whether to stay with or leave my mom on her deathbed to return to my daughter laboring away for days in a hospital bed. (And I asked all my loved ones and friends what to do and they told me to go home.) I took responsibility for deciding what the right decision was for me.  Second, I opened up my heart and was vulnerable enough to ask my family, my dad in particular, to grant me grace and mercy when I made that call.  I did not ask for approval, I asked for belonging.  I asked to belong in my family of origin even if I could not say yes to what my dad preferred - me staying on in Atlanta as my mother transitioned into her new life.  


Jen Hatmaker, a writer, pastor, philanthropist, and community leader (as described by Brene’ on p. 150 of Braving the Wilderness) is quoted by Brene’ in a written response to Brene’ Brown’s inquiry to Hatmaker asking Jen to describe her own experience of receiving a hostile response from her own tribe when she addressed her support of LGBTQ rights and inclusion.  Here is what Hatmaker wrote:

Speaking against power structures that keep some inside and others outside has a cost, and the currency most often drafted from my account is BELONGING.  Consequently, the wilderness sometimes feels very lonely and punishing, which is a powerful disincentive.  

Page 151, Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness


Power.  It shows up in many forms.  Pay attention.  Parents have power.  Bosses have power.  Anyone who has the capacity to strip you of your “belonging” card has power.  Let’s get real - sometimes it is necessary to detach from relationships.  That’s not the point of this post - although it is a crucial relationship issue that is worthy of thoughtful consideration. (I’ll tackle that one tomorrow.) Today’s point is this:  notice how we use BELONGING as a way to keep people “in line”.  Notice how we use it as a weapon to disincentivize conversations that challenge the status quo.  The vendor tried to use the power of belonging to distract from a crucial conversation about her job performance by suggesting that there was something relationally disconnected between her and my kid. (They didn’t have a relationship, get it?  But it is still a powerful weapon to use against people who value relationships.) My father withdrew relationship as a punishment for my failure to do what I had habitually done - come running when he called.  Belonging is a beautiful thing, but sometimes our ASSUMPTION that we belong is proven to be an illusion when we exercise our strong back and make tough calls that are not popular.  

TO BE CONTINUED….

People pleasing

Our family embraces anxiety as a lifestyle.  It’s a gift, really, because it is such an uncomfortable way to live that it continually invites us to learn new ways of being in the world.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.  


In yesterday’s example of unsolicited feedback that surely triggered insecurity and anxiety in my adult child, this kid chose to practice some of what anxiety has taught us.


First off - it is a constant challenge to give up on this notion of being liked and the constant fear of disappointing people.  That is really the most important thing we as anxious people must try to practice to mitigate the devastating effects of approval anxiety.


Just because we are not liked does not mean we are unlikeable.  We all have preferences when it comes to interacting with various personalities, we are not going to be universally beloved!!  Constantly seeking approval from others is unrealistic and requires a massive and aggressive campaign to hide huge parts of who we are from others.  Exhausting!


We disappoint others ALL THE TIME.  This is also reality.  Heck, I disappoint MYSELF - why shouldn’t I expect to disappoint you too?  Again, it is exhausting to the point of pathological tiredness to try to avoid disappointing others.  Think about all the different competing expectations we have.  Who are we going to decide to not disappoint?  


When my mother was dying, my daughter was giving birth to her first child and our first grandchild.  My mother was dying in Atlanta and my daughter was bringing new life into the world four states away.  Joy and anguish both filled my heart.  I had to make a decision that no daughter or mom should have to make - stay in Atlanta, where I had driven at breakneck speed upon hearing of my mom’s collapse?  Or drive back home to be present when my grandson made his arrival?  I chose to go where my presence legitimately mattered - to my daughter’s side, where she needed me.  I was a HUGE disappointment to some in my family; I was a blessing to others.  Who dares to decide the rightness of my choice?  I cannot judge it and do not try.  I did what I thought my mother would have wanted and what I absolutely knew my daughter needed.  I suspect that if I had remained in the crowded house with plenty of others on hand to serve her last needs, mom might still be fussing at me from the other side of eternity for failing my daughter in her hour of need.


I am at peace with my choices BUT it requires me to discipline myself to do what my kid is practicing - give up on being liked and stop chasing after the approval of others.  How about you?  Are you ready to lay down the heavy and loathsome burden of people pleasing?  Are you ready to take responsibility for doing what your core values indicate is pleasing, regardless of the response of others?

More and more curious

Carrying on from yesterday...if you need to get caught up, there is a link at the bottom of the email (for those of you who read via email).  If you're reading directly on the web, check out the post from September 4, 2018.

After the story was told to me, I had some curious questions of my own.  I asked my adult child about the reaction of the other party and I was pleasantly surprised to hear this:


“Well, it was interesting.  Here’s what happened.  When I didn’t get sucked into a discussion about my personality, it allowed me to stay on point with the real purpose of the conversation - which was to provide feedback to this person.  My boss had asked me to handle the problem of this person’s under performance.  The whole conversation started with me having to do the hard thing of explaining why this person’s service contract with us was on the verge of cancellation.  Instead of getting sidetracked with a conversation about me, I was able to return to the original point of discussion:  her need to improve her performance.  Which, by the way, could be done with or without me having a personality at all, either good or bad.”


No one likes negative job feedback.  Right?  But consider the alternative.  What if the vendor had been able to distract the conversation.  In the moment, she could have avoided hearing about her work issues BUT she would have forfeited her opportunity to respond to the feedback and improve her performance.  Which, by the way, she actually was able to accomplish and resulted in her keeping the contract.


Using the “strong back” “soft front” language of Brene’ Brown, the capacity to not chase after the approval of others in that moment enabled my child to provide a kindness to another.  At my ripe old age, I am not sure I would have had the wisdom to do the same.  Tomorrow, I will share what I learned when I asked my adulting child how this decision was made because I believe it holds some practical wisdom for those of us who are trying to rise above our defensive and resentful postures to a more hopeful and courageous way of living.

You can't like everyone, and not everyone is gonna like you

I was shocked.  One of my adult children was recounting a story that clearly called for a strong back and a soft front.  What does that meant?  Today we're going to talk about having a "strong back."  A strong back means being courageous enough to face problems head-on, so that we are sturdy under pressure.  It means refusing to hide behind a false personality.  

A person who worked tangentially with this child was providing unsolicited feedback about my child’s personality.  This, for the record, is bad behavior.  My kid who has a working knowledge of the enneagram and resides in the dependent stance of this tool (if you do not know what I am talking about, no worries, I’ll provide more descriptors), was able to use enneagram language to describe the experience.  For the sake of this post, I would say that those of us who reside in the dependent stance (1,2,6 if you’re interested) move “toward” others.  We are referenced outside of ourselves, often looking for others to validate and even provide us input on what we should think, feel and do.  Anyway, my kid was noticing that this person was giving themselves a lot of permission to speak about said child’s personality without really having the benefit of knowing my child other than through the most casual and limited of business interactions.  The person concluded, “You know, I really do not feel like I have connected with you interpersonally.”  My kid heard implied blame, even resentment on the other person’s part. (Is connecting interpersonally a job requirement?  One wonders…)


This is when a strong back and soft front was not only a helpful metaphor but a good guide.  Having just had a long discussion on the paradox of practicing daily courage AND vulnerability, my  adult progeny did something very different than the dependent stance they live in would have predicted.


They paused.  They neither moved toward the other person by getting sucked into this inappropriate and boundary-less discussion nor against them by getting all aggressive and ugly nor did they withdraw by wrapping a cloak of invisibility around themselves and disappearing into their own mind palace (these are common ways we humans response to a perceived threat).


Instead, they simply stood there, acknowledged that they heard the person, and offered no commentary.  My offspring decided in the moments of pausing that no response was needed.  This was unsolicited feedback from a questionable source.  It could be received but did NOT need to be absorbed.  Mostly, they decided that they did not need to chase after approval, apologize for their personality, or defend their place in the world.  All of that means, I think, that this was a moment when a strong back and soft front did not require my child to seek out approval from a virtual stranger.  This is an example of the strong back; tomorrow we will discuss the soft front portion of the interaction.

Resentment is not a safe place to hide

All too often our so-called strength comes from fear; not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine.  In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence.  If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open...How can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft-front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness?  I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly - and letting the world see into us.  

~ Roshi Joan Halifax, as quoted by Brene’ Brown in Braving the Wilderness, p. 147.


Resentment is a convenient emotion for me when I am feeling freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional - conditions I experience with an unfortunate degree of regularity.  Resentment feels powerful and righteous but most of the time it is a thinly veiled disguise vainly employed to mask my own fear.


Telling myself to be strong and brave and courageous is unhelpful and often leads to an added layer of awkward bravado that is about as authentic looking as breast implants.  After a long time practicing nonjudgmental observation with a LOT of support from others, I no longer accept my resentful feelings on face value.  Today, I more often end up concluding that they are distortions of my more accurate emotion - FEAR.


Fear in the form of resentment is a representation of defensive shielding of a weak spine.  My spine is weak when I am depending on others to tell me how to appropriately think, feel and do.  Interdependence is a good thing and a valuable way to relate to our tribe.  But I am ultimately responsible for myself. Only I can decide what I think, feel and do with my daily life choices.  (This is a strong back; it’s having a spine; it’s knowing and taking responsibility for my core values.)


Resentment pops up for me when I fear that life is unfair.  When I believe that love and provision are scarce and someone else is going to take what is mine, I am terrified but often feel resentful.  How about you?  Is your resentment a cover for fear?  


Tomorrow, I will make a few suggestions about how we can encourage one another in this work of becoming both strong and vulnerable people

Good help is hard to find

If the two brothers gave us plenty to think about in the Old Testament as it relates to resentment, in the New Testament we find two sisters who also know all about getting whipped up with bitter indignation.


Anyone would be understandably nervous to host Jesus and his disciples for dinner.  Martha offered hospitality to Jesus and his crew and then immediately began to fret over the preparations.  Pre-party anxiety is real.  I suspect that Martha, in her heart of hearts, loves to throw dinner parties.  Otherwise, she wouldn’t have extended the invitation.  I have a friend who is the Queen of Hospitality.  She has taught me that as effortless as her parties seem, even she, the best of the best at throwing a good party, gets nervous as the party draws near.  Martha’s tension is not so much a reflection of her lack of capability as it is a sign that she really cares about making a wonderful dinner for her guests.  For those who read this story as if Martha is somehow an envious unspiritual person, I think that’s too harsh and misses the point.
However, Jesus does offer Martha some feedback.  Martha gets aggravated with her sister Mary, who sits at Jesus’ feet instead of chopping celery for the potato salad.  So Martha says this:


She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”


Martha has basically lost her perspective.  Much like Cain, who blamed Abel, Martha blames Jesus for Mary’s attentiveness to Jesus and his teaching rather than pulling kitchen duty.  


Jesus responds,


 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:39-41


I do not think that Jesus is diminishing the role of Martha as a hostess.  But what he is saying, I believe, is that not everyone has that particular gift.  If Martha could stay in her own lane - hospitality, and let Mary stay in hers - learning from Jesus, then all will be well.  But resentment confuses and confounds us.  It gets us believing that life is unfair, when in fact, it is often just different.  On a recent family vacation, my sister-in-law and I were talking about the difference between parenting from a perspective of equality versus fairness.  We landed on fairness as the higher value.  But if our children want us to treat everyone equally, then it is possible that they might feel resentful if we babysit for one grandchild more often than another.  At this stage of life we see the wisdom of using discernment as a guide because this takes into account what our collective families’ actual needs are rather than just cookie cutter responses to life with our children in a vain attempt to keep everything equal.  Fortunately, our children are gracious human beings and they understand. How can you stay in your lane and find more joy in the spiritual discipline of treating everyone fairly?

God questions Cain's Anger


Then the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  

 

Genesis 4:6-7


God challenges Cain’s anger.  He invites Cain to consider his part in the story.  Cain has a part and his own decisions have led to God’s rejection of his offering.  


How hard it is for us to consider our part in a problem!!!  


But God also introduces a further problem.  He tells Cain that if Cain fails to manage his life, then forces bigger than Cain and his self-will may take away his freedom to choose.  The scripture calls this sin.  


Managing our emotions, our actions and even our thought life are key skills essential for a reasonably happy and healthy life.  Cain’s story serves as a cautionary tale and example of what happens when we get sloppy with our thoughts, feelings and actions.


Impulsivity and reactivity can have devastating consequences.  Until someone invents a time machine, we would do well to heed God’s word to Cain.  Some bells cannot be unrung.


Resentment by definition is all about us FEELING like someone is treating us unfairly.  But God is turning the tables on Cain and suggesting that all of this was within his responsibility and freedom to choose a different path.


How can this apply to you?

"Why are you angry?"

Yesterday I asked (without answering) a question:  why did God accept Abel’s offering but not Cain’s?


In the book of Hebrews, Paul shares his perspective:  

By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice.

~ Hebrews 11:4 The Message


Again, the acceptance had NOTHING to do with the kind of offering given, but instead with the motivation of the heart of the giver.  Cain was confused about God’s rejection but was unwilling to humbly ask for feedback from God.


What if Cain had gotten curious?  What if he had asked a follow up question?  If he had done that, God surely would have told him that his issue was heart-related, not simply an aversion to carrots and potatoes.


At that moment, Cain could have considered God’s perspective.  At a minimum, he would have had no reason to kill Abel.  It was NOT a competition. 


Now that we’ve cleared up the issue with God’s approval and disapproval, tomorrow we will look at God’s response and advice to Cain in spite of Cain’s reluctance to hear another viewpoint.


Is there any chance that some of your own resentment/s is/are more a misunderstanding of the situation than an actual slight?  Are there new ways of seeing that might keep you from doing harm to yourself or others as a result of your skewed perspective?