Inspired Ways of Seeing

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1 NIV

Whether it is a holiday event or just another day in our collective lives - we have some choices to make with regards to the way we live.

It boils down to this - are we committed to the confusing, difficult and downright hard work of acquiring wisdom?

Or are we willing to just roll the dice, live like we have always done, follow the paths trod by those who have gone before us?

This is one choice that only we can make for ourselves. No one can interfere with this choice. What do you choose?

Anticipating Holiday Problems

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1 NIV



One Thanksgiving my parents almost left our house in a huff because I asked someone else to carve the Thanksgiving turkey. This was quite a shock seeing as how my father had always complained bitterly about carving and inevitably he and my mother bickered over him snacking on the turkey as he carved. She also thought he took to long. It was a thing.



I thought I was giving them the gift of peace when I asked my brother-in-law to do the knife wielding. That did not go over well, and a different fight ensued - with me being the bad guy in the story.



After that incident, I had an extremely hard time not being a cranky, ungrateful holiday participant and I am quite sure it showed. Remember my childhood promises? All down the drain. And it was all my responsibility. I was the problem.



Their bickering was really none of my business; my unease over said bickering was best handled by me with me, not in trying to avoid the experience that my parents seemed to need to have year after year.



Sometimes anticipating problems that OTHER PEOPLE appear to have over the holidays is an example of good old-fashioned codependency. This is a tradition we can jettison for the benefit of one and all.

Holiday Stress

My mother loved a decorated tree but hated the actual time it took to decorate. And let’s be honest - she didn’t like the mess of a live tree. My dad was a grumpy and reluctant participant. I decided that when I was a parent, the tree decorating would be an EVENT and all adults would be merry and bright about the task without requiring the children to be neat and have an eye for perfect ornament placement. My children had other thoughts. They reached an age when they weren’t all that merry and bright about the tree trimming. It wasn’t their thing. It was boooooring.



This was a disappointment to me.



I confess, I still love the tree thing and I am already excited about this next generation of children. I am plotting the Christmas that both Norah and Christian will join Meme and Pops for a sleepover and a tree decorating extravaganza. It will include hot chocolate and homemade cookies and gingerbread house making. Their parental units can have the night off.



This does not mean that the intervening Christmases were unhappy. They were just different than I had imagined. Imagination is a wonderful thing until it bites you in the tushy. Imagination without decent checks and balances can turn into fantasy living. Real life cannot measure up.



When I was faced with reality versus fantasy, I made a decision to not be foolish. I refused to play reindeer games. I did not ruminate over what I wished for, I took action and created what was workable and gave me a reasonably happy Christmas. I stopped asking the kids to be all-in on the decorating, but I continued to buy them specialty ornaments - that brought me pleasure. I did not ask them to have my feelings.



This holiday season, I would encourage us all to own our experience. Make it reasonably happy, without demanding that others share our preferences. Free people to do their holiday the way that suits them. This will require some creativity, adjustment of expectations, and even downright discipline to not ruminate over what might have been. But it is also wise.

Don’t be a Debbie Downer.



The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1 NIV

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?

Avoiding senseless disappointment

My friend is in the middle of a difficult transition with a child who is moving past adolescence into adulthood; the ride has been bumpy.  Her daughter is not “progressing” along the adult-ing track on par with her Mom’s expectations.


Convinced that her daughter is brilliant (and she is), and capable (and she is) my friend is disappointed in her daughter’s lack luster academic performance.  This has become a real buzz kill in their relationship because mom is OBSESSED with getting this kid “back on track”.  


After months of listening to this mommy angst it occurred to me that I didn’t really understand what “back on track” meant.  She explained, “She needs a 4.0, more internships, and networking (including joining a sorority).”


“But she just finished her first semester with a 3.4.  That seems like a pretty good start.  And she is working a part time job at a whopping 30 hours per week!  Aren’t sororities expensive and finances a challenge?  And what are you thinking she needs to intern doing - she hasn’t even declared a major yet, has she?”


And honest to goodness her reply was this, “You are just confusing the facts with the mission.  The mission is success and she is not showing the promise I believe she possesses.”


Confusing the facts with the mission?  Seriously?


I fear my friend, who loves her child and desperately desires a close relationship, is sowing seeds of regret and resentment that may just sabotage this relationship in ways that will break my friend’s heart.  But my friend did not ask my opinion and I tried to remember my place.  So I stopped with my Socratic methodology of passive-aggressive questioning and LET.  IT.  GO.

Take a Second Look

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.  

~ Matthew 5:38-42 The Message

 

 

In the first few chapters of Matthew a series of teachings by Jesus are laid out for us to consider.  In each of them we find a surprise. He is asking us, it seems, to take a second look at what we think it means to be holy. He is challenging folks to give serious consideration to choosing a different version of life for themselves.  In this passage, he is offering them a new way to reclaim their previously held beliefs about power. He is suggesting them to take revenge off the table. This is a conscious choice.

 

People are uncomfortable with this message and I understand why.  It could easily be misconstrued to suggest that people in positions of power can abuse us without any repercussions.  I have had occasion of late to deal with this in my own life. No one has been thwacking me a glove and asking to duel but I have had opportunity to learn the pain and suffering of bullying behavior.  As a person who does not want to have revenge as part of my life I have had to navigate the rough waters of when to stay silent and when to speak up and out; when to hold them and when to fold them; what to do and what to reject doing as my feelings overwhelmed my core beliefs. It’s been a challenging situation.  I have not always handled it well. The only way I have handled it at all was to ask for help from others to guide me AND to spend a significant amount of time examining and re-examining my core values, choosing, from my many (sometimes competing) values, which ones were applicable in this particular situation. It required silence, stillness and solitude as well as a tribe to find my way.

 

The one truth that I return to over and over is God’s word (although even that can be confusing) that teaches us to trust that justice is God’s department not mine.  So often I want to protest what feels like the injustices that seem to run unchecked in the world today. But that is not my job. My job is to give and receive love.  Sometimes that means defending the weak and the vulnerable, other times it means returning to silence, stillness and solitude.

 

Broken relationships are terribly grievous things but they are also inevitable.  The primary comfort I have found as I navigate the ending of a relationship with someone I love is this:  maybe it is no longer appropriate for me to be the one that gives and receives love in this relationship - but I can pray that others will take up the mantle and continue their giving and receiving to that person!

Forgiveness

I once knew a person who sexually abused a family member.  Years later he felt that he was rehabilitated from this prior offense and should be forgiven by the family, including the child he molested, and granted re-entry into the family with no conditions.  His family was willing to have some limited, well-boundaried relationship but they were not comfortable having him around the children. They found ways to specifically address these issues with a clearly spelled out relationship plan.  This infuriated him. He began a letter writing campaign to instruct them about forgiveness; threats were made. Eventually orders of protection were issued. He was outraged. All contact was lost.

 

 

From my way of thinking about this, the guy was at a minimum presumptuous.  I am not sure about what the family members were thinking during all of this but from a distance it seemed like they were very decent people who acted in a spirit of forgiveness.  They did not shun him or try to hurt him in any way.

 

However, they also safe-guarded the family.  This to me seemed wise. Some offenses are so egregious that the consequences for these offenses last a lifetime.  This is difficult to accept but it is true and I think on occasion appropriate.

 

Although we had a few conversations on the subject, he never grasped the concept that relationships were conditional AND these conditions do not violate God’s command to love.  When we learn that someone is willing to harm us or another person, we become responsible for making wise decisions about future contact. If we teach someone that we are willing to be hurtful, we cannot expect them to ignore this action no matter how many times we say we are sorry.

 

Again, these are difficult issues and I have certainly chosen an extreme example.  We have countless lesser offenses that are even more confusing to parse out. Are we too sensitive?  Is this really as inappropriate as I feel it is? What does forgiveness look like in this situation? Does it also mean the relationship can return to “normal” or does it require some shifting and a “new normal”?

 

What kind of difficulties have you run into when trying to love as God loves?

Crushing Disappointment

When the Bible talks about love there are some passages that have been misused and created a situation where people can take advantage of others.  The verse I referred to almost two weeks ago, you remember, the one that says, “Greater love hath no man than this - to lay down his life for a friend?” is one of them.

 

 

I once heard a Christian counselor use that as justification for why a wife should NOT leave her abusive spouse.  His theory was that marriage is a sacred bond (yes) and you can never divorce your spouse even if he has broken your bones and battered your spirit (Lord no).

 

 

I am reminded of I Peter 3:7 (Message translation):  

 

The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground. 

 

Once a man lays a hand on his wife, the covenant is broken.  By him. He has failed to be good to her. When this happens, the family needs to address this issue and sometimes divorce is the appropriate conclusion.  The Bible makes provision for divorce even though divorce clearly grieves God (Spousal abuse, too, grieves God- let's not forget).

 

 

As sacred as marriage is, it is not sacrosanct.  I think this principle applies to all relationships.  Giving and receiving love is a sacred act; relationships are important, vital, in many ways the breath of life. But relationships have limits and sometimes the boundaries of respect and mutual care are so violated that we have to release people from our circle of love. This does not necessarily make them bad people - although let’s be clear, it is very very BAD to abuse anyone.  Sometimes relationships end because our core values are incompatible. This requires a ton of discernment. We do not need to have shared core values in all relationships. The folks who make my coffee do not have to share my core values! However, the affinity I do share with certain baristas in our community has created a lovely relationship bond to such an extent that I mostly only get my java from two very special places.  

 

 

This is all very tricky and difficult to tease out.  But the bottom line is this: sometimes someone teaches us (or we teach them) that we are fundamentally incompatible in a relationship and need to readjust our relationship boundaries.  Are there any relationships that you are holding onto too tightly?