Our goal is to become fully human

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”[1]

~Theodore Roosevelt

What really counts, what really matters, what makes all the difference in life satisfaction is about what you decide to do with your one wild and precious life (Mary Oliver paraphrase). No matter how much others might disagree with your perspective, it is yours and no one can or should try to take ownership of your life from you.

My prayer is that we continue to encourage one another to enter the arena and fight for a life of purpose. Dare to believe that you can and are worth doing hard things so that you might enjoy a life of meaning. You are capable and uniquely qualified to bear the image of God. You are made, and it was a custom job, to show up in this world as a person of virtue. Fully human.

“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

~Matthew 10:39, The Message


[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7-it-is-not-the-critic-who-counts-not-the-man

Boundaries can change as we grow

When I work a spiritual program, there are so many decisions I do NOT have to bother considering. I do not have to decide whether I am going to try to manipulate my husband to make me happy - I am not. My feelings are my responsibility. I can move on from asking him to make me happy and ask instead - what do I need and want? I practice the habit of thinking about what I need to do to take responsibility for my own well-being. Do I need a meeting? A long walk? A nap? A snack? Coffee and a date night with my hubby? Of course, part of my work can include saying to my husband, “Hey, I am feeling disconnected from you. I would like a date night. What about you?”

He then considers his own boundaries and can reply, “Me too!” or “I am too tired for a date night tonight; can we just order take-out and go to bed early and snuggle?” I do not have the right to violate his preferences in order to make me feel better. On the other hand, I also know that it is not my job to make him happy either! If he wants a date night too we are happy campers and off we go to play tennis, see a movie or eat out. If he’s too tired my response can be, “Ok! Cool!” With healthy boundaries I also have the capacity to respectfully circle back around later. If I still feel disconnected after we eat pizza and fall asleep at 8:30 pm like two old people, I can say, “Can we revisit the conversation about feeling disconnected? Pizza and our bedtime ritual that resembles a toddler’s isn’t helping me connect with you!”

The ultimate walls and fences that do not move (unless I come to greater understanding of God and his ways that result in an adjustment) are the ways of living and loving that God says are acceptable (mercy, love, forgiveness, respect, kindness, etc.) versus those that are not acceptable (revenge, manipulation, hatred, rage, meanness, selfishness, etc.). These skills were not learned in a vacuum. They are developing as I grow in my conscious contact with the God of my understanding. As my understanding grows, my boundaries adjust accordingly.

“The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts. That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn’t see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that.”

~ John 3:34-36, The Message


Boundaries in light of God's Will

One of the consequences of living by a set of unhealthy principles is boundary confusion and mayhem.  A boundary is an invisible and essential fence that is supposed to guard our personal space.  Every human has them.  They are flexible and can be adjusted as situations arise.  I have a very thick boundary around my relationship with someone who has a history of verbally abusing me.  I have a very thin and pliable boundary in relationship to my husband who is kind and respectful and loving toward me.  There are two kinds of walls - one is internal and the other is external.  The external wall serves to protect us physically and sexually.  The internal wall protects us intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  In both situations we have a responsibility to share with others our boundaries so that they can respect them.  We have a responsibility to respond according to what they teach us about their willingness to respect our stated boundary.  Perhaps most important of all - we are absolutely responsible for deciding and living by our boundary preferences.  We cannot make someone else respect our boundaries BUT we can make decisions that keep our boundaries intact.

For whatever reason, Substance Use Disorder disrupts the boundary system of the suffering person, their family, and their friends, but a host of other issues also disrupt boundaries.  Some folks choose to build a fortress to protect themselves from the chaos that the active addiction creates.  Others are so freaked out by the chaos that they completely abandon their walls and crash through the walls of the person they love who is suffering in a misguided attempt to save them.  They are overly helpful. In the biz we call that enmeshment and enabling.  Healthy boundaries help us choose whether we will say yes or no to others; they also help us graciously receive a yes or no response from others.  As we heal and grow, we begin the necessary work of repairing the walls.  One of the “simple” but hard to apply aspects of our work is learning the discipline of using our boundaries based on God’s will, not our own.  We turn to his word for guidance.  We learn, for example, that no matter how desperate we feel it is not okay to treat others disrespectfully.  We have a boundary of respect for self and others BECAUSE God says that this is how we treat one another.  There are countless examples of re-framing our boundaries and beliefs as a result of leaning into the work of understanding how God says we are created to live and be in the world.  This is the journey of a lifetime.

 

But me he caught—reached all the way

    from sky to sea; he pulled me out

Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,

    the void in which I was drowning.

They hit me when I was down,

    but God stuck by me.

He stood me up on a wide-open field;

    I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!  

~Psalm 18:16-19, The Message

Expectations and Conflict: Part II

Consider your story by journaling about the following questions:

○ What have I expected of others?

○ What have others expected of me?

○ How have these expectations impacted my life? How might they threaten my recovery and spiritual transformation?

Competing expectations lead to conflict

The young woman sitting before me was striking.  Her makeup was dramatic with eyeliner stretching far beyond the corner of her eyes.  Her jeans were fashionably ripped, as were mine, but her jeans were more hole than fabric.  Mine just had a couple of half-hearted shreds.  A beret sat jauntily on her head and her lips were ruby red.  Her eyeshadow was deep violet.  She practically purred like a cat stalking a mouse.  I knew my role: I was the mouse.  She came in with a list of complaints she wished to lodge against her mother.  She wanted to “clear up any confusion” necessary for me to “get her mother back on track”.  Interesting, I thought. 

 

Just a few hours before, her mother had sat in the same chair.  She wore pearls and a tailored suit with four inch heels and a no-nonsense attitude.  Her makeup was muted but I suspected botox made her minimalist approach possible. 

 

Both women came loaded with expectations despite their very different presentations.  They had expectations of each other; they had expectations of me.  These expectations competed with one another for both attention and energy.  Sides needed to be taken, control needed to be exerted if anyone was going to emerge as victor.

 

This is how each of us experience life.  No wonder we use substances to numb and forget!  This is not how God operates.  He has much to teach us about stating both our needs and our wants clearly without demanding that someone else change to meet them.  God gives us guidance for how we can take responsibility for our own lives within the context of surrendering to his will.  This frees us from the pressure to bend to the expectations of others.  This does not mean that we get our way.  What it means is we get out of the way of all those loaded conversations where people are trying to either please or control one another.  It relieves the stress of having to figure out who in the room wins and what our part is in each skirmish.  Instead, we are given the gift of boundaries.  We begin to learn how to live within the boundaries of God’s care for us.  This is a lot HARDER to figure out than it sounds.

 

A soundtrack played in my head as I listened to these two women exert tremendous effort to get the other person to make them feel less anxious by asking me to serve as a velvet hammer that each wielded against the other.  The band Cake’s song Short Skirt, Long Jacket rang in my inner ear.  It speaks of expectations, often competing ones.  It sets the bar high for some random girl that is somehow supposed to fix the world of the guy who sings it.  We do not have to live this way.  But tremendous humility and willingness to change will be required if we want to get out from under the weight of living in a world that only loves winners.

Pivot, Re-Evaluate, Start Anew

We were constructed to be valued and valuable; to have purpose; to love and serve others; to be loved and cared for. This is how we are wired. As we have tried to conform ourselves to our cultural, familial, and various other expectations, we have crafted a personality to fit our environment. So long as our personality aligns with our core values and we are at peace with the values we profess, all is reasonably good (there are exceptions to this but assume this is true for a minute and keep reading).

When our constructed worldview and personality are at odds with the essence of who we are and how we were created to engage with the world, our life becomes unmanageable. We are at war with the metaphorical DNA of God’s design.

You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing - not caring about others, not caring about God - the worse your life became and the less freedom you had?....As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right ANYTHING for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end. Romans 6:19-21 The Message

Personality and life choices are not static. We can pivot, re-evaluate, start anew. We need a path back to God and a way to our truest selves. Each of us has a unique way we experience our world. When we lose our way we need a good basic framework and context for understanding ourselves in a way that is authentic and healthy. This will even require us to explore and own our worldview. The twelve steps and treatment provide us the rare privilege of taking the time we need to figure this stuff out.

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?

 

Great Expectations

I started this blog series talking about love gone wrong and ended up on a side trip remembering about how love had gone wrong over and over again for the Israelites.  False strategies (looking for love and purpose in the wrong venues), delusion (not seeing ourselves, others and even God accurately), and confusion (we just simply don’t know how to love in all situations) are three common problems that mess up our love connections.

 

 

But that’s not all.

 

Expectations can really get us in trouble too. No expectations you ask?  Should we have NO expectations in a relationship? Well of course not. It’s not that extreme.  But my position is this: we have misplaced expectations onto others that rightfully belong within ourselves.

 

I once knew a gal who was always telling a small group I was in about the ways her husband disappointed her.  He didn’t send flowers enough (only twice a week) or to the appropriate location (she preferred them delivered to her office, not at home) or the “right” shade of pink.  Sheesh. The guy was a constant disappointment in her eyes but to the rest of us? He sounded like a guy who didn’t have a chance of living up to his wife’s harlequin romance perspective of marriage.

 

I knew a guy who went through a series of wives and families because, and I quote him here, “I expect my wife and children to obey me and for there to be no conflict in the home.”  His idea of conflict resolution? Get rid of the old family and find a new one.

 

Both examples are of folks who had expectations of how another person was SUPPOSED to make them feel.  The wife expected her husband to make her feel desirable; the husband (of many) expected his family to make him king of the castle.

 

At the end of the day, we are expecting too much of others if we make someone else responsible for our sense of self-worth.  This is our work. Want to feel respected? Live a respectable life. Along the way we invite others to join us in this life.  People can get to know us and we can get to know them and THEN we make an honest assessment: do our lives fit well together? Do we have affinity?  Good questions. But it is not a sustainable relationship model to ask someone else to make us “feel” a certain, consistent way about ourselves. Self-assessment, self-awareness, self-respect - those are all inside jobs.

 

How have you perhaps pressured others to do for you that which you are responsible to work out for yourself?

Truthful Intentions

Whether I am thinking about change for myself or on behalf of others, it has become a helpful practice for me to identify what stage of change we are in.  My husband and I began talking about downsizing five years ago.  We were NOT ready for a change but we were willing to have a conversation about the what if’s.

 

This stage of change is called pre-contemplation.  Neither of us was particularly serious about downsizing, but it seemed that we were getting to an age where we should at least start the conversational ball rolling.  We daydreamed and discussed, argued and agreed over various pros and cons of making a move.

 

We didn’t actually DO anything. 

 

Our daughter is philosophically opposed to talking without doing so she began to send us links to homes with first floor masters.  Some communities provided all the outside maintenance and lawn care - for a monthly fee of course.  On Sunday afternoons we might go to an open house or sit around on our ipads looking at pictures on Zillow (which, fyi, everything looks better via picture than in person). 

 

Fortunately, our daughter recognized that we were not ready for change.  She did not grow frustrated with us over our lack of enthusiasm for putting our house on the market.  However, her father, my husband tired of our reindeer games and soon was unwilling to look at a picture, much less show up and traipse through an open house.

 

It’s super crucial for us to realize that when any of us are pre-contemplating, that’s all we’re up to - very little doing and no change is involved in this initial first step toward change.  It’s an essential step; this is how change starts!

 

Let’s make this personal.  Are there issues in your own life that you are contemplating - but not ready to address?  That’s ok!  It’s where you are!  But it might help your loved ones to be honest about where you are so that they can adjust their expectations accordingly.  And, if you love and serve folks who need to make changes but who teach you that they are early in the change process - good to know!  It SHOULD impact how you serve them.  For folks who at that first stage of change called pre-contemplation, a listening ear is a wonderful gift.  Someone driving them to distraction with action plans isn’t quite as helpful!