Knowing your place

I am not sure how it happened but my friend Linda agrees with me on this so it must be true:  we have often messed up a relationship because we did not know our place in the grand scheme of things.  We have given ourselves way too much permission to talk!


Here’s the deal: if we want to have the privilege of being able to speak into the life of the people we love and also have intimate connection, we pretty much have to build up to that status.  This capacity to give and receive feedback is VITAL to maturity.  It is a treasure to have a few people we can go to and tell everything we’re up against and ask for feedback.  As giver or receiver of feedback, both positions are a gift.


People who develop the capacity to embrace life and experience reasonable peace are those who can tell themselves the truth about their relationships.  They neither demonize nor idealize their family members, friendships and even enemies.


Knowing our place with respect to how others teach us they feel about us is crucial.  People who love us treat us in a loving manner.  People who care about us do not hurt us.  People who are safe and trustworthy are respectful even in disagreement.  People who can help us are those who have taught us that they do not hold us in contempt; they respect our boundaries; they treat us with dignity.


And of course - the reverse is true too.  Others are learning about the value we place on them by the way we treat them.  If we do not know how to love in an appropriately boundaried, respectful and dignified manner, we will not be the best candidate for intimacy.


Do you know your place?

Need for Candor

We have a widower friend, a great big gregarious guy who has always loved people and parties.  Charming and curious, he has been an asset to any community he joined - and he joined A LOT of communities.  When his wife died, it soon became apparent that he had lost a profound intimate connection that soon began to diminish his sociability.  Always the diplomat, he soon became rather dogmatic. A guy known for bringing people together during disagreement stopped picking up on the cues that there was disagreement among the group members.  It appeared as if his listening skills were slipping; I even wondered if his hearing was impaired.

 

 

One evening after a particularly awkward meeting, his daughter approached me and shared her concerns.  Her read on the situation is that for decades the ride HOME from an event was more often than not a debrief.  Her mother would ask questions, point out interactions, clarify others’ positions. Before meetings, my friend said her mom would often “coach” her dad.  She would provide valuable reviews of previous meetings, point out potential people problems and often “cast a vision” for what might be accomplished if “someone” were to take a gentle lead on an issue.  In other words, this effective leader was in part effective because he had a wise, attuned, introverted wife who helped him maximize his social consciousness and leadership skills, straighten his tie and make sure his fly was zipped.  This is the work of intimacy.

 

Her theory made perfect sense.  This is an example of a guy who had a good sense of “self”, paired with a highly effective intimate relationship, and a broad commitment to serving his community.  When he lost the ability to have that one-on-one connection for deepening his own understanding of issues, his social interaction was suffering. Ultimately his daughter found some practical ways to step in and help with the one-on-one time; soon he was better able to function as a community leader.  This is a real life example of how ALL of us need all three venues of love in order to be balanced AND for our communities to remain vibrant.

Living in a Silo

Much is being written these days about how we are all living in isolated bubbles of shared beliefs.  It turns out that social media has compounded the problem by feeding us what we have taught them we are interested in while filtering out stories and information that we no knowledge of.  Yesterday I googled, “used patio furniture”. When I went on facebook that evening to catch up on all those cute baby pictures and puppy videos I had missed during working hours, my facebook feed was loaded with ads for patio furniture.  What happened? I was being fed information that suited my silo.

 

 

This is really bad for us in so many different ways.  We start thinking that everyone agrees with us (FYI NOT TRUE!).  We stop hearing different perspectives that might challenge our own way of thinking.  This is extremely dangerous. When people prefer to hang out “with their own kind” we end up with siloed, closed relationship groups  and often lose perspective and decrease our opportunities to grow, learn, and expand our worldview. I understand that the world is moving very fast and it is sometimes tempting to hunker down and stake out a small space that feels comfortable.  But this is exacerbating our problems! We are not learning how to respectfully disagree with one another! We get in the habit of thinking in “us versus them” terms! This is all so very very naughty and not in all keeping with the call of Jesus to love God, self and others.  

 

When we depend on a few intimate relationships to provide a stamp of approval on our various points of view, we are all in danger of getting off track.  

 

We lessen this temptation if we maintain a balanced perspective and commit ourselves to taking responsibility for ourselves (take time to wrestle with what we really believe, think, feel and need to do regardless of your group)  and finding social settings where we contribute to the greater good. Any social setting that doesn’t provide us an opportunity to rub shoulders with people who disagree with us on some issues is not a community, it is getting dangerously close to being cult-ish.

 

It may seem easier to hang out with folks who “get us” but easy really doesn’t cut it for people who want to be part of God’s story.  How have you possibly cut yourself off from perspectives that would be helpful to broadening your understanding, challenged your prejudices and allowed for time to practice your interpersonal skills for loving?

Losing Touch

During the years when my family had an extremely busy social calendar, I had a competing example that helped me not run off into the woods and build a treehouse fort for one or obsessively google small islands for sale at rock bottom prices.  I had a ministry opportunity to serve a woman who was completely isolated - some of it circumstantial, other factors were self-inflicted. Always introverted, no one would have ever accused her of being the life of any party. But after months of isolation her social skills were pretty rusty, making social interactions even more difficult.  I served on a visitation committee and in that role I would visit her once a month. After doing this for a couple months, I began to dread the visits. WHY I did so became apparent one rainy spring day when I showed up with soup for a visit.

 

 

She talked incessantly for 40 minutes, which I attributed to her isolation and loneliness. I was startled when she said, “I have a bone to pick with you. I find you very difficult to have lunch with.  You never share anything personal about yourself. I share all this personal information about me but you never return my overture to connect.”

 

In the moment the only thing I could think about was how she NEVER STOPPED TALKING-how could I get a word in? I never figured it out in real time. She left the church soon thereafter when the church was not willing to pay her utility bill every month. Today, I think I understand that the problem was not her incessant talking, her demands for financial support or even my unwillingness to share my most intimate thoughts.  The real issue was confusion over the appropriate love arena we operated within. One of the prickly issues in this scenario is that this woman was acting as if we were intimate friends (I want to know everything about you) and the church was in an intimate relationship with her (pay my bills). From my perspective and I think the church’s, this was a ministerial visit within the context of community. We were willing to be community, but it was beyond healthy boundaries to take on the role of intimate relationship with her, either individually or as a church body.  When we do not appropriately match up our needs and wants within the appropriate context for addressing them, we have issues. Can you relate?

As you love yourself

We raised our children in a large church; much of it we dearly loved. We were very involved.  We rarely missed a Sunday - morning or evening. We had meetings every Wednesday night. Committees were often Tuesday and/or Thursday evenings.  It was in some ways a gruelling schedule; a fact I never realized at the time because all my friends were doing it too. In those days I daydreamed about finding an island where I could practice my spiritual disciplines in peace and quiet.  Over time, I realized that I was taking an extreme position. Instead of taking responsibility for my schedule, I was looking for a way to escape.

 

 

If we spend to much time devoting ourselves to our  intimate and/or our community relationships without taking time to stay in touch and relationship with ourselves we are going to find ourselves acting out in the other two love arenas and losing touch with ourselves.  

 

Not understanding this, I often lamented our packed church calendar and our children’s busy social and sports obligations.  Honestly, it never occurred to me that as the parent I was responsible for setting the pace of our household. I suspect that this is because I was also unaware of my responsibility to monitor my own personal calendar.  

 

Too busy?  Aren’t we all?  No, actually, everyone is not.  Folks who understand the value and accept the responsibility of practicing good self-care are not too busy.  They balance their relational and social obligations along with what they learn they need to stay healthy as an individual.  

 

Today, I am unapologetically not too busy, even though I have a full calendar.  That is because my calendar includes regular time for self-care. Exercise. Quiet time.  Prayer and meditation. Therapy. Is my schedule ideal? No, but I am making progress. How about you?  What do you require, what are your daily practices that help you stay awake, aware and reasonably happy with yourself?

 

Socialization

If we think about the three arenas of love - self/intimate connections/community - most of us have a preferred arena.  I have friends who are introverted and they can happily live for prolonged periods of time in solitude. I have other friends who get antsy with too much alone time and feel like a fish in the perfect pond hanging out with a group.  I have friends who operate within a small, pretty closed off group of intimates and they are content with that arrangement.

 

 

However - there are drawbacks to hanging ONLY in our preferred arena.  What is your preferred area? Would you like to live on an island built for one?  Does it sound like heaven to have a compound where only your most treasured companions live in relative isolation from the rest of the mad, mad world?  Or are you one of those gregarious sorts who never met a group you didn’t want to join?

 

Another issue is related to understanding which arenas are best suited for addressing the needs and wants of individuals and communities.  

 

Tomorrow we will continue to talk about the problems that arise when we do not have a healthy balance of interaction in all three arenas or when we go to the wrong arena to address a love need.

 

Love Confusion

What happens if we fail to grasp the work before us?  Relationship problems will be our cue that something is off kilter.  When I try to manufacture love rather than serve as a conduit of God’s love, I will grow reactive and weary.  Some might call this codependency run amok. In my understanding of life, it is only through conscious contact with a power greater than ourselves that we ever receive the power we need to love ourselves and others well.  Conscious contact is a big deal.

 

 

Self-awareness is also a big deal.  I know several things about myself that are prerequisites for me in order to live a wholehearted life.  I’m old, and I’ve figured some of this out but I still relapse and end up in a big mess in one or more arenas of love.  It took years and some help from those I love to begin this journey of self-respectful living.

 

Pete and I had been married nine years when we had a huge fight.  We are not big fighters. We usually live pretty companionably. But at this point in life we had joined a gym and Pete found ways to use it faithfully.  From an adult’s perspective, we would call this good self-care. He also played on a softball team that he loved. He worked hard, was fully present at home for me and the kids, was responsible in all ways that we consider adulting.  

 

But I was ALWAYS resentful of his ball games and his gym time.  I made him pay for his time of self-care with manipulation and pouting.  Finally, he set me down for a talk. It went something like this. “Hey, I love you and all that, but this is unfair to me.  I am not asking for unreasonable time for myself. You need to accept this and stop punishing me for a crime I haven’t committed.”

 

I retorted, “When do I get time for me?”

 

He replied, “Whenever you want it.  We just need to plan for it. I am happy to do whatever it takes for you to have me time too.”  And he meant it. I knew he meant it. It made me mad that this was true. Here’s the deal. I was NOT being responsible for my own self-care. I blamed him for a problem that was mine to solve.   I realized he was speaking the truth in love and that conversation changed my life forever. I took him up on his offer and started hitting the gym myself. I joined a tennis team (short-lived because I discovered I did not enjoy it).  I took responsibility for my self-care. If we had not made this pivot both in our marriage and for me personally, I do not know how our life would look today but I am certain it would not look as joy-filled. Are you taking responsibility for you?  It is one factor that helps improve our relationships in the other two arenas.

 

Nobody can do your work but you

As a reminder, it all starts with going to the source of love - God.  This requires a commitment to maintaining conscious contact. Whole libraries are stuffed with books on how to do that, so I am not going to discuss that further except to say:  figure out how to maintain conscious contact with God or the rest of this is going to be pretty impossible.

 

 

Having established the umbrella under which we stand...

 

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  
~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

 

...we turn our attention to the next move.  The next move involves the simile “as you love yourself.”  A simile is a form of grammar that we use to compare something we do not know how to do (love your neighbor) with something that is presumed we do understand (love yourself).  No offense to Jesus, but my experience teaches me that many of us, including myself, are not very good at understanding this part of the simile, which then makes it impossible to understand the second part.

 

In fact, the very concept of self-love freaks me out.  Sitting on my desk right this very minute is a mile-high stack of books on narcissism.  Narcissism, this concept of ONLY being able to love self, is a big problem in the world today.  In the U.S. we have become accustomed to “doing your own thing” and “win at all costs”. We’ve created a culture that encourages individualism to the detriment of building and sustaining community.  Narcissism is what my brain rushes to when I think about self-love, but my brain is confused.

 

Loving/respecting yourself means taking responsibility for yourself.  It is that capacity to know that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.  We own the work of developing an appropriate and specific plan for self-care. We pay our own bills. We do not ask others to do for us what we are created to do for ourselves.  This builds strong bodies and sound minds. THEN and ONLY THEN do we develop the capacity to love others. Without decent self-respect and a commitment to live by the core values we consciously choose for ourselves, our relationships will be nothing more than negotiations and manipulative attempts to receive from others what we are intended to derive from our own personal work of becoming decent human beings; to practice the Matthew passage, we must start and continue on a daily basis the discipline of building a life that we respect.  Are you taking care of that?

 

Loving as yourself

I began this series of devotionals with these questions:  If we have an ounce of love for “other” in us, or if one single human being on this planet loves us - this is the million dollar question.  What do the people we love NEED? What do we NEED? How can we help? Who can help us?

 

 

EVENTUALLY I got around to whipping out this series of verses:  

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  
~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

Today, let’s break it down.  When it comes to being a person whose presence matters AND a person who lives life with the quiet joy of satisfaction because life has meaning and purpose, there is no greater (albeit commonly repeated) passage of scripture than the one above.  Along the way, like Pete, we will have ups and downs and trials and tribulations, even some victories along the way as we both give and receive love.

Previous devotionals made a case for presence, specifically compassionate presence, as a key ingredient to this way of living.  But don’t we have PLENTY of examples of big fails in this area? I do!

So what gives?  What needs to change?  Haven’t we all attempted to improve our capacity to love and be loved?  I bet so. Tomorrow we pray for our collective loving selves, next week, we get into the nitty gritty details of loving well.

For today, think about the reality that we love in three arenas here on planet earth:  1. The way we love ourselves (if that freaks you out, substitute the word “respect”), 2. The way we love those closest to us (our most intimate connections) and 3. The way we love our communities (work/faith group/family/friends/common interest groups/neighbors).  

Obviously, the Matthew passage tells us that it all starts with loving God.  It even tells us how: we are to love God wholeheartedly - i.e., with our entire being.  Wholehearted loving makes it possible, even likely, that we will notice opportunities to love that will be overlooked by the casual lover.  Like the two friends who knew to contact Pete with condolences after UVA’s first round loss in the NCAA’s. This is our love source.

This is the source for the help we need to figure out how to love.  More on that in two days...tomorrow, as promised we pray for one another!

 

A prayer for your recovery journey

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than

To be comforted –

To understand, than to be understood –

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

 

Amen

 

May you find a way to comfort, understand, love, set ego aside, and forgive today.  In so doing, may God grant you mercy.