Successful Sacrifice

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45



Yesterday I talked about ‘recognizing” as a spiritual practice and used the example of my marriage.  This has not been easy. Reciprocity is a ton harder than contracts and negotiated settlements. It requires conflict and candor and sacrifice.  But it is a function of success on a spiritual scale. And it can result in a ton of #2. CELEBRATING. Over time we improved our communication, conflict resolution, and perspective on “winning as one.”  Mostly competition has slipped away - except when we play board games. This is requiring continued deep spiritual practice and we are not there yet!!


But not a day goes by that we do not  find opportunity to celebrate our connection - with each other, with our children, our grandchildren, our extended family and our community.  I think our marriage helped us learn how to apply these principles in other relationships (some are much harder to figure out than others).


A few years ago I began to notice how one of my parents began to praise unceasingly one of my brothers and either implicitly or explicitly compare with a critical eye the rest of us to him.  This was not new behavior, but it was a shift in the “who” and it came at a time when we were under duress dealing with my mom’s dementia. Living with the “when you win I win” philosophy, I was able to “see” this situation with a bit more clarity than if I had been still in that old mode of competing for love and attention.


It was still annoying.  For most of my life I called my mom multiple times a day.  Every time I got in the car I would call and chat with her.  I know - excessive. Back in the day when we paid for long distance service Pete used to beg me to “cut back” - I never did.  I wanted to talk to my mom and she never lived nearby. Can I tell you how annoying it was when the story in the family became the glowing reports that my brother called every day on his way home from work and the rest of us damn kids never bothered to call or visit?  It was aggravating on the surface of things. But underneath and around and above the chitter chatter and clamor was this one true thing - we were all winning. My mom was getting human contact. We didn’t need to compete for credit. And what a valuable truth that was because I was not going to get an ounce of credit.  Since credit didn’t matter, it did not impact my behavior. I still called; I still visited; I was free to think and plan and do what I believed was the most loving way for me to act on my love for my mom. My marriage taught me this. Brene is explaining why it works. Even though it comes with petty annoyances at times.  How can you find big wins in your sometimes challenging relationships? Where can you celebrate?

Reciprocity as Success

Brene Brown is phenomenal at articulating the problems we are struggling with in our families and communities.  Part of her work addresses the spirituality of relationships. Here is her stab at defining what it means to live spiritually:



Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45


From my perspective, success is just a series of developmentally predictable distractions and chasing after shiny objects without framing it within the bounds of spirituality.  In particular, I love her definition. I believe her insights provide us with some light unto our paths of walking in love. In trying to determine a working definition of success for a spiritual community, I’m going to pick this sentence apart in the hopes that we find both inspiration and some practical steps to take a individuals, families and tribes.


#1. Recognizing…  Spirituality is an inspired way of seeing that requires us to recognize unseen things.  It compels us to look beneath the surface of a thing.


As marriages go, Pete and I do not have a ton of conflict but I am not so sure we were particularly competent at recognizing the spirituality of marriage until we got some coaching.  Early on in our marriage we unintentionally competed. We competed for attention, time (alone or together), winning at stuff. I have some understanding now of why we did this. But at the time, I didn’t really think much about the way we related one way or another except when I was unhappy about a decision.  When that occurred, I thought a lot about how Pete was to blame. One weekend we went on a marriage retreat. I heard one sentence that changed everything for me, “When your spouse wins, you win.” Ahhhhh...I got it. Just to be clear, I was not in an abusive, narcissistic, unhappy, troubled marriage. There weren’t red flags of neglect or disrespect.  We just didn’t have a lot of experience in loving well. But on that night I saw it: we were married. We would win and lose as one. It behooved me to help him win at life and vice versa. We needed to figure out where the “big win” was in every situation for both of us. This would mean that once in awhile a win for one might require the other to FEEL as if they were giving something up. (Pete could play golf on a Saturday and I could feel a little stuck at home with the kids after a long week of being home with the kids while he worked out of town might be one example.  But that might be a big win for both of us if he came home relaxed and ready to be fully present for the rest of the weekend.) But we chose to work hard to practice reciprocity so that overall, at the end of a long and mostly happy marriage, we would both feel like the two luckiest married people on the planet. And I do feel that way.


To be continued...

A Prayer for Wednesday

Last week we talked about change, bravery, trust, receiving feedback and the skill set of relational reciprocity.  Can we pause to admit that change is not easy?  Can we agree with Brene’ that it often requires us to challenge long held perspectives and rules which our family system has propagated for generations? 


In their book Rooted In God’s Love, Dale and Juanita Ryan speak to this very topic (pp.134-135) and offer a prayer, here it is:


Lord, it isn’t just me

that I am trying to change.

I am up against

generations of dysfunction.

An empty way of life

has dominated my family for a long time.

It has been passed down to me.

No wonder it seems so hard to change.

I need your help, Lord.

Help me to find hope

in your understanding of my struggle.

Help me to find hope in your gift of redemption.



I pray this for you; I ask you to pray this for me.  Together, we carry on. 

Learning to be Reciprocal

Here are some things I have learned about reciprocity.  As a review, reciprocity can happen when folks are in relationship with one another AND they have worked out respectful, reasonably safe, and helpful ways of giving one another feedback.  This feedback, in theory, can help all parties learn and grow.  In reciprocal relationships either party is in a position to learn at all times.


To return to an earlier example.  Perhaps I write something on our blog and someone I have a reciprocal relationship with reads it and says, “Wow, I don’t think Teresa loves Jesus.”  In reciprocity, they come over to my house or office with a latte and say, “When I read your blog post, I thought to myself - I don’t think Teresa loves Jesus.” 


This gives me the PRIVILEGE of saying, “Well, this is so great to hear.  What did I say that gave you that impression?”  And they tell me. And then they get the privilege of hearing my reasoning behind what I said and my thoughts on my love for Jesus.  It’s a big win win.  The air is cleared.  We move forward.


Now, there are some important principles to consider:

  1.  It is not ok to tell someone else what they feel or think or believe.  This is huge.  So if my friend asks me if I love Jesus, and I say yes, my friend is free to tell me why I confused her with my blog post on that point, but she is NOT free to tell me I do not love Jesus.  See the difference?
  2. This works best if there is trust and respect in a relationship.  Honestly, I will have a different response depending on who brings the feedback.  If my son tells me I do not love Jesus, seeing as how we work together and live as a close knit family - Geez, I am going to be inclined to believe him!  And then I, being a person who wants to love Jesus with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, will ask for help in learning how to love Jesus more.  See how that works?  He has CREDIBILITY. 
  3. Even if someone does not have a large repository of trust in my relationship bank gives me unsolicited feedback (because I won’t go asking for feedback from someone I fundamentally do not trust, because that would just be silly), I can still treat them with respect.  I will probably respond quite differently to the feedback, but my core values invite me to treat everyone respectfully.  Make sense?


How do these ideas impact the way you relate to others?  Any insights?

Pointing out other people's problems can be costly

In our community we work hard to be students in the field of addiction and recovery.  Our community was founded on the big dream that families suffering from addiction, abuse, trauma and mental health issues needed a safe place to explore spirituality that suits their unique needs.  We felt there were many wonderful worshiping communities that supported the perspective that “Every day with Jesus is better than the day before.”  We wanted to be a place where it would be ok to say, “My life sucks; I want to know what God has to say about that.” Recently we were presented with the idea that calling another person an “addict” or “alcoholic” is shaming.  We offered families new language and suggested they try on this phrase, “My loved one suffers from a substance use disorder.”  My Lord, you would have thought we had suggested that the Pope wasn’t Catholic. Change is hard.  People pushed back.  Folks in recovery said, “Hey, I’m not ashamed; I identify with the label addict/alcoholic, whatever my ism is.  Why pretty it up?”  Family members said, “Hey, it took me ten years to acknowledge his/her addiction, are you suggesting that I pretend they AREN’T ADDICTED?”  Plenty of frustration and attitude came with the feedback - until I offered further explanation.  So the next time I pitched this idea, I said all the usual blah blah blah of new language and shame reduction, and then I said this:  “Hey, it’s like this.  If I ask my husband:  do I look fat in this outfit?  And he responds yes - that’s on me.  I own the fact that he responded to my feedback request.  BUT IF HE SAYS WITHOUT MY SOLICITING INPUT, ‘Babe, your backside is the size of Texas.’  Life at the McBean house is going to get very chilly.”


Everyone went, “Oh.” And from that day forward, there was no pushback.


Here’s the principle:  we are a community that practices reciprocity.  We are usually a fairly safe place to tell the truth.  I introduced a new concept but didn’t explain it clearly.  They taught me that I needed to improve my communication.  We kept working together and ultimately they showed me how I could illustrate a pretty big recovery point:  There are things we can (and arguably should) say about ourselves but are not as ok with having said about us. 


Reciprocity is a way to learn how to help us all grow up without a side order of growing resentful.  Do you have skills that make reciprocity possible?  What skills might those be? 

Stay tuned...


Humility and the willingness to change our minds is a gift.  I want to be the person who can listen to feedback and learn from it.  But there is a distinction between receiving feedback and paying attention to harsh criticism from strangers (or people who you know do not know you even if they have met you).  It’s like that old quote about porn, I may not be able to define it but I recognize it when I see it.  And in this way, there is a sometimes intangible but distinct difference between feedback and judgmental criticism. 


Example.  When criticism from strangers is in play, because of what I have learned from Brown’s work, I have a note I refer to that says, “Teresa, if the criticism doesn’t come with a reciprocity agreement, return to sender.”  Shortcut phrase that sometimes works to remind me of my core values:  reciprocity. 


Translation:  In my community we operate as equals.  No one is an expert.  We are all Bozos on the bus and we love Bozos.  We try not to crosstalk or tell each other what to do (although we slip often and forgive regularly our slips).  We try to stay in the #metoo space of relationship.  We are all equals, we all have something to contribute, we don’t boss each other around, we do practice giving and receiving feedback in safety.  Reciprocity goes like this:  “Hey, I read that you said this ______ and I am wondering if it might mean that you hate Jesus.  Do you?”  That statement invites reciprocity - a conversation.  Or, “Hey, from what I experienced of you when you did _____, I doubt whether or not you know anything about spiritual transformation.  Do you?”  Again, a bit critical for a sensitive soul, but still, it invites reciprocity.  It invites a conversation, not condemnation.  If someone I do not even know tries to tell me who I am then it is okay to return that comment to the sender without spending valuable energy on it.  However, if my husband or my kids or my best friend tells me I do not love Jesus and I know absolutely nothing about spiritual transformation I better sit down, pour the coffee and ask hard questions about myself.  How do you process criticism and feedback?  Do you make distinctions re: source?


Tomorrow, more on the nature of reciprocity...

What happens after a relational offense?

In addition to following Brene Brown through her words and imitating her ways, I practice this thing I call reciprocity.  Reciprocity is nothing more than a phrase that reminds me of core principles that I hope to live by in the heat of my own freak out moments.  For example.  I get an email which explains to me how I hate Jesus and clearly know nothing about spiritual transformation.  I feel automatically defensive, irritated and worried - Is she right?  I mean, she could be. This is what happens to anyone who dares to put themselves out there in the world.  There will ALWAYS be folks who criticize.  And since Brene admits that she used to listen to her critics (even though it is a bad idea and she tries not to do so now), I can certainly follow suit:  it is hard for me not to doubt myself when others are telling me I should.  Vulnerability teaches me that I can acknowledge that I am tempted to give criticism from strangers sway in my sense of self-worth.  There.  I said it.


It isn’t enough for me anymore to know this about myself without developing some skills to change my response.  How about you?  Are you ready to change some aspects of yourself that do not serve you well?


Tomorrow we are going to talk about a skill I practice to help me weather criticism in a way that is constructive.