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I may have been more confusing than clarifying in my Response #4.  So I want a re-do (wish I could do that in life!).

I had very little understanding of legitimate relational boundaries for most of my life.  If two of us had conflicting needs, I thought I was responsible to deny my own and “consider others as more important than myself.”  Anything less was selfishness.  I also believed I was given more resources by God than others (after all, I came from McQuilkin stock, a line of highly honored preachers, missionaries, and college presidents), so the greater burden should rest on me.  This was the scaffolding for serious self-neglect.

If I starved myself to feed the hungry, I would die quickly, but when I starved myself emotionally, there was no such forced resolution… I kept living, breathing, and relating.  No matter how much I gave, I felt I was not giving enough.  So I pushed myself further and further until I nearly killed myself in India.  Self preservation was not in my DNA.  After all, I subscribed to the motto, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

If I had the resources, and another had a need, I was obligated to meet that need.  I thought the only morally legitimate way to deny helping Bob was to help Bill instead.  To use my resources on myself was simply selfish.  It was not a true need of mine.  Christ was all I needed, and instead of receiving what he wished to give me, I became simply the channel for his giving to others, a teflon heart towards God’s grace.  I didn’t realize what harm I did myself and others by working out of a serious personal deficit.  I did not understand how healthy relationships worked.

Of course, the more I expected of myself, the more I expected of others… not as much as I would give, but still a fairly high standard.  When they did not give what they were “able” to give (in my estimate), I judged them as unspiritual, uncommitted, and selfish, and I resented having to make up for their slack.  Denying myself everything for others only worked if they denied things for me.

I was blind to the distinction between healthy and unhealthy giving.  That difference might best be illustrated with actual gifts, the kind with wrapping paper and bows.  There is quite a long list of unwritten, unspoken guidelines that must be followed in our society if we wish to be an acceptable member.  The one with more money may spend more; the amount of money or time spent is a reflection of how much the recipient is valued; gratitude must be expressed (whether or not the gift was a true expression of  love), often in writing; and the list goes on.  We speak of a  ‘gift exchange,’ a social arrangement which prescribes rules and follows social norms to avoid anyone giving too much or too little.  But the original meaning of “gift” (Charis in Greek) suggests something freely given out of love without thought of return.  Otherwise we are really talking about trading, a legitimate financial arrangement, but one that follows law, not love.

As long as everyone follows group expectations in an exchange, this arrangement works swimmingly, but once we try to move towards a gracious approach, one that does not include payback, the old rules do not apply.  If I must give everything to everyone without consideration for reciprocation, then I am in serious trouble if others do not do the same.  All my resources (whether time, money, emotional reserves, energy, etc.) will sooner or later be exhausted, and then I have nothing for myself or for others.  Without receiving adequate “reimbursement,” the system fails.  The path of grace seems unworkable unless everyone else is equally “gracious.”  Instead of being responsible for my own upkeep, they become responsible for me, and I for them.  I am at the mercy of the goodness of others… if they are not good enough, I cannot survive.  This sounds to me suspiciously like co-dependence rather than interdependence.  Am I not ultimately responsible for myself?

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