Archive for the ‘thoughts’ Category

Driving Myself Crazy   2 comments

I drove to work after my last blog with my soul percolating in anticipatory tension.  Patience on the road is not my strong suit anyway.  I was gunning, braking, and swerving my way down the freeway, muttering about all the stupid and pigheaded folks who drove in the left lane as if they were the lead car in a funeral procession, when I realized my adrenaline rush was going to turn the workplace into a war zone.  I pulled into the right lane to settle down and set my heart in a better direction to cope with the fire-sale crowds at the paint counter.

Fearing the impatience of my customers made me defensively more impatient with my fellow drivers.  When I accept impatience towards me as legitimate, internalize that criticism as justified and blame myself as inadequate, I become a shareholder in a legalistic system, and with that system, I justify my own impatience towards others.  Slowness, incompetence, and bungling are never in themselves cause for incrimination.  We tend to see these as willful negligence, an intentional disregard, because we are frustrated and looking for someone to blame.  But the court of our mind cries out for consistency so that we must also blame ourselves when our missteps impede others’ plans.

In this way results, not intentions, become the basis for judgment, and we buy into a distinctly American morality that sees success as the inevitable reward of diligence and hard work.  Mistakes, especially repeated mistakes, are the sign of moral decay or personal defect.  We offer “grace” for a certain level of deficiency and stuff down our impatience, but cross that line and we pull out our corrective ruler to slap your hand for not living up to our expectations.  Yet grace that fits within a quota is not real grace, which is endless, and its goal is not meeting expectations, but giving us the fullest life possible.

Unfortunately,  like all forms of legalism, impatience used by us or against us is all of one piece, mutually reinforcing.  My impatience towards others forces me to accept their impatience towards me and vice versa.  If I do not live in a world of self-deception in which I am the definer of what expectations are legitimate (namely the ones I meet), then I live in world in which I am always trying to validate my worth.  I am driven to perfectionism in which I am my own worst accuser, and my only defense is to pull others to my level by pointing out their failures.

Our society is constantly reinforcing this legalistic worldview.  Each time I make a mistake in mixing paint, I feel like I need to somehow justify myself or prove to my supervisor that I have constructed a system to avoid that mistake in the future.  But I am human.  I get distracted or confused.  In the hubbub I forget to take necessary precautions.  I will keep making mistakes, and I need to find a way to support myself in my own mind, to be patient with myself.  Remarkably, I find that leaning into grace for myself helps me lean into grace for others as well.  And when I use my impatience of others to confront my own legalistic worldview and push myself back towards a grace perspective, it rebounds to an easier grasp of grace towards myself.

I think I need to spend more time in the slow lane.

Posted May 24, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Playing with Mud   Leave a comment

So God made us out of dust and breathed life into us, which I suppose makes us dirt balloons (and he clearly puffed more into some of us than others).  Poetic souls try to inflate our worth by calling us “star dust,”  but that Disney image is just lip gloss smeared on mud bubbles.  If we are made from star pieces, we didn’t get any of their sparkle and shine–they kept that for themselves–so at most we are the burned up stuff, star effluvia.  Yes, we are star poop if that makes you feel any better.  We’re just mud pies, which makes us a few grades lower than gingerbread men.

Clearly God wanted to keep us humble, to show us where we came from so we wouldn’t be putting on airs and instead realize the air that animates us is from God’s breath, not our atoms.  I mean, the angels must elbow each other watching us mud clods strutting our stuff until we all get swept out the back door together.  “For you are dust and to dust you will return.”

It is our inflated sense of self that God wants to prick by reminding us of our origins.  He values us immensely, but it has nothing to do with our inherent value, which is about $4.50 in chemical elements according to Mayo clinic.  As demeaning as all that sounds, it is actually amazingly freeing and safe.  We are not loved because we are wonderful, but because God is wonderful.  We don’t have to do anything to be valued by God.  He is not waiting for us dirt balls to become disco balls before he values us, but he loves us fully as we are, Pigpen as much as Linus, and that should make even Charlie Brown dance.

Posted March 29, 2017 by janathangrace in Humor, thoughts

The Rare Gift of Loving Well   Leave a comment

At my dad’s funeral, my sister Amy shared how dad planned great trips for his children and grandchildren, taking them on real adventures that created memories for a lifetime.  Pop took me on a trip to Washington D.C. when I was twelve, and it was truly memorable. For Amy, this “extravagant love” was the epitome of her recollections of a loving father.

Yet true love may not show itself in extravagant gestures or great sacrifices.  Sometimes the power and glory of love infuses the mundane.  In fact, the grand display can easily be a cover to hide our unwillingness to love as we should.  There are foolish and useless sacrifices… even selfish sacrifices.  A mom can pay dearly to send her boy to college in an effort to run from the shame of her own inadequacy.  A father can give everything up to make his son a great athlete.. but is this love for himself or his son?   The ultimate sacrifice of true love is not in giving to the other, but in receiving them into our hearts, inviting them in to reveal their real selves, delighting in their oddness and mystery, allowing them to shape the very direction of our soul’s growth.

We tend to be so self-oriented that we equate our view with what is normal and right, even reading Scripture with that lense.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” does not mean that we treat others as copies of ourselves, assuming that what pleases or saddens us, what excites or frustrates us is the same for them.  Each of us is unique in our experiences and perceptions.  True love is not simply making room for the differences of others, but valuing those differences, trying to see and understand the world as they see it, gaining a new perspective and value system and appreciation for life that we did not have before.  I cannot truly love without being personally transformed by it.

This is especially difficult for parents because they have responsibility for teaching and training a child, helping them mature into kind, insightful, responsible adults.  But if the child is not given the freedom and encouragement to find out who they really are apart from, in distinction from, in contrast to their parents, then their lives will be hollowed out, learning good behavior but divorced from their own hearts.  Is a parent able to learn profound truths from their little ones, a new outlook on the world, a new way of being?  A real relationship in contrast to a coercive one empowers each other’s uniquenesses, especially when those differences are a source of conflict since those are the secret keys to unlock our own spiritual insight and growth.

The beauty and glory of true love is that it enriches the giver far more than the recipient.  It is the pathway to our own daily salvation.

Posted August 3, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Waiting Is so Hard!   7 comments

If your life is working out reasonably well, I am happy for you.  It is not my experience, though I daily put my heart and will into doing my best.  I feel like a dog chained to a post and told to fetch.  Most of my life I thought the whole exercise was about figuring out how to get loose so as to fetch.  That’s what smart, resourceful dogs would do.  I tried various strategies–twist to loosen the chain or pole, pull to break the chain.  I was apparently doing it all wrong, because I was a failure at fetching.  I saw other dogs retrieving all sorts of things for their master.  They had various schemes for getting free of their chain, but none of those worked for me.  I don’t have a life verse, but Kimberly one day laughed at spotting my life meme: “Well, that didn’t &#%! go as planned.”

Finally I decided that I had misunderstood my master’s intentions, and he just wanted me to sit and wait.  But what should I do while waiting?  If I were eventually going to be let loose to fetch, perhaps I should practice the skills needed… except those skills were only relevant for a retriever, and maybe that was not my purpose after all.  I was waiting for something.  What?  Was I supposed to simply learn to be good at waiting?  What does that even mean?  Patience and trust, I suppose.

Okay, so that is what my attitude should be, but what do I DO while practicing that attitude?  Is there a better way to sit or lie?  Inside the doghouse or out?  Do I keep my eyes closed or look at something… at what?  I was sure there were better and worse ways to wait.  Slowly anxiety overtook my patience–I need to be a better waiter!!  Apparently the one thing I do really poorly is wait.  And I am so legalistic I can even turn doing nothing into a standard to meet.

But look at all those other dogs doing their thing!  Dogs have legs to jump and run and mouths to grab and hold… they weren’t designed to just sit.  Are these joys of life the rewards for getting good marks in waiting?  Or is waiting well its own reward?  It doesn’t feel rewarding.  It feels like being forgotten, or worse still being rejected, like I’m not good enough to fetch.  As you can see, I still have a long way to go in learning trust and patience. Doing nothing is really hard!

 

Posted July 2, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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True Love Is Never Blind   2 comments

We humans are deeply flawed.  The Bible calls it sin, the evil and brokenness that infests our whole world, right down to the roots of our own heart.  It not only distorts our hearts, but our minds, our volition, our self-understanding… it taints every part of who we are.  One of the primary ways this plays out is to make each of us the center of our own universe, both perceptually and morally.  We have a default to justify ourselves while blaming others.

Self justification may at first glance seem like self compassion, being on my own side, but it is really a Trojan horse, the gift that keeps on taking, because it is rejection of the truth, and that never leads to health and strength.  Fleeing our shame makes us no freer than the prison escapee who is running for his life.  Our only hope is to embrace our shame, our failings, our faults, with the arms of grace, to openly confess our flaws from within the safety of God’s unconditional love.

I’m sorry to say that I often find it easier to see the failing of others than my own, and to then fault them for it as a moral flaw.  But fixing that tendency to blame others by trying instead to justify them leads to equal disorder in our minds and hearts and relationships.  Grace ceases to be grace when it avoids the truth.  Being generous-minded (assuming the best rather than the worst) certainly has its place, especially if our default is to blame (as mine sadly is), but our aim is to seek out what is true, not what is nice.  Flattery is deadly, especially when it is sincere.

Our response to our parents often falls into this unfortunate dichotomy–we either blame them or exonerate them, justify ourselves or justify them, and both responses are equally damaging.  In the complexity of processing through our emotional entanglements, we will likely go through stages of both blaming and justifying, I certainly did, but these should never be an end in themselves.  We seek to know ourselves through the dynamics of our early upbringing so as to find truth and freedom in which to grow forwards.  Things need to be unlearned or re-organized or re-evaluated or put into perspective.  Getting stuck in blame or justification cuts off true transformation.

One key tool in growing into a gracious outlook towards others is to separate the impact of someone’s behavior from its sinfulness.  To say that my father or mother impacted me in a certain way is quite distinct from saying that they are to blame.  They may have been doing the best they could.  We do not ultimately know what internal resources they did or did not have, the motivations for their choices, and so on.  “To his own Master he stands or falls.”  However, we have the emotional and spiritual obligation to carefully evaluate behavior as itself beneficial or harmful, otherwise we will mindlessly carry on those relational patterns into our own families by adopting them or by reactively adopting their opposite.

Posted June 25, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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To Know Others, I Must Know Myself   4 comments

I’ve been muddling over a question for several days: why did Dad’s inability to understand himself so significantly affect his own children and his relationship with them.  I finally settled on a typical childhood scenario to sort it out in my mind:  being late for church.  In stark contrast to Dad, Mom was a spontaneous, disorganized soul who was not very good at time management.  Sunday morning she was inevitably running late.  Dad would finally stump out to the Oldsmobile and sit fuming, eventually honking the horn to try to hurry things along.  He hated being late.  It made for an icy car ride which suddenly transmuted into a smiling hand-shake with church folk, because Dad took charge of all our emotional exchanges, and he’d decided it was time to move on.  Yes, he was very organized, even with his emotions, and very take-charge, even with our emotions.

While Dad was in our driveway tapping his fingers against the steering wheel, Mom would be in the bathroom madly trying to finish fixing her hair and putting on her make-up.  Of course, traditional roles exacerbated this situation–Dad only had to get himself ready while Mom had to make breakfast, feed the clan, and make sure all us kids were presentable.  But she still would have accomplished all this punctually if she’d had the same personality and value system as Dad.  And since her promptness depended largely on certain unreliable munchkins, she would have had to heavily impose those time values on her children.  There would have been as much impatience, tension, and condemnation inside the home as in the station wagon outside.  Instead of a kind “where did you last see your shoes?” it would have been, “How many times have I told you…”  And we children, fearing that condemnation, would have worked very hard to conform.

When two people have similar values, perspectives, personalities and emotional responses, conflicts are drastically reduced, but when these vary in important relationships, such as with Dad and Mom, some sort of system must be worked out for negotiating the conflicts.  Those like my dad who have a behaviorist approach to life and relationship see growth as a process of adapting one’s behavior and language to avoid conflict rather than discovering a deeper understanding of oneself and the other. In other words, the underlying perceptions and dynamics remain the same, but one’s actions and words are tweaked to avoid offense–speaking more softly when angry or driving separate cars to church (my dad’s final solution).  Being late is clearly wrong, so either she fixes her behavior so he’s not mad, or he tries to be patient with her as the failing one.

At first glance it would seem that the first approach is somewhat legalistic and the second somewhat gracious… except in both cases the late person is in the wrong.  There is no option available for non-judgmentally trying to discover why this value is so important to one and not to the other–for instance that Mom put more value in accepting her kids than rushing them, that her immense creativity was enabled by not having a highly organized life, and so on.  Instead of differences leading to deeper self and mutual understanding, they lead to the slotting of behaviors (and individuals) into good and bad.

Clearly, if there is a disagreement and Dad was unwilling to reconsider his own position, then he could not in any meaningful way make room for the legitimacy of the other person’s perspective of herself.  If he was right, then she was wrong, and even if he is kind and sympathetic, that judgment sticks.   It is not possible for someone to come to a truly gracious acceptance and understanding of the other person without questioning his own underlying perspective about himself and his views.  In a remarkable way, lack of self-understanding prevents us from understanding others because we cannot shake free from our own blinders and so we distort our own perceptions.

Now, being over-zealous about lateness is a small issue that can be overlooked.  Everyone has their foibles and it is part of grace to overlook them.  The amazing thing I have discovered is that differences, even on small matters, can open the door into a huge cache of personal information that has never been discovered.  Our inner selves are well integrated, so that one concept enforces another in a web that makes up our worldview.  Punctuality is a small corner of the much bigger idea of efficiency, which is in turn a portion of the worldview that puts a premium on accomplishments.  I have struggled my whole life with a sense that my value as a person depends on what I accomplish, that God values me for what I do for him rather for me.  Most of my life I didn’t know this was at the root of my relationship with God–I thought all my zeal was out of my love for him.  Or I could follow punctuality down a different trail, one that leads to the importance of meeting a wide array of standards and how perhaps I am not loveable unless I pass a certain moral bar (while naturally holding others to that bar).  Or I could follow punctuality down a different path that connects it to respect, and what makes me feel respected or disrespected and how I respond to those feelings in my relationships.

Rubbing up against someone who experiences the world differently than I do is a great opportunity for that soul-searching.  But if I default to my unshakeable worldview, I not only fail to understand myself better, but fail to understand the other, having placed us both as characters in a world of my own assumptions.  Being blind to who I am inevitably makes me blind to who others are–their gifts, insights, and beauty.

 

 

Of Ostriches and Eagles   5 comments

From my last post some might suppose that my imagery of a majestic, soaring eagle for my father and a silly, flightless ostrich for myself was in some way self-denigrating.  However, the analogy was not based on my own valuation of eagles vs. ostriches (or dad vs. me), but on how I think society views each.  The superiority of the eagle seems self-evident to Americans–it was not the ostrich (or more to home, the pigeon or crow) that was stamped on the Great Seal of the United States.

As a culture we lionize and value certain traits more than others–the one who talks is more admired than the one who listens, the fast more than the slow, the take-charge more than the let-be.  But all have their unique value and purpose as well as weakness and limitation–the eagle is as awkward on the ground as the ostrich is in the air.  Each person is vital in their uniqueness, an irreplaceable expression of God himself.

We tend to slot folks into winners and losers, successful and failures, saints and sinners, or we grade them high to low, but the most heroic in the Bible have their fatal flaws, usually as the shadow presence of their strength.  The Bible presents godly people as models for us all to follow… and then presents those same people as warnings to avoid: Abraham and Issac vs. Abraham and Hagar; David and Goliath vs. David and Bathsheba; Peter as The Rock vs. Peter as Satan.  The best among us are deeply flawed, and that must be a bedrock of our theology and spirituality.  I call it honesty, the truth about ourselves, which is just as fundamental to our heart health as the truth about God, and just as fundamental to true, healthy relationships as well.

We are all equally beautiful as God’s creations and equally precious to our Heavenly Father.  May we all be graced with the eyes to see one another’s beauty.

 

Posted June 10, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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