Archive for the ‘acceptance’ Tag

Disappointing Everyone but God   16 comments

It took years for me to accept my own ostrich-ness without embarrassment, recognizing and not running away from the disappointment others held towards me.  I was sharply reminded of this at my dad’s funeral as I re-connected with acquaintances from long ago, the many who stood in line to offer me their condolences and politely inquire: “Where do you live now?” and “What do you do there?”

The simple answer is, “I work at Home Depot.”  There is nothing simple about that response.  It is freighted with cultural and religious baggage, and I immediately saw it in their faces when I answered, sudden flickers of questions and doubts tugging at their cheeks and blinking their eyelids. The middle-aged son of a college president working a minimum-wage job?  Should they leave it alone and move on or ask me for clarification… and how could they do that circumspectly?  Since I wasn’t sitting down with them for coffee, I started adjusting my answer to relieve their discomfort.

I understand their consternation.  When I started working at Home Depot two years ago it took me a couple months of building courage to share the news on Facebook.  As a culture, when we hear of a college-educated person in mid-career working an entry level job, we feel sure there is a tragic story behind this mishap.  Selling hammers is one step above homelessness.  I was going to say one step above unemployment, but actually an unemployed professor ranks far above a working stiff–he hasn’t given up on himself yet.

Of course the heavy cultural implications are double-weighted with the religious ones.  It is true that Jesus himself worked with hammers and saws, but that was in his youth, just an apprenticeship for what really mattered, we think.  The highest accolades in my family and alma mater go to missionaries, secondarily to pastors, thirdly to those in non-profit work, but instead of working my way up that ladder, I slipped down it, one rung at a time.  Oddly enough, my soul was gaining depth and strength and wisdom with each lower step.

It seems the Kingdom of God is much less predictable and straightforward than I assumed most of my life.  I guess that is why we walk by faith.

Posted June 11, 2016 by janathangrace in Personal, Uncategorized

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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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Finding Peace within Pain   4 comments

“Be gentle and kind to yourself” I blogged two weeks ago.  “Take full measure of your pain and with compassion find a way to give the help your weary, struggling heart needs.”  Great advice, and as it turns out, useless.  I was suffering acutely, but didn’t know why.  How could I relieve a pain that I could not locate?  Loneliness may be remedied with a friend, loss may be resolved with healthy grieving, but the phantom pain of depression is often untraceable to any source.  I was completely stuck.

For a long time now I have been struggling to find relief from my pain… or at the very least find the best way to cope with it.  Should I follow a plan or be spontaneous, should I read or write, should I sleep in or get up early–what would be best for my soul?  I kept taking my emotional temperature, trying to figure out what helped or didn’t help, but the solution was a will-o’-the-wisp, dancing just outside my insight and control.

“And then somehow it came to me,” I journaled the next morning.  “What my heart needed was not support to find and apply a solution (friends, good job, insight, etc.), but just support as an end in itself. What my heart needed was simply that gentleness and kindness, for me to have an attitude of constant gentleness and kindness in how I saw myself, thought of myself, felt about myself. I needed self-compassion for my own pain and struggle and fear and confusion and sense of worthlessness—not to find a solution, but to just be on my own side through it all.”

I am a fixer from way back.  When I see others in pain, I want to help, give them suggestions, offer them a way to find relief.  This often backfires, unintentionally causing more hurt.  Kimberly wants me to listen with compassion, understanding, and empathy rather than solutions, but I’m a very slow learner.  I keep defaulting back to problem-solving even though I’ve discovered through her how greatly I also need to just be heard and not fixed.

If the best a friend can offer is not to stop my pain, but to hold my hand through it, then why have I never thought to practice this with my own heart, to be my own best friend?  What if I walked through each day with a tenderness towards myself, an empathy for my struggle, an awareness and responsiveness to the fluctuations of daily events and how they impact my heart?

I feel as though a new way of being has started to open up in my mind. I’m just learning the initial steps, but it seems to hold real promise for the next leg of my spiritual journey.  It does not mean my misery will lighten, but that I will be sensitive and caring about my ongoing pain.

Posted January 19, 2016 by janathangrace in Personal

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A Visit from My Boyhood Self   Leave a comment

Caroline came to me at work yesterday with an apology, “I’m sorry I was hard on you yesterday.  I was slammed with a lot of issues I had to sort through and was feeling stressed.”  I said that I understood.  But she was not finished with her apology which rather quickly worked around to her frustration at me, still evident in her look and tone of voice, because I was apparently inadequate at my job.  Tears had started pooling in my eyes when she finally finished her lecture and turned to leave.

Having no customers to attend, I had some space to reflect.  Why did this exchange feel so bad to me?  I was better than most at handling displeased customers and angry colleagues, able to be courteous and sympathetic without taking it personally.  I felt the powerful emotional tug and followed the shame back to my childhood fears. This dynamic was very familiar, the sense that I was fundamentally flawed because I was too slow or stupid or inattentive.  It was not simply that I had failed in this one thing as everyone does, but that I had failed in a way that others did not, at least not responsible ones.  As a boy I figured dad would be patient with average mistakes, the kind he too made, so his frustration proved some deeper flaw in me.  Children who paid more attention, who got it on the first explanation, who didn’t repeat the same mistake earned approval.  I just had to try harder… but I could never quite overcome that achievement deficit.  I was stuck in a permanent sense of inadequacy.

Now whether my dad was too impatient or I was too sensitive is beside the point… or rather it completely leads us down the wrong trail.  The point is not to identify blame, but to identify dynamics–this is what happened and this is how it made me feel.  And seeing that dynamic clearly, and being the melancholic that I am (tending to self-blame), I immediately noticed how I treat others in a similar way, especially those I supervise.  My mind flashed back to the previous night when I had given an exasperated look and tone to a new student I was training because she wasn’t getting it.  I could see her face fall, and realizing what I had done, I quickly changed into a non-judgmental re-explanation.  But it passed through my mind as a common interaction, not something that called for further examination, one of those things I see as a flaw in myself that I need to work on, but with such a minimal focus that I make only incremental changes.

Okay, that is unfair to myself.  I have actually grown a lot in this area.  I just have a lot farther to go. If I’d had a little boy when I was my father’s age, I might have been much harder on him than my father was on me.  It is nearly impossible to break out of family dynamics without a great deal of reflection and understanding… and grace to myself, not just to others.  Given my temperament, I could easily turn this insight into self-blame, castigating myself for being hard on others and trying to scold myself into being more patient.  But shaming myself just makes me feel even more inadequate, leading to further dysfunction in my life.

For me, this is where reflecting on my childhood becomes so powerful.  When I find a reason for a deep-rooted unhealthy tendency in myself, when I can locate the pain I felt that I’m passing on to others, I can see myself with compassionate eyes, as the wounded one.  I can grace myself into healthier interactions instead of criticizing myself into being better, a stick I used my whole life that simply drove me into deep, unremitting depression.  I find that grace must begin with myself before I can pass it on.  We live in a fallen world, we have all been wounded deeply, and tracing that injury back to its roots can give us the insight and self-compassion we need to finally begin healing under the gentle touch of God’s grace.

Posted September 3, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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Running from My Feelings   2 comments

“Our inward winters take many forms- failure, betrayal, depression, death. But every one of them, in my experience yields to the same advice. ‘The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.’ Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them- protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship or inner discipline or spiritual guidance- we can learn what they have to teach us. Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.” Parker J. Palmer

Truth. Running from our fears, or even our depression, is not a long term workable solution.  It keeps us trapped.  Palmer even adds the one important caveat.  We can only face fully into our fears or depression to the extent we have sufficient internal and external resources, and since our cupboards are never fully stocked, there are always limitations on what we can fully face and for how long without some reprieve.  It is far more like tacking into the wind than sailing a straight course forward, and at times we simply must let the storm blow us where it will.  Those with meager resources have the least ability to leverage their way forward.  As with our calf muscles, we can overtax and strain our psyches and end up worse off for our excess efforts–more vulnerable and weak than before.  In that sense, it is the overall direction we set that is life-giving, but we must keep close watch on our resources so as to live within our emotional means or we will run a deficit.

I so appreciate the truth Palmer expresses.  I spent most of my life fleeing depression–not in diversions as some do, but in desperately seeking for solutions, cures, answers.  Desperation rarely opens the best way forward, and so I stilted my progress, narrowed my options, scrambled down false turns.  Kimberly taught me to slowly become accepting of my depression, to embrace the feelings and be sympathetic to myself in my suffering, to wait patiently for answers to come in the slow process of deeper self-understanding.

This is not at all the same as “giving-in” to feelings–allowing them to control me and take me where they will, which is a dangerous road to travel.  We seem trapped by a false dichotomy: to either capitulate to our feelings or subdue them.  We see it as a blatant power struggle, and there is no good way for us to respond from that perspective.  Feelings are like a road map–they inform us, they do not control us–and if we fear their power, the solution still lies in understanding them more fully in a self-compassionate way, not in pushing them away in fear or shame. Feelings that are denied have far greater control over us than those which are acknowledged.  They may control us by forcing us into the opposite choice–risk rather than safety, fight rather than flight–but they still control our decisions, only now more obliquely, beyond our awareness, making us far less able to recognize and resist their impact.

We accept our feelings into our lives as friends, not as dictators… or as captives.  How would you compassionately embrace your fearful friend?  You would acknowledge her feeling, show understanding for that feeling, legitimate her feeling as a feeling.  Wise and mature counselors will not try to “fix” the feeling (judge it, correct it, change it).  Feelings are always true and right as feelings.  They tell us something important about ourselves (not necessarily about our situation).  Because emotions are complex, they are often clues rather than direct assertions about our inner world (our anger may mask fear, our pride may cover insecurity).  We must patiently listen and learn over many years to slowly gain fluency in their language, but if we do, a whole world of self-understanding and healthy responses are opened to us.

Posted June 2, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Coming Out of the Closet   9 comments

So, yes, I did sort of blandly confess yesterday that my life is a useless dead-end.  If my dispassion came from fatalism or apathy, it would likely be a sign of spiritual stagnation, but instead, my sharing it with such ease and openness (not stuffed with caveats or apologies or explanations) is a very real sign of spiritual growth for me.  It has taken years for me to slowly come out of the closet as a failure, a nobody, and grow into the faith that God is in control and loves me with an unfettered grace.  He is famous for using asses (both the donkey variety and the human kind) to accomplish good on this earth, even those totally resistant to his purposes, like Jonah at Ninevah and Peter with the Ethiopian eunuch, so he can surely use someone like me who, though deeply flawed, is eager to be his instrument.

I no longer cower under the withering suspicion that my flaws keep me on the bench, but It is not easy to feel useless, to feel as though my gifts fall to the ground like rotting apples in a starving country.  It requires faith and patience in the mystery of God’s will and work in the world.  I’m getting better at that… I have to get better at it because the longer I live, the more clearly I see the wreckage around me.  As I told Kimberly yesterday, this wretched world gives no rational proof of a good God.  The balance sheets of justice (let alone beauty and goodness) cannot be reconciled on earth.  As Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable.” Forget the world around me, the world inside my chest is so slow in growing towards God that death will catch me long before I’ve lived into half the truth I’ve come to see. 

God has a lot of explaining to do to justify his creating this muck-up since he knew the disaster that would come, but I expect one glimpse of his beauty will obliterate all our questions and doubts and captivate our hearts.  Until then, we live by faith in a beauty we cannot see, in a grace we cannot well absorb, and in a love that guides us through the dark and home to his heart.  May we all find our way by grace and en-courage one another with compassion.

Posted February 25, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down   6 comments

My memory is like cellphone reception in the sticks–very iffy.  I am a full-spectrum forgetter, from the trivial pen to the crucial time sheet submission, and everything in-between.  I’m so good at misplacing things that I’m surprised to find them where they belong–the cupboard is the last place I look for my coffee cup.  I have a whole strategy for dealing with my incompetence–jotting myself reminders and propping them in key places (my computer keyboard, my Honda dashboard) or leaning things against the door so I can’t leave without them.  I am totally prepped for the onset of Alzheimer’s!

Along with my other inveterate shortcomings, It is my wild forgetfulness that wakens my memory, that keeps me aware of my own inadequacy.  Some folks are so successful or competent or busy or distracted that their memory needs to be elbowed into recalling their own failings.  They get good grades at work and church and family and pick up extra credit volunteering at the mission downtown.  Their lives, unlike mine, constantly point to their virtues and accomplishments, and it is their failings that they forget.  They need reminders, blacked out calendar days, time set aside to reflect on the noxious embers that still smolder in their bones.  They need Ash Wednesday.

But I need Resurrection Sunday.  I live in the ash heap of my own failures, reflecting back on them not for 40 days, but 40 years.  I don’t need reminding, I need rescuing.  What I need to remember, always remember, is Easter, the joy of forgiveness.  My hope cannot be in outgrowing my faults or in forgetting them, but in living my present messy life in the full embrace of God, the God who not only accepts me in spite of my past failures, but also in expectation of my future ones, who is not put off by my need, but is drawn to me because of it.  We all fall down, constantly fall down, but may we land in His grace, not in our own self-loathing.  And may the ashes on our foreheads be the sign of our mutual poverty as we hold one another’s hands and dance together in the glorious light of His redemptive love.

Posted February 19, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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