Archive for the ‘acceptance’ Tag

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

Tagged with , , , ,

Walk It Off   Leave a comment

When I pull on my tennis shoes, my two dogs begin to dance, spinning and hopping backwards down the hallway in front of me in anticipation of our walk.  I love their joy and it’s good exercise for me, but I mostly take to the road for the sake of my soul.  In 3 to 4 miles the calm of woods and field settles into my spirit, and I always come back more at peace than when I set out.  Why is nature so deeply healing for us?  That has always been a mystery to me.

Then I read these words last week: “True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.”  A single incisive sentence can silhouette a truth that otherwise blends into the commonness of life.  The idea had been niggling at the edges of my thoughts this year as I felt my spirit relax around each graveled curve and then suddenly cramp again at the sight of a dilapidated house, reminding me of my own languishing projects, or a solid stone wall that scolded me for my broken one.  Every touch with others, or even thought of it, brings some weight of obligation, especially for those of us who are duty sponges.  Certainly there is joy and comfort, insight and stimulation in our friendships, but there is always a trade-off, a compromise, a curtailing of ourselves and our desires.  Relationships are both pleasure and obligation.

We sense others’ expectations and shape ourselves to meet them, tempering our words and ideas, hiding what feels unsafe to share.  Even with those closest to us we are inhibited because we don’t want to hurt or anger or sadden them or be hurt by them as they respond to our true selves.  Every human interaction comes with a large or small box of “shoulds”.  Even if we have enjoyed the evening with you, our guests, we feel ourselves relax when you leave and give a sigh of relief as we settle back, kick off our shoes, and flick on a mindless sit-com.  When I am by myself, I am most free to be myself, understand myself, drop the self-defenses and peer deep into the pool of my being.  And in becoming truer to myself, more self-accepting, I am able to offer myself more genuinely to others.

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.
One’s inner voices become audible.
One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.
In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.
The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature,
the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.
–Wendell Berry

The tensions we feel in connection to others are natural, a part of being imperfect humans in relationship.  If we respond to them in healthy ways, they become resources for insight and growth, both personally and relationally.  However, part of a healthy response includes the solitude that offers duty-free reflection, and for those like me with an over-wrought sense of should, that’s best done “in the wild,” far from human detritus.  When we take time away from being who we should be, we discover who we are.  It is only as we know ourselves that we can share ourselves.

Posted December 30, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

It Hurts   Leave a comment

Emotional shrapnel from old battles tore unexpectedly at my vitals this afternoon, searing my heart from some random twist in my psyche as I drove down Lakeside Avenue.  It flares up like this without warning, without any evident cause… something I saw or heard or remembered that touches a place still raw and sore, but too deep to identify.  I am learning to live with it like rheumatism.  Slow down, ease off, go gently till it lifts in an hour or day or month.  Another tough opportunity to learn self compassion.

Posted March 18, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , ,

Befriending Myself   4 comments

I woke up this morning with spare change on the clock to get to church on time, but my soul was out of sorts, so I lay still, sensing its pulse instead of pushing myself out of bed.  For the last decade I’ve honed the skill of listening to my feelings without judging them, but I’m only gradually learning to then respond with compassion, a crucial second step.  Since I spent most of my life judging my feelings and driving them out with shame–calling them stupid or weak or petty–it was a giant step for me to learn to accept them as legitimate and meaningful, and it took years of stiff work.

That tenacious acceptance opened a huge cache of information about myself, a way to sort through my junk and set the furniture back on its feet.  But with my cognitive bent, I’m slow on intuition, a key conduit to feelings.  I often get stuck in my head, my thoughts going in circles like bugs around a rim, emotionally trapped, unable to move forward until I understand it.

I failed to realize that understanding someone and embracing him are quite distinct, and I don’t need to diagnose him in order to love him.  Empathy can be profoundly healing even without an emotional biopsy.  When I focus on fixing a “problem,” I default to analytics, but I can’t support the feelings when I treat them as the problem, a roadblock instead of a signpost.  A hug is often better than a flow chart, not just for my wife, but surprisingly for me, the thinker.

When I’m busy dissecting feelings, I can forget compassion, especially for myself.  Love seems a distraction from analyzing and engineering a solution… unless love IS the solution.  “1+2 = love” does not make sense because feelings cannot be reduced to equations or formulas.  But if love is not the answer, then perhaps I’m asking the wrong question, and if I’m not ending up at compassion, then I’m really off track.  How would it shape my experience of life if I lived for love, not just for others, but for myself?

I know how to be a good friend to others: to listen, love, be gentle and patient, kind and thoughtful.  But I don’t treat myself that way.  I bully myself.  I push and prod, roll my eyes, belittle pain, ignore my needs, devalue my efforts.  I’m a really bad friend to myself.

So this morning I lay in bed, fully present to God and myself, ignoring the clock, being patient and gentle and sympathetic to my struggles like a good friend should.  I took a feel-good shower instead of skipping it and rushing to church, and I discovered that being a better friend to myself made me a better friend to those I met.  I’ve found a new buddy, and I think I’m going to really like him.

Be Honest Or Be Good?   1 comment

Following the great literary tradition of Dr. Seuss, someone coined the phrase “Fake it till you make it,” meaning that if you can’t do something good from the heart, do it without the heart until the heart catches up.  If you hate someone, smile and be nice anyway.  If you are frightened, affect a bold, unflinching attitude.  If you are upset, act as though you are calm.  Fake it.

Pretense never appealed to me. I take the honest approach.  If I hate someone or think he’s stupid, I let him know it, scowl at him across four lanes of traffic or shake my head in pity.  There’s a reason I don’t have any Jesus bumper stickers on my car–it would be false advertising.   “Receive Jesus and you can be just like me” has some major shortcomings as a marketing strategy.  To be honest (I’ll try to stick with that), I’ve noticed that when I force a smile through clenched teeth, and he smiles back, good happens, a sliver of peace accidentally slips down into my heart and relaxes my jaw.

Or not.  When I try to stuff the bad feelings and force myself to be virtuous, it doesn’t work so well.  I wrestle down my aggravation over this lane-hogging driver… and the one who dilly-dallied till I missed the green light… and this guy who parked so crooked I can’t pull in, and each time I push down the bubbling anger, it comes back up hotter.  Putting a lid on it can make things boil over.

So which is it–does it help or hurt to act good when I don’t feel good?  Why does positive behavior sometimes pull my reluctant heart along and at other times trip it up?

For me, it depends on the impetus.  When I choose to do good in a way that seems to devalue and override my feelings, it turns radioactive.  When I give grace to others by denying it to myself, it poisons me.  In fact, I don’t think it’s real grace.  Picture grace as electricity–I am the cable, and God is the generator, and when I cut myself off from grace, I also cut off those who receive it from me.  Being only the wire, I can’t crank grace out on my own, especially not from legalism (which is the impetus if I am moved purely by obligation).  Or to say it without wires and sparks: I cannot shame and fight my feelings and then hope to be accepting and generous towards others.

Here is how it plays out for me in two traffic scenarios.  First, under law.  I try to clamp down on my irritation by “shoulding” on myself, forcing down my feelings.  Legalism makes me very conscientious as a driver–I don’t tail-gate, I let others merge in front of me (one car only, thank you), I don’t hold people up at traffic lights as I text on my phone.  I work hard at it because my self-worth is tested daily, and I have to pass every section, even the driving part, to get my human license re-validated.  If God’s keeping a scorecard, I can’t afford to make mistakes, and If I can’t have excuses, neither can you.  It’s a tense way to be a driver… and a husband… and an employee… and a neighbor… and a human.

Grace only has room to flow in when I change the game from whack-a-mole to save-a-mole.  I decide to accept myself and others with our mistakes instead of trying to beat out the faults till we deserve acceptance.  Instead of saying in my head, I drive right, so you must drive right, I say, I make mistakes, so you may make mistakes.  Now this is not a new equation of fairness on a different standard as though I am saying I will allow you as many mistakes as I allow myself, but if you cross the limit, I’ll whack you.  Grace is unlimited.  It is no longer based on fairness.  Whatever I need I get and whatever you need you get.

But what if it goes past mistakes into meanness–she is deliberately unkind.  Then grace takes the form of forgiveness, and since I need a lot of that too, I want forgiveness to be woven into the ambiance of grace in my relational world.  I’m not suggesting a world without boundaries, leaving us defenseless.  But walls are not weapons, so personal boundaries are not a conflict with grace, but a concession to our limitations.  In fact, boundaries are a form of grace to myself, providing support for my weaknesses and security for my fears, and only then will I have the resources to offer grace to others, even to trolls, who are no less deserving.  None of us have merit badges–that’s why we need grace.

Posted March 3, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , , ,

Frictionless Marriage   3 comments

DSC01639By this afternoon the snow had mostly melted at our house, and it didn’t feel that cold, so I pulled on my tattered loafers sans socks and drove to the park with Mazie to walk.  The asphalt path was mostly free of snow, but by the time I reached the end, my toes were stinging.  When I turned onto the wooded dirt trail, I found half an inch of unmelted snow, and I started waddling with my feet splayed to keep from scooping snow into the gaping holes on the out-sides of my shoes.  As I walked, something strange happened–my toes began to warm.  I was surprised enough to pull out one foot and check that it wasn’t just going numb.  It was cool to the touch, but not icy, in spite of the snow that was clinging to the edge of the open splits.  Even on cold days my bare feet in loose shoes rub themselves warm against the leather as I walk, and now the broken trail made my feet slide around even more, increasing the friction.  There is an upside to friction… even in relationships.

Berly uses her lunch break to stretch her legs, and since I walk Mazie at the same time, we phone-walk together.  Today we chatted about yesterday’s blog post and how grace plays such a big role in our relationship.  My sketch was true in its broad strokes, but don’t suppose that Berly is always trusting and I am never selfish.  We screw up regularly.  But we make room for that in our relationship.  Our family values are framed by grace–we structure our lives to make space for one another’s weaknesses, fears, needs and the like.  Grace designs the principles by which we live but also the manner in which we live these principles, or rather fail to live these principles.  In other words, we give ourselves grace for failing to live by grace.

In my last post I said Berly trusts “that I am doing all that I can within the sphere of my emotional strength.”  But sometimes I shortchange Kimberly by doing less than I can, intentionally or not (that is, sometimes I am lazy and at other times I simply underestimate my own energy level).  We are deeply committed to one another, to mutual understanding, acceptance, and support and we live this consistently, but not perfectly.  We have expectations… our expectations are that we will fall short of our ideals on a fairly regular basis.  We trust one another not because we live flawlessly, but because we live in grace towards one another’s flaws.

In other words, we live with friction, and we think that’s good.  It’s possible to smooth over all interactions, but the cost of such a tightly controlled “peace” is shallow and inauthentic relationships.  Nothing is more lonely than a friendship where we cannot be ourselves.  If we are unique individuals with our own histories, views, personalities, and preferences, then doing real life together at any depth is going to bring tension.  Real life and growth comes from rubbing up against the rough grain of those we love and discovering that our flaws are the basis for our bonding.  It is not fixing faults but embracing grace that strengthens relationships and deepens trust.

Posted January 23, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , , , , ,

Feeling Good about Christmas   2 comments

xmas tree outBefore realizing what I had done, I started a post with the title “Holding onto the Good,” and the good referred to Christmas spirits.  I was falling into the American error of confusing the good with good feelings, when truly the good often comes with the worst feelings possible. One of my fundamental life commitments is this: embrace the hard to gain the good, regardless of how it feels.  But culture sucks me back into assuming that good feelings are the reward for good choices, that I can measure my spiritual pulse by how positive I feel, and negative feelings are a mark that I’ve slipped up somewhere.  No wonder I want to leave up the tinsel and lights and stretch out this season to push back the bleak winter.  That, and it just feels better.  Who doesn’t want to feel good?!

For my LOTR friends

For my LOTR friends

I affirm that desire: feeling good is not all bad.  A sense of well-being gives me more energy to make the world a better place.  It is a great blessing and resource.  Like all resources, however, it can be turned to self interest.  It can make me balk at choosing the hard or painful or costly. It can make me less patient, understanding, and sympathetic towards those who are struggling… even wanting to shove them away to insulate and save my positive vibes.   Good feelings are emotional cash, which can be spent well or poorly.  I’d like to have a big stash, but that’s not necessarily what’s best for my soul.  In my experience, suffering has much more potential power in shaping me for good, true good.

Still I instinctively avoid it and wish it away.  Pushing ahead through pain is like walking up to my knees in mud–it takes all my energy, gives no pleasure, and progress seems dismally slow.  Perhaps my New Year’s resolution should be: learn to slog, which no doubt means adjusting my goals, expectations, and evaluations.  Sometimes the measure of triumph is simply taking one more step.

truck in mud

Posted January 4, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , ,