Archive for the ‘blame’ Tag

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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The Power and Pitfalls of Well-Integrated Personalities   4 comments

Personality is a major organizing force in the development of our worldview, our personal way of making sense of the world and shaping our approach to it.  Our natural outlook is not inherently right or wrong as though there is a perfect personality to attain. Rather, God has made us each with our own abilities, roles, emphases, and perspectives so as to offer unique contributions to each other. Every personality comes with its strengths and weaknesses—we offer our strengths as gifts and receive the strengths of others to help with our weaknesses.  Like the interlocking hollows and loops in jigsaw puzzle pieces, we come together as a whole.  In this way our differences can be a great  bond for relationship and a source of insight and growth when handled with mutual respect and validation.

But alternative views are often at odds with our own perspective and so appear meaningless, confusing, or threatening–not understanding how to inter-connect, we knock against each other.  I discovered this to be a huge part of the conflicts Kimberly and I had early in marriage. It is not simply that Berly and I disagreed about our boxes of morals, relational expectations, and the like… but that she had no boxes.  I was trying to discuss box dimensions and what fit where, and she said, “What boxes?”  Without boxes, even “outside the box” thinking doesn’t exist.  I am analytical and she is intuitive, I need categories and she needs space, I want clarity and she wants connection.  It was the tower of Babel in miniature and without a translator.  I didn’t disagree with her individual points, but with her whole system.

The more cohesive my worldview, the stronger and more stable it is, like the many separate strands a spider weaves into a web, and in a well-integrated system, when one strand is touched, everything is set jangling, so trying to incorporate a perspective at odds with one element threatens the whole.  For instance, Kimberly said she was hurt by my words, but was not blaming me.  That made no sense in my world where pain was proof of fault–either she was too sensitive or misunderstood me or I was too insensitive.  We had to establish responsibility so we could figure out how to fix it.  She wanted to share, I wanted to fix.

I can see the benefit of her view: sharing puts us both on the same side of the issue, blaming sets us up against each other.  But that one idea threatened my whole system.  Is no one responsible for anything?  That would be chaos.  Or do we let everyone determine their own standards?  That would be war.  Trying to integrate her one idea raised a hundred questions about good and evil, spirituality, relationships, God… the whole enchilada.  I was tempted to find a slot to squeeze her idea into, validate her perspective by twisting it to fit my worldview.  In this case, between my boxes of “hurt blamed on speaker” and “hurt blamed on listener” I could add a box of special cases, “no-fault pain.”  The threat is quelled and my system holds together, but at what price? I fail to truly understand my wife or to stretch and grow in any substantial way.  My system is fundamentally challenged, but I shunt the new idea onto a side-railing where I can occasionally access it for special use with my wife.  But getting savvy about word choice to avoid conflict is hardly the same as real understanding, acceptance, and validation.

To truly understand Berly, I had to understand her from within her own worldview, not as addenda to mine.  To validate her, I had to find a way to also appreciate her worldview.  To benefit from her view, I had to find a way to make her ideas meaningful and important, to make room in my system for who she is and how she sees the world… in other words to change my worldview by valuing and incorporating her perspective.  It took years and was not smooth sailing, but love finds a way, and it changed me for the better in a hundred ways.

Posted August 20, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Catching Myself in Faux Forgiveness   2 comments

Oliver Sacks is dying.  This brilliant and eloquent neurologist is one of my favorite authors, and reading excerpts from his autobiography this morning reminded me of one large reason–he is a man of profound, lived, empathic grace.  I have often tried to forgive others by brute force, knowing it is the right thing to do and willing myself into a gentler mindset, but without off-setting any of the blame I levy against them.  This “forgiveness” requires no understanding, empathy, or reconsideration of my valuation of them and their behavior. They are bad; I am good–so good that I even forgive their sin against me. Instead of using their failure to reflect on my own shortcomings, on how we are similar, I use their faults to contrast with my virtue so that I understand neither them nor myself any better than before.  I “forgive” from a place of moral superiority rather than from a humble view of our mutual sinfulness so that my very forgiveness becomes a source of distancing and shaming rather than true reconciliation.   Their role is to humble themselves, admit how bad they are, and then I will magnanimously agree with their estimation–“Yes, you are bad, but I forgive you.”  As long as I don’t hold a grudge or wish them ill, I can claim to have forgiven them even if I continue to think badly of them.

But Sacks, by just being himself in relationship to others, showed me how inadequate my supposed grace is.  He not only forgave those who had deeply wounded him, but showed his understanding of their human struggle.  He could see why they reacted to him as they did and could empathize with their situation and viewpoint.  He did this without devaluing his own pain or pushing himself to engage more deeply in a wounding relationship than his soul could well maintain, but he found a way to protect himself without maligning those who injured him.  To understand and empathize with others does not require us to then subject ourselves to ongoing harmful behavior.  In fact, it is when we keep healthy boundaries that we are most able to empathize freely with those who behave in hurtful ways.  I learned first from Kimberly that the justification for my boundaries lies in my own needs, not in the other person’s faults.  Assigning blame is an entirely different consideration than what boundaries I need for my own well-being.  Taking full responsibility for my own boundaries frees me up to give grace with much more abandon because my love is no longer an opening for their hurtful behavior.  Forgiveness is not a moral power struggle, it is an acceptance of our mutual frailty and fallenness.

Posted May 26, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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The Patience of Grace   10 comments

“I’m sorry for being impatient with you Sunday night,” I told Forest, one of my student workers, as he sat down at the circulation desk.  “You were doing your best, and that is all I can ask of anyone.”  I am not a patient man, with myself or with others.  I “came by it honestly” as my mother would say since Dad was highly committed to efficiency and raised us on the double: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing quicker.  “What took you so long?” was cliched into the moral soundscape of our lives, a diagnostic metronome to gauge our pace in life.  I never earned my efficiency badge, so it became an obsession of sorts as I chased after the qualifying time that kept eluding me.  Life was a race and I was losing, but instead of quitting, I just ran harder.

My hopped up need for hustle exalts efficiency over more Scriptural values like patience, and even when I demote it, it still  mucks up the works by prodding me to bark at consequences instead of intentions.  That is, if you get in my way, I’ll get hot whether it’s your fault or not.  Forest is diligent, but learns slowly.  Impatience (if ever legitimate) must burn at his negligence, not at his learning curve, over which he has little control.  Scolding a slow person for being slow is abusive, and the first step down that harmful path is expecting too much of others… which usually springs from demanding too much of myself.

So the cure, ironically enough, begins with grace towards myself, even about my abusive impatience towards others.  I cannot in any healthy way scold myself into virtue.  Being patient with myself is not at all the same as excusing myself or minimizing my fault.  Rather, it is fully admitting my faults, but seeking a cure in God’s greater grace rather than my greater effort.  Divine grace is key not only because it forgives me, but because it creates a whole context of grace, a circle big enough for all our failings, mine and Forest’s both.  Excuses, far from being an expression of grace, are a rejection of it.  They are a claim to need no grace since no wrong has been done–I only need your understanding, not your forgiveness.  Excusing myself closes the door to grace just as surely as loathing myself.  Self-justification and self-condemnation are both blockades to grace–in the first I am too good for grace and in the second I am too bad for it, but both express a legalistic worldview. and trying to validate them by calling them “righteousness” and “contrition” respectively will not change their antagonism to grace.

I scolded Forest shortly before we closed Sunday, and I was already feeling guilty by the time I walked out the door.  I wrestled with it on the way home, refusing to play the devil’s song of shame in my head, but embracing my failings and the grace I needed to relieve my shame.  Instead of spending the two days till his next shift beating myself–a common habit of mine that is so personally and relationally destructive–I settled into the relief of God’s all-encompassing grace, and when I apologized to Forest on Tuesday, it was not from a shame-induced defensiveness or groveling, but as a fellow recipient of grace.  We both fail, we both need grace.  May we all learn to grace ourselves and one another more freely.

Posted November 11, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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I Didn’t Mean That!   6 comments

A week ago I was sitting at the library reference desk and one of my student workers was talking to a couple of friends.  We allow this for a couple of minutes, but they kept jabbering.  When there was a pause in the conversation I said, “If you want to keep having this discussion, why don’t you take it elsewhere.”  The visiting students were clearly embarrassed and immediately apologized and headed out the door.  The student worker continued with her shift, but at the end of her hour she got up and left in complete silence.  I’m not deaf to social cues and guessed she was upset with me.  Sadly, I can come across as more harsh than I feel… something in the tone of my voice, the look in my eyes, the cock of my brows.

I know this because Kimberly regularly yanks my chain about what I have said or done with others that seems completely tame to me–I was not barking, I was not even growling.  Apparently my perception of “normal” is skewed towards blunt and angry.  I take umbrage easily.  I lack grace.  And even when I manage to have a gracious mindset, my frown lines still crease–my mom was right: making ugly faces does stick.  I have improved a great deal, but Kimberly keeps wincing, so I’ve clearly got a ways to go.

Every plain statement comes with assumptions, context, implications, connotation… in short, the unspoken part of our message is often more powerful and important than the spoken part.  This is true not only because we can give it more weight, even unintentionally, but because the unspoken has unusual advantages, being unseen it easily slips past all our defenses.

  • It’s often felt, but not identified consciously, so the person falls under its influence without a chance to examine and question it.
  • It’s hard to call out because it can easily be refuted with “that’s not what I said” or “that’s not what I meant.”
  • The person reacting has no “proof” so he doubts himself and may not even understand why he is reacting as he is, even blaming himself for feeling blamed, a double whammy.

When dad says, “That was a great science project.  Next year you’ll probably get first place,”  his words are floating in a relational stew.  The boy knows his father, knows what he thinks about science versus sports, knows how he weighs second place versus first, knows how he values his son’s achievements compared to his job or favorite sitcom or other kid’s accomplishments.  The father’s sentiments override everything else, and his actual words are powerless in such a competition.  We are all born intuitively perceptive, remarkably so, even if we cannot put it into words or rational explanations.

No amount of care in choosing my words or facial expressions is going to change the experience others have of me, except in the most superficial interactions.  My only hope is to grow more into a gracious heart, for the heart always comes leaking out between and around all my words, my polite behavior, my planned smiles.  The truth has an inevitability, even when I try to suppress it, even when I’m blind to it in myself.  Sometimes people know me better than I know myself.  So I listen to them, even when it sounds like poppycock 😉 .

Posted April 3, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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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

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Ambiance of Grace   4 comments

Forgiveness part 6: Grace-infused relationships

(I found my flash drive with my notes on forgiveness, so I’ll continue sharing my thoughts.  So far I discussed the need for mutual understanding and self-support in relational conflicts.)

Forgiveness seems like such a wonderful resolution to any conflict… until you forgive me for a lie I did not tell or a missing wallet I did not steal.  Here is the downside of forgiveness–it starts with blame.  I was raised in a family that believed every conflict or pain in relationship was someone’s fault.  If I feel hurt, it’s your fault or if you’re innocent, then I’m wrong to feel hurt.  Someone’s always guilty.  Every conflict was resolved by making the wrongdoer confess and apologize, a power struggle with a winner and loser (really no one wins, and the relationship suffers).  Forced apologies are a stipend of American families: “Tell your brother you’re sorry!”

scapegoat

Genuine forgiveness is only one part of a whole gracious worldview with which I perceive others and relate to them.  What others consider an issue of forgiveness is often simply an issue of acceptance for Kimberly and me.  We offer grace to one another (patience, understanding, benefit of the doubt) without making it a question of someone being right and someone being wrong–we are both flawed and we want to create an environment where we are accepted with our shortcomings.  We do this all the time in facing mild irritations—when she slams kitchen cupboards or I forget to empty the vacuum cleaner canister.  But even with big issues, I have learned from Kimberly that the path of blame and forgiveness is usually a misguided diversion from sorting out our problems with grace.

rumi

Using my family’s approach, I tried in our first few years of marriage to help her see her faults and correct them (shame her into goodness), but she would have none of it–it was not her deeds but my perceptions that were faulty.  She was right, we needed better understanding and acceptance, not better behavior.  Love certainly inspires us to change for one another, but it is the result of acceptance, not the basis for it.  She and I have unique personalities and values, fears and pleasures, histories and perspectives, so we experience the same things quite differently.  This does not make one of us right and the other wrong, one better and one worse. We are learning to appreciate our differences.

JUST 'CAUSE WE'RE DIFFERENT DOESN'T MEAN ME CAN'T GET ALONG

JUST ‘CAUSE WE’RE DIFFER’NT DON’T MEAN WE CAN’T GET ALONG

It’s true that Kimberly doesn’t tell me lies or steal my wallet, but neither do my colleagues or neighbors usually… not even most strangers I meet.  Certainly there is plenty of real wrong in the world, evil that needs to be identified, confronted, and forgiven. But to me, that is the relational ER.  For most of my daily interactions I want to foster a spirit of humble and loving acceptance and understanding.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy, and Lord knows I need a lot of it.

grace

Posted June 17, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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