Archive for the ‘control’ Tag

Failure Is a Necessary Part of Life   Leave a comment

Excerpt from Mike Mason, Practicing the Presence of People:

We should never be ashamed to return to the drawing board.  In fact all of us should return there every day like children playing on a chalkboard.  The virtue of a chalkboard is that everything drawn on it can be wiped out and begun all over again.  If we were children living in a cottage beside the sea, then every day we would rush out to the beach to play at drawing and building in the sand, and then every night the tide would wash our sandbox clean.  As adults, we might perhaps consider this a pointless activity.  But why cling so tightly to our grown-up accomplishments?  What better way to live than with a clean slate every morning?

Consider the example of Brother Lawrence, who “asked to remain a novice always, not believing anyone would want to profess him, and unable to believe that his two years of novitiate had passed.”  Even the truth, after all, is not something to be held on to doggedly.  If something is really true, then let’s learn it anew every day.  And if there’s anything we’ve acquired that is not true, that does not stand the test of heartfelt love, then let’s wipe it away with the blood of Jesus!

This openhanded, reachable attitude is what is implied in the word practice.  Inherent in this word is the freedom to experiment, to try and try again with limitless humility to fail.  Practice makes perfect, but the practice itself is not perfect.  Practice is a patient, relaxed process of finding out what works and what doesn’t.  Practice leaves plenty of room for making mistakes; indeed mistakes are taken for granted.  In practice it goes without saying that any success is only the fruit of many failures.  Hence the failure is as important as the success, for the one could not happen without the other.

Many people avoid practice because of the fear of failure.  Perfectionists have the mistaken idea that something is not worth doing if they cannot look good by getting it right the first time.  For the perfectionist, any misstep is an unpleasant and embarrassing surprise.  But for a humble person, the surprise is getting it right.  Humility expects trial and error and so rejoices all the more at success.  Humility is always being surprised by grace.

Either life is practice, or it is performance.  It cannot be both.  Do you love surprise, or do you prefer to stay in control?  Are you a professional at life or an amateur?  Do you live spontaneously and experimentally for the sheer love of it  Or are you an expert who takes pride in being right about everything?  Would you rather be right than happy?

None of us can be perfect.  But everyone can be free.  Which will you choose?

Posted August 14, 2015 by janathangrace in Reading

Tagged with , ,

Choked by Our Own Expectations   Leave a comment

We are often warned not to get stuck in the past, but it is just as common a problem to get stuck in the future. Both viewpoints can pull us away from living fully in the present. But unlike our past, our future is a mystery, which could drastically change in an instant. Since we have no control over our past, we feel our only security is in controlling our future, but those expectations can be miscalculated in a hundred ways and so can hijack our present. In this sense we can lose control of our present by the demands of our planned future, so that, ironically, in thinking to gain more control over our lives, we lose control.


The answer is not in control of our past (by trying to ignore its impact) or control of our future (by careful planning and decision making), but in learning to live in the present by faith. Good plans and decisions are worthwhile, but our security lies rather in the hands of God. As the Good Book says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

–some words I shared on Facebook yesterday

Posted May 18, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with ,

The Fear of Being Forgiven   Leave a comment

I lost my USB drive holding my reflections on forgiveness, so my momentum on that topic has died, but here is a great quote from Stanley Hauerwas in The Peaceable Kingdom:

It is crucial that we understand that such a peaceableness is possible only if we are also a forgiven people.  We must remember that our first task is not to forgive, but to learn to be the forgiven.  Too often to be ready to forgive is a way of exerting control over another.  We fear accepting forgiveness from another because such a  gift makes us powerless—and we fear the loss of control involved.  Yet we continue to pray, “Forgive our debts.”  Only by learning to accept God’s forgiveness as we see it in the life and death of Jesus can we acquire the power that comes from learning to give up that control….

forgiveness

To be forgiven means that I must face the fact that my life actually lies in the hands of others.  I must learn to trust them as I have learned to trust God….  

But because we have learned to live as a forgiven people, as a  people no longer in  control, we also find we can become a whole people.  Indeed the demand that we be holy is possible only because we find that we can rest within ourselves.  When we exist as a forgiven people we are able to be at peace with our histories, so that now God’s life determines our whole way of being—our character.  We no longer need to deny our past, or tell ourselves false stories, as now we can accept what we have been without the knowledge of our sin destroying us.

Posted April 25, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

Tagged with , , ,

Who Let You In?   2 comments

I love mystery in arts and entertainment, but I don’t want it following me into the parking lot and hitching a ride home.  If insight is a blessing, mystery is a curse.  If knowledge is power, mystery is paralysis.  What possible good can it bring?  Of course, there was that little incident over the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that ended rather badly.  Apparently some knowledge and control is better left in God’s hands.  But it’s scary to be left in the dark.  It feels like it’s my fault, as though God is put out with me and won’t turn on the light, not as though he’s doing it out of love and support.  I’m really struggling to trust God with my unresolved ignorance and confusion.  Mystery has never been part of my spiritual tool chest.  Gerald May explains why:

When we were children, most of us were good friends with mystery.  The world was full of it and we loved it.  Then as we grew older, we slowly accepted the indoctrination that mystery exists only to be solved.  For many of us, mystery became an adversary; unknowing became a weakness.  The contemplative spiritual life is an ongoing reversal of this adjustment.  It is a slow and sometimes painful process of becoming “as little children” again, in which we first make friends with mystery and finally fall in love again with it.  And in that love we find an ever increasing freedom to be who we really are in an identity that is continually emerging and never defined.  We are freed to join the dance of life in fullness without  having a clue about what the steps are.

We’re just getting reacquainted.  It’s going to take a lot more time before mystery is a friend, especially a trusted friend.

Posted February 4, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

Spiritual Virtigo   14 comments

confusion boxMy mother in her quirky way used to make us Christmas gifts of various kinds.  This  Christmas I noticed my dad is still using a bathrobe she made for him 30 years ago.  She must have made it out of upholstery material, because it is soft and warm on the outside and stiff and scratchy on the skin-side.  My older brother David once unwrapped a gift from her and responded graciously, “I love it!  What is it?”  Indecipherable love.  God’s been putting together a special gift for me this year as a resource for my spiritual growth, and it looks like a box full of confusion, without an instruction manual.   God, you know I’m already depressed, right?  What the heck do I do with this?

Hundreds of years ago St. John of the Cross descended into “the dark night of the soul” and left a consoling account for those who followed.  The Christian psychiatrist Gerald May describes his own experience of it:

[This spirit of virtigo] seems specifically designed for people like me, people who refuse to relinquish the idea that if only I could understand things, I could make them right.  Having lost the old willpower and its satisfactions, we desperately try to figure out where we have gone astray.  “What’s happening here?  Where have I gone wrong?  Maybe my problem is this… No, maybe it’s that… Perhaps I should try this… Or that….”

Every effort at soul-diagnosis and cure fails.  We are left in the dark.  And that is for our salvation, May says: “Sooner or later, there is nothing left to do but give up.  And that is precisely the point, the purpose of the ‘dizzy spirit.’  In each relinquishment… reliance upon God is deepened.”   I’ve been mapquesting God for directions to my soul’s healing and taking every turn He signaled.  Apparently I’m in the Slough of Despond not from getting confused and careening off the road, but from following His bullet points.  He drove me straight into the bog.

swamp

MARSH RD, DESERT RD, DITCH RD, Hmmm

There are some advantages of sinking into the quagmire.  No worries about getting lost if you’re already there.  No wrong turns to make if you can’t move.  No real expectations to fail if there are no goals.  If it’s God’s move; all I can do is wait… and trust.  That’s always the tough part, especially for us hard-working, self-reliant types.  “Be still and know that I am God” is a much deeper concept than I realized–not simply self control in quieting myself, but learning to patiently accept God’s time-outs for my soul, letting something work which I cannot see or measure and over which I have no control.  Who knew being out of control was a sign of spiritual progress?

boy and teddy

Posted February 1, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , , ,

Walking Blind   8 comments

partsI have been soul-sick for several months now.  But today I feel okay.  Both the pain and the relief are inexplicable.  I accept mystery… as long as it stays theoretical.  But I find practical mysteries at best annoying: where are my glasses, which street do I take, why is the car making that noise?  When not knowing is costing me money or making me late or (more profoundly) hurting my relationships or my heart, I become agitated.  For me, ignorance is not bliss, it is often agony.  My method for coping with a scary, unpredictable world is to figure it out, experiment till I get it working, find new configurations for the parts lying on the floor.  As long as I have untried options, I can keep hope alive.

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

But I seem to have run out of options.  I don’t know why I am depressed and I can do nothing to change it.  It is a mystery of the worst kind.  Mystery is just a highfalutin word for confusion, and being lost and blind does not make me happy, especially when I bash my shins every other step.  Kimberly is struggling in the same way, and it has driven us to our new year’s resolution or annual theme of life: be okay with not being okay.  It is our stumbling way of embracing faith.  It doesn’t light our path or clear away the rubble, but it is our way of handing back the situation to God: “We’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work, so we’ll try to adjust ourselves to whatever might come.”

I commented to Kimberly in our prayer time two nights ago that I’m stuck with God.  If I thought I could find more peace with the devil, I’d look up his address, but I know leaving God would make me even more miserable.  I can make no sense of what God does, but I trust who He is, and for now that has to be enough.

Posted January 24, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , , , ,

Fixing Sandy Hook   Leave a comment

My first feeling was horror, quickly followed by outrage, and then a creeping sense of helplessness: horror for how many and how young the victims; outrage for the unprovoked, extreme violence; and helplessness because it was inexplicable and unpredictable.  As a red-blooded, American male with an overblown sense of responsibility, my powerlessness is the most frightening of these emotions, so I try to get passed it as quickly as possible (though I would not have admitted this even to me most of my life).  The way I protect myself from horror is to let my outrage stir me to resolve, to make sure such a terrible thing never happens again.  In other words, the quickest way for me to escape those wretched feelings is to jump passed them into problem-solving mode.

My gut response to natural disasters or unavoidable accidents is quite different, much simpler and cleaner.  I move easily into grief and solidarity with everyone since we are all in it together.  There is nothing to examine and correct.  I am responsible for nothing, and can simply feel. This acceptance is typical in fatalistic cultures, even for calamities that are preventable, but that seems like a defeatist attitude to us Americans.

As a nation carved out of the frontier by pioneers, we are very gifted at overcoming adversity with our “can do” spirit.  We are independent, pragmatic, self-confident, and creative… so much so that we see everything in the light of problem-solution.  We are able therefore to use action to largely override any feelings that crop up.  In fact, feelings themselves are often seen as part of the problem that needs fixing.  We tend to deal with insecurities by taming the situation.  We are a nation of controllers.  We take charge of ourselves, others, and our environment.

Within hours of the Newtown massacre, some of us were demanding solutions: better school security, more gun control, better ways to identify and fix those with emotional issues (or just as vigorously rejecting these ideas).  “We can stop these killings;  we can fix this,” we told one another.  No.  We can’t.  We can limit violence in various ways, but we really are not in control of what happens on this old earth.  The most we can do is influence it for the better.   Malicious, unprovoked, random violence is an inescapable part of our broken world, and embracing our sense of vulnerability and fear might be a good place for us to start.

I am a particular kind of controller.  I gain a sense of security by figuring things out.  I am at my most vulnerable when I am confused or stymied.  I often “resolve” my feelings of powerlessness by sorting, categorizing, and explaining the situation–intellectual escapism.  (I guess this blog is exhibit A.)  When I am lost in the maze of life, I fall easily into depression.  But choosing a sense of helplessness rather than avoiding it can be my way into grace.

So in my next blog I will get out of my head and into my feelings.

Posted December 18, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , , ,

Does Grace Enable Irresponsibility?   2 comments

Perhaps those who are concerned about my emphasis on grace are worried that I may encourage irresponsibility.  Some folks seem inclined to let things slide, choose the easy way, care too little for the concerns of others.  We think they need a “kick in the pants.”  I use “seem” to describe them because we really don’t know the issues they are struggling with, the energy, insight, support they do or do not have and so forth.  The closer I am to them, and the more perceptive I am at understanding others deeply, the more clearly I may be able to see what is at work inside them, but if they are clueless about themselves, I can easily be misled.  It is common to confuse fear, shame, depression, fatigue and the like with laziness, and the last thing such folks need is a kick.

As I see it, those who are truly irresponsible create two problems, and these can be profound depending on the level of their negligence.  The first is what it does to them, and the second is what it does to others (and their relationships).  When we say that these folks “take advantage of grace,” I think we mean that grace allows them to be irresponsible (does not force them to be responsible).  But when they choose this course, they are retreating from grace rather than embracing it, and the result, far from being to their happiness, is to their unhappiness.  They do not “get away” with it because sin always has its natural consequences–sin is always a harmful choice, to the ones acting as well as to everyone whom they touch (that’s why God warns us against it).  Grace can only bring redemption to such a situation if it is embraced, and this can only be done by faith, which is to say the slackers now see things God’s way.  Given this vantage point, I think we would pity the irresponsible, and if we have some role to play in their lives and are motivated by love, we may wish to warn them from this folly and invite them back to grace.

The second problem with the neglectful is their impact on others and their relationships, and this is where many feel grace is inadequate and the law must be applied.  What do we mean by “law” and “grace” in this context.  Is there something one does that the other does not?  If law is about restriction and grace is about freedom, then our call to apply law is to bring force to bear, either the force of a guilty conscience (say, by rebuking him) or the force of retribution or punishment (say, by taking his keys).  But why do we think these actions are connected to law and disconnected from grace?  Is it not possible for grace to stir the conscience or give a wake-up call of negative consequences?  To my mind, the whole distinction lies in what motivation prompts the act.

It seems to me that I turn to the obligation and punishment of law not from concern for the slouch, but from concern for the law (that the law is respected, obeyed) or concern for the “victim” (who may be me).  It often seems to us that in order to side with the victim, we must side against the negligent.  Thankfully, the grace of God does not need to love one less in order to love the other fully.  He wants the best for all concerned, and he will do what is best for all concerned.  If grace sends negative consequences on the irresponsible, it is not because God takes umbrage and is punishing them, but because he knows this is the best he has to give, the choice of extravagent love, not love withheld.  It is his invitation to redemption.  The exile of Israelis from their land is a prime example of this “tough love.”  Far from this being an act of God’s impatience and  abandonment, it was the richness of his love at work to restore them to their true selves and reawaken their immensely fulfilling love relationship with him.

Posted April 19, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

She Done Me Wrong   5 comments

When I last shared about Kimberly and me, I left an important point untouched.  Are there not certain responsibilities that are moral in nature?  Is my wife not required to be monogamous?  Is it ever right for me to hit her?  For the relationship to work (any relationship), do we not need some moral standards on which we can insist, a moral code of conduct?

Let me begin by saying that I believe all intentional acts are moral.  Everything we do and how we do it is affected by our faith, love, humility, and the like.  Even things we do with no apparent moral content are choices to do this and not something “better.”   So perhaps the question is rather: are some moral choices “beyond the pale,” so significant that the relationship cannot simply absorb the behavior and continue on more or less as it was but must be addressed and worked through.  To reorient the question in this way, however, moves it from a legal question of right and wrong and rather asks what will hurt or benefit our relationship.  Relationship becomes central, and law becomes its servant (as Jesus said).  Instead of saying, “You must stop this because it is against the law,” or even, “You must stop this because it hurts me,” we simply say, “When you do this it hurts me,” because if we force or manipulate them to change, it will undermine the genuineness of our connection.  For important relationships, this step is just the beginning of an ongoing discussion and a doorway into deeper mutual and self understanding, acceptance, and trust.  That is not to suggest I have no recourse if I am  being hurt, but if relationship is primary, the solution does not lie in controlling the other person.

I am ultimately not accountable for their choices, but for my own.  I am responsible to see that my own needs are met in a healthy way, whether my friend supports me or not.  My needs determine where I draw the boundary line in our relationship, and my friend’s needs determine where he draws the line.  If he cannot respect my boundaries, then I will  take measures to protect my boundaries because I must respect myself and my needs whether he does or not.  This is not a judgment of my friend’s inadequacies or of my inadequacies (as though he doesn’t care enough or I am too needy).  We may both be doing the best we can, but not have the capacity to make the relationship work.

This was the huge distinction between my (former) perspective and Kimberly’s.  I thought the only legitimate basis for boundaries was the law.  If you lie to me, you are wrong; you must stop it, end of story.  If you cheat me, you are wrong and must stop it.  If you hurt me,  you must stop it.  I would use my relationship to blackmail their compliance, communicating with my behavior, “If you want to feel good with me again, you must change.”  With this approach, determining who was at fault was fundamental to resolving relational conflict. 

Basing such boundaries on my own personal needs was just selfishness.  But when Kimberly did, I could very clearly see she was not selfish.  She cared very much for my needs, whether she could accomodate them or not, and this confused me.  Every selfish person I know subtly or blatantly shows disregard for my needs.  Kimberly was saying in essence, “I do not have the emotional resources to care for all my own needs and all yours as well.  If any of your needs go unmet, it is very unfortunate, and we will try to find the resources of support you need, but I can only give from what I have.  You cannot ask me to go into debt in order to pay off your debt.  I cannot ultimately take responsibility for your unmet needs.”

Of course, this was not one straightforward, simple talk we had.  We both agonized over the emotional turmoil that sprang from our conflicting needs.  Let me give an example that plagued us for years… in the next post.

 

Stop Doing That!   Leave a comment

At last we come to this.  Kimberly and I have needs that conflict–satisfying her need exacerbates mine and vice versa.  I could fill a book with examples, literally.  Promptness is a high value of mine and we are going to be late, so I am driving fast, but safety is a high value for Kimberly.  Whose need gets trumped?   She needs to talk and I need to think.  She needs a clean car and I need a functional one.  She needs us to be more tactful with folks and I need us to be more straightforward.  She needs to spend more money and I need to spend less (in certain categories).  She may need more together time and I may need more alone time.  She’s freezing and I’m burning up.

I was raised to 1) evaluate if this is a true need or just a want 2) if it is just a want (and almost everything was), then sacrifice your desires for the other person 3) if this is not adequately reciprocated and I feel resentment for the “unfairness,” then I hint with my eyes, tone of voice, sighs, coolness, a “joke,” etc. 4) if this does not fix the injustice, then we “talk” about it (which means I tell you in so many words that you are wrong, you apologize and change).  This was my understanding of fairness and compromise–in my family we manipulated each other to get the other to meet our needs–and it generally worked, at least for us younger siblings.  We made demands of one another, taking responsibility for each others needs instead of taking responsibility for our own.  In this environment, personal boundaries were significantly infringed, but the incursions were roughly equivalent, so it was workable.  Of course, this only functions in a context where the expectations are set, determined by an authority (our parents).  Someone has to settle what is fair if fairness is to be the default standard for behavior.  Pushing or choosing for one’s own wants and needs was generally seen as selfish.

I quickly discovered this approach did not work with Kimberly.   My system was reciprocation and her system was freely giving with no expectations.  She insisted that my expectations did not determine her obligation.  If I had a need, it did not mean she had to meet it, because she also had needs and she did not insist that I meet them.  She explained the value of healthy boundaries in relationship.  She would listen and empathize with my need if I cared to talk about it; she would offer suggestions for how my needs could be met; but if I then pushed her with an “ought,” it would stifle her free love, it would not only wound her, but hurt our relationship, setting it on legalistic grounds rather than on grace.  I have needs, my needs are legitimate, she loves me and cares about my needs, but caring about my needs is quite different from caring for my needs.  I cannot demand that she neglect herself to serve me (even if I neglected my needs to serve her).  My resentment towards her “unfairness” suggested that I was not giving out of love and grace (which expects no reciprocity), but out of a fair-trade agreement.

She told me to only give to her (or compromise) freely, and if my gift had strings attached, I was not ready to give.  In that case, she would look out for her own needs.  If I say, “I don’t care where we eat,” “You choose where to dine,” “I’ll go where you want,” and this eventually leads to, “Why don’t we ever eat where I want to go?” then I am being dishonest with her and with myself.  We should tell one another plainly what we want, and then look for some solution that provides for both our needs (or at least does not block either of us from meeting our own needs).  I have learned to trust Kimberly to give me what she can in a healthy way, and whatever is still lacking I take responsibility for instead of placing on her.  She trusts me in the same way. 

This set things on a very different footing for me.  I always assumed my expectations were justified, were self-evident and obvious.  If so, then she should change to meet them.  Why did Kimberly disagree?  I began questioning whether my expectations were self-evident.   I always assumed I “needed” to be on time… the what was given and I only had to resolve the how, how can I get her on my schedule.  But suppose punctuality is not a necessity or even of high value.  Instead of asking what should be done, I started asking why do I feel this way.  Why did I have such a high level of anxiety about lateness?   I thought I did this out of care for the other person’s time, but in fact I was operating from a fear of what others would think of me.  My value depended on others seeing me as dependable, and punctuality was a big part of that evaluation.  I tried to control others’ views of me (and thereby my true worth) by being prompt.  My feelings cried out that I needed to be on time, but my true need was rather to feel worthy, and I could only satisfy this need by grounding it in something more firm than others’ opinions.  I had to learn to be okay with being sometimes tardy, it is human, and part of finding this path into freedom was allowing myself to actually be late.  Kimberly’s need for me to drive slower was an invitation to reconsider my own true need.

This was not a smooth, quick, or comfortable transition, and I still tend to drive with narrower safety margins than makes her comfortable.  I am a work in progress (as is she), and what matters to her most is not slower driving, but acceptance and support of her feelings (instead of poking fun at her caution or otherwise suggesting there is something wrong with her view).  Amazingly, once I was able to segregate my real needs from my false needs, I realized that my greatest need was what Kimberly was so great at giving–empathy and acceptance of my feelings rather than  help avoiding my feelings by “fixing” the situation.  If simple compromise works because neither of us feels very strongly about the matter, then we simply adjust for one another because we care.  But if either of us feels an ongoing discomfort with this solution, we bring it up for discussion, not to figure out a better solution (and so avoid the true issue), but to uncover the real unmet need that is agitating our feelings. 

BTW, Kimberly is a punctual person, she just is not driven to it as I am.

Posted September 26, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , , , ,