Archive for the ‘control’ Tag

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

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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

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Please, Please, Meet My Needs!   3 comments


It seems to me that if we do not find in God the ultimate answer to our needs, we become dangerously dependent on others.  If I think my wife is the sole channel of God’s grace for any substantial need and she fails me, then my only recourse is to force her compliance.  I might cajole, argue, bargain, threaten… there are a hundred ways to get her to “fall in line,” but this manipulation undermines her sincere love.

Genuine love must grow in an atmosphere of freedom, not control.  That is frightening because freedom allows my friend to choose to be unloving and uncaring, refusing to help with my needs.  If I make no demands, but offer unconditional love, he may take advantage of me, take all I have to offer and give little in return.  And if my needs go unmet, I cannot survive. So when I sense a disparity between how much I give and how much I get, I react to protect myself.  If I protect myself by giving less, I feel bad for my selfishness, for my lack of generosity, and I feel a distance growing in my heart towards him.  So instead I subtly (or plainly) push him to give more.

This approach did not go over well with Kimberly.  She felt the pressure of my expectations and recognized the conditionality of my love.  When she chose not to do as I wished, I felt unloved and became resentful, critical, and demanding.  This in turn made her feel unloved.  I tried to pressure her to comply, to prove her care by meeting my expectations.  She insisted on a more honest path to resolving our conflict, one that made room for both of our needs and for genuine rather than forced expressions of love.

I thought love was proved by what it gave—if folks didn’t give, they didn’t care—and this was intolerable to me because it inflated my fears of unworthiness.  I gave to others with the expectation that they would reciprocate and so prove my lovability.  My mind tightly bound together loving motivation and helping behavior, and I desperately needed Kimberly to prove my worth by setting aside her feelings to meet my needs.  Through long conversations and consistent responses, Berly expressed her care for my needs without yielding to my pressure to change her behavior (and so abandon her own needs in favor of mine).  It took years for me to believe she loved me in spite of not coming to my rescue.  I slowly realized that someone can love without helping and help without loving, that sometimes the truest and hardest love is one that does not give when giving would beguile the loved one into a false security.

I wanted to stop feeling my insecurity and Kimberly wanted me to embrace it, understand it, work through it.  If she helped me to avoid those feelings, it would undermine our relationship.  For her part, she was afraid of my resentment, and wanted to act in a way that would hold it at bay, but she knew living out of that fear would keep her from sharing herself honestly and vulnerably with me.  Things might go smoothly between us, but we would be sacrificing substance for façade.  Slowly we both stepped into our fears and broke through to a deeper understanding of ourselves and one another, a deeper trust, and a deeper freedom to accept who we are.  We encourage and help each other to find a way to meet our needs, but do not take the responsibility for this on ourselves.  Of course, sometimes our needs conflict, but that is another story altogether.

Posted September 7, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Fixing Emotions   4 comments

Like most men, I want a fix.  When I am agitated or discouraged, I want help to escape, and I expect this to come not from empathy but from fixing the problem that is causing those feelings.  If I am afraid of losing money, help me protect my money, and my fear disappears.  If someone is irritating me, get them to stop, and my irritation will fall away.  I didn’t wait to ask myself with compassion, “Why am I afraid, what is going on in my heart?”  That was obvious… the situation was causing my bad feelings.

When my wife shared her feelings with me, I offered solutions instead of empathy, just like I wanted for myself.  But in trying to offer solutions, I was making her feel worse.  When I said, “There is no reason to be afraid because_______” I was trying to relieve her fear, but she heard me say that her feelings were illegitimate. It took me forever to change my approach, and I still struggle with it.  It seems to me that if I empathize with her feelings, I am giving her more reasons to feel sad or fearful or bad, and I want to rescue her from those feelings.  But as I tried to understand her perspective more, I gradually realized that I too needed empathy for my feelings rather than solutions to “fix” them.  I needed it as much as she did, because empathy invites me to be compassionate to myself, and with this active self-support, I discover the wound that underlies my feelings.  But I didn’t want discovery, I wanted relief.


I am a very good fixer, and when I fix situations so that my unhappy feelings are lifted, I feel better, but I learn nothing about myself through those negative emotions.  As a result they came back just as strongly when the situation returns.  Instead of emotional renovation, I was constantly working on repairs… the same fixes over and over.

Here was the sticking point for me in receiving Kimberly’s compassion.  I could not imagine genuine care that did not result in her help or accommodation.  If she truly empathized with my situation, she would surely act–help with the dishes, refill the gas tank, spend more time with me.  If she didn’t give tangible assistance as able, she was simply uncaring no matter what her words said.  If she did not help meet my needs, it proved she didn’t really care.  And her lack of care stoked my fear that I was not worthy of care.  My only option was to pressure her into acting to resolve my feelings and renew my sense of worth, and I usually did this by shaming her for not doing more.  Kimberly reacted to this, as you might expect.

Over a great deal of time sharing and thinking I slowly realized that what I really wanted and needed was her love and genuine concern, and I was closing her down to that by blaming her and demanding that she change.  When folks pushed in front of me or cut me off in traffic or ignored me, I thought I needed them to change, but my real underlying need was simply to have someone care about my feelings.  That made all the difference.  If my wife bangs the cupboards because she slips or thinks I’m downstairs or finds the door sticking, I feel no agitation.  Knowing the whole context makes me realize that her behavior does not result from a lack of consideration for me.  I may be irritated at the situation, but not at the person.

But what if the person knowingly kept doing those things that troubled me?  I simply refused to believe they cared if they didn’t change.  My need + your love = your accommodation (and vice versa).  How could you possibly say you care if you make no effort to “improve”?  I felt bad and it was their fault, they were responsible for my feelings.  But if others control my feelings, I’m in trouble because I am then their emotional slave (or we are mutual slaves, which is the essence of co-dependence).  Kimberly finally broke through this block in my thinking, but the process was very painful for both of us.

Posted August 11, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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How Do I Love You; Let Me Count the… Demands   2 comments

These reflections are just my thoughts, things that have helped me.  Please forgive me if I sound dogmatic.  I don’t mean to be.  If these thoughts don’t help you, then by all means dismiss them; or if you disagree, argue with me in a comment (though remember my tale is not done).

It seems we all try to control others in various ways, and we are usually blind to what we are doing.  We think, and even say, that we only want the best for them, not realizing that if they are pressured or forced to make better choices, those new behaviors will not nourish their heart, but shrivel it, because they are not freely choosing out of a loving relationship with God and others.

Sometimes, especially with children, control is necessary for their own safety and health, so that they can live long enough without significant damage to grow into understanding.  But if this is the default teaching method, the greatest life lessons the child will learn are that her feelings don’t matter, that she must live from obligation (another word for bondage or lack of freedom), that what she does is more important than who she is.

Let me give a simple and common illustration from my own upbringing.  My mom and dad naturally wanted to keep in close touch with their children when they “left the nest.”  I was the youngest and last to leave, so their feelings were especially acute towards me.  I was on my own for the first time and enjoying my freedom, and I didn’t keep in touch as much as they would like with letters and phone calls.  Not only did they miss me, but I expect it made each wonder subconsciously, “Does he really love me?”

I Need You to Change!

Under the force of these emotions, they believed I was remiss in connecting with them.  I was to blame for their bad feelings, feelings which I could so easily allay. It would cost me very little (so they thought) to keep in touch, and they pressured me in this direction.  When I phoned them, their first statement was usually, “Well, we haven’t heard from you in a long time,” by which they intended to push me to show my love by calling more often.  To the extent I bowed to this expectation, I was reacting from a “should” and not from compassion.  In fact, the more pressure I felt, the less I was able to respond from genuine love. To my parents it felt like love when I deferred to their wishes and called more often, but somewhere deep inside they must have known that “loving” acts resulting from pressure do not mainly spring from love.

If they had shared their genuine feelings without making me responsible to fix them, it would have drawn out a natural love… I would have wanted to phone them instead of “having” to phone them.  If they said, “We really miss you and miss hearing from you,” and genuinely did not hold me responsible for their feelings, but were only sharing their feelings, it would have made a world of difference.  Of course, then they could not trust that the outcome would be to their liking since they granted full and genuine freedom.

Sharing your feelings with me without the assumption that I should fix them is a huge invitation into your heart and opens me up to welcome you and share my heart.  But telling me about your feelings in order to get me to conform will make me resistant and closed.  I will hear the message that I am bad unless I change and I will react to protect myself.  If I do yield because of the pressure, because I believe I am responsible for your feelings, it will damage us both, and hurt the relationship.  It may feel good, but it will encourage a legalistic view that love is conditional, dependent on my behavior.

I learned from an attractive friend of mine that insecurity does not only come to the daughter who is shamed for her looks, but also to the daughter who is praised for her looks in a way that makes her think her worth depends on it—she may seem proud, but is really filled with fear.  The issue is not whether someone is valued, but why they are valued, and if they are primarily valued for conforming to our expectations (being a “good” child), they will always fear “misbehaving” lest they lose their parent’s love which appears to them very conditional and therefore precarious. The same is true in friendships and marriages.

If I am loving towards my wife when she does as I wish, and withhold love (act cool, snipe, act the martyr) when she does not, she will respond out of fear of losing my love.  As long as she conforms, she will feel good about our relationship, but it instills a deeper insecurity.  That isn’t to say I should never get frustrated or irritated or discouraged.  That isn’t to say I should never express those feelings to her.  Feeling all my feelings and expressing my feelings are key to good relationships.

But when I share my feelings as a means of getting her to do what I want or need, she feels unsafe with me, and she closes up her heart to protect herself.  From my family’s perspective, why would I share an aggravation or disappointment unless it was to get her to change?  If I didn’t need her to change, I would say nothing and just deal with it in my own heart and mind, I would silently accommodate.  It is when I felt I needed her to change that I would share my displeasure, in order to get her to change and so free me from my unhappy feelings.  It was her turn to accommodate.  Let us just say it was a very bumpy ride for several years.

Posted August 9, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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My False Assumption #1: It’s Your Fault!   4 comments

My wife speaks Chinese to me… at least that’s how it seems when I know the vocabulary she uses but cannot make sense of the message.  I love her and so I repeatedly, intently try to follow what she is saying.  When someone’s presuppositions are entirely different from mine, they make statements and assert conclusions that are meaningless to me, like: “A subjective cucumber chairs England with pneumonia.”   Where do you even begin to ask the questions?  And if it is completely coherent to Kimberly, she doesn’t know what needs explaining.

Me: “Do you mean a green cucumber that you eat?”

Kimberly: “Of course, what other kind is there?  Now do you understand?”

It has often taken me months and even years through scores or even hundreds of conversations to slowly grasp her meaning about relational things far more complex than cucumbers.  Over my head is not a light bulb popping on, but a fluorescent “tube light,” shadowed on both ends from overuse: blink… dark… blink blink-blink… dark… dark.  Presuppositions are stubborn things and lie hidden behind blind spots.

The issue I raised at the end of Response #4 actually has several entangled, powerful, and unnoticed assumptions.  I mentioned the first—that I felt responsible for others’ feelings.  If someone does not like what I am doing, then I should stop doing it unless I have an overriding reason to continue.  I am responsible for their feelings.  Your irritation is because of my behavior—direct cause and effect—and I am responsible to change my behavior so you can stop being irritated.  Your irritation is very reasonable; anyone would be irritated over this; only a saint would not be affected.  Your irritation is controlled by my behavior.

This is a society-wide assumption, so that if anyone says, “Stop doing that!  You are irritating me!” the only proper response is to say, “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was bothering you,” and to stop.  We have no sense of distinction between the statements “I am irritated,” and “you are irritating me” or “you are making me irritated.”  When we say the first, we really mean the last two; we are not taking responsibility for our own feelings of irritation, but are putting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the “misbehaving” person.  Of course, we distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable irritation, usually based on our own perception of social norms, but that must wait for another discussion.

I, for one, completely operated by this principle—my behavior caused your irritation.  It was so obvious and clear and universal a concept, and I never heard it refuted.  When Kimberly said, “I am not causing your irritation,” it made no sense to me at all.  “What do you mean you are not causing my irritation?!  When you bang the kitchen cupboards, it irritates me.  My irritation comes from the banging cupboards… where else would it come from?”  Can you understand my confusion?

Posted August 3, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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