Archive for the ‘Criticism’ Tag

Spiritual Progress in Laziness   Leave a comment

I have always been a highly disciplined person. This has been unfortunate from so many angles.  It has made me arrogant and judgmental towards those with less “will-power” or commitment.  It has made me focus excessively on behavior and choice and see them as the foundations for goodness rather than its fruit.  It has made me self-abusive, both in driving myself past any reasonable limits, resulting in self harm, and in condemning myself for my shortcomings (because of the unbridgeable gap between highly disciplined and perfectly disciplined).  Like all coping mechanisms, it played to my natural strengths and inclinations and offered me protection from the fears that snarled and snapped inside, but like a protection racket it kept me permanently bound to those same fears.

So here is the wretched conundrum of every coping mechanism: the very thing that protects us blocks us from a real resolution.  We cannot give up suddenly and entirely on our coping mechanisms or we will be unable to cope, trampled by our fears and dragged away from the grace that comes to save us.  Except for miracles–and by definition those happen rarely–we must grow into grace, beginning with small steps.  We speak of a “leap of faith,” but that is best seen as a change in direction rather than a sudden and complete transformation of our psyche.  We make a deliberate commitment to a new vision, a new allegiance, a new God of grace instead of the old god of legalism, but learning to live out that commitment is a long, slow process, full of missteps, confusion, and doubt–ask any newlyweds… or oldy-weds.  Trust is a tree that matures from a sapling, not a full-grown log dropped at our feet.

Coping mechanisms are both necessary and limiting, helpful and ensnaring.  They cannot be shaken off in one go, cold-turkey, like one might give up alcohol or drugs, because they sustain us in a vital way.  The struggle for health is more aptly compared to an eating disorder, since we all must eat daily, so the solution cannot lie in abandonment (which seems much simpler and easier to me), but in rehabilitation.  That is, I cannot simply chuck discipline, since some discipline is necessary for life and growth.  I can certainly moderate self-discipline, but that does not resolve the root of the problem, which is not the amount of the discipline, but its role and purpose.  “Why?” is the all important question to snag our inner gremlins.  “Why is self-discipline so important to me?”  Because it is the gauge by which I measure my worth, it is my source of validation.  As long as I do the right thing, I think, I am in good standing with God… which is the quintessence of legalism.

I’ve been at this for years, rethinking my knee-jerk criticisms of the “lazy and irresponsible” and trying to be a little more “lazy and irresponsible” myself as a means of practicing grace towards others and myself.  I’ve worked hard for over a decade to recognize my real reasons for doing good and avoiding evil and to realign those with the gracious God I serve.  I’ve been focused on this, disciplined. Oh, snap!  Yes, it’s true, I can even drive myself to grace or shame my lack of it, trying to force grace to grow but ending up frustrated and impatient, which helps neither me nor my relationships.  Old habits die hard, and often rise up in new guises.  But I recognize it, take apart my viewpoint and reorganize it. Wash, rinse, repeat.  By God’s grace I am not who I once was, and by God’s grace I will not be who I am now.

Posted April 20, 2015 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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