Archive for the ‘Expectations’ Tag

New Year’s Irresolutions   2 comments

I went to bed early tonight and slept through the preliminary fireworks, but the midnight burst woke me enough to chase away the sandman.  So here I sit against the pillows, thinking.  Before today, each new year piqued some fresh aspect of soul-building, but life (with God’s apparent cooperation) seems to have slowly drained me of a future focus and left me living day-to-day.  All ambition, any hopes I had for some meaningful role in the world, has been pushed far away so that I am reduced to waiting… indefinitely… perhaps till the end of my days.

I’ve been trapped here for a year or maybe two.  The good news, I think, is that my sense of worth has been slowly stripped free of its bondage to accomplishment.  It feels odd—why am I still on earth if I have no purpose for being here—but it no longer feels painful or shameful or condemning, like I’ve been benched for screwing up.  My life perspective has devolved into “It is what it is.”  I’m ready to get back in the game if I’m called on, but I’ve put my sweats back on, and I’m okay to just sit and watch the action from the sidelines.

So here’s to a year without resolutions… or plans… or expectations.  That’s a first for me.

Posted January 1, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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A Truth Learned Late   1 comment

I’m glad I finally realized the truth stated here by Parker Palmer: “Let Your Life Speak.”  His description could be the retelling of my pre-grace life.

Like many middle-class Americans, especially those who are white and male, I was raised in a subculture that insisted I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be, if I were willing to make the effort.  The message was that both the universe and I were without limits, given enough energy and commitment on my part.  God made things that way, and all I had to do was to get with the program.

My troubles began, of course, when I started to slam into my limitations, especially in the form of failure.  I can still touch the shame I felt when, in the summer before I started graduate school at Berkeley, I experienced my first serious comeuppance: I was fired from my research assistantship in sociology.

Having been a golden boy through grade school, high school, and college, I was devastated by this sudden turn of fate.  Not only was my source of summer income gone, but my entire graduate career seemed in jeopardy, the professor I had come to Berkeley to study with was the director of the project from which I had been fired.  My sense of identity, and my concept of the universe, crumbled around my feet for the first, but not last time.  What had happened to my limitless self in a limitless world?

The culture I was raised in suggested an answer: I had not worked hard enough at my job to keep it, let alone succeed….  But that truth does not go deep enough…. I was fired because that job had little or nothing to do with who I am, with my true nature and gifts, with what I care and do not care about….

Neither that job nor any job like it was in the cards for me, given the hand I was dealt at birth.  That may sound like sinfully fatalistic thinking or, worse, a self-serving excuse.  But I believe it embodies a simple, healthy, and life-giving truth about vocation.  Each of us arrives here with a nature, which means both limits and potentials.  We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials.

Despite the American myth, I cannot be or do whatever I desire–a truism, to be sure, but a truism we often defy.  Our created natures make us like organisms in an ecosystem: there are some roles and relationships in which we thrive and others in which we wither and die….

If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and to myself for a while.  But the fact that I am exceeding my limits will eventually have consequences.  I will distort myself, the other, and our relationship–and may end up doing more damage than if I had never set out to do this particular “good.”

When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality loveless–a gift given more from need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for.  One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout.

Posted June 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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God’s Love Letters #5   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:2 Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers. 

Finally brothers!  Until now this family, chosen to be a great nation, barely survived with one child of promise per generation.  The world must wait until Abraham’s great-grandchildren before the redemptive family tree grows more than one branch.  I know that feeling well—-waiting.  When God’s promises to redeem my situation seem long overdue, I begin to doubt God’s love.  Why is he taking so long to respond?  Doesn’t he care?  For instance, why is God taking so long to fix my depression?

Peter throws out an intriguing idea, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you.”   God is not distracted, uncaring, or negligent about my needs.  It is not we who are waiting for God to act, but God who is waiting for us to be ready, who watches our progress with sympathy, not disappointment.  His patience is not a bridled impatience, but genuine good will.  He knows it takes time.  He is okay with it taking time.  In fact he plans for it to take time.  He is patient.  In my urgency to reach the resolution, I want to hurry the process, but God’s focus is on the journey, his grace is at work in the process itself.  Too often I miss his grace for today in my anxiety for the bigger deliverance that is farther down the road.  My impatience is really towards myself rather than God.  I blame myself for not growing faster, for bungling his stream-lined plans for me.  But should we suppose that if Abram had had greater faith and faithfulness, he would have had a dozen sons at 39 instead of one at 99?  Why have I always thought that God was in a rush?

I think I have long been under the impression that God’s attributes are somehow in competition with each other.  In this instance, his righteousness is at odds with his sympathy.  He wants to hurry me into holiness, but he is being “patient” with me, which basically means he is holding himself back from chiding or nagging or otherwise showing his frustration at my slow growth.  He is impatient, but hiding it.  I guess that is how I have always pictured his so-called patience, and why I am so prone to agree with “God’s” condemnation of me.  I need a new God, a good God, a God who is truly patient, not just pretending to be patient.

Posted April 14, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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The Spiritual Exercise of Shirking Duty   2 comments

Continued from “Addicted to Effort” 

As a boy I believed my worth depended on being good, on meeting expectations, especially God’s expectations.  So when my worth seems challenged, I try to rescue it with redoubled effort driven by a sense of should.  As long as I keep feeling this weight of duty, I know that below the level of conscious thought, my heart is entangled in fear, and by acting from fear, I strengthen its power over me.  It is no use to tell myself, “Okay, regardless of how I feel, I am now going to act out of a security in God’s grace instead of from obligation.”   Motivations are deeper and more complex than that, often tied to subconscious beliefs, and so they can’t be controlled directly by an act of the will.

Every time I “do right” from obligation, I feel better about myself and more secure in God’s love, but it is a false security based on my good behavior.  Each “good” choice then strengthens my belief that God’s love depends on what I do.  As long as law and grace agree on what is best to do, and I conform (successfully meet the expectations), I assume my trust in God’s grace.  Just as a rich man can trust God’s provision easily, so I can trust God’s love when my cache of good behavior is full.  But an empty account reveals the source of my trust, and failure forces me to face my fears.  If failing is my door into self-knowledge and grace, should I aim for it, shirk my duties in order to grow in grace?

Too Much of a Good Thing Is a Bad Thing

That sounded wrong.  So I kept meeting all the demands of duty while constantly identifying and challenging my underlying legalism.  It was a long, slow process in which my choices to satisfy the should seemed to continually pull me back from grace.   Then I started realizing that my perceptions of responsibility were largely shaped by my insecurities and the expectations of others, present or absent.  Those who promoted these duties tried to anchor them in Scripture as divine law, but the great majority came rather from culture, family, tradition, personality, and the like—a prescription of what good people do.

Good people get up early, make their beds, take a shower, eat a healthy breakfast.  They mow their lawns, wash the dishes, exercise, change the oil in their car every 3,000 miles.  They limit their TV viewing, work hard at school and office, live within their means, answer emails and phone calls in good time.  They don’t cut folks off in traffic or spend too much on luxury items or make others wait for them.  I could go on for 1,000 pages.  If I don’t conform, my sense of worth languishes.  I spot it in my tendency to deny my own needs in order to meet these obligations, in my embarrassment (i.e. shame) if others find out what I have or have not done, or in my need to find an excuse for my behavior—I didn’t have the time, money, strength, opportunity, support.  I could never appeal to my own needs, desires, or feelings as a legitimate reason to ignore these expectations, for that was simply selfishness.  Perhaps no confusion has done more damage to us all than equating self-care with selfishness.

Since my (faulty) conscience cried out against me if I chose my needs and desires over these duties, I found a huge opportunity to face my own shame.  I really could “shirk my duties” as a means of spiritual growth!  I could choose for myself against these demands, feel the sting of shame, and then apply grace to this fear.  The question stopped being “What would people think?” or “What should I do?” and became “What does my soul need.”  Unfortunately my soul was so long ignored, that it had no voice.  I often did not know what it needed.  But I knew one thing for sure–it needed fewer demands placed on it.

Posted March 29, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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Chased into the Harbor   2 comments

GOOD TO SEE YOU... FINALLY

 If Kimberly’s reactions had not provoked mine, I could have avoided my negative feelings and the issues behind them, but I and my relationships would have suffered.  I needed her insecurities to push mine out of the shadows.  From a hundred examples of this, let me share in this post one of our early conflicts.

When Kimberly and I started dating, she was living in Lynchburg and I in Arlington (of cemetery fame).  Once a week I drove the 6 hour round trip to be with her.  Occasionally she would drive to Arlington.  I went to Lynchburg to spend the day with Kimberly, and I expected she would do the same when she visited me.  However, she had other friends in Arlington with whom she wanted to connect.  I was disappointed when she went off in the afternoon to visit her friend, and when she came back late for the dinner I was cooking, she could feel the cold winds blowing.  I was quiet, polite, distant.  She could have just ignored it and I would eventually have warmed up again, but instead she asked what was troubling me.  I tried to pass it off, but eventually replied.

Me, a bit resentfully: “You said you were going to be here by 4 o’clock.”

Berly, defensively: “I know, but my friend needed a listening ear.  I called you as soon as I could.”

Me, exposing the bigger issue: “When I come to Lynchburg, I spend the whole day with you.”

Berly: “You don’t have any other friends in Lynchburg to see.”

You can imagine the next two hours of conversation as I explained how reasonable my expectations were in the face of her uncaring behavior, and she explained how she could care about me without meeting my expectations.  Even though we were both defensive, we tried to hear and understand one another over the cacophony of our feelings.  We slowly came to realize that I place a high priority on time spent together, that this is my gauge of how much someone cares about me.

Now, unfortunately, I must digress to clarify how our approach differs from other approaches.  Let me first contrast it to the “apologetic fix,” the resolution of choice in my family of origin.  The conversation would have gone:

Me, a bit resentfully: “You said you were going to be here by 4 o’clock.”

Berly, apologetically: “I’m so sorry.  I should have been here on time,”  followed by an effort to be sweeter and more solicitous than usual to win back my favor.  

That would be it.  We would both feel better.  The resulting “peace” would be a sufficient reward, tricking us into thinking we had a healthy, happy relationship.  Berly would realize my expectation and shape herself to conform in the future, not out of love (since she was responding to my shaming pressure), but in an effort to keep the peace.  She’d “should” on herself to reduce her insecurity in my conditional love.  

The second, more discerning approach would simulate our actual conversation, and Kimberly would realize time spent together was my “love language,” so she should do what she could to satisfy this need of mine.  That would be the end of it.  Conflicts would arise to the extent she failed to meet my expectations, but she would keep trying to adjust, reminding herself of my need and becoming more sensitive to it.   This second approach is more healthy because it does not depend on shame as the motivator.  In fact, the motivation can be from genuine love if the one who changes can do so without much personal cost (if it does not feed her insecurities).  Notice that in both these alternate approaches the resolution is fairly simple and straightforward and depends on conformity to expectations,  my underlying insecurities (if there are any) stay hidden and unresolved.  The more the expectation is legitimized, the more the one conforming will see it as an “ought,” and such an obligatory response easily usurps a genuine love response.

Kimberly was unwilling to deny her own needs and feelings to satisfy mine.  She stood up for herself in the face of my resentment.  This only increased my insecurities about her lack of love for me (as I perceived it), and when my fears were exacerbated, I could see my issues more clearly.  I realized that my anger was not a simple reaction to the current situation, but was protecting me from experiencing  the underlying raw fear of not being truly loved, not being truly lovable.  Kimberly could easily relieve my insecurity in relationship to her by spending more time with me, but my fears would remain and continue infecting other relationships.  I would keep protecting myself from others by blaming, pressuring, loving conditionally when I felt devalued.

My true need is not for friends to choose my company more often so that I feel loved.  Trying to resolve my insecurities at this level will only block access to my deeper need, fears that I am unworthy of love.  What is the source of this insecurity, what subconscious ideas are keeping me trapped in fear, how do I bring healing to this fundamental place of need?  If I fend off my fears by enticing others to give me more quality time, I will never look for the answer to these questions.

Fortunately, Kimberly’s issues did not allow her to salve mine: if she agreed with me that she was not enough, she would be denying her own needs and feelings.  Unfortunately, given my presuppositions, I could not rationally separate loving someone from taking care of them.  The first resulted in the second, otherwise it was fake.  I did not disagree with Kimberly, I simply did not understand her.  But I kept trying until I slowly realized that her gibberish was crucial to the healing of my soul and relationships.  I was trapped in a world where others’ responses decided my worth.  What I needed was to discover unconditional acceptance, to unhitch my lovability from how others did or did not love me, and hook it to a love that is unwavering and limitless towards me no matter how “unworthy” I may be, a love that is not drawn out more by my worthiness, but that proves my worthiness by loving me despite all.

And I need that divine love shown to me, however limitedly, through the heart of another in my world… the very thing which is Kimberly’s amazing gift.  She is committed to accepting me and loving me for who I am, the good and the bad, the broken and partly mended, the prickly and tender.  She shows me God as the Gracious One that he is.  When I share my fears of being unworthy of love, not as a means to manipulate her, but simply to share vulnerably, it opens wide the flood gates of her compassion for me, and slowly I begin to see that I am lovable despite my many shortcomings, that my woundedness does not invite shame but sympathy.  This peace and joy touches the deepest reaches of my heart and begins its healing work.

Something tells me we'll find a way.

Kids’ Priorities   Leave a comment

A story from NPR:

Last year, my young son played T-ball….  Needless to say, I was delighted when Dylan wanted to play…. Now on the other team there was a girl I will call Tracy.  Tracy came each week, I know, since my son’s team always played her team.  She was not very good.  She had coke-bottle glasses and hearing aids on each ear.  She ran in a loping, carefree way, with one leg pulling after the other, one arm windmilling wildly in the air.

Everyone in the beachers cheered for her, regardless of what team their progeny played for.  In all the games I saw, she never hit the ball, not even close.  It sat there on the tee waiting to be hit and it never was.

STRIKE... 13?

Sometimes, after ten or eleven swings, Tracy hit the tee (in T-ball, the ball sits on a plastic tee, waiting for the batter to hit the ball, which happens once every three batters).  The ball would fall off the tee and sit on the ground six inches in front of home plate.  “Run! Run!” yelled Tracy’s coach, and Tracy would lope off to first, clutching the bat in both arms, smiling.  Someone usually woke up and ran her down with the ball before she reached first.

Everyone applauded.

WOW! Look at This BUG!

The last game of the season, Tracy came up, and through some fluke, or simply in a nod toward the law of averages, she creamed the ball.  She smoked it right up the middle, through the legs of 17 players.  Kids dodged as it went by or looked absentmindedly at it as it rolled unstopped, seemingly gaining in speed, hopping over second base, heading into center field.  And once it reached there, there was no one to stop it.  Have I told you that there are no outfielders in T-ball?  There are for three minutes in the beginning of every inning, but then they move into the infield to be closer to the action, or, at least, to their friends.

Tracy hit the ball and stood at home, delighted.  “Run!” yelled her coach.  “Run!”  All the parents, all of us, we stood and screamed, “Run, Tracy, run, run!”  Tracy turned and smiled at us, and then, happy to please, galumphed off to first.  The first base coach waved his arms ’round and ’round when Tracy stopped at first.  “Keep going, Tracy, keep going!  Go!”  Happy to please, she headed to second.  By the time she was halfway to second, seven members of the opposition had reached the ball and were passing it among themselves.  It’s a rule in T-ball–everyone on the defending team has to touch every ball.

The ball began to make its long and circuitous route toward home plate, passing from one side of the field to the other.  Tracy headed to third.  Adults fell out of the bleachers.  “Go, Tracy, Go!”  Tracy reached third and stopped, but the parents were very close to her now and she got the message.  Her coach stood at home plate calling her as the ball passed over the first basemen’s head and landed in the fileding team’s empty dugout.  “Come on, Tracy!  Come on, baby!  Get a home run!”

Tracy started for home, and then it happened.  During the pandemonium, no one had noticed the twelve-year-old geriatric mutt that had lazily stettled itself down in front of the bleachers five feet from the third-base line.  As Tracy rounded third, the dog, awakened by the screaming, sat up and wagged its tail at Tracy as she headed down the line.  The tongue hung out, mouth pulled back in an unmistakable canine smile, and Tracy stopped, tight there.  Halfway home, thirty feet from a legitimate home run.

She looked at the dog.  Her coach called, “Come on, Tracy!  Come on home!”  He went to his knees behind the plate, pleading.  The crowd cheered, “Go, Tracy, go!  Go, Tracy, go!”  She looked at all the adults, at her own parents shrieking and catching it all on video.  She looked at the dog.  The dog wagged its tail.  She looked at her coach.  She looked at home.  She looked at the dog.  Everything went to slow motion.  She went for the dog!  It was a moment of complete, stunned silence.  And then, perhaps, not as loud, but deeper, longer, more hearfelt, we all applauded as Tracy fell to her knees to hug the dog.  Two roads diverged on the third-base line.  Tracy went for the dog.

Two roads diverged in this little girl’s life.  One is the road of rules and expectations, the other is the road of love.  The roads of our lives are much the same.  Will we go for the safe, predictable road of rules and expectations?  Or will we go for the One we love…?

Yaconelli:  Wild Abandon  (quoting a story by Bill Harley on NPRs “All Things Considered”)

Posted October 7, 2011 by janathangrace in Story

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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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I Have to Clean WHAT?!   2 comments

HAPPY HAPPY, JOY JOY!!

I suppose an illustration at this point might help clarify our marital dance.  I have many to choose from!  Like most American women, Kimberly has a higher standard of cleanliness (or lower comfort level with dirt) than her husband.  So how do we determine what is “fair”?  Do we decide that her standard is “right,” and that I should do 50% of this?  Do we decide that my standard is right, and that if she wants it to be cleaner, the rest is up to her?  Or do we settle on something in between so that both of us are doing more than we feel is fair?  There are many other considerations–who has more time or energy, which tasks do each of us prefer or hate, how much emotional cost is involved, is resentment building up because either of us feels the other does not care enough about our feelings to do more?

We try to talk… or rather I try to negotiate and Kimberly tries to share (I’m a fixer, she’s a relater).  It seems to me completely useless to clean underneath or behind the sofa.  No one sees it, not even us!  But she feels it!  It bothers her.  Now here comes the rub.  When she tells me about her emotional needs, she is simply sharing.  She just wants me to understand, listen, empathize.  She’s not indirectly asking me to change, but that is what I hear: her expectations, what she thinks I should do.  That’s what “sharing needs” always meant in my family of origin if the person we were telling could actually do what we wanted.  So I argue against her unreasonable demands (as I see it), but she is not coming from a place of expectations, so my resistance to her sounds like I am rejecting her feelings, telling her that she should not be bothered by the dog hair under the loveseat.

She completely separates sharing about her needs from my obligations regarding her needs, but I instinctively unite them, so the only way I have of protecting myself from demands that seem unreasonable is to talk down her feelings (which are loaded with expectations as I suppose).  If I could separate empathy from obligation as she does, I could listen compassionately without feeling threatened that my needs are being shoved aside.  But my feelings are so deeply ingrained around this relational dynamic, that even after I intellectually grasp where she is coming from, even after believing she really is not imposing expectations (both of which took years for me), I still struggle with my deeply ingrained emotional reactions.

However, the more we talk, the more our mutual understanding and acceptance grows.  Since I am released from a sense of obligation, I have much more emotional space to empathize, and my love for her responds easily and gladly in this context of freedom, vulnerability, and trust.  Now I can choose to clean under the sofa and actually feel good about it, because I am motivated by love rather than obligation.  Still, we give each other the right to take care of our own needs, so if I feel burdened by the thought of vacuuming, I let it go, and Kimberly, because she genuinely has no expectations, is glad for me to do so.  This does not mean I love her less, I simply have a need just now that it would hurt me to neglect.  We have learned that if we do not honor our own needs, we not only suffer personally, but ultimately hurt our relationship as well.

Cleaning under the sofa might be a trite issue for many, and if the feelings it raises are slight, then resolution is easy.  It doesn’t really matter who cleans, and the issue of “fairness” is rather meaningless since nobody is asking the question.   The real conflict for us was not over a five minute cleaning job.  That was simply a porthole into the deep waters, the very fundamental question of every human heart, “Do you care?  Am I loved?  Do my needs matter to you?”   Emotions are surprisingly consistent and accurate in telling us what really does matter to us, though the “why” is often hard to interpret and is often best teased out in a supportive, accepting relationship.  I am so incredibly blessed to have such a relationship.

SORRY! IT'S ALL MY FAULT!

What Is Fair?   6 comments

Oh, the bumpy ride out of the marriage gate!  Kimberly and I both came from families that saw the world divided into right and wrong, but I bought into it and she didn’t.  She valued understanding and accepting each other as is.  I valued changing to meet one another’s expectations: decide what is right and do it.  But how would we decide what is “right”?  The only guideline that made sense to me was to let fairness determine basic expectations, and then each of us could feel free to be “more” than fair as an exercise of grace.  How could I even understand grace if I did not start with fair expectations?  If we agree that we both should do 50% of the dishes, then my doing 75% is an extra 25% of grace, but if fairness (all things considered) expects me to do 75%, then I have only done my duty and nothing more.  Have any of you married folks tried to decide what is fair?  What I thought was straightforward proved to be indecipherable.

A PRECISE CHART OF FAIRNESS

Consider our budget.  Take something as simple as grocery shopping.  How much should I buy of what I like and how much of what Kimberly likes?  50-50?  But being a good bit bigger than Berly and having a faster metabolism, I eat more than she does.  Should we factor in how much we each love, tolerate, or hate a certain item?  How do food allergies or dietary necessities weigh into the mix?  If one of us does the shopping and/or cooking, do they get an extra slice?  If one of us brings in more income, do they get more of a say in the spending (or is it based more on hours worked… only occupational time or household chores….)?  If 9 brownies are in the frig, how much can either of us eat before the other one feels cheated? (Yes, this has been an issue.)  Even I could see that my views of fairness smacked of legalism.

You may find all of this a bit silly, even childish.  Shouldn’t each of us simply choose for the sake of the other person?  This is the way I was raised, but you can imagine how poorly it works when I believe we are each responsible for the other’s needs and Kimberly believes we are each responsible for our own needs.  From my perspective, the only way to resolve unmet expectations is to “encourage” Kimberly to meet them (or live at a deficit).  But from Kimberly’s perspective that is imposing my wishes on her and making her take up what she feels is my responsibility.   From my viewpoint, we should focus on expectations, what ought to be done for the other.  From Berly’s viewpoint, we should focus on what each of us needs to do for ourselves.  For her, self-care must precede other-care just as a mother must put on her airplane oxygen mask before she puts one on her child.  I said, “I have expectations. They are reasonable.  If you don’t meet them, my needs will go unmet.  I will feel you don’t love me.  I will become hurt and resentful.”  She said, “I have no expectations for you to meet my needs.  I take full responsibility for my own needs, and I do not want you to neglect your own needs so that you can satisfy mine.  I want you to take care of yourself, to take care of your emotional needs as you do your physical ones.  I wish you would do the same towards me.  Your need does not establish my responsibility, nor mine yours.”

IT JUST LOOKS VERY DIFFERENT FROM MY ANGLE

I think my trouble has always been connecting expectations, reasonable expectations, with responsibility.  If my expectations are legitimate in a given relationship (clean up your own messes, repair what you break, do your fair share of the work) and you don’t meet those expectations, then you are simply wrong, and need correcting.  What else could it mean to be my brother’s keeper if not identifying the problem and urging the right path to take?  Only… the real reason I am pushing this is not for your sake, but for mine.  I feel inconvenienced, disrespected, hurt, unheard, overburdened, and it is because of your negligence.  I need you to change so I can feel better and our relationship can smooth out.

Clearly for relationships to work at all there must be some standardized expectations.  If my friend may respond to a dinner invitation by punching me or turning in circles three times or offering a breath mint, then I am at a loss to know how to relate.  His behavior does not make sense to me.  If he reacts in an unexpected way, I think him odd or worse (based on whether he seems to know or not know what is expected of him), and this starts us right off in the wrong direction since I believe he is the one who needs changing.  What we really need is mutual understanding, talking through our differences, but if either one of us assumes our own “rightness,” things are likely to go awry, and we may part ways with less clarity and an extra helping of acrimony.  I have understood him, and what I understand is that he is mistaken.  So I will do the “loving” thing and “forgive” him, which means I still think he is to blame for the tensions in our relationship.

Posted September 13, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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