Archive for the ‘fear’ Tag

Redefining Normal   Leave a comment

A blog post well worth reading:

My son Cade is a survivor.

To Cade and the Eight Percent

Eleven years ago this week, Rebekah and I celebrated the birth of our first-born. Despite his Down syndrome diagnosis, we were overjoyed to welcome this new life into our family.

But not everyone welcomes children like Cade.

It’s no secret. People with Down syndrome have been targeted for extinction. In November, the New York Post heralded The End of Down Syndrome and profiled a new, safer test for pre-natal detection. Before this test was available, 92% of Down syndrome diagnoses (and many times false diagnoses) resulted in the mothers choosing to terminate their pregnancies. With these new tests, some experts foretell the end of Downs.

Why the rush to rid the world of people like Cade?

Certainly, it isn’t because his disability physically threatens anyone. Rather, Down syndrome children pose adifferent kind of threat to society—the in your face reminder that our aspirations for “perfection” may be flawed. People like Cade disrupt normal. Whether it’s his insistence that everyone he says “hello” to on the busy streets of Manhattan respond in-kind or his unfiltered ability to hug a lonely, wheelchair-bound, homeless man without hesitation: people like Cade bring new dimension to what normal ought to be.

I’ve been encouraged to see several pop-culture venues putting on display just how normal children like Cade—and the surviving 8%—really are.

I was surprised and delighted when I opened a Nordstrom catalog a few months back and saw a young boy with Downs syndrome posing as a model for children’s clothes. No mention or special attribution was made of it. But there he was, hanging with a few other boys, included as one of the gang. The way things ought to be.

Then again, last month, dozens of major news outlets picked up this story line when the same young model was included in the latest Target ad campaign. One father and advocate, Rick Smith, took the story viral when he posted 5 Things Target Said Without Saying Anything on his blog.

Only two weeks ago on the popular show Glee, a sixteen-year old girl with Down syndrome was portrayed beautifully. Her character showed life as a high school teenager, a member of the cheerleading squad dealing with the pressures of modern teen life. During the episode, you could hear her internal thoughts playing out as the writers took a bold step forward in portraying how it might feel to walk in her shoes.

But these public displays of inclusion are only part of how we counter the extinction of those with Down syndrome.

Why do the majority of expectant parents determine not to carry these pregnancies to full term?

Fear.  [for the rest of this insightful article, connect to http://www.qideas.org/blog/to-cade-and-the-eight-percent.aspx

Posted March 15, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

Tagged with , , ,

Shadow and Light   Leave a comment

In the Shadows

I was pushing my grocery cart slowly down the aisle this afternoon when I felt my soul stabbed.  This was one of those emotional spasms that spring without warning or excuse… sudden and sharp, making me feel physically ill or out of breath or as though I need to double over and grab my stomach from a knifing.  When your psychic energy is chronically low, even small things can cause a short-out.

Just now as I write, I stop to recall my shopping and identify where I got jumped.  At the entrance to Food Lion, I picked up the sales leaflet and wended my way through the produce and baking sections, making the cheapest selections and asking with each item, “Can we do without this?”   My conscious mind was sorting through ounces and labels, but down below that, economic claustrophobia started squeezing my heart.  Then I saw the ground beef.  After 5 p.m. meat is marked down, sometimes as much as half off (depending on how old it is).  At a 50 percent discount, hamburger was still $2 a pound.

That shock connected viscerally to my concern over whether I can make enough mowing lawns this spring and summer, whether it really was a good financial choice to buy a truck and mower (what do I know about lawn care anyway?!), whether Kimberly or I might have some major medical issue now that our health insurance has lapsed.  These worries intermingle with fears of inadequacy, poor planning, stupidity, limited energy… a hundred whispered concerns babble in the backroom of my mind, and when I don’t recognize the source of my anxiety, it is difficult to calm the muttering.  At least now I see what the clammer was about.  Why the fear?

I know God can be trusted, but living involves my (faulty) input.  It seems that however good and great God is, I can screw things up, make bad decisions, miss a turn.  God has his hands full to keep me from driving into the guardrails, and I never know when God might see fit to let me “learn my lesson.”  I tell myself that God is not like that.  He is full of grace and patience and protective care.  And I believe it… mostly… for now.  I snuggle up next to my wife, scratch my dog’s ears, and find the shadow lifting.

Light in the Woods

Light In The Forest

Posted March 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , ,

Scary Truth   1 comment

I love this photo.  The truths most crucial for my transformation are inevitably the truths that awaken me to my own personal terrors.  I find I cannot grow in freedom, understanding, acceptance, relationship and other facets of genuine spirituality without facing my fears.  To rescue me from my fears, grace leads me into them, or as John Newton sang, “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved.”  Courage is gained slowly, one step at a time, and if I brave too much, more than my soul is ready to bear, I get knocked back a few paces.  We must be gentle with ourselves, have compassion for our quaking spirits, take things slowly and with as much patience for ourselves as the God of all grace has towards us.  Yet I must also find a way to pacify my tremulous soul, to discover the power of that truth which is embraced, trusted, fought for… truth about my wounded self and my infinite worth in God’s eyes.

When I step towards my fears, uncover them and open myself to feel them, to understand their deep hold on me, they increase and seem to gain strength.  I try to face them with a spirit of self-compassion and faith in God’s love, but I can only take so much stress before my courage wavers, and I need to take a break from the battlefield, withdrawing for a time from people and situations that provoke my fears–fears of rejection, inadequacy, shame.  I keep whispering the truth to myself and my trusted others until my faith is renewed enough to speak truth once more where it is unwelcome, resisted.  It is my truth.  You do not have to agree with me or consider this the right way to live your life (or even that it is the right way for me), but if you cannot trust me with my own life, then at least trust God with my life, in spite of my wavering steps, to draw me by grace along the way of growing integrity and harmony.

Posted March 11, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

Clinging to Grace with Our Fingertips   3 comments

This is where my story gets hard and healing, frightening and amazing.  First the mess.  My needs displayed themselves in a hundred ways that were threatening to Kimberly and her needs.  For instance, I have often used anger and blame to protect myself from looming danger, but Kimberly was raised by a mother who screamed and shouted, so when I honestly expressed my feelings, her alarm tripped.

Early in our dating we sat for lunch in a restaurant booth in Arlington, Virginia where I was living.  The man in the booth behind us, apparently a construction foreman, was carrying on a loud conversation on his two-way radio.  I muttered to Kimberly how rude this was, which she feared he could overhear, and then I swiveled around and gave him a “dirty look” hoping to shame him quiet.  When I turned back around, she was visibly shaken and said she did not know whether she could stay in relationship with someone with anger issues.  So began the saga of conflicting needs in the area of self-defense, specifically anger.

The machinations of the mind are complicated, so unless this is your experience, you may not understand the root of my anger.  Anger is the result of feeling disrespected, having my boundaries crossed.  As I grew up, my sense of worth grew dependent on the value others placed on me.  If they seemed to devalue me, I was  threatened at my core.  There are many ways folks can protect themselves from this, and one of mine was anger and blame.  When the crew chief raised his voice, I felt disrespected, and in my insecurity, I reacted to protect myself against this threat.

Is This Going to Work?

From childhood, Kimberly has taken the opposite approach of protecting herself by accommodating every one so that she is liked.  When threatened, I bared my teeth and Kimberly wagged her tail.  She was quite successful in acting in such a way that no one would ever get angry with her.  Underneath was her terror of rage and denial of her own anger.   Both of us were living out of fears that we did not recognize, incompatible anxieties, each person’s defense mechanism triggering the other’s fear.  I thought I needed a mate who would be okay with my anger and Kimberly thought she needed a mate that never got angry.  This did not look like a match made in heaven!

But what we wanted was not what we needed.  Let me put it plainly–we each wanted to marry someone who would help us escape our deepest fears.  Our coping mechanisms were not “working” (protecting us from pain), so we wanted a spouse that would reinforce our defenses, not so we could face our underlying issues, but so we could avoid them successfully.  We were both blessed to have a very supportive and accepting relationship…  except when it wasn’t.  She was not trying to expose my denial (the anger that hid my fear), but in simply being herself with me, and I with her, the truth was forced to come out, and it was very painful.  After all, there were quite good reasons why we developed these protective patterns early in life.  Let me relate a very common interchange

Me: “That jerk just cut me off and then slowed down to turn into Sheetz.  That’s really considerate!”  My insecurity is shouting at me that I have been disrespected.  I don’t realize that I feel threatened and fearful because my anger jumps in so quickly to protect me and blame the other driver.  I think my aggravation is his fault.

Kimberly: “Maybe he was running low on gas and saw the gas station at the last minute.”  Kimberly feels her fear rising at my heat, and she jumps in to protect the person I am attacking.  I feel unsupported and shamed.

Me: “He could have easily slowed down and pulled in behind me.”  My coping mechanism is being threatened.  If you take away my anger, I have no protection from being devalued.  I still don’t realize that my true, underlying feeling that needs addressing is fear.

Kimberly: “Maybe he didn’t have time to think of that.”  I feel the legitimacy of her argument.  I really should not be mad.  I begin to feel shame for my temper instead of sympathy, which would give me the safety to look deeper into the roots of my fear.  I shame my anger away, closing the one door to my true heart’s need, and I no longer feel safe sharing my feelings with Kimberly.

Me: “Whatever!”  an irritated dismissal.  Kimberly senses my disapproval of her responses.  She is deeply hurt by my unspoken criticism that she is not supportive and caring, that she is not enough.  I am challenging her one shelter against shame, her remarkable ability to be supportive and empathic.  Her solution for the world’s problems is “Life is so hard, let’s all just get along.”  To feel safe, she needs me to be nice to everyone, especially her.

This dynamic played out scores of times.  We were committed to honesty in sharing our feelings and in accepting one another “as is,” and this characterized our relationship, so we grew more trusting and secure with each other.  The problems came when our needs conflicted, when supporting her meant denying my own needs. But our commitment to love and understanding in the other parts of our lives slowly began to soften these areas of conflict.  Kimberly moved from “your anger is bad” to “your anger is hard for me” to “your anger is understandable” to “I see how your anger is a vital protection.”  I moved from “you are not enough” to “I feel hurt by you” to “I see why anger is a problem for you” to “wow, you have every reason to fight anger.”  This was only possible by understanding ourselves and one another better.  We had to face into our fears and trust one another to listen, understand, and accept us.  We often failed.  It was messy.

OKAY, LET'S TAKE THIS SLOW

Posted October 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , , , , ,

How I Cope   3 comments

PAIN

Before I share how Kimberly and I grew in our wonderful, painful, scary and supportive relationship, I need to give some context regarding our perspective on coping mechanisms.  

All of us are wounded because we are born into a broken world with broken people and broken relationships.  In order to survive emotionally we develop methods for protecting ourselves.  These include the happy face, the sad face, the angry face, the cute face to hold off the dis-grace of others.  We use control, manipulation, confrontation, and every other form of avoidance (procrastination, withdrawal, acquiescence, drugs).  The list goes on.  We use these methods unwittingly, settling into a pattern that works best for each.  Many children would be emotionally destroyed if they found no means to cope.

I was at one time convinced that coping strategies were evil because they shielded us from the truth and taught us to live a lie.  They do shield us from the truth, but this is not necessarily an evil.  As Jack would say, “You can’t handle the truth!” or in Jesus’ words, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”  Our coping mechanisms act as crutches, and if we see them as such, we can slowly mend and get back on our feet.  The problem comes when we either deny the injury and pretend we have no crutch or stop going to physical therapy because it is too painful and decide we’ll just sign up for a disability pension.  I used to try talking people out of their coping mechanisms, kick their crutches out from under them so to speak, until I realized how powerfully beneficial these protective shields are.

My major coping mechanism for feeling better about myself is trying harder.  I thought I was practicing discipline, obedience, godliness, but increased effort was really my means to block a sense of shame and unworthiness.  I only discovered this truth because my method of coping didn’t “work” sufficiently–I still felt too much like a failure.  The more energy I used to escape my negative feelings, the more I realized it wasn’t working, that I could never make it work.

Once I realized that this was a coping mechanism, I tried to “overcome” it.  It was a lie that I had to cast out…  only it had stopped deceiving me once I recognized it for what it was.  When I realized it was a crutch, I could use it as a crutch.  For instance, I feel inordinately bad about failing to meet expectations (the inordinate part is a major clue).  When I did not recognize this as a coping strategy, it controlled me subconsciously.  Now that I realize it is a crutch, I am tempted to throw it down, but the problem is not so much my behavior (trying harder) but the reason behind it–working to earn my worth.

The Dark Hand of Shame

So my second temptation is to maintain my hard effort while changing the underlying thought patterns, but the effort itself supports the wrong mindset.  I am running late for a meeting, and as I drive I tell myself, “It’s okay.  Everyone is sometimes late.  Calm down,” but all the while I am driving like Jehu.  I find that I can’t maintain the same level of diligence without operating out of a sense of urgency, a drivenness that comes from my insecurities.  The more I try to give myself a break, the less I meet expectations, and the worse I feel about me.  These voices of condemnation have indoctrinated me and shaped my feelings, and barring a miracle, it will take a long process of reorienting my perspective.  In the meantime I do not have the emotional resources to simply stop all effort to meet others’ expectations and hold back the resulting flood of shame.  I would be overwhelmed by the voices against me feeding my shame.  My coping mechanism allows for my frayed emotions to be soothed as I slowly push into my fear and break free.

So I take baby steps, put a little weight on the foot.  I put in a little less effort while working to offload the shame that I would normally feel, turning a little more towards grace.  I share with others my fears so that their power is reduced.  I find gracious people to support my faltering faith.  And slowly I find myself growing whole from this deep wound.  Healing of long established problems, both physical and emotional, takes a lot of time, gentleness to the injury, support and protection.

Posted October 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , , , ,

Should Faith Control Emotions?   5 comments

This interaction occurred several days ago on Facebook with a friend who got a brief response from me after she posted a quote.  You can see she is very gracious and open.  I have changed the names for privacy’s sake.  Our FB interaction is followed by a personal message I wrote to her.

Jennifer: “You either pass on your fears or your faith”     to think about…
 

Janathan: sometimes how I express my faith stirs up your fears and my fears expressed calm your fears.    to think about.

Jennifer: good point Kent, still reflecting on your comment. My initial thoughts on the area of fears … sometimes expressing or admitting our fears ‘demystifies’ them, & I can see value in that,.. also hearing others admit their own fears helps me realize i’m not the only one… I think what I appreciate about the above quote is the thought of being able to ‘transform’ a paralyzing fear into a faith action. Rather than being immobilized by fear, moving towards trusting God with it. Fear does not come from Him… whatcha think??

FAITH CAN MAKE YOU SMILE!

Janathan:I think I’m wary of what seems over-simplification to me, assuming solutions when I haven’t taken sufficient time to fully understand the emotional dynamics at work (a definition of “pat” answers). We might say ‘love’ and ‘faith’ are simple, clear, easy to identify… until we start realizing how common misconceptions are, confusing love with lust, possessiveness, admiration, etc. I think we have to agree that all emotions were created by God and of high worth. God created fear in us, and the Bible regularly commands us to fear. My biggest fears tell me something really important about my own woundedness, and if I try to simply control this fear with ‘faith” and not understand my deeper heart issues, I think it causes real personal and relational problems. What is your perspective?

Janathan: On the other hand, one can be equally disrespectful of one’s own feelings by exacerbating them rather than listening to them (though I think conservative Christians tend to err on the former side… as one well-known writer titled a book “Emotions, the Believer’s Greatest Enemy.”

Jennifer: hmmm i don’t like simplistic answers either.. and will often ‘chew’ on a thought for a long time (including your quote 🙂 but at the same time, I’ve had to face some of my biggest fears,… and in the midst of those fears have often found myself unable to do anything else with but transfer them to God. “perfect love casts out all fear” is a concept i don’t fully understand yet it seems to involve trusting the Source of Love to such an extent that we have nothing that’s too big for us to face. The kind of ‘fear’ you refer to,.. i would associate with a respectful fear.. and not an immobilizing fear. appreciate your thoughts..

HIDDEN UNDERGROUND

Janathan: I agree, Jennifer, sometimes fears are so intense we have to find a means of calming them before we can begin to understand them. I think there are many ways of doing this, such as adding a safety net or sharing our fears with someone who is safe for us (this is an act of faith as well). I know I have had numerous misconceptions of faith in my past, misconceptions I still struggle with. One of the biggest ones was to use “faith” to shame my feelings, in which case my feelings went underground, seeming to be conquered, but simply adding another layer of distance between myself and my heart.

Jennifer: hmmm good points. I’ve had to work through ‘fear of admitting fears’…. because as I looked back on my life i realized that the fears i ‘verbalized’ (admitted out loud) were exactly the ones that i ended up having to face in reality. 😦 Still working thru that one, but I think one of the lessons I’ve come away with, was that God wanted me to experience His peace even in the midst of my biggest fears (and I did,… for the most part! 🙂 From what I can tell, fear doesn’t GO AWAY.. we just learn to manage it. I’ve prayed endlessly for God to take away my fear of flying.. but it’s still there. What I had to face was my fear of dying instead.. With cancer, I had to face my fear that His plans weren’t good ones (from my perspective),.. but as I look back,.. so much GOOD came from having it.

Beth: Such thought-provoking comments. You’ve both alluded to the idea that fears have a variety of sources. Yes, fear can be emotionally based, but it can also be based on objective facts and truth. Jesus said “… I am the truth…”. Truth is his very essence and thus he also knows all. I’ve learned that I can trust my God more than I can trust myself. We can all be easily manipulated (emotionally) and we can also manipulate others and we can even manipulate ourselves. But God can not be manipulated. Thus I choose to put my trust in Him who is truth, and pray that he gives me the wisdom to discern the source of my fears and take control of all my thoughts. (2 Cor 10:5 “…destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”)

Jennifer: thanks for your input Beth… i like the verse about ‘taking your thoughts captive’ … i think it fits the discussion. Though I have to admit.. i’m a very practical person… and as much as I understand the ‘exercise’ of doing that,.. i still don’t understand what are the practical, tangible results.? In other words,.. what actually changes in relationship to our fears?

Beth: Making our thoughts “captive and obedient” to Christ is definitely practical, with tangible & transformational results. Emotionally based fears are often reinforced by our thought life. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). It seems that fear and faith can not co-exist. Paul repeatedly tells his readers we have real power to control our thought-life, leading to transformational living. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2). As we renew/change our thinking, our emotions and behaviour will realign accordingly. When our focus is Christ and his attributes, it will result in our minds being filled with his presence and peace (Phil 4:8-9). Faith and fear do not co-exist.

Kent McQuilkin: Ah, Beth, what a very different view you and I have on emotions and faith!

Jennifer: Will need to reflect on your thoughts Beth… Sometimes it just takes time for a truth/principle to move from my head to my heart,.. and then into action. 🙂 Curious about your view on emotions and faith, Kent. 🙂

Wow, Jennifer, where do I even begin?  I understand Beth’s view, I was raised with that view.  There are good and bad emotions and we must choose the good and refuse the bad.  The good emotions are telling us the truth about the world and God, and the bad emotions are telling us lies.  We encourage the good emotions and discourage the bad emotions by thinking the right thoughts about each, often using Scripture as the basis.  We talk ourselves out of the bad emotions and into the good ones.  This is how faith works to free us from bad emotions–I keep telling myself the truth until I believe it (and truth comes from propositions, not from feelings, which can’t be trusted), and as I slowly believe more, my bad emotions dissolve.

In a sense I believe and follow this approach for superficial matters.  As everyone knows, emotions can be very changeable and fleeting (which makes us reluctant to trust them).  If Kimberly does something that slightly irritates me, I throw some “truth” at my feelings (“she also has to forgive me for my irritating behavior” or “she’s just tired”) and let it go.  I can do this because I am secure in our relationship—I know she cares deeply for me and respects me and my feelings.  It is just an emotional hiccough I feel.  However, if the feeling persists, I know it is telling me something I need to hear.

To suppose that emotions are fickle and unreliable because they constantly fluctuate is a serious misunderstanding I think.  What I see with my eyes constantly changes—I see a chair, then a table, then you, then my book… does this mean my visual perception is unreliable?   On the other hand, if I kept staring at the chair and it turned into a cat and then into a pecan pie, I would have major doubts about my visual perception.  Just like my eyes, my emotions are “reading” constantly changing situations, so that to be consistent, they must constantly fluctuate, but when that situation returns, that emotion returns.  Emotions are remarkably consistent and reliable measures of how our situations are impacting us.  We realize this when we use all our reasoning powers to change our feelings about someone, and one look from them brings those feelings flooding back.  In other words, our emotions are telling us something profoundly true and accurate, stubbornly so, though we may misinterpret them easily if we have been raised in a culture that teaches us to doubt them.

I think that is where we get thrown off the track.  We assume that our emotions are measuring the facts about the current situation, and this consistently proves false.  But that is like blaming the gas gauge for giving the wrong mileage.  Our emotions can tell us things about the current situation that our minds cannot (we call it intuition), just like our gas gauge can help us estimate how many miles we have driven.  But that is not their purpose.  Emotions primarily tell us about our own hearts, not about external situations.  This was very hard for me to grasp at first.  I thought my anger against a friend measured his guilt.  It doesn’t.  It simply says something is going on in my heart that I need to figure out.  Whether he is guilty or not is a very different issue, related but different.

If my emotions are given to me by God, they are all good and valuable when treated as they were designed.  But if I suppose some are bad, then I will refuse to listen to them, perhaps quite effectively drowning out their voice, the voice of truth.  I may credit Biblical thinking and faith for this result, but I feel strongly that such an approach ultimately hurts rather than helps me.  If anything, I have discovered that faith can do the opposite—it can give me the safety and courage to identify and listen to my unwanted emotions instead of pushing them away.  I think that blaming and fixing my emotions is much like using my finger to push the gas gauge needle to “full”.

It is true that I want to be free of those feelings of fear, anger, sadness (and even joy and peace) that are harmful for me and my relationships, but after failing in a life long effort at using the typical “biblical” approach I described above, I learned that listening to my emotions with compassion and understanding was the only way to discover my true brokenness and needs and take the long term, deep approach for transformation.  I put “biblical” in quotes since I find myself now with quite different understandings of verses like “take every thought captive” (ones that do not involve pitting my reasoning against my emotions—wouldn’t it be wonderful if our emotions and intellect could work as partners instead of competitors?)

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Janathan

Posted September 27, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests, thoughts

Tagged with , , , ,

We’re All Broken   1 comment

From one of my all time favorite books, written by a non-christian with deep insight: Expecting Adam by Martha Beck,  a married Harvard student who discovered her fetus (Adam) had Down’s Syndrome.

With Adam, I had more fears than usual to plague me during those long, long nights.  The problem was that it was impossible not to fall in love with him.  It is a frightening thing to love someone you know the world rejects.  It makes you so terribly vulnerable.  You know you will be hurt by every slight, every prejudice, every pain that will befall your beloved throughout his life.  In the wee small hours, as I rocked and nursed and sang to my wee small boy, I couldn’t help but worry.  Will Rogers once said that he knew worrying was effective, because almost nothing he worried about ever happened.  That’s a cute statement, and I’m glad Will’s life worked this way.  But mine hasn’t–at least not where Adam is concerned.  Almost everything I worried about during the nights after his birth, almost every difficult thing I feared would come my way as a result of being his mother, has actually happened.

Thank God.

…….

What my fears all boiled down to, as I sat with my tiny son in the days after his birth, was an underlying terror that he would destroy my own facade, the flawlessness and invulnerability I projected onto the big screen, the Great and Terrible Martha of Oz.  You see, I knew all along that there wasn’t one label people might apply to Adam–stupid, ugly, strange, clumsy, slow, inept–that could not, at one time or another, be justifiably applied to me.  I had spent my life running from this catastrophe and like so many other things, it caught up with me while I was expecting Adam.

In this regard, as in so many others, my worst fears have come to pass.  But as they do I am learning that there is an even bigger secret, a secret I had been keeping from myself.  It has been hard for me to grasp, but gradually, painfully, with the slow, small steps of a retarded child, I am coming to understand it.  This has been the second phase of my education, the one that followed all those years of school.  In it, I have had to unlearn virtually everything Harvard taught me about what is precious and what is garbage.  I have discovered that many of the things I thought were priceless are as cheap as costume jewelry, and much of what I labeled worthless was, all the time, filled with the kind of beauty that directly nourishes my soul.

Now I think that the vast majority of us “normal” people spend our lives trashing our treasures and treasuring our trash.  We bustle around trying to create the impression that we are hip, imperturbable, onmiscient, in perfect control, when in fact we are awkward and scared and bewildered.  The irony is that we do this to be loved, all the time remaining terrified of anyone who seems to be as perfect as we wish to be.  We go around like Queen Elizabeth, bless her heart, clutching our dowdy little accessories, avoiding the slightest hint of impropriety, never showing our real feelings or touching anyone else except through glove leather.  But we were dazed and confused when the openly depressed, bulimic, adulterous, rejected Princess Di was the one people really adored.

Living with Adam, loving Adam, has taught me a lot about the truth.  He has taught me to look at things in themselves, not the value a brutal and often senseless world assign to them.  As Adam’s mother I have been able to see quite clearly that he is no less beautiful for being called ugly, no less wise for appearing dull, no less precious for being seen as worthless.  And neither am I.  Neither are you.  Neither is any of us.

Posted September 17, 2011 by janathangrace in Reading

Tagged with , , , ,

Please, Please, Meet My Needs!   3 comments

CAN I PLEASE JUST HAVE THE BONE?

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

Tagged with , , , ,

Response part 4: It’s Just Not Fair!   2 comments

Elisabeth speaks for many of us when she worries that making room for someone’s quirks could encourage the attitude, “God made me this way so just accept it even though it is inconveniencing or hurting you.”  That is one of the guiding principles that shaped the way I related to others most of my life, and it still pulls strongly on my emotions.  This will take two posts to discuss even briefly because I want to start with my own experience and perspective and then offer the comparative view of my wife.

I grew up believing very strongly that I was responsible for others’ responses to me.  If someone felt hurt or inconvenienced by my actions, I should change my behavior.  Either I had done something wrong and should apologize and change myself to prevent this in the future, or they were mistaken and I should explain to them how they had misunderstood my intentions (or a combination of the two).  Their negative feelings indicted me, and I was responsible to relieve them and to then live in such a way that I caused them no more inconvenience or hurt.

I think this entanglement of responsibilities is common among children who respond to parental displeasure by being compliant and who determine their own lovability based on the feedback they receive for their behavior.  If my mom or dad is angry, it is my fault, and I must fix it.  I think our parents’ generation generally believed this, and those of us raised in religious homes believed this was also a true reflection of God’s attitude towards us.  One of the downsides of this perspective is that I hold others responsible for my feelings as well.  You take care of my feelings and I take care of yours.  You take care of my needs and I take care of yours.

Relational Balancing Act

It sounds very considerate, and I suppose it may be, but in my case, instead of a free and loving choice, it was grounded in fear and relational obligation.  I could not survive in forgoing my own needs for the sake of others’ needs if they did not reciprocate, so if there was no parity, I had to pressure others to meet my needs.  If I were inconveniencing or hurting someone, I was under moral obligation to change, and if I did not like what they were doing, they had to change.

Of course, the entire system broke down if others did not meet my needs. When I eat out with a friend, the payment shuffle at the end is a bit embarrassing.  Supposing my friend will reciprocate the next time, I decide to pick up the tab.  But he doesn’t return the favor.  I decide to do it again as a good example that shows him clearly how he is falling behind in the balance of hospitality.  By the third unreciprocated meal, I start feeling resentment and make mild side comments or light jokes to bring his attention to the situation.  If he simply does not work by this system of fair trade, then our relationship is in trouble.  I will feel that he is selfish and uncaring.

When I decide what to wear, what to say, where to go, how to behave, I automatically assume others’ needs are preeminent.  This does not primarily come from a place of health or freedom or generosity, but from a fear that they will justifiably think badly of me or resent me if I do not care about them.  I find it very hard to think well of myself if others think badly of me (in this case because I am being “uncaring”).  On the other hand, if others seem to ignore my needs, I feel that my needs don’t really count, I am not worthy of receiving their care.  So I am trapped in this world of reciprocation based on fear of losing my worth as a person.

My fear of others “taking advantage of me,” requiring me to do more lifting in the relationship than they do, is not simply that I will run out of energy and resources.  It is a much more basic fear—that my very worth as a person is seriously at risk.  Of course, I never think it out so clearly and objectively as this, but simply react from deep-seated emotions, often jumping right past the fear (which makes me feel vulnerable) into the reactive and manipulative anger of self-defense, “Don’t you care about me?!”

Some say that compromise is at the root of any good marriage, but what if either or both partners feel an arrangement is unfair, unbalanced.  Picture the impact on the relationship if this imbalance is not simply an inconvenience, but a threat to the spouse’s very worth as a person.  That is a picture of Kimberly and me as we stepped into a committed relationship.

Posted July 31, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

A Burden Too Great   2 comments

Gregory Boyle, a priest who works in gang territories of L.A., tells this poignant story:

I knew an inmate, Lefty, at Folsom State Prison, whose father would, when Lefty was a child, get drunk and beat his mom.  One Saturday night Lefty’s father beat his mother so badly that the next day she had to be led around by his sisters, as if she were blind.  Both eyes were swollen shut.

On Sunday, Lefty’s father and brothers are sitting on the couch, watching a football game.  Lefty calmly goes into his parents’ bedroom, retrieves a gun from his father’s bedstand, and walks out to the living room.  Lefty places himself in front of the television.  His father and brothers push themselves as far back into the couch as possible, horrified.  Lefty points the gun at his father and says, “You are my father, and I love you.  If you ever hit my mother again… I… will… kill you.”

Lefty was nine years old.  He didn’t kill his father, then (or ever).  And yet, part of the spirit dies a little each time it’s asked to carry more than its weight in terror, violence, and betrayal.  (From “Tattoos on the Heart”)

That last sentence is so achingly true.  Every child is forced to handle situations that exceed his or her capabilities, and each such experience incites fear or shame or distress.  I have discovered in my own life that my greatest emotional reactions to situations as an adult invariably spring from the wounds of my boyhood.  Have others found this to be true?

Posted July 26, 2011 by janathangrace in Story

Tagged with , ,