Archive for the ‘feelings’ Tag

“I Know I’m Right!”   2 comments

The intensity of my feeling does not prove the truth of my viewpoint. It says more about me than the reality around me.  But even should I look more closely into my own heart, I may still misunderstand my emotions. If the culture and family in which we are raised do not train us to accept and understand our feelings, if they in fact encourage us to ignore and misread them, then we have a long, tortuous, and dimly lit path ahead of us as we seek to understand ourselves. Don’t give up. That search yields some of life’s richest treasures in yourself and in your relationships.

Strong feelings seem to legitimate our positions in our own minds, and if we link those to our spiritual beliefs, we end up assuming that God feels the same way we do. But the intensity of our feelings is more likely to signal a personal issue than a theological one, even in cases where our moral judgment is accurate. If those strong feelings push us to speak or act without adequate personal reflection, we can make things worse in our unbalanced response, and those who recognize our emotional entanglement will either be dismissive or reactive.

When I feel much more strongly about a matter than others do, it makes me stop and consider why and invites me to draw conclusions about myself rather than others. Differences and conflicts always call us deeper into our own hearts, and if we begin with that discovery, we are more likely to also understand others more fully.

Posted January 11, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Befriending Myself   4 comments

I woke up this morning with spare change on the clock to get to church on time, but my soul was out of sorts, so I lay still, sensing its pulse instead of pushing myself out of bed.  For the last decade I’ve honed the skill of listening to my feelings without judging them, but I’m only gradually learning to then respond with compassion, a crucial second step.  Since I spent most of my life judging my feelings and driving them out with shame–calling them stupid or weak or petty–it was a giant step for me to learn to accept them as legitimate and meaningful, and it took years of stiff work.

That tenacious acceptance opened a huge cache of information about myself, a way to sort through my junk and set the furniture back on its feet.  But with my cognitive bent, I’m slow on intuition, a key conduit to feelings.  I often get stuck in my head, my thoughts going in circles like bugs around a rim, emotionally trapped, unable to move forward until I understand it.

I failed to realize that understanding someone and embracing him are quite distinct, and I don’t need to diagnose him in order to love him.  Empathy can be profoundly healing even without an emotional biopsy.  When I focus on fixing a “problem,” I default to analytics, but I can’t support the feelings when I treat them as the problem, a roadblock instead of a signpost.  A hug is often better than a flow chart, not just for my wife, but surprisingly for me, the thinker.

When I’m busy dissecting feelings, I can forget compassion, especially for myself.  Love seems a distraction from analyzing and engineering a solution… unless love IS the solution.  “1+2 = love” does not make sense because feelings cannot be reduced to equations or formulas.  But if love is not the answer, then perhaps I’m asking the wrong question, and if I’m not ending up at compassion, then I’m really off track.  How would it shape my experience of life if I lived for love, not just for others, but for myself?

I know how to be a good friend to others: to listen, love, be gentle and patient, kind and thoughtful.  But I don’t treat myself that way.  I bully myself.  I push and prod, roll my eyes, belittle pain, ignore my needs, devalue my efforts.  I’m a really bad friend to myself.

So this morning I lay in bed, fully present to God and myself, ignoring the clock, being patient and gentle and sympathetic to my struggles like a good friend should.  I took a feel-good shower instead of skipping it and rushing to church, and I discovered that being a better friend to myself made me a better friend to those I met.  I’ve found a new buddy, and I think I’m going to really like him.

Risky Grace   6 comments

This morning I was cruising down Lakeside Drive when a pokey car from a side street turned in front of me.  That’s one of my pet peeves.  If a driver feels some aggressive need to pull in front of me, fine, just go fast enough to stay out of my way.  I stepped on my brakes and would have forgotten it, except the guy slowed down even more, creeping into a gas station.  “REALLY!?” I ranted to my dashboard, “You had to cut me off ’cause you were in a hurry to… STOP?”

I can self-justify with the best, but I’m not so far gone as to equate my petty irritations with righteous indignation.  I knew I wasn’t channeling Jesus with my defensive driving.

This also suggests a serious limitation to that great advice to “be in the moment.”  Oh, I was in the moment, all right, totally in the moment, that scowling, growling, hand-clenching moment.  Sometimes you need to get out of the moment, be a little less present, to grasp the bigger picture.

So I tried to talk myself down.  I noticed that he was a geezer, and they do everything slower, everything.  But I’ve played that chess game with myself before, so I know all the moves.  I responded with, “Hey, driving faster takes no extra strength. Retirement ain’t gonna slow me down.  That’s no excuse.”  “Ah,” said my mental opponent, “And how many wrecks will your age-diminished reactions cause before you slacken your speed?”  Okay, that was a surprise, a new argument that sounded suspiciously like my wife.  How did she get in my head?  That’s totally unfair–two against one.

But her voice is the one I really want to hear, not because it is right, making me wrong and bad, but because it is gracious.  She wants to find peace through mutual acceptance of our weaknesses.  In contrast, I find that when everyone follows the rules, we all get along.  Legalistic happiness.  It’s pretty common in church.

The problem is when we screw up… and we all screw up.  The law has no margin for error, so it makes us all losers, and we scramble to escape that weight of condemnation.  Each time others break our rules, rules that ensure our safety, we feel slighted, devalued, and disrespected, and even small slights cut deeply because we already agree with them, we believe we deserve no respect.  When someone cuts me off in traffic, I feel less of a person, so I get defensive.  In my relationships I push others to change, to conform, to live in a way that does not tear open my self doubt.  Everyone, follow the rules!

The voice of grace sounds so small and useless against such visceral drives, and it calls me to abandon the very thing that is protecting my fragile sense of well-being: my ragged record of good, which is my only justification for squeezing others into line.  Grace whispers that we are loved regardless of our record, that we are valued fully even in our failures.  But I find it hard to trust.  Grace is like oxygen–once you let it in, it is available to everyone in the room.  If you allow grace to cover you as a loser, then it necessarily covers all losers, and then you have to drop your legalistic demands.  But their flawed conformity to rules is the only thing keeping me protected.  For all its defects and failures, the legal system looks pretty safe, and grace looks pretty risky.  No wonder faith is the only way into grace.

Posted February 16, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Meaningless Melancholy   7 comments

Some days I just ache.  I can feel my mouth pulled into the lines of a half-grimace, like someone trying to cover up an irrepressible agony.  The very question of hope versus hopelessness grows distant as the present pain blocks out any future.  There is just this moment… which stretches on hour after hour.  I can distract myself, but it seems so futile–like playing peek-a-boo with a feverish baby.  At least if I had some huge loss, say of a loved-one, I would have clarity about the reason for my pain, a direction to focus my feelings, and hope that over time some healing would come.  It would make sense.  And others would understand.  What is there even to share or cry over if the misery is nameless?

Posted February 4, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Thanksgiving Trap   Leave a comment

happy people

As Christian fads go, “30 days of thanks” seems to have some potential for good.  If you’ve missed it, it’s the practice of giving thanks for something each day of November (often posted on social media).  Hopefully it makes us all happier.  Gratitude is seen in church as well as in our society at large as a foundation stone of mental health.  On a TED talk last week  the positive psychology guru Shawn Achor listed thanksgiving as his first choice to improve life’s outlook: find 3 things daily for which to be grateful.  On the surface, I think this is a good idea.  On the surface.  But like most things, the real story is under the surface.

 

gratitude

My first question is about motivation, which can sour so many good practices.  I remember as a child being ordered to write thank-you notes for gifts I hated.  It did not improve my life’s outlook!  Legislating gratitude spoils it.  But following cultural norms, my parents shamed my “ungrateful attitude” as a child… and it seemed to fix my attitude, but it damaged my spirit.  In compliance, I trained myself to “feel” grateful, not as a natural response of delight, but as a way to avoid shame.  On the surface, it’s hard to tell the difference, but natural gratitude gives life and forced gratitude suffocates life and relationships. Based on how I react to ungrateful people, I’d say I need more of the natural kind. When I choose thanksgiving as a “discipline,” my spiritual growth may only be in pride or resentment.

Honor-Emotions

But even if my motivation is healthy, I can still misuse thankfulness.  Both pop psychology and pop Christianity  suppose we can fix hard events and feelings with positive thinking (often labeled “faith”).  On the surface, that might be a good idea.  On the surface.  That is to say, if the bad feelings are superficial, then I can easily “shake it off” with some uplifting thoughts.  But for anything deeper, positive thinking will only mask the problem, like taking ibuprofen for a ruptured appendix.  The real solution for difficult feelings is to recognize and accept them in a spirit of compassion, try to understand them and find a means to truly support the needs that my soul is expressing.  Using thankfulness to resolve significant pain just minimizes and belittles our true feelings and fosters false lives and relationships.

If you are lonely, for instance, not just this particular evening, but in life generally, you cannot rectify it by reminding yourself of all the people who love you and so talk yourself into being okay.  If you are hurt by rejection, by loss, by trauma, you cannot find healing by “counter-balancing” it with happy thoughts or smothering it with praise music.  Massages are nice, but they don’t cure ear infections.  Paul tells us in Romans to “weep with those who weep,” not “cheer up those who weep.”  Some of us need to learn to weep for ourselves in compassion.  I never use thanksgiving to shout down my feelings.  Joy is most truly experienced when I genuinely embrace my sorrows.  So any takers for “30 days of pain”?

joy and sorrow

Posted November 21, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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A Gentle Day   Leave a comment

Today was a mildly good day emotionally, and I thought it should be noted since I haven’t been on the positive side of the ledger in a long time.  It was not exciting or fulfilling or memorable, but pleasant in a blue-hazy way.  In the past I tried desperately to decode the secret of a day like this–what did I do right or avoid doing wrong?  How can I keep this going?  Like a capsize-victim scrambling to straddle a rolling barrel, I soon tipped over again, even more tired and discouraged from all my scraping and clawing.

Now I have a better appreciation for the staid Buddhists who let the feelings pass through like vapors across a room.  If God or the universe or my beleaguered soul is sending a message, it needs to be less cryptic.  I keep my eyes open, but when fog settles in, patience is the better part of wisdom.  Insight often takes the slow train, and pacing the platform doesn’t get it here any faster.  As Erwin Schrodinger says, “In an honest search for knowledge, you quite often have to abide by ignorance for an indefinite period” (a quantum physicist validating my confusion!).  I have learned to enjoy the good while it lingers, not weighing it down with questions or trying to finagle an extension.  It is what it is for as long as it is, and when it smiles,  I am grateful.

Posted September 26, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Love Shaped Questions   2 comments

Forgiveness 4: Seeking Understanding

love question

When I get whacked by the blunt end of a relationship, I first need to assess the bruising and salve it with compassion.  From this haven of acceptance and support, I can draw enough grace to respond in a healthier way to the bruiser.  But before forgiveness is even an option, I need to piece the story together: why did he act that way?   Easy forgiveness brushes aside this opportunity of better understanding.  What are his heart sores and life hurdles?  How did he see and experience our social fumble?  We also need a better grasp of the relationship.  Every interpersonal dynamic is involved here: truth-seeking, communication, perception, relational history, roles, expectations, and a hundred other facets.  Forgiveness is only part of this complex relational feng shui, so if it is my only consideration, I turn a vivid social mosaic into a black/white toggle switch of blame.

blame block

shortcut

Quick forgiveness looks so gracious, and long discussion seems so dramatic.  Both of us may want a quick fix, and perhaps it’s the right choice for now, but we should remember that this tables the issue, it doesn’t resolve it.  The same conflict will pop up again and again until we sort it out.  Deferring until later may feel better in the short run, and may be a necessary strategic move, but it does not enrich our bond.  And slowly over time little resentments will build up like barnacles on a boat or relational callouses will form to deaden the pain and with it the vibrant connection.

So I begin to unfold the map of who he is.  I’m not looking for evidence to accuse him.  I simply want to understand him, see things from his perspective.  Since resolution requires mutuality, I share with him in turn my struggles, without implying fault.  Just as my own heart hides when I am gruff and suspicious with it, he cannot be honest and forthcoming about his genuine feelings and thoughts if I don’t invite him with gentleness and love.  I can accept him without approving of or excusing his behavior.  He is precious regardless of what he does or doesn’t do.  I want to know what he feels about our scrape and why he feels this way.  If he is dismissive or defensive as I probe, then he’s not at a safe place with me. He may not even feel safe with himself because of the shaming voices in his head.  When he closes the gate on this part of our relationship, I must honor it—I cannot force him to share.  In response, I may also need to stake down a boundary marker to protect my heart.  Perhaps a better time will come if I stay open and gracious.

DO YOU SPEAK RABBIT?

DO YOU SPEAK RABBIT?

If we can break through into deeper mutual insight, we will then want to reflect also on our relationship.  This will spark memories of past conflicts, a rich resource to ponder if we don’t use it as ammunition but as sutures.  Why do we react to one another in this way in these situations?   What are we feeling and thinking?  Do we respond to others in similar ways?  Why or why not?  What patterns does this reveal about our interactions?  Since honesty and openness depend on our sense of safety, the one issue we overlook at this point is blame.  It may be that neither of us is guilty or both are guilty or that the problem lies in a completely different direction.  But once we are sharing, the issue of fault and forgiveness often becomes moot.

Posted March 22, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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