Archive for the ‘Relational dynamics’ Tag

Thanks for Hurting Me   Leave a comment

Forgiveness II: Other options

My friendships are sprinkled with boredom and surprise, tinged with ambivalence and enthusiasm, stuffed with doubts and hopes, fears and triumphs.  They wander through gardening and coffee and politics, with rants and laughs and confusion.  Relationships are so rich and complex and rewarding.  And they are painful.  That’s the part we’d like to cut out like a tumor.  We commonly assume that pain in friendship is a bad thing, a sign that something has gone wrong, a malignancy.  It certainly feels bad, and so we naturally want to avoid it or resolve it as quickly as possible.  I know I do.  Berly quietly mentions my lateness or messiness and it feels like a bee sting.  My emotions jump, swatting and dodging to protect the softer parts of my soul, sometimes with clenched words, sometimes in the silent safety of my mind, working out feverishly a plan to escape future critiques.

bee sting
In spite of my fears and doubts, I’ve come to realize that the hard patches in our togetherness are quite often the most vital for our well-being and richest for our relationship.  They uncover something important about me, about her, and about us.  They open the way to deeper understanding, connection, and love, greater trust and security with one another.  But this path requires the courage to face into the storm and work through the feelings together, not find ways to side-step the mess or slap up quick fixes.
Pain in relationships can come from so many sources–differences of perspective, personality, priorities, or preferences, unavoidable circumstances and pressures, misunderstandings, bad timing, sensitivity, stupidity.  Notice that none of these things are culpable offenses, not even stupidity, so forgiveness is not the answer.  Close neighbors to forgiveness come into play—patience, humility, acceptance, and benefit of the doubt when the behavior is irritating or problematic or inconvenient to us.  But I think forgiveness uniquely addresses the issue of wrongdoing.  There is a big difference between excusing or making room for someone’s behavior and forgiving them.

Forgiveness is only relevant when someone is to blame, and such a turn must be taken with care since that exit for dealing with relational pain bypasses other options, perhaps better options.  For instance, if the major problem is miscommunication, we prefer seeking clarity rather than blame, at least in our calmer moments.
When one of us feels hurt, it’s best to slow down, breathe, get some emotional space, and try to sort through the feelings, seeking mutual understanding.  This is far easier if we can leave aside blame for the moment.  A rush to judgment sets one against the other, obscures the truth, and slows progress personally and relationally.  I know how hard it is for me to move in a healthy direction when I feel defensive.  In the end, if one of us needs to choose a better course of action (repent), why not start from a place of insight and love rather than coercion and shame?  In our marriage, when seeking understanding is the goal instead of deciding fault, we find that forgiveness plays a much smaller role.


Posted March 11, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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The Universe Where Forgiveness Lives   2 comments

Forgiveness Part I: Framework

world puzzleForgiveness is a small portion of how I respond to others when I am hurt, and this in turn is a small part of the much bigger framework of human relationships.  To understand any piece of this jigsaw puzzle requires me to know its connection to the other pieces and to have a general grasp of the whole.  So let’s peek at the box top.

This is a profoundly social cosmos. A profoundly conversational cosmos. In a social cosmos, a talking cosmos, a muttering, whispering, singing, wooing, and order-shouting cosmos, relationships count. Things can’t exist without each other. And the ways things relate to each other can make them radically different from their fellow things.  –Howard Bloom, The God Problem

Everything from the dance of electrons and protons to the gravitational pull of the Milky Way finds its place in the universe by its connection to other things.  As part of this social cosmos, we humans are profoundly shaped by our relationships–our families and communities and cultures.  We largely understand ourselves and our place in this world based on the input we get from others.  This is both wonderful and awful, for our greatest joys come from love and belonging but our worst wounds come from separation and rejection.

broken love

We don’t really have much choice about this fundamental social reality.  We can’t invent our own language and still hope for connection.  We speak our mother’s tongue or stay mute.  In the same way, our thoughts and actions are channeled by the perspectives of our families and cultures.  Our whole world is organized and explained to us from one specific vantage point so that even to argue with it, we have to speak from that context.  We can’t disagree with our English-speaking mom in Hindi. We are inextricably tied to our relational ecosystem.  We may be able to switch contexts, but we always have a context, and we always crate our past along with us (ask any married couple).

webLife is a web of relationships, and so to discover who I am in distinction from others, I must understand them and how I relate to them.  I soon realize that although there are individual strands in this system, they’re all interconnected.  When I put my hand on any one relational dynamic all the rest vibrate.  Anger is connected to shame and fear, shame impacts perspective and motivation, motivation informs decisions, focus, resources, and a hundred other elements.  It is not only that I am connected to my brother, but that I am tied to him in a thousand complex ways.  Each interaction sets the web twitching, and before I respond, it is best to understand myself and my brother and the relational dynamics between us.  I should not have a default response, not even forgiveness.  Trying to fix every problem with forgiveness is like repairing a house with just a saw.

Tough Love   4 comments

Kimberly and I have had rough weather for the last few months, not only in our individual souls, but in the soul of our marriage.  We have wanted to sort it all out and have tried, but we’re still baffled, unable to do anything but cling to our seats as we ride out the turbulence.  In spite of the conflicts that keep popping up, I want her to know that she is precious to me, and sometimes words of appreciation ring truer when we overhear them, so let me share with my friends here the treasure she is to me.

She is gentle.  She is accepting.  She is courageous.  She is true and genuine.  She is self-reflective and in touch with her soul as few people are.  She is determined and tough in spite of setbacks.  She is vulnerable and open.  She naturally believes the best of others, and stands up for the underdog.  She is empathetic and understanding.  She is a great listener.  She is wise and insightful and talks for hours about deep things.  She is welcoming of the weak and broken and marginalized.  She is responsible and capable.  She calls out the best in others by being okay with their faults and foibles and valuing them for who they are, not what they do or fail to do.  She is a woman of grace, even when it hurts her.  She shares her true self with others even when they have crushed her spirit, but she is also good at keeping healthy boundaries.  She never gives up on herself or on others.

She accepts me as I am and makes room for my weaknesses, encouraging me to support myself even when it is hard on her.  She has an incredible commitment to personal growth and wholeness, and though she started out far behind others in her childhood environment, she has far surpassed most others in becoming her true self.  She welcomes all of who I am, even the broken parts, and loves me as I am, and so she has taught me to love myself.  In other words, she is for me the truest experience of the gospel with skin on.  When my insecurities and weaknesses break out against her, she does not retaliate, but hangs on through the tensions until we work it out.

She is not perfect, and I wouldn’t want her to be (how intimidating would that be!).  She has her own hangups, insecurities, and weaknesses.  But we have discovered that the deepest and truest bonds come through our frailties more than our strengths.  I’ve never met anyone like her, and we do life together in extraordinary fashion… even our stumbles seem to add something beautiful to the rhythm of the dance.  We’re still figuring out the steps to this new rumba, and we often as not step on each other’s feet, but we’ll keep swinging till we get it down.  It is in the hard times that love proves its character.  Ours is a tough love.

Posted February 14, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Sharing Life   Leave a comment

From one of my new favorite blogs:

What’s that in the Pool?

 Parts of the Rocky Mountains look like

algae bloom out in the Indian Ocean.

Parts of me look like parts of you

and here we go with oneness

being nothing more than

pattern recognition and optical illusion;

though I hope there is more to it than that.

My hurt might not be your hurt,

but I have a sense of it.

Likewise your hope may not resemble mine,

but it cheers you just the same

and we are all the better for it.

We needn’t replicate each other

or attempt imitation,

but recognition is a kind thing

and art is what we all have to share.

Posted December 11, 2012 by janathangrace in Poems

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I’m Waiting!!   3 comments

drivingKimberly and I had a tiff yesterday on our way home from the screening of a documentary at Lynchburg College.  In the middle of the film I had left to use the bathroom, and when I returned they were concluding a segment on Ruth Gruber’s role in bringing WWII refugees to America.  So in the car afterwards I said, “Tell me about the refugees.”  Kimberly responded, “Well, Ruth was in Alaska–”  I interrupted, “I was there for the part about Alaska, what happened in Europe?”  She started over, “I was telling you that.  Ruth was in Alaska working with soldiers.  She was sent there under the auspices of the U. S. Government–”  I broke in again, showing irritation, “I was there for the segment on Alaska.  Tell me about the refugees.”  She told me and then grew quiet, upset by my sharpness.

hurry upI was raised on impatience.  I’m not sure why my family was so anxious to get to the point.  We were in a hurry about everything, and when someone seemed to be dragging their feet, we poked them to pick up the pace.  None of us took this personally since efficiency was a shared family value–if I were going too slowly, I expected a shove.  Whether getting dressed, sweeping the kitchen, learning to bike, or figuring out the road map, we allowed no one to dally.  Efficiency and patience are not bosom buddies.  Kimberly, however, was raised to value being considerate of others– if you feel frustrated, keep it to yourself and let the other person take the time they need.

delaysIn other words, to keep the group together, I want the plodders to speed up and Kimberly wants the brisk to slow down.  Conversely, I feel it is rude when others hold back my progress, and Kimberly feels it is rude when others push her to go quicker.  On the highway, I react to dawdlers in the fast lane and Kimberly reacts to tailgaters in the slow lane… okay, I admit it, I react to everyone.  I say we “feel” it is rude because I’m talking about our emotional reaction to someone else.  I may feel disrespect even when the other person intends none, and my feelings are affected far more by early family values than by present-day interactions.

Just now I have laid it all out even-handedly, but I don’t find Scripture so balanced.  Patience is a huge emphasis in the Bible, and efficiency is… well… um… there must be a verse here somewhere.  I know my father, a preacher, would categorize it under “stewardship,” but examples of wise use of resources in Scripture are focused almost exclusively on money and possessions.  I am hard put to find time-efficiency as a biblical recommendation.  God’s scales of morality seem to be stacked heavily on the side of waiting.  I don’t mean to suggest that slowness or inefficiency is a virtue–it can certainly create real problems–but I think our emphasis on it comes less from our faith and more from our culture’s priorities.  So I’m learning the value of patience. Of course, 50 years of my ingrained habit is not going to change overnight, so Kimberly will have to learn patience as well.

kid patience


Posted December 2, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Blessing of Disabilities   Leave a comment

Gilles Le Cardinal  shares a vital life concept he learned from those with disabilities, an idea he called revolutionary

Because it is about how our weaknesses can be fecund and fruitful.  Especially for handicapped people, but also for others.  And that was something I discovered from handicapped people, when they said you do not have to hide what is imperfect in you.  And this changed me.  Because in a competitive world, you must hide what is weak or wrong.  Someone will try to beat you when they discover a weakness, try to take advantage of the weakness.  When two players on different teams play, they try to defeat each other.  And that is exactly where the handicapped disagree.  They respect our mutual weakness.

And then Ian Brown, the author who quoted this conversation, a father of a severly disabled boy named Walker, goes on to write a naturalistic explanation with more respect for “the least of these” than many a Christian perceives.

One is revealed by one’s need.  There is no need for posturing….  So you can perhaps forgive me for thinking, some days, that Walker has a purpose in our evolutionary project, that he is something more than an unsuccessful attempt at mutation and variation.  For thinking, probably vainly, that if his example is noted and copied and “selected,” he might be one (very small) step towards the evolution of a more varied and resilient ethical sense in a few members of the human species.  The purpose of intellectually disabled people like Walker might be to free us from the stark emptiness of the survival of the fittest.

Which, I might add, is a tendency we all have to cope and get ahead in this world, even we who are not evolutionists.

Posted July 3, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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Do Differences Divide or Unite?   2 comments


Kimberly has a conjunctive view of life and I a disjunctive, she responds to input by assimilation and I by differentiation, she creates a unified mosaic and I a careful pattern.  We are very different and we are blessed, enlightened, and expanded by that difference, but it often shapes up into an emotional disagreement where we both feel the other is rejecting our viewpoint.  This happened again on Monday when we were reading about Sabbath rest on the seventh day of creation, and I was inspired by the thought that we were called to imitate not only God’s rest, but God’s creativity, to express our true selves to the world as our gift and offering during the first 6 days of the week.  I was excited about that image and wanted to explore its potential.

I heard Kimberly respond that many jobs (such as an assembly line) had no room for creativity.  I sensed she was objecting to my idea and countered with illustrations of how creativity is possible even in dull jobs.  She heard my resistance to her input and needed to defend her own view.  This is a very common conflict between us.  Thankfully, this time I was not too emotionally invested in the topic and we were able to explore the conversational dynamic itself dispassionately.

Berly receives new ideas with openness, assuming they fit into her worldview.  She is inviting, embracing, inclusive.  This not only goes against my personality, but my brain.  I simply cannot understand an idea unless I can differentiate it from other ideas.  As I am faced with new ideas, I evaluate them so that I can determine how they fit into my worldview.  If I cannot fit them in, I reject them.  Kimberly understands her world relationally and I understand mine logically… this does not mean that she is illogical and I am antisocial, but that she is intuitive and I am analytical.  (In fact, I just had to edit that sentence, because I originally wrote “Kimberly organizes her world relationally” which is biased towards my view… you can see our problem!)  I grow constantly by listening to her perspective.

In the case of my creative approach to occupation, Kimberly was feeling the need to support those who had no space for fresh ideas.  Because of a harsh boss, family crisis, emotional distress and the like, many people at work just hang on to their jobs, barely fulfill their duties, and my pushing for creativity would be oppressive, something for which they had no emotional energy.  She suggested that there might be many other ways of improving one’s work situation which would trump creativity as the next important step.  In other words, creativity is always a possible play, but it is only one card in the hand.  I agreed with her.

Kimberly was not challenging my view as wrong.  She was not disagreeing, but supplementing, trying to include those whom my view seemed to ignore.  She works under the assumption that when she proposes a different point from mine, there is room for both views; whereas I am inclined to see incompatibility and competition in something that is different.  Over the last couple days reflecting on this dynamic of ours, I realized how often I create conflict in discussions where there need be none.  Inclusive thinking does not come naturally to me… I lack imagination and motivation for that exercise.  Kimberly’s idea did not restrict mine, but added to mine.  I can still fully explore the possibilities of bringing creativity to my occupation while also exploring other facets of growth and engagement at work.  I realize now how often I fail to learn from those with whom I seemingly disagree and build a block for them against my own view by assuming incompatibility.  Interaction is about understanding one another, not simply understanding ideas.

Posted June 28, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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Be Still My Soul   4 comments

The truth is that my soul asks for very little.  It mostly just needs to be heard and affirmed.  It is sad that I have spent my life denying it this small benefit, that my automatic response is still to shame it into compliance.  My Lenten fast from haste has inclined me to be gentle with my soul, and with the support of my wife, it seems to be making a real difference.  I think I may make this my year’s resolution, “be gentle to your soul, listen to it and affirm it.”

This afternoon with many tasks pressing for attention, my soul said, “I need a little care.”  So I left the tasks aside and followed my heart.  After an hour with a soft puppy, a soft pillow, soft music, and gliding birds on our wide-screen, my spirit relaxed and set me free to be “productive” without choosing against my own needs.  Forcing my soul to comply to the demands of duty tears at its very fabric.  My soul is far more important than the leaky faucet, dirty living room, or ragged lawn.


My heart is even more important (dare I say it?) than satisfying others with birthday gifts, a lift to the airport, or help painting.  If I wound my soul by caring for someone else, I not only harm myself, but prevent God from using alternative means to meet that need (or get in God’s way of teaching them an even greater truth).  My giving to others must come from genuine resources that I have to offer.  If it is squeezed from me by obligation, fear, shame, or the like, it will hurt both me and the one I am intending to help.  Giving sacrificially is a part of genuine love, even to the point of giving my life for another.  But God forbids me to sacrifice my soul.

This year I really need to give up my role as Savior of the world… or even of this particular situation or person.  I need to learn to trust God with others’ needs and respect myself even if others blame me, reject me, or try to otherwise manipulate me to meet their expectations.   That is a very tough thing to do without strong human backing, especially since my emotions are quick to agree with their evaluations.  Thankfully, I always have Kimberly’s support (not on every occasion, but always in the set of her heart towards me… I think she is more supportive of me than I am of myself).

If I feel pressured by the expectations of others, I will try not to protect myself by minimizing their need (shaming or blaming them in return).  Their need is legitimate and significant whether or not I can meet it.  Caring about their need does not mean I must care for their need.  What a heavy yoke I have been dragging around most of my life.  In spite of how I imagined it, Jesus did not say, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you more to do,” but he said to the weary, “I will give you rest.”

Posted March 16, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Today’s Marriage Homily   2 comments

I married off my sister-in-law today and gave this message.

The Third Strand Makes All the Difference

     They say love is one long sweet dream and marriage is the alarm clock.  I can testify to the truth of that.  But waking up is not a bad thing unless you want to spend your life in a coma.  Erin & David have been through a lot together already and gotten to know each other pretty well.  I’ve been impressed to see them work through major decisions like buying a house, employment changes and relocation.  Still marriage always brings in new dynamics.

Before marriage there is always a question, you have to have a backup plan, you can’t really trust the future.  Marriage is a commitment for life.  It gives the safety you need to work out personal and relational issues, strength and courage to engage in difficult endeavors, and instead of a place to call home, you will have a person to call home, a resting place for your heart.

No longer I and you, but us: as the song says, “Me and You Against the World”.  Everything that happens to you happens to the other as well.  Every relationship you have becomes part of the marriage (as you can see here today).  No decision you make will be for you alone, but will involve your partner in some way.  You start thinking about “us” instead of “me.”  What does “our” future hold is a very different question from what does “my” future hold.

the bride and parents

In Ecclesiastes, a cord of three strands, is about three persons: husband and wife, and the third I am inclined to believe is God himself.  But I would like also to consider the three strands of love, three crucial expressions of love, the dynamics that hold the strands together.  I call them “graces” to emphasize that to work well, they must flow not simply from you, but from God’s heart through yours to your mates—loves 3 strands.

Grace of Acceptance

Love is full of delight, so accepting one another should be easy, right?  But you are human, you will fail and hurt and misunderstand each other.  All marriages have these struggles, but healthy marriages acknowledge and face them honestly.  This does not mean detente where you just sidestep issues, but a real effort to understand, respect, and make room for your differences.  Learn to recognize and respond to one another’s true needs, the needs of the heart.

I can’t tell you how much personal healing and growth I have gained from Kimberly accepting my weaknesses as well as my strengths.  It is scary.  It may feel uncomfortable to cry in front of your wife, for instance, but if I do not let her in, I stay locked inside myself.  When you are given permission to be yourself, to bring all of who you are into relationship, and be embraced as a whole person, it gives you the safety and strength to accept yourself and grow into the beautiful person God designed you to be.

The problem comes when your spouse is just “wrong.”  How can you accept that?  Trying to settle who is “right” and “wrong” will probably make matters worse.  Accepting them is not agreeing with them–it is rather trying to understand where they are coming from, what their needs are, and how those needs can be met.  Where do you get the strength to love unconditionally?  Only from God.

Grace flows from Him into us before it flows out from us to our spouse.  We need to discover ourselves as loved unconditionally before we have the strength and security to love another truly.  Author and minister Brennan Manning says, “God loves you as you are and not as you should be!  Do you believe this?  That God loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity, that He loves you in the morning sun and the evening rain, that He loves you without caution, regret, boundary, limit, or breaking point?”

 Grace of Trust

Giving someone your trust is a great act of love.  You can only be vulnerable with the deepest parts of yourself, those things you want to hide from everyone, to the extent you can trust the other person.  But you can’t order trust for overnight delivery.  It is a life long intentional process.  You can’t make someone trust you and you can’t simply choose to trust another.  A deep level of trust is never simply granted to someone, even the one closest to you, but is earned step by step as you share your inadequacies and receive empathy in return. Everyone doubt’s their own loveliness. You can each be the reflection of God’s loving eyes to the other.

There will be stumbles and falls along this journey of building trust.  Expect it.  The pressures of the world blast against you and blow you off course, but this is the bedrock to which you always return, this commitment you make today and every day after: to live in integrity–being honest, understanding, and accepting, out of a heart growing in love.  I have seen that you two have such a commitment to being honest with one another, that you are willing to show each other your emotions, even the difficult ones.

Nothing is more powerful a support than someone knowing your failings and loving you regardless, I don’t mean the failings that are obvious, but the ones you have hidden all your life.  Out of fear of rejection you covered them up, you felt unlovable because of these shadows. But how can we ever feel secure until we find someone who will love us after knowing us completely?  God does this for us, but we need someone to show us this, someone with skin on, with a voice and smile and hug we can really hear and see and feel.  Having experienced this with Kimberly, I can say this has been the truest revelation of love to me.

Grace of Sharing (Listening, Understanding, Respecting)

Set aside regular times when you turn off the TV, turn off your cell phones, forget your To-Do lists, and concentrate on listening to one another.  It will take hard work and a lot of time.  I can tell you ahead of time that you will need to learn a new language and culture, become an anthropological researcher.

Erin, you women are complicated creatures.  You understand each other by some magic telepathy.  Please remember that our brains don’t tune to that channel.  If the man asks, “How are you?” and you say, “Fine!” he will take your word for it, give you a peck on the cheek and sit down with the remote.  You have 49 distinct meanings for ‘fine’ depending on your intonation, your eyebrows, your lips, your hands, your posture.  You are so eloquent… but we completely miss your subtlety.  We can only understand what you say plainly with words.

David, never assume anything.  You don’t know women, not even Erin.  The good news is you can learn, the bad news is it will take a lot of effort and patience.  You have to ask questions repeatedly.  You probably won’t even know the right questions to ask, which is okay because Erin already knows what she wants to say.  You just have to open the door.  Even if you don’t understand at first, but really listen, she will feel better.  By listen, I don’t mean nodding and saying “uh huh” as you watch the Colts fumble.  The DVR was invented to save marriages.

Kimberly and I come from different families, backgrounds, experiences, and personalities, and when she shared bits and pieces of her perspective with me, they didn’t fit into my worldview.  It sounded like Chinese.

We all have unique perspectives, which seem normal to us.  If my point of view is normal to me, then your point of view has to be abnormal.  We all stand at the point we think is the correct balance.  To the right of us are conservative tightwads and to the left are profligate spendthrifts.  To the right of us are workaholics and to the left are lazy bums.  On this side are the messy and on the other are the clean freaks.  Where you stand is always “reasonable” (otherwise you wouldn’t stand there).  This means the other person’s position is “unreasonable.”  So you will always grudge yielding.

Kimberly wanted me to vacuum behind the sofa where no one could see the dust, not even us.  It was “unreasonable.”  Many of you say “Your wife is right, that is very reasonable.  What is unreasonable is cleaning behind the hot water heater.”  But those who clean behind the hot water heater see that as normal, it is the people who scrub their driveways that are bonkers.  Whatever your position, it is what it is.  Erin, your view is entirely legitimate.  David doesn’t have to agree that you are right and he is wrong, but he needs to respect your perspective and make room for it as much as he is able.  And the same for you Erin.  That big scrap of metal he wants to keep looks like trash to you, but to him it is a little piece of a dream.  Let him have a shed to stack his dreams in.

The source of these expressions of love, these graces of trust and vulnerability, listening and understanding, respect and acceptance, the source is God, the strand that keeps the cord from unraveling.  It is crucial to your marriage that each of you individually and as a couple develop a deep, honest, trusting relationship with God, find in him the grace you need for yourself and one another.  His love is limitless as the sky, constant as the sun, deeper than the ocean, eternal and unconditional as only God Himself is.  In Him you will find life, and through him your marriage will be a little taste of heaven (with a few quarrels mixed in).

Posted November 6, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Is It Really Worth It?   3 comments

I have hinted at the positive direction that Kimberly and I are headed, but some might wonder if it is really worth all the pain and struggle.  Believe me, we asked ourselves the same question many times, and for the first year or two of marriage I regularly wondered in the middle of a conflict if we had made a mistake in getting married.  But we couldn’t help ourselves.  Neither of us felt there was much benefit in a shallow relationship, and the only alternative we knew was to keep going deeper in honest understanding, acceptance, and respect for ourselves and one another.

As we worked through the foundational issues in our conflicting worldviews, some pretty amazing things happened within each of us and in our relationship.  


Nothing has ever affected me so powerfully as being accepted for who I really am right now in all my brokenness (not for what I do, who I project I am, or who I one day will be). It did not come easy for either of us, but I cannot remember a single major conflict in the last two years and Kimberly has difficulty even remembering the hard times.  Of course we were on the fast track, often talking 3, 4, even 5 hours a day trying to understand our fear, pain and depression, and each of us had already spent many years working through our own issues.

I could say that it was the best thing to happen to me since I heard the good news of Christ, but that would make it sound like a different thing than the gospel, and Berly is just my clearest experience of the gospel.  I discovered God’s grace through her in ways I had never known it before.  I want to encourage you with snapshots of my personal healing and growth as a result of our relationship (the changes in Berly are her own story to tell).

You Did WHAT?!

Let me start with my anger.  I had been taught in youth that anger was either good (“righteous indignation”) or bad (“the wrath of man”).  The difference lay in whether or not the one who exasperated me was truly wrong or guilty.  If he was, then my anger was justified, if he was not, then my anger was aberrant.  When I got mad, it was someone’s fault–me for illegitimate vexation or him for illegitimate behavior.  The most important thing was to discover who was at fault and have them repent.  The matter was thus fixed and the relational conflict resolved.  If I thought he was at fault, and he refused to admit it, then I would forgive him.  To avoid condemnation, I worked hard at justifying my temper and blaming the other person.  I was good and he was bad.  Being “right” became  very important… it was the only way I could save myself from the shame of sinful anger.

Kimberly was afraid of my anger, and given my perspective, when she shared her discomfort, I only heard this as judgment of my anger and reacted defensively.  But she did not have my take on anger: She was not blaming me, wanting me to agree with her, or asking me to change.  She just wanted to share her feelings with me (which I could only hear as a demand for change).  Because she respected me, wanted to understand and accept me, she kept affirming my feelings, even though they scared her, and I gradually came to trust that she really did accept me when I was cross, that she thought my anger was always “legitimate” because it was revealing to me my heart, not the guilt of the other person.  As she accepted my defensive feelings in this way, she wanted to understand me better, so when she asked about my aggravation, it was not to correct me,  “fix” my rage, or gain ammunition for shaming me out of it.  She had compassion for me and my experience of anger.

In this harbor of safety where I slowly grew less defensive about my temper, with less need to use it to protect myself, learning to have compassion for myself, I started to discover what lay beneath my frown.  From what was my temper guarding me?  To hear these deeper throbs of my heart, I had to embrace my feelings with compassion .  If I had to protect myself, it meant that I was afraid.  With Kimberly’s help, I learned to have compassion for the fear behind my anger instead of shaming myself for it.  Only with this gentleness could I feel safe enough to explore my anxieties.  Berly always justified my fears, affirming that they always had a very good reason, I just had to uncover it.  Discovering the roots of my fear (which often was a long process) led me to find the substructure, the actual beliefs on which I lived my life, and often they conflicted in some way with my stated theology.

Again, Kimberly’s grace and acceptance gave me the support I needed not to shame myself for these faulty beliefs, but to see myself as the victim of these legalistic lies and to be led by grace into believing grace for myself, to discover that God’s grace was the healing for my fears.  My fears were not the enemy.  They were doors into grace: “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved,” in the words of John Newton.  I had always thought this was a one time event brought about by the amazing grace of the gospel… as though I didn’t need the gospel of grace all through every day.  I think working through my fears is a life long process of growth in grace, applying the gospel to each wound as I need it, believing each day more fully that God loves me completely, always, and without any strings attached.

Posted October 30, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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