Archive for the ‘relationship’ Tag

Valentine’s Day for Depressives   5 comments

On Valentine’s Day while Kimberly was at the doctor’s, I stomped my heart out on our front lawn to surprise her.

snow valentine's

It was spontaneous, with little forethought, because I love my wife and want to express it, but when I am bowed down with depression, my energy is used up on today’s survival, not tomorrow’s plans.   This is how depression often plays out in a committed relationship–with what little energy we have, we give, and we appreciate the gift, however small.  It may look meager and haphazard, and to be honest, sometimes it feels that way, but in a cold world with thin blankets what we need most is a close friend.

The substructure of our relationship is good, very good, but the frills are often missing.  Far from being a problem, this is a sign of our marriage’s strength.  Many couples count on the frills to smooth over their stresses.  To mollify an angry outburst, he brings home a bouquet or she whips up a banquet instead of sorting through their feelings with empathy and honesty.  They’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.  They begin with “Let me be honest,” and it goes downhill from there.  So they opt for the smooth-over.  But when frills become the primary language of love, flubbing it can threaten the relationship.

Depression strips Kimberly and me of many of these emotional bonuses, so we cannot use them as a substitute for the honest, hard work of sorting out our differing views, feelings, and thoughts.  Of necessity we learn to make room for one another’s weaknesses and limitations, trust one another’s hearts, accept one another’s efforts.  Without frills to fall back on, our relationship becomes deeply grounded, and our small offerings of love become far more meaningful.

The first thing Kimberly saw each morning as she left for work last week was the heart I stamped out in the snow.  And for her it was not just a romantic gesture, but a symbol for what beats behind the image, a heart she knows intimately and feels safe in because she courageously shares her true self and is embraced for who she is.  Hallmark and Whitman’s can never compete with that.

Advertisements

Posted February 25, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , ,

No Easy Way To Love   6 comments

I was a 45-year-old bachelor when I started dating Kimberly, and my friends, assuming I was girl-dumb, insisted I romance her with flowers, fancy chocolates, and fru-fru gifts…  take her to see a chick-flick…  say “I love you.”  I smiled and nodded to placate their eagerness, but I knew they were wrong.  For starters, Berly prefers cheap chocolate and is ambivalent about gifts.  They might have known “women,” but I knew Berly.  The problem with our romance pop-culture, and much of the marriage enrichment industry, even many Christian seminars and books, are the notions that all women are alike, that men cannot understand them, and therefore that husbands should simply learn some basic rules for marriage maintenance.  Men regularly come home from a weekend retreat with a checklist to follow: kiss your wife goodbye when you leave for work, tell her you love her, have a weekly date night, and for goodness sake drop the toilet seat after peeing.  And those are the better men, the ones who are really trying.

It’s a deep sadness that our most intimate relationships are held together with stock routines because we’re convinced we can’t understand each other.  The gender gap might as well be an intergalactic separation, after all, women are from Venus and men are from Mars… and we’re apparently lost in space.  It’s certainly a nice gesture to take a quiz on our five love languages and task oneself (say) with giving three daily encouragements to a spouse, but how much does that help in understanding one another deeply and thoroughly, which is what the relationship truly needs.  It is almost as though we’ve given up on real relationship (vulnerable sharing, open listening, trusting, understanding, accepting, valuing, empathizing) and reduced love to what we do for one another.

Mutual understanding between the sexes is not easy or quick.  It takes a lot of time and energy, not to mention fear and pain, and perhaps for that reason our culture has largely abandoned the effort as hopeless.  “It has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried” (as Chesterton said of true Christianity). But nice words and kind behavior can never substitute for the gritty, real work of heart connection.  The first is comfortable and functional, like a pair of old shoes, the last is revolutionary.

Posted February 23, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , ,

Rethinking Thankfulness   4 comments

As I wrote yesterday, I intend to chronicle my daily smiles, but let’s not confuse that with thanksgiving.  My focus is joie de vivre for me and those who share life with me, while thanksgiving, by contrast, is often seen as moral obligation.  So it is driven by duty rather than delight, aimed at someone else’s benefit rather than my own (except to exercise my virtue).  As a default response, giving thanks will actually weaken relationships rather than enhance them if it pulls us from gracious into legalistic connections.

At a human level, when I share my joy with the one who gifts me, she is drawn into my life and experience.  She connects with me and delights in my joy.  The focus is on a shared enjoyment of the gift rather than a shared esteem of the giver and her virtue.  When I approach thanks as duty, it distances me from the generous one and devalues her generosity down to a trade.  Then my gratitude becomes her due, even though paying it doesn’t reduce my debt for her favors.  And with big favors,  she becomes the benefactor, and I turn into the charity case.  Her virtue and strength is showcased, but only my lack and dependence. Mutuality devolves into hierarchy.

Even when God is the munificent one, I think it far better to share with Him my joy and invite Him into it rather than try to pay Him with gratitude, as though His presents come with price tags.  Of course, I can be self-absorbed, focused only on the gift and ignoring the one who gave it, a childish mistake (although God is not offended or hurt by this as we are).  The real misfortune in such a response is not the unfairness of it, but the loneliness that results.  We were created for community, for connection, for sharing our hearts, so isolating our attention on the gift desiccates our relationships.  The greatest good and core purpose of giving and receiving is to draw us into close communion through mutual care.

For a perfect illustration of the joy of shared celebration, see Susan’s comment.

Posted January 11, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

Tagged with , , , , ,

New Year’s Welcome   Leave a comment

appleNew Year’s resolutions feel more like chains than wings to me.  I want freedom to become rather than strictures to conform.  I would follow my heart’s inclinations rather than set a behavioral agenda, unsaddle my soul from demands and expectations and deadlines.  I hope to be open and welcoming of each day, to receive what it brings, rather than insist that it yield rewards for my labors.  May I rather grow like a tree: when the rain falls, suck it up; when the spring pushes up sap, sprout leaves; when obstacles crowd me, shape myself around them.  Our backyard black walnut has no limb-growing, root-digging schedule, but it blossoms out well into its true self.

intertwinedI think we have less control over our journey, our growth process, than we realize, and if relationship is foundational to our development, then growth is necessarily interactive and intertwined and cannot be a simple matter of my own choosing and acting.  An organic, inter-relational spirituality looks more like a tree than a construction project: much more vulnerable to change, but also much more adaptive; much less structured and predictable, but much more expansive and potent.  Both methods of development have set principles, but a plant has far more freedom of expression in living out those principles.

So I welcome 2014 and whatever it might bring, not because ours is a safe and good world, but because I have a loving and gentle God who promises to be with me in all the coming uncertainty.

kid with dad

Posted January 8, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , , ,

Intimacy   3 comments

I have been encouraged a great deal in reading one of my favorite 17th century theologians, Thomas Traherne, and want to give you a taste of his thoughts on friendship, especially regarding friendship with God.  (I’ve modernized spelling and a couple words)

[Friendship is] kindness of behavior, a thorough and clear communication of souls, a secure reliance upon each others fidelity, a perfect discovery of all our thoughts, intentions, and [feelings], an ardent willingness to impart lives and estate for the benefit of our friend, the reposing of all our secrets in each others bosoms, to do all services, and suffer all afflictions, for each others sakes, to prefer the concerns of our friend upon all occasions above our own….

The greatest secret in its nature is, the mutual agreement of souls and spirits, the delight which either takes in the other, the honor and esteem they give and receive, the approbation and love of each others dispositions, the sense and admiration of each others virtues, the continual desire of being always together, peculiar ecstasy, which the beauty of either occasions in the other, when of all other treasures in the world their persons are the greatest to one another.  Either is the proper element and [consolation] of the others soul.  Their bosoms are the mutual receptacles and temples of each others accomplishments, whereinto they are received in all their desert, and have justice done to every degree and perfection in their nature; their hearts are thrones where they are exalted, and magnified, and live at ease, are honored [and extolled].

–though I often fall short, I want to dedicate these aspirations to Kimberly

friends

Posted September 9, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

Tagged with , ,

The Best of All Things   3 comments

Today is our anniversary.  Since I come home from work after Berly is in bed, I was able to do some shenanigans to surprise her in the morning.  She woke up Wednesday to banners draped from the rafters reading “BERLY IS THE BEST”.  On Thursday she found a 3 foot paper flower I had made and a love poem.  This morning she came downstairs to see an 8 foot tall card I made her covered with a list of her attributes.  Here’s a snap of the card and the ten page list of attributes follows (I could have written hundreds more)–hey she deserves a lot more than a giant card!  I spent some time this morning selecting a few of her good points and expounding on them to her.  I was thinking to myself, “Hey, she’s married to me, so that wealth of goodness is all mine too!

Me and Berly

“A few of the hundreds of reasons I am glad you are my wife”

CAPABLE, ENDURING, FORBEARING, FORGIVING, GENTLE, LONG-SUFFERING, MEEK,

MILD, PERSEVERING, PERSISTENT, SELF-POSSESSED, SERENE, TOLERANT, TRANQUIL,

UNDERSTANDING, CONSIDERATE, CALM, COMPOSED, EQUABLE,

KIND, TEMPERATE, CONSIDERATE, RESPECTFUL,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

MILD-TEMPERED, ACCOMMODATING, VALOROUS, ATTENTIVE, BENEVOLENT,

GLADDENING, COMPASSIONATE, KINDLY, MINDFUL, OBLIGING, SOLICITOUS,

SYMPATHETIC, TACTFUL, TENDER, LEVELHEADED, TENACIOUS, THOUGHTFUL,

UNSELFISH, WARMHEARTED, UNCRITICAL, UNDEMANDING, UNHURRIED,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

DISCERNING, STABLE, STEADY, TOLERANT, FORGIVING, UNDAUNTED,

MERCIFUL, MILD, DILIGENT, STEADFAST, AFFECTIONATE, VALIANT,

APPRECIATIVE, BENEVOLENT, CARING, CONCERNED, EARNEST, EXPRESSIVE,

COMPETENT, FAITHFUL, LOYAL, SWEET, THOUGHTFUL, GOOD,

COURTEOUS, FRIENDLY, PERCEPTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

GOOD-HEARTED, GRACIOUS, KINDHEARTED, LOVING, STRAIGHTFORWARD,

TENDERHEARTED, CONSIDERATE, RESPONSIVE, CONSCIOUS,

PEACEABLE, ENCOURAGING, HEARTENING, COURAGEOUS, INSPIRING,

ADMIRABLE, DELIGHTFUL, ENGAGING, ENJOYABLE, GRACEFUL,

DAUNTLESS, REFLECTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

LIONHEARTED, STRONG, BRAVE, PEACEFUL, TRUE,

VALOROUS, HOPEFUL, SELF-RELIANT, SELF-SUFFICIENT, TRUSTING, WISE,

INTELLIGENT, TOUGH, REASONABLE, ASTUTE, AWARE, CAREFUL,

FRANK, CONTEMPLATIVE, INSIGHTFUL, PRUDENT, SENSIBLE,

TACTFUL, SOFTHEARTED, ATTENTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SUPPORTING, AWAKE, GROUNDED, RECEPTIVE, SENSIBLE, CLEVER,

ABLE, BRIGHT, DEEP, GIFTED, TALENTED, COOPERATIVE,

TRUTHFUL, CANDID, ABOVE-BOARD, AUTHENTIC, CONSCIENTIOUS,

DECENT, DIRECT, EQUITABLE, GENUINE, INTUITIVE, HONORABLE,

INGENUOUS, OBLIGING, OPEN, PLAIN, REAL, RELIABLE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SINCERE, STRAIGHT, STOUTHEARTED, TRUSTWORTHY, TRUSTY,

UNFEIGNED, DIRECT, GENUINE, GUILELESS, UNCONTRIVED, UNPRETENTIOUS,

DEPENDABLE, COGNIZANT, RELIABLE, SOLID, SIMPLE, MINDFUL, THOROUGHGOING,

LOYAL, RELIABLE, CONFIDING, CONSTANT, ENDURING, HONORABLE, STEADY,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

ACCOMMODATING, SOUND, AUTHENTIC, REAL, SOUND, STERLING, UNADULTERATED,

UNALLOYED, UNVARNISHED, PRAISEWORTHY, GENUINE, PROFOUND,

CONSCIENTIOUS, FORTHRIGHT, GUILELESS, COMMISERATING,

RESPONSIVE, SENSITIVE, SOFT, SUPPORTIVE, SYMPATHIZING,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

EMPATHIC, RESOLUTE, HARMONIOUS, LISTENING, ACCEPTING,

ATTENTIVE, INTERESTED, OBSERVANT, ACCEPTING, DEPENDABLE,

AFFIRMING, TRUSTING, RESPECTING, AGREEABLE, EMBRACING,

COMPANIONABLE, SUPPORTIVE, ENCOURAGING, REASSURING, COMFORTING, GROWING,

DEDICATED, HARD-WORKING, FAITHFUL,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

PURPOSEFUL, DETERMINED, ENGAGED, INDUSTRIOUS, UNFEIGNED,

SOFTHEARTED, SHARING, INTIMATE, PRINCIPLED, CONSISTENT,

UNBREAKABLE, BROKEN-HEARTED, EMPATHETIC, UNDEMANDING, WELCOMING,

WOUNDED HEALER, OPEN-HEARTED, WILLING, COMFORTER

AWESOME

Posted May 10, 2013 by janathangrace in Story

Tagged with , ,

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

Tagged with , , , , ,