Archive for the ‘self discovery’ Tag

Misplacing Myself   7 comments

I was walking in the misting rain today, the dogs pulling eagerly at their leashes to sniff out delights tucked into the roadside weeds, and I was thinking about my long journey back to myself.  At the age of 40 I realized I’d been fast-marching down the wrong road, chasing my false self–the self I thought I should be and could be with a little more effort.  It was not a journey of discovering myself and blossoming into that person God created me to be, but a suppression of my true self and imposition of duty-bound goals.  And as I grew ever farther from my true self, I had only a fabricated self to share with others.

So many of us are like bumper cars trying to connect, but instead deflecting.  “Hi, how are you?” bump, bump.  “Fine, thanks.” bump, bump.  “I had a rough night, but I won’t bother you with that!” smile, bump, bump.  It’s a dangerous place to be without a bumper, so we cushion ourselves well and keep at a safe distance.  As protection, I used tight self-discipline to outshine others, to prove my worth, to earn their respect, and to safely pad the vulnerable parts of my soul from access to others.  If you hide long enough, you lose your orientation and eventually lose yourself.

Who am I really?  Am I a naturally disciplined, organized person, or am I a naturally spontaneous, creative person who has wrapped himself tightly in this cloak of spiritual conformity?  Am I essentially easy-going and relational, or am I hard-driving and goal oriented?  Would I make a better therapist or lawyer?  I worked so long and tirelessly to become the person I thought God demanded, suppressing my true inclinations, desires, and gifts, that I struggle now to recognize the real me.  For the last 14 years I’ve been finding my way back, sloughing off layer upon layer of spiritual accretions that suffocated my spirit and that carefully buffered my friendships.  I still have a long way to go, but at least I’m on the road back to my true self shared in genuine relationships.

I often wonder where I would be now if my true self had been embraced and celebrated and my path had been the natural opening of my heart to a God full of grace and welcome.

Perhaps that’s only possible in an unscarred world.

Posted September 9, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Subtle Power of the Subconscience   2 comments

This morning a cool breeze was blowing through the windows and the sun was bright and inviting.  I decided I’d like to walk the dogs on my favorite country road.  Kimberly asked if I wanted to use the new dog harness she bought for Mazie, and I declined, but while getting the leashes, I felt a sudden shadow settle over my soul from somewhere vague and indistinct.  As I loaded the dogs into the car, I tried to sort out the feeling.  Something about the new harness was upsetting me.  We recently got a second dog Mitts, and last week we bought him a harness that would inhibit his tugging on the leash.  They have clever designs that force a dog into a turn when they pull, and I told Kimberly that I could add the feature to Mazie’s harness so we would not need to buy her another one.  Two days ago Kimberly mentioned that I needed to do it soon because she was not able to control Mazie on walks, then yesterday she phoned to tell me that she had bought Mazie a new harness.  I kept quiet, but I was exasperated.


Neither of us spends much money (we don’t have much to spend), but I am more austere than she is, so minor conflicts like this come up on occasion, especially when I feel I can solve the problem for free.  Of course, that means she has to wait, especially if my emotions are dragging their feet.  She is pretty patient, but eventually she asks me to either finish the project or agree to spend the money.  This time there was little waiting, no discussion, and a unilateral decision. Naturally, she had every right since by agreement only large purchases require joint decisions. In fact, if we hadn’t discussed it at all, I would have been only slightly and briefly irritated because the bottom line was loss of money, not loss of self worth as it now felt.

As a child, I was highly sensitive, believing that others did not care about my feelings and latching onto anything that might be construed as evidence.  As kids do, I blamed myself, sure that I was unloved because I did not deserve to be loved.  I assumed my own inadequacy until it shaped my heart into a subconscious outlook, easily flaring up into depression as it bypasses any conscious thought process.  I don’t stop to make a rational conclusion: “He was impatient with me because I’m too slow… I shouldn’t be this slow… it proves that I am a failure as a human being.”   I  just feel bad without knowing why.  Sometimes even my emotions take time to settle in–my initial reaction may be a self-defensive anger covering over the sense of shame that gradually seeps in unrecognized to color my days.

As I walked, I started pulling loose the tangled threads of subconscious assumptions that triggered this current sense of worthlessness.  Simply identifying the source released a good deal of its hidden power to subvert my heart.  The next step was to validate my own worth independently of how Kimberly thought of me or treated me.  My value cannot rest on another person, even on one so vital.  My worth is anchored in the infinite and unconditional love with which God values me.  Then having found some level of security, I took another look at what Kimberly’s behavior meant… and decided that objectively it had nothing to do with her opinion of me.  She may have been acting from a sense of urgency or expedience or need for resolution.  Buying a dog harness was not a telltale sign that she didn’t care about me.  It was a sign that she wanted a dog harness.

MITTS

MITTS

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.

Care for the Wounded Self   5 comments

pain-and-shots

Forgiveness 3: Postponing Blame

“Why can’t we learn our spiritual lessons over a box of chocolates instead of through suffering?” a friend once asked me.  Unfortunately this fallen world is thick with pain, especially relational pain, but there’s a flower in the nettles: it’s the hard stuff that grows me personally in patience and courage, and it’s the tough stuff that deepens and strengthens my friendships.  When we brush up against others, our tender nerves jangle us alert to something in our interaction that needs tending.

If I feel the arrows, I snatch up my shield to defend myself, which is natural and healthy—self-protection by flight or fight—but it hurts me if I use that to dodge rather than pursue growth in myself and my relationships.  My emotions yelp when some wound needs my compassionate attention, a wound that may be decades old.  My friend (or enemy) may be the occasion for my pain without being the cause of it.  Her soft words may strike against a sharp emotional edge in my past.  On the other hand, her innocence does not invalidate my pain.  My feelings are what they are regardless of her role.  They carry within them their own legitimacy and don’t need outside validation.  They speak the truth, not about her but about me, about the cuts and bruises on my soul.

crab

When I am hurt in some interaction, I need to slow down and pay attention to the ache, and I need to provide enough emotional space to tend to my injury.  Sometimes, at least initially, this may get messy for the relationship.  I may withdraw for a time or push back, but the goal in padding my emotions is not to avoid, but to embrace this opportunity of self-discovery.  So when I have cleared enough emotional room, I slowly disentangle my pain from her actions and take ownership of my pain.  I do not mean that I blame myself for my pain! If I barge accusingly into my soul, it will duck for cover.  The wounded need compassion, not condemnation.  By taking ownership I mean identifying the agitating source inside me and not outside me (so I can take charge of the healing process).  The diagnosis starts with a caring “Why?”  Why do I feel bad, especially if my feelings are more intense than others would be in this situation.  If I try to fix the relationship before I understand my own heart, things are apt to get more twisted.

blame-her

I am slowly learning, but I still habitually jump past this necessary groundwork when I feel stung.  I quickly assume blame—either he’s at fault for hurting me or I’m at fault for feeling hurt.  But if I blacken the other guy in order to justify my feelings or in order to get him to take responsibility, I overlook what my wincing heart is telling me about my own wounds and need for support, compassion, and healing.  I’m not suggesting that we should deny our feelings about the other person.  That anger, doubt, and fear is the very emotion I must identify, feel, and discern, but I make sense of my feelings by listening to them with gentle care, not by blaming the other fellow.

When I make the other person’s behavior the focus of my attention, I undermine my own self-support, even when he is clearly at fault.  He has leveraged power against me by his hurtful acts, but if I continue to focus on what he’s done, I keep myself his prisoner.  Even if I induce him to apologize and make amends so that I feel better, I will be worse off for it because my good feelings are still dependent on his response, and so I am still under his power.  Whenever I make someone else responsible for my feelings, I lose control of my own emotional life.

I don’t mean to suggest that I have to sort out my own stuff by myself.  We often need the help of a friend who knows us well and accepts us as we are… not someone to “side” with us against the other, but someone who helps us understand ourselves better.  If the issue is not a powder keg, then I may be able to talk it through with the person who upset me, but the focus should really be on discerning my own wounds and needs, not on venting or “correcting” the other person.  The apology I want so much to hear may dull the sting but will not heal the lesions in my heart.  My heart needs comfort, acceptance, embrace—love that is enduring, unquenchable, unconditional, inescapable, unbridled, and passionate.

Mother-Hugging-Child

Does Happiness Still Run On This Line?   4 comments

STILL STANDING... SORT OF

HOLDING IT TOGETHER

Yesterday I was so sick at heart I felt nauseous.  Life does not make sense to me right now.  My last few blogs show I am oscillating between anger,  faith, sarcasm,  acceptance, doubt, misery, hope… the only constant is depression, which drains my energy and darkens my outlook.  What used to restore my spirit no longer works.  “Happiness is a choice,” they say.  Balderdash.  You can decide your actions, and to some extent you can direct your thoughts, but you cannot pick your feelings like a vending machine treat.  Some folks find cheer in thankfulness or service or friendship, while others find comfort in meditation or nature.  You can keep an eye out for happiness, but it may not show up at any of these stops.  I don’t control it’s schedule.  I can only wait for it.

For some years now I have found consolation in discovering and working to heal my soul’s wounds, but I cannot get at the root of my current turmoil.  That process simply doesn’t work for me now.  Kimberly and I have also solved our conflicts by talking through our issues, but since we can’t make sense of what we are going through now, that approach doesn’t work.  When my emotional energy is dragging, I don’t have enough flex in my shock-absorbers to cushion the bumps, so I’m easily disheartened or hurt or agitated, and Kimberly feels it more sharply because she’s also deflated.  The proverb “as iron sharpens iron” has been profoundly true of us through the years, but during this season it seems often to be “as iron notches iron.”  We need to find a new way of supporting ourselves and one another.  I know we will find a way, we always do, but in the meantime it is painful and discouraging.

Posted February 7, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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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

PATIENCE IS SELF-REWARDING

Posted December 2, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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Do Differences Divide or Unite?   2 comments

WHAT LANE?!

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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