Archive for the ‘self discovery’ Tag

Care for the Wounded Self   5 comments


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.


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.


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.


Does Happiness Still Run On This Line?   4 comments



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


Posted December 2, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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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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“You’re Weird”   7 comments

Kimberly and I have started reading a book on “Sabbath” each Sunday morning.  It suddenly occurred to me today that we are called to follow not only God’s example of rest, but his example of spending 6 days in creativity, like him expressing who we are to the world (for our gifts are simply an outflow of the unique creation each of us is).  If we could discover and have the courage to be our true selves before the world, offering it what we have rather than what we do not have, the world would be marvelous.  If we could only value each one for who she truly is and what her being means to my life and the life of the world as a whole.  If we could only live in a spirit of curiosity and receptivity for (and therefore blessing from) the uniqueness of each.


Instead, we live out of who we are not, pushed into acting in ways for which we were not created, living a lie.  We hide our shame with pretenses and cover-ups, unable to encourage others to be themselves (and delighting in it) because of the fear out of which we live.  We find the uniqueness of others to be threatening, confusing, irritating, dividing, and so we push for them to conform to our ways of thinking and doing and being.  It is unsafe for any of us to be himself, since being rejected for our essence is the ultimate disgrace.  Sadly such shame disables and distorts God’s own creation as he designed each to be, with both our limitations and our abilities.  May we all learn to welcome and relish the beauty of differences.


Posted June 24, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

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A Truth Learned Late   1 comment

I’m glad I finally realized the truth stated here by Parker Palmer: “Let Your Life Speak.”  His description could be the retelling of my pre-grace life.

Like many middle-class Americans, especially those who are white and male, I was raised in a subculture that insisted I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be, if I were willing to make the effort.  The message was that both the universe and I were without limits, given enough energy and commitment on my part.  God made things that way, and all I had to do was to get with the program.

My troubles began, of course, when I started to slam into my limitations, especially in the form of failure.  I can still touch the shame I felt when, in the summer before I started graduate school at Berkeley, I experienced my first serious comeuppance: I was fired from my research assistantship in sociology.

Having been a golden boy through grade school, high school, and college, I was devastated by this sudden turn of fate.  Not only was my source of summer income gone, but my entire graduate career seemed in jeopardy, the professor I had come to Berkeley to study with was the director of the project from which I had been fired.  My sense of identity, and my concept of the universe, crumbled around my feet for the first, but not last time.  What had happened to my limitless self in a limitless world?

The culture I was raised in suggested an answer: I had not worked hard enough at my job to keep it, let alone succeed….  But that truth does not go deep enough…. I was fired because that job had little or nothing to do with who I am, with my true nature and gifts, with what I care and do not care about….

Neither that job nor any job like it was in the cards for me, given the hand I was dealt at birth.  That may sound like sinfully fatalistic thinking or, worse, a self-serving excuse.  But I believe it embodies a simple, healthy, and life-giving truth about vocation.  Each of us arrives here with a nature, which means both limits and potentials.  We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials.

Despite the American myth, I cannot be or do whatever I desire–a truism, to be sure, but a truism we often defy.  Our created natures make us like organisms in an ecosystem: there are some roles and relationships in which we thrive and others in which we wither and die….

If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and to myself for a while.  But the fact that I am exceeding my limits will eventually have consequences.  I will distort myself, the other, and our relationship–and may end up doing more damage than if I had never set out to do this particular “good.”

When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality loveless–a gift given more from need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for.  One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout.

Posted June 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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God’s Love Letters #2   6 comments

Matthew 1:1  The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

 Both Abraham and David understood God’s plan as universal rather than solely Jewish (as the calling of each clearly states).  Therefore, this is the history, salvation history, of the world, not just of one small nation.  Both men are seen here primarily as avenues of salvation rather than centers of political control.  Jesus, being the denouement, becomes the lens of interpretation for all of history.  He gives to both Abraham and David their historical and spiritual meaning, so, as the first verse states, this family tree is about Jesus, not just (for example) a rehearsing of Jewish history.  The history of the world (and of Israel) can only be understood by seeing all through the person and work of Jesus.  He is the defining point of history.

 Even though the focus is entirely on Jesus, it is not “the record of Jesus,” unconnected to history, as though God let the world wander on its own and then finally sent a Savior.  The whole history is part of a closely laid plan from the beginning of time, the beginning of man and his fall, the beginning of Israel.  It is the record of the genealogy of Jesus.  History—factual events that really occurred—is fundamental to the Christian faith.  Existentialism, much as I like it, tries to de-contextualize Jesus and personal faith, but faith must always be firmly rooted in our reality and past.  Theology, as much as each individual life, cannot begin in the middle in dismissal of the past. 


We are not controlled by our past, but we are at every point a direct outgrowth of our past (though every present moment is an opportunity for re-directing our future history).  Every step of a journey takes you to a very specific location.  You can change direction at any point, even radically, but you cannot change the previous steps taken which have brought you to this place.  If you have walked to Central Park, you cannot take your next step from Times Square, you can only take your next step in that direction.  Even the greatest redirection in life, spiritual regeneration, does not suddenly change your personality, biology, total sum of a lifetime of thoughts, family and friends, skills and talents, likes and dislikes, or even your character.  It gives the power to change in ways never before possible, and it begins to change everything, but we all start that journey with the first step.

It is because every present moment is so weighted by our past that it takes a lifetime and more to be restored to the persons we are meant to be.  You cannot wake up tomorrow and live as though you had no past or precedent… even if you had amnesia.  Who you are is a continuous flow, not disconnected states of being.  Some truths can have profound impact on the flow of our lives, but being transformed by a given truth is a process.  This is very frustrating for many of us.  It all seems to take so long, especially when the embedded lies are still wounding us and our relationships.  But this forces us to fall back on grace for ourselves as well as for one another.  The quality of our relationships is not determined by our goodness (thankfully), or even our maturity, but by grace to us, in us, through us.  And the source of this grace is Jesus who is just as much a part of our life’s history as he was of Jewish history.

Posted March 22, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Chased into the Harbor   2 comments


 If Kimberly’s reactions had not provoked mine, I could have avoided my negative feelings and the issues behind them, but I and my relationships would have suffered.  I needed her insecurities to push mine out of the shadows.  From a hundred examples of this, let me share in this post one of our early conflicts.

When Kimberly and I started dating, she was living in Lynchburg and I in Arlington (of cemetery fame).  Once a week I drove the 6 hour round trip to be with her.  Occasionally she would drive to Arlington.  I went to Lynchburg to spend the day with Kimberly, and I expected she would do the same when she visited me.  However, she had other friends in Arlington with whom she wanted to connect.  I was disappointed when she went off in the afternoon to visit her friend, and when she came back late for the dinner I was cooking, she could feel the cold winds blowing.  I was quiet, polite, distant.  She could have just ignored it and I would eventually have warmed up again, but instead she asked what was troubling me.  I tried to pass it off, but eventually replied.

Me, a bit resentfully: “You said you were going to be here by 4 o’clock.”

Berly, defensively: “I know, but my friend needed a listening ear.  I called you as soon as I could.”

Me, exposing the bigger issue: “When I come to Lynchburg, I spend the whole day with you.”

Berly: “You don’t have any other friends in Lynchburg to see.”

You can imagine the next two hours of conversation as I explained how reasonable my expectations were in the face of her uncaring behavior, and she explained how she could care about me without meeting my expectations.  Even though we were both defensive, we tried to hear and understand one another over the cacophony of our feelings.  We slowly came to realize that I place a high priority on time spent together, that this is my gauge of how much someone cares about me.

Now, unfortunately, I must digress to clarify how our approach differs from other approaches.  Let me first contrast it to the “apologetic fix,” the resolution of choice in my family of origin.  The conversation would have gone:

Me, a bit resentfully: “You said you were going to be here by 4 o’clock.”

Berly, apologetically: “I’m so sorry.  I should have been here on time,”  followed by an effort to be sweeter and more solicitous than usual to win back my favor.  

That would be it.  We would both feel better.  The resulting “peace” would be a sufficient reward, tricking us into thinking we had a healthy, happy relationship.  Berly would realize my expectation and shape herself to conform in the future, not out of love (since she was responding to my shaming pressure), but in an effort to keep the peace.  She’d “should” on herself to reduce her insecurity in my conditional love.  

The second, more discerning approach would simulate our actual conversation, and Kimberly would realize time spent together was my “love language,” so she should do what she could to satisfy this need of mine.  That would be the end of it.  Conflicts would arise to the extent she failed to meet my expectations, but she would keep trying to adjust, reminding herself of my need and becoming more sensitive to it.   This second approach is more healthy because it does not depend on shame as the motivator.  In fact, the motivation can be from genuine love if the one who changes can do so without much personal cost (if it does not feed her insecurities).  Notice that in both these alternate approaches the resolution is fairly simple and straightforward and depends on conformity to expectations,  my underlying insecurities (if there are any) stay hidden and unresolved.  The more the expectation is legitimized, the more the one conforming will see it as an “ought,” and such an obligatory response easily usurps a genuine love response.

Kimberly was unwilling to deny her own needs and feelings to satisfy mine.  She stood up for herself in the face of my resentment.  This only increased my insecurities about her lack of love for me (as I perceived it), and when my fears were exacerbated, I could see my issues more clearly.  I realized that my anger was not a simple reaction to the current situation, but was protecting me from experiencing  the underlying raw fear of not being truly loved, not being truly lovable.  Kimberly could easily relieve my insecurity in relationship to her by spending more time with me, but my fears would remain and continue infecting other relationships.  I would keep protecting myself from others by blaming, pressuring, loving conditionally when I felt devalued.

My true need is not for friends to choose my company more often so that I feel loved.  Trying to resolve my insecurities at this level will only block access to my deeper need, fears that I am unworthy of love.  What is the source of this insecurity, what subconscious ideas are keeping me trapped in fear, how do I bring healing to this fundamental place of need?  If I fend off my fears by enticing others to give me more quality time, I will never look for the answer to these questions.

Fortunately, Kimberly’s issues did not allow her to salve mine: if she agreed with me that she was not enough, she would be denying her own needs and feelings.  Unfortunately, given my presuppositions, I could not rationally separate loving someone from taking care of them.  The first resulted in the second, otherwise it was fake.  I did not disagree with Kimberly, I simply did not understand her.  But I kept trying until I slowly realized that her gibberish was crucial to the healing of my soul and relationships.  I was trapped in a world where others’ responses decided my worth.  What I needed was to discover unconditional acceptance, to unhitch my lovability from how others did or did not love me, and hook it to a love that is unwavering and limitless towards me no matter how “unworthy” I may be, a love that is not drawn out more by my worthiness, but that proves my worthiness by loving me despite all.

And I need that divine love shown to me, however limitedly, through the heart of another in my world… the very thing which is Kimberly’s amazing gift.  She is committed to accepting me and loving me for who I am, the good and the bad, the broken and partly mended, the prickly and tender.  She shows me God as the Gracious One that he is.  When I share my fears of being unworthy of love, not as a means to manipulate her, but simply to share vulnerably, it opens wide the flood gates of her compassion for me, and slowly I begin to see that I am lovable despite my many shortcomings, that my woundedness does not invite shame but sympathy.  This peace and joy touches the deepest reaches of my heart and begins its healing work.

Something tells me we'll find a way.

Should Faith Control Emotions?   5 comments

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


Posted September 27, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests, thoughts

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Stop Doing That!   Leave a comment

At last we come to this.  Kimberly and I have needs that conflict–satisfying her need exacerbates mine and vice versa.  I could fill a book with examples, literally.  Promptness is a high value of mine and we are going to be late, so I am driving fast, but safety is a high value for Kimberly.  Whose need gets trumped?   She needs to talk and I need to think.  She needs a clean car and I need a functional one.  She needs us to be more tactful with folks and I need us to be more straightforward.  She needs to spend more money and I need to spend less (in certain categories).  She may need more together time and I may need more alone time.  She’s freezing and I’m burning up.

I was raised to 1) evaluate if this is a true need or just a want 2) if it is just a want (and almost everything was), then sacrifice your desires for the other person 3) if this is not adequately reciprocated and I feel resentment for the “unfairness,” then I hint with my eyes, tone of voice, sighs, coolness, a “joke,” etc. 4) if this does not fix the injustice, then we “talk” about it (which means I tell you in so many words that you are wrong, you apologize and change).  This was my understanding of fairness and compromise–in my family we manipulated each other to get the other to meet our needs–and it generally worked, at least for us younger siblings.  We made demands of one another, taking responsibility for each others needs instead of taking responsibility for our own.  In this environment, personal boundaries were significantly infringed, but the incursions were roughly equivalent, so it was workable.  Of course, this only functions in a context where the expectations are set, determined by an authority (our parents).  Someone has to settle what is fair if fairness is to be the default standard for behavior.  Pushing or choosing for one’s own wants and needs was generally seen as selfish.

I quickly discovered this approach did not work with Kimberly.   My system was reciprocation and her system was freely giving with no expectations.  She insisted that my expectations did not determine her obligation.  If I had a need, it did not mean she had to meet it, because she also had needs and she did not insist that I meet them.  She explained the value of healthy boundaries in relationship.  She would listen and empathize with my need if I cared to talk about it; she would offer suggestions for how my needs could be met; but if I then pushed her with an “ought,” it would stifle her free love, it would not only wound her, but hurt our relationship, setting it on legalistic grounds rather than on grace.  I have needs, my needs are legitimate, she loves me and cares about my needs, but caring about my needs is quite different from caring for my needs.  I cannot demand that she neglect herself to serve me (even if I neglected my needs to serve her).  My resentment towards her “unfairness” suggested that I was not giving out of love and grace (which expects no reciprocity), but out of a fair-trade agreement.

She told me to only give to her (or compromise) freely, and if my gift had strings attached, I was not ready to give.  In that case, she would look out for her own needs.  If I say, “I don’t care where we eat,” “You choose where to dine,” “I’ll go where you want,” and this eventually leads to, “Why don’t we ever eat where I want to go?” then I am being dishonest with her and with myself.  We should tell one another plainly what we want, and then look for some solution that provides for both our needs (or at least does not block either of us from meeting our own needs).  I have learned to trust Kimberly to give me what she can in a healthy way, and whatever is still lacking I take responsibility for instead of placing on her.  She trusts me in the same way. 

This set things on a very different footing for me.  I always assumed my expectations were justified, were self-evident and obvious.  If so, then she should change to meet them.  Why did Kimberly disagree?  I began questioning whether my expectations were self-evident.   I always assumed I “needed” to be on time… the what was given and I only had to resolve the how, how can I get her on my schedule.  But suppose punctuality is not a necessity or even of high value.  Instead of asking what should be done, I started asking why do I feel this way.  Why did I have such a high level of anxiety about lateness?   I thought I did this out of care for the other person’s time, but in fact I was operating from a fear of what others would think of me.  My value depended on others seeing me as dependable, and punctuality was a big part of that evaluation.  I tried to control others’ views of me (and thereby my true worth) by being prompt.  My feelings cried out that I needed to be on time, but my true need was rather to feel worthy, and I could only satisfy this need by grounding it in something more firm than others’ opinions.  I had to learn to be okay with being sometimes tardy, it is human, and part of finding this path into freedom was allowing myself to actually be late.  Kimberly’s need for me to drive slower was an invitation to reconsider my own true need.

This was not a smooth, quick, or comfortable transition, and I still tend to drive with narrower safety margins than makes her comfortable.  I am a work in progress (as is she), and what matters to her most is not slower driving, but acceptance and support of her feelings (instead of poking fun at her caution or otherwise suggesting there is something wrong with her view).  Amazingly, once I was able to segregate my real needs from my false needs, I realized that my greatest need was what Kimberly was so great at giving–empathy and acceptance of my feelings rather than  help avoiding my feelings by “fixing” the situation.  If simple compromise works because neither of us feels very strongly about the matter, then we simply adjust for one another because we care.  But if either of us feels an ongoing discomfort with this solution, we bring it up for discussion, not to figure out a better solution (and so avoid the true issue), but to uncover the real unmet need that is agitating our feelings. 

BTW, Kimberly is a punctual person, she just is not driven to it as I am.

Posted September 26, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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