Archive for the ‘self-support’ Tag

You’re Really Okay with This?   5 comments

No arguments with my last Ayn Rand post, with my “selfish” assertion that I should care for my own needs before I care for the needs of others?  My primary moral concern is myself, according to Rand, and I agree with her.  I am ultimately responsible (before God) for my own soul, and it is immoral for me to make a choice that undermines my spiritual well-being, even if someone else might apparently benefit by that action.  I must not sacrifice truth or goodness, purity or faith, love or integrity for any cause, however good, because the end never justifies the means.  I must not be false to myself in order to benefit another.  No good ever comes from choosing against myself.

But what about a mother sacrificing herself for her children or a husband for his wife?  Is there no place for self-sacrifice?  I think I can best approach this question by considering personal gains and losses.  We all suffer losses in this life–not only those forced on us by circumstances, but those we choose for ourselves, for our own benefit.  I choose to lose income for a more fulfilling job, I choose to curtail freedom for the joys of marriage, I choose to forgo speaking my mind for the sake of peace.  In other words, I sacrifice the good for the better; the lesser for the greater, and ultimately, I am ready to sacrifice everything, even my physical life, for that which is fundamental to who I am–my heart and soul.

I think the term “self-sacrifice” is prone to misunderstanding in this regard.  I must never sacrifice my true self for anyone or anything.  I may often choose to suffer a loss for the benefit of myself or others, even great loss in extreme circumstances, but I cannot undermine my soul for the sake of anyone.  It would be immoral and ungodly.

IS THERE ANY LEFT FOR ME?

Many would agree with this theoretically, but in practice I think we regularly, though unintentionally, trade away our soul little bits at a time.  Instead of telling a friend that I need some quiet time, I keep talking on the phone.  Instead of taking a refreshing vacation, I spend the week helping a family member move.  Instead of taking a stand for myself at work, I yield once more to the boss’s insistence.  I don’t tell my spouse what I really think; I wear scuffed shoes to save money; I let the kids choose the radio station.  All of these choices seem godly, and they may be… unless they are slowly grinding down my soul, quenching my life, tripping up my dance with God.

I am learning to listen to my heart when it tells me what I truly need, and if I need it, then it is my moral obligation to meet that need to the best of my ability.  Others will push me to compromise myself and will make me responsible for meeting their wants and needs.  They are in essence making me their savior, but that role belongs to One alone.  If they truly need something, it is God’s responsibility to meet that need, whether or not he uses me.  Grace is the breath of life, and I must put on my airline oxygen mask before helping my child with his or we will both succumb. 

Posted September 28, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Disapproval   Leave a comment

Kimberly and I were visiting her relatives in Arkansas for a week, and some days after that, my laptop died.  It is much easier for me to pick up my laptop as I sit on the sofa and begin to compose, but now I must come into our office and sit at a desk to compose, and it takes away the spontaneity and ease (and requires coordination with my wife).  So I’ve been missing.  Kimberly read to me this morning from a book written by the father of a boy with disabilities.  He quoted a poem by Wendell Berry that I appreciated and so will share here:

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty; you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them,
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin his evening flight from the hilltop.

Posted June 5, 2012 by janathangrace in Poems, Reading

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Sucked Empty by Goodness   1 comment

I did not mean to suggest in my last post that our long, long lists of good behaviors are not in fact good.  I simply want to point out that they are not paramount.  Brushing our teeth, paying our bills on time, making soup for our sick neighbor are all good things, but the phrase, “the good is (sometimes) the enemy of the best,” comes to mind.  This aphorism is usually used to promote even higher, more taxing behavioral standards for ourselves, but I would use it to change the value scale altogether, to set a higher value on heart issues than behavior.

When I stop to compare how I treat friends with how I treat myself, I am often dumfounded at how disrespectful, rough, and unsympathetic I am to myself.  I would never tell a friend what I tell myself.  If a friend called me and said, “I’m really hurting right now, do you have time to talk?” I can’t imagine responding, “I’m not free right now, I have to cut the grass,” or “Really the only time I have to talk is Thursday 6-7.”  But that is exactly what I used to tell my own soul many times every day.  By the way I treated it, I was basically saying, “Shut up!  I don’t have time for you!  The dishes are more important.”

Over the last several years, I have worked hard at sloughing off responsibilities that made my soul feel it was of less value than some task.  Of course, this list is unique to each person.  For instance, skipping a meal in order to finish a project was never a sacrifice for me–but I did often suffer by driving myself to grind through a project when my soul was weary of it.  To each his own.

Many of you would be surprised at the things that distress me, and perhaps shocked at some of the things I have chosen to offload from my list of duties for the sake of my spirit.  Filing my annual taxes is always troublesome, and while I was still single, sometimes distressing.  As April 15 drew closer, my distress increased, but I had no emotional energy to force myself to complete them.  So in an effort to give my soul breathing room, I chose several times to file my taxes late and pay the resulting penalty.  Poor stewardship?  Of my money, yes, but not of my soul, and my soul is more important than money.  In fact, what more valuable investment than supporting my soul…so I guess it was financially good stewardship as well.  Thankfully, that spring dyspepsia is now eased with the presence of a life partner.

God gives us the strength to fulfill his call, but does he give us the strength to fulfill the calls of social norms or family expectations or friends’ needs?  I have too often assumed that my soul’s cries for help were the voice of temptation rather than the voice of truth, the voice of God calling me to rest.  Pain is the body’s signal that we should stop.  If we listen to it as a practice, then sometimes choosing wisely to override it can actually benefit the body, but if we typically ignore the pain signal, we will tear down our bodies.  I believe the same for our souls.  It knows better than our brain when something is amiss and needs addressing, and if our inclination is to ignore it, we tear it down.

BE AS GENTLE TO YOUR SOUL AS YOU ARE TO YOUR FRIEND'S

Posted April 1, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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A Little TV Insight   1 comment

Kimberly and I are enjoying a sci-fi series called “Haven.”  Last night they ended the show with a short dialogue I thought was profound.  Chris is hugely popular, and he uses his popularity to manipulate others, though he knows he is not being his genuine self in doing so.  He can only be himself when he is with Audrey, his “love” interest.

Chris: I want to be with you Audrey.  I need to be with you. 

Audrey: You once told me, ‘I want you because you’re you.’  Wanting me and needing me are two different things.  I can’t be the person that keeps you you.  You have to do that on your own.  You’d eventually start resenting me for it. 

THAT WAY!

God often uses us as his channels of grace, and we can support others in their efforts to heal and grow.  But if we take responsibility for their change, it will prevent them from truly growing.  They lack the courage or desire or understanding to move forward, and eventually they will resent us for obstructing their default path.  We must all choose for ourselves the path of life and growth and the pace we take on the journey, and then others may support our will rather than substituting for it.

I’ve discovered that all the support in the world is of no use to me if I cannot receive it.  No amount of compliments or empathy or affection can heal my heart unless I am somehow able to open to it.  But opening to love makes me vulnerable… I can be hurt much more deeply by those I trust (and all humans fail).  Kimberly and I have each discovered that unless we can find a means to value ourselves, external validation will make little impact.  Grace knocks at our door but is also on the inside encouraging us to open.  Grace is on the giving side, but also on the receiving side, supporting us with the courage and faith to accept.  But we must acquiesce, for grace forces itself on no one.

Posted October 10, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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How I Cope   3 comments

PAIN

Before I share how Kimberly and I grew in our wonderful, painful, scary and supportive relationship, I need to give some context regarding our perspective on coping mechanisms.  

All of us are wounded because we are born into a broken world with broken people and broken relationships.  In order to survive emotionally we develop methods for protecting ourselves.  These include the happy face, the sad face, the angry face, the cute face to hold off the dis-grace of others.  We use control, manipulation, confrontation, and every other form of avoidance (procrastination, withdrawal, acquiescence, drugs).  The list goes on.  We use these methods unwittingly, settling into a pattern that works best for each.  Many children would be emotionally destroyed if they found no means to cope.

I was at one time convinced that coping strategies were evil because they shielded us from the truth and taught us to live a lie.  They do shield us from the truth, but this is not necessarily an evil.  As Jack would say, “You can’t handle the truth!” or in Jesus’ words, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”  Our coping mechanisms act as crutches, and if we see them as such, we can slowly mend and get back on our feet.  The problem comes when we either deny the injury and pretend we have no crutch or stop going to physical therapy because it is too painful and decide we’ll just sign up for a disability pension.  I used to try talking people out of their coping mechanisms, kick their crutches out from under them so to speak, until I realized how powerfully beneficial these protective shields are.

My major coping mechanism for feeling better about myself is trying harder.  I thought I was practicing discipline, obedience, godliness, but increased effort was really my means to block a sense of shame and unworthiness.  I only discovered this truth because my method of coping didn’t “work” sufficiently–I still felt too much like a failure.  The more energy I used to escape my negative feelings, the more I realized it wasn’t working, that I could never make it work.

Once I realized that this was a coping mechanism, I tried to “overcome” it.  It was a lie that I had to cast out…  only it had stopped deceiving me once I recognized it for what it was.  When I realized it was a crutch, I could use it as a crutch.  For instance, I feel inordinately bad about failing to meet expectations (the inordinate part is a major clue).  When I did not recognize this as a coping strategy, it controlled me subconsciously.  Now that I realize it is a crutch, I am tempted to throw it down, but the problem is not so much my behavior (trying harder) but the reason behind it–working to earn my worth.

The Dark Hand of Shame

So my second temptation is to maintain my hard effort while changing the underlying thought patterns, but the effort itself supports the wrong mindset.  I am running late for a meeting, and as I drive I tell myself, “It’s okay.  Everyone is sometimes late.  Calm down,” but all the while I am driving like Jehu.  I find that I can’t maintain the same level of diligence without operating out of a sense of urgency, a drivenness that comes from my insecurities.  The more I try to give myself a break, the less I meet expectations, and the worse I feel about me.  These voices of condemnation have indoctrinated me and shaped my feelings, and barring a miracle, it will take a long process of reorienting my perspective.  In the meantime I do not have the emotional resources to simply stop all effort to meet others’ expectations and hold back the resulting flood of shame.  I would be overwhelmed by the voices against me feeding my shame.  My coping mechanism allows for my frayed emotions to be soothed as I slowly push into my fear and break free.

So I take baby steps, put a little weight on the foot.  I put in a little less effort while working to offload the shame that I would normally feel, turning a little more towards grace.  I share with others my fears so that their power is reduced.  I find gracious people to support my faltering faith.  And slowly I find myself growing whole from this deep wound.  Healing of long established problems, both physical and emotional, takes a lot of time, gentleness to the injury, support and protection.

Posted October 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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What Is Fair?   6 comments

Oh, the bumpy ride out of the marriage gate!  Kimberly and I both came from families that saw the world divided into right and wrong, but I bought into it and she didn’t.  She valued understanding and accepting each other as is.  I valued changing to meet one another’s expectations: decide what is right and do it.  But how would we decide what is “right”?  The only guideline that made sense to me was to let fairness determine basic expectations, and then each of us could feel free to be “more” than fair as an exercise of grace.  How could I even understand grace if I did not start with fair expectations?  If we agree that we both should do 50% of the dishes, then my doing 75% is an extra 25% of grace, but if fairness (all things considered) expects me to do 75%, then I have only done my duty and nothing more.  Have any of you married folks tried to decide what is fair?  What I thought was straightforward proved to be indecipherable.

A PRECISE CHART OF FAIRNESS

Consider our budget.  Take something as simple as grocery shopping.  How much should I buy of what I like and how much of what Kimberly likes?  50-50?  But being a good bit bigger than Berly and having a faster metabolism, I eat more than she does.  Should we factor in how much we each love, tolerate, or hate a certain item?  How do food allergies or dietary necessities weigh into the mix?  If one of us does the shopping and/or cooking, do they get an extra slice?  If one of us brings in more income, do they get more of a say in the spending (or is it based more on hours worked… only occupational time or household chores….)?  If 9 brownies are in the frig, how much can either of us eat before the other one feels cheated? (Yes, this has been an issue.)  Even I could see that my views of fairness smacked of legalism.

You may find all of this a bit silly, even childish.  Shouldn’t each of us simply choose for the sake of the other person?  This is the way I was raised, but you can imagine how poorly it works when I believe we are each responsible for the other’s needs and Kimberly believes we are each responsible for our own needs.  From my perspective, the only way to resolve unmet expectations is to “encourage” Kimberly to meet them (or live at a deficit).  But from Kimberly’s perspective that is imposing my wishes on her and making her take up what she feels is my responsibility.   From my viewpoint, we should focus on expectations, what ought to be done for the other.  From Berly’s viewpoint, we should focus on what each of us needs to do for ourselves.  For her, self-care must precede other-care just as a mother must put on her airplane oxygen mask before she puts one on her child.  I said, “I have expectations. They are reasonable.  If you don’t meet them, my needs will go unmet.  I will feel you don’t love me.  I will become hurt and resentful.”  She said, “I have no expectations for you to meet my needs.  I take full responsibility for my own needs, and I do not want you to neglect your own needs so that you can satisfy mine.  I want you to take care of yourself, to take care of your emotional needs as you do your physical ones.  I wish you would do the same towards me.  Your need does not establish my responsibility, nor mine yours.”

IT JUST LOOKS VERY DIFFERENT FROM MY ANGLE

I think my trouble has always been connecting expectations, reasonable expectations, with responsibility.  If my expectations are legitimate in a given relationship (clean up your own messes, repair what you break, do your fair share of the work) and you don’t meet those expectations, then you are simply wrong, and need correcting.  What else could it mean to be my brother’s keeper if not identifying the problem and urging the right path to take?  Only… the real reason I am pushing this is not for your sake, but for mine.  I feel inconvenienced, disrespected, hurt, unheard, overburdened, and it is because of your negligence.  I need you to change so I can feel better and our relationship can smooth out.

Clearly for relationships to work at all there must be some standardized expectations.  If my friend may respond to a dinner invitation by punching me or turning in circles three times or offering a breath mint, then I am at a loss to know how to relate.  His behavior does not make sense to me.  If he reacts in an unexpected way, I think him odd or worse (based on whether he seems to know or not know what is expected of him), and this starts us right off in the wrong direction since I believe he is the one who needs changing.  What we really need is mutual understanding, talking through our differences, but if either one of us assumes our own “rightness,” things are likely to go awry, and we may part ways with less clarity and an extra helping of acrimony.  I have understood him, and what I understand is that he is mistaken.  So I will do the “loving” thing and “forgive” him, which means I still think he is to blame for the tensions in our relationship.

Posted September 13, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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Please, Please, Meet My Needs!   3 comments

CAN I PLEASE JUST HAVE THE BONE?

It seems to me that if we do not find in God the ultimate answer to our needs, we become dangerously dependent on others.  If I think my wife is the sole channel of God’s grace for any substantial need and she fails me, then my only recourse is to force her compliance.  I might cajole, argue, bargain, threaten… there are a hundred ways to get her to “fall in line,” but this manipulation undermines her sincere love.

Genuine love must grow in an atmosphere of freedom, not control.  That is frightening because freedom allows my friend to choose to be unloving and uncaring, refusing to help with my needs.  If I make no demands, but offer unconditional love, he may take advantage of me, take all I have to offer and give little in return.  And if my needs go unmet, I cannot survive. So when I sense a disparity between how much I give and how much I get, I react to protect myself.  If I protect myself by giving less, I feel bad for my selfishness, for my lack of generosity, and I feel a distance growing in my heart towards him.  So instead I subtly (or plainly) push him to give more.

This approach did not go over well with Kimberly.  She felt the pressure of my expectations and recognized the conditionality of my love.  When she chose not to do as I wished, I felt unloved and became resentful, critical, and demanding.  This in turn made her feel unloved.  I tried to pressure her to comply, to prove her care by meeting my expectations.  She insisted on a more honest path to resolving our conflict, one that made room for both of our needs and for genuine rather than forced expressions of love.

I thought love was proved by what it gave—if folks didn’t give, they didn’t care—and this was intolerable to me because it inflated my fears of unworthiness.  I gave to others with the expectation that they would reciprocate and so prove my lovability.  My mind tightly bound together loving motivation and helping behavior, and I desperately needed Kimberly to prove my worth by setting aside her feelings to meet my needs.  Through long conversations and consistent responses, Berly expressed her care for my needs without yielding to my pressure to change her behavior (and so abandon her own needs in favor of mine).  It took years for me to believe she loved me in spite of not coming to my rescue.  I slowly realized that someone can love without helping and help without loving, that sometimes the truest and hardest love is one that does not give when giving would beguile the loved one into a false security.

I wanted to stop feeling my insecurity and Kimberly wanted me to embrace it, understand it, work through it.  If she helped me to avoid those feelings, it would undermine our relationship.  For her part, she was afraid of my resentment, and wanted to act in a way that would hold it at bay, but she knew living out of that fear would keep her from sharing herself honestly and vulnerably with me.  Things might go smoothly between us, but we would be sacrificing substance for façade.  Slowly we both stepped into our fears and broke through to a deeper understanding of ourselves and one another, a deeper trust, and a deeper freedom to accept who we are.  We encourage and help each other to find a way to meet our needs, but do not take the responsibility for this on ourselves.  Of course, sometimes our needs conflict, but that is another story altogether.

Posted September 7, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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