Archive for the ‘self-support’ Tag

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. 


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


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.


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.”


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


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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Thought: How We Treat Our Emotions   4 comments

We all know we have some influence over our emotions, and there are various reasons we may find it beneficial in particular situations to manipulate our emotions: if emotions are impairing our functioning on some crucial matter, if we cannot control our expression of emotion and that expression is damaging others, if we don’t have enough space (time, safety, etc.) to process our feelings just now.  In such cases we are not ignoring our feelings or pushing them away, but we are asking them to wait for a bit until we can address them.

If as a rule we listen and support our feelings and what they are telling us, then the exceptions I suggested above won’t undermine our spirits.  If as a rule we try to control our emotions instead of listening to them empathically, it is as healthy as trying to control your spouse—the more “successful” you are at this effort, the more damage is done.  It took me a very long time to begin to deal with my emotions based on the principles of grace instead of the principles of law.

I can manipulate my emotions by suppressing them or by aggravating them and neither approach is healthy.  It is one thing to listen graciously and patiently to my anger until it has told me all it needs to say; it is quite another to pump up my anger.  When I use various means to exacerbate my feelings, I am being just as untrue to my genuine emotions as when I refuse to hear them.

I find that the best question to ask myself regarding my feelings and my response to them is “why?”  Why do I feel so angry?  Why do I feel the need to stimulate them further?  I used to ask myself these questions in condemnation, just as my irate mother used to ask us: “What is WRONG with you?!”  This was not asked in a comforting way to find and relieve our suffering.  The natural follow up to such a question was, “Just stop it!”  And that really was my attitude towards my own feelings.


When I was in India, I kept throwing my unwanted emotions out the back door, only to realize too late that it was not the back door, but the closet door, and the shelves collapsed under the weight of my ignored emotions, driving me into deep depression.  Trust me, when you ignore or shame your emotions, it does not fix them or get rid of them, it just forces them to keep working behind the scenes where they sicken and weaken your spirit.

The Lies that Bind   1 comment

When I was struggling with a deep sense of inadequacy and shame as a pastor in Arlington, a friend recommended a counseling couple.  As I sat with them in their living room, they explained that my poor self-worth came from believing lies, especially lies about God.  That may have been true, but it only made my sense of humiliation worse.  Not only did I feel shame, but I was wrong for feeling shame.  It is hard to hear, “You are deceived,” and feel positive about yourself, and “The God you worship is a false god,” is not particularly comforting either.

If this couple had identified with and shown empathy for my struggles, it would have made a huge difference.  They could have said, “We have all been tricked into believing lies foisted on us by family, church, and culture.  We are the victims of these deceptions.”  This may have really been their thought, but I could not get past the shame of living a lie.  When I asked Kimberly, “Doesn’t my anger or sadness or fear point to something that should not be in my heart, some skewed perspective for which I am guilty?” the question itself seems to invite a shaming answer.

“Well, did you know these beliefs were false?” she asked.  “Did you deliberately avoid the truth?  When you were at last shown the way did you run from it?”

“No,” I said, “I set my feet to it, not perfectly, but as best I could in spite of the fear and pain.”

“Yes, something is in your heart that should not be there, just like Somali pirates should not be on oil tankers, but you are no more guilty of it than the ship’s captain.  You did not create this darkness, but are rather victimized by it.  Don’t shame yourself for these lies which deceived you, but have compassion on yourself for the harm you still suffer because of them.”

Such soothing words of grace!  If I keep shaming myself for my struggles, it will push me away from God’s grace.  I’m afraid that if I openly admit what a mess I am, God will agree and put me on the bench till I get my act together.  Instead he embraces me and says, “I’ve been waiting for you to discover your wounds and show them to me so that I can begin to heal them.”

Emotions often reveal the unhealthiness of my heart.  If I rebuke and punish myself for this junk, I become more lost in the mazes of my shame and more afraid of the truth.  I’ve discovered that when I show myself compassion, like a child who is sick, the truth loses its monster mask and I am much more able to open my heart to it.  The truth comes to me as a companion and help rather than a testy and impatient headmaster.

Posted August 6, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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I may have been more confusing than clarifying in my Response #4.  So I want a re-do (wish I could do that in life!).

I had very little understanding of legitimate relational boundaries for most of my life.  If two of us had conflicting needs, I thought I was responsible to deny my own and “consider others as more important than myself.”  Anything less was selfishness.  I also believed I was given more resources by God than others (after all, I came from McQuilkin stock, a line of highly honored preachers, missionaries, and college presidents), so the greater burden should rest on me.  This was the scaffolding for serious self-neglect.

If I starved myself to feed the hungry, I would die quickly, but when I starved myself emotionally, there was no such forced resolution… I kept living, breathing, and relating.  No matter how much I gave, I felt I was not giving enough.  So I pushed myself further and further until I nearly killed myself in India.  Self preservation was not in my DNA.  After all, I subscribed to the motto, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

If I had the resources, and another had a need, I was obligated to meet that need.  I thought the only morally legitimate way to deny helping Bob was to help Bill instead.  To use my resources on myself was simply selfish.  It was not a true need of mine.  Christ was all I needed, and instead of receiving what he wished to give me, I became simply the channel for his giving to others, a teflon heart towards God’s grace.  I didn’t realize what harm I did myself and others by working out of a serious personal deficit.  I did not understand how healthy relationships worked.

Of course, the more I expected of myself, the more I expected of others… not as much as I would give, but still a fairly high standard.  When they did not give what they were “able” to give (in my estimate), I judged them as unspiritual, uncommitted, and selfish, and I resented having to make up for their slack.  Denying myself everything for others only worked if they denied things for me.

I was blind to the distinction between healthy and unhealthy giving.  That difference might best be illustrated with actual gifts, the kind with wrapping paper and bows.  There is quite a long list of unwritten, unspoken guidelines that must be followed in our society if we wish to be an acceptable member.  The one with more money may spend more; the amount of money or time spent is a reflection of how much the recipient is valued; gratitude must be expressed (whether or not the gift was a true expression of  love), often in writing; and the list goes on.  We speak of a  ‘gift exchange,’ a social arrangement which prescribes rules and follows social norms to avoid anyone giving too much or too little.  But the original meaning of “gift” (Charis in Greek) suggests something freely given out of love without thought of return.  Otherwise we are really talking about trading, a legitimate financial arrangement, but one that follows law, not love.

As long as everyone follows group expectations in an exchange, this arrangement works swimmingly, but once we try to move towards a gracious approach, one that does not include payback, the old rules do not apply.  If I must give everything to everyone without consideration for reciprocation, then I am in serious trouble if others do not do the same.  All my resources (whether time, money, emotional reserves, energy, etc.) will sooner or later be exhausted, and then I have nothing for myself or for others.  Without receiving adequate “reimbursement,” the system fails.  The path of grace seems unworkable unless everyone else is equally “gracious.”  Instead of being responsible for my own upkeep, they become responsible for me, and I for them.  I am at the mercy of the goodness of others… if they are not good enough, I cannot survive.  This sounds to me suspiciously like co-dependence rather than interdependence.  Am I not ultimately responsible for myself?

The Dirty Dish Compromise   5 comments

A Continuing Saga…

At Smith Mountain Lake Kimberly and I took a kayak ride, and, like usual, talked some more.  One of our cars has over 200k on the odometer, so we have been talking for some time about getting another vehicle.  I mentioned to Kimberly my desire to buy a truck, for which I regularly have a need.  “We don’t need to discuss it seriously at this point… I just thought I would broach the subject for you to think about,” I said.

She was quiet for a moment.  Then she said, “I’m afraid that if you get a truck we will be inundated with wood.  You know how you have been packing it in everywhere.”  It’s true.  I’m a scavenger.  I find useful things on the street next to garbage cans, in dumpsters at construction sites, and at demolished buildings.  With these I have built a bedroom, cedar flower box, a king size bed frame, and numerous other projects.

I responded, “Okay, the shed is full of wood, but I’m the only one who goes in there.”

Kimberly corrected, “You also have wood piled on the downstairs patio and stacked in the laundry room in the basement.”

I replied, “I didn’t know that bothered you.  I can take that wood out if you like.”

This kind of interaction has often been a trapdoor to shame.  If Kimberly expresses any dissatisfaction with life together, I feel I have been a bad husband.  She does not intend to shame me… she is just telling me how she feels.  But I was trained as a child that when someone expressed dissatisfaction, they were telling you how you must change to meet their expectations (and by inference, how you are currently inadequate).  They were talking about their feelings not as an act of sharing their experience but as a means to pressure you to bend to their wishes, making you responsible for their unhappy feelings.

Kimberly and I have spent many, many hours working through this issue—about construction I am doing, my grocery choices, messes I leave.  She has told me hundreds of times that her discomfort is not my fault, that she is not trying to manipulate me by guilt or shame, that she simply wants to share how she feels without burdening me with expectations.  She just wants me to understand and empathize with her feelings.

But this is a serious problem for me.  When she recounts her negative feelings, my past shouts at me, “She is telling you that you must change, that you are inadequate.  There will always be something you disappoint her with.  You are a worthless human being!”  I could not listen, understand and support her emotions without condemning myself as a failure.

We have come a long way in the right direction.  She has understood my struggle and learned to express her feelings in a manner that least provokes my fears.  I have learned to trust her so much more and to start supporting her in her feelings without taking responsibility for them and shaming myself.

As we paddled up an inlet, we discussed our growth as a couple, and I reminded her how well she dealt with the issue of dirty dishes.  Kimberly is a do-it-now person and I am a do-it-later person.  She would like for us to wash each saucer as it gets dirty, even pausing our DVR movie to do this.  I find it efficient to wait until I have free time, for instance during the two minutes my coffee is in the microwave.  Our initial compromise was that if plates piled up, I would wash them.  I was fine with this trade—I chose the timing and did all the dishes.  Hey, if I have to wash everything, I’ll do it when I like… so I let them pile up.  I preferred leaving them in the sink at night and scrubbing them in the morning, but she found it difficult to get her cup of coffee with a basin full of dishes, and it soured her mood to see a stack of pots covered with dried remains of food.  When this had happened for a week in a row, she decided it was time to talk.

Kimberly explained the situation and said, “How about if we wash the dishes together at night?”  I felt bad that my method was spoiling her mornings, but since she was careful in how she worded it, I was able not to blame and shame myself.  I found that I was then free to respond to her out of love and care rather than out of shame and obligation.  The resolution felt good to both of us, validating each of us and our feelings.  I still wash all the dishes in the morning, but I do it before she comes downstairs.

The resolution is not a permanent fix for my underlying issues. I still struggle not to be motivated out of fear for what she will think of me, but we are both headed in the right direction.  Our commitment to mutual support creates a world of trust, safety, and intimacy.

Posted June 29, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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