Archive for the ‘self worth’ Tag

The Spiritual Discipline of Idleness   2 comments

This is the unpublished conclusion to my post “The Spiritual Exercise of Shirking Duty”

I think God is telling me, “You’re going to keep spinning your wheels until you let off the gas.  You’re here to learn the art of idling.”

Idleness as a spiritual goal?  That sounds very wrong-headed.  I spent most of my life trying to maximize every minute, sleeping as little as possible so as to make the biggest spiritual profit for God.  Every activity, even entertainment, was scored on how useful it was.  If I read books, it must be for my growth.  If I took a vacation, it was at a monastery.  Every meal with friends was to “sharpen iron with iron.”  Pleasures without eternal benefits were wasteful and wrong, and slowly every simple joy was twisted into a duty.  I was driven by the fear that God valued me for what I did for him, and it was never enough.

atelaphobia

My beliefs have changed, but the shadow remains over those natural delights that would ordinarily bring me pleasure.  When I try to simply enjoy reading, writing, music, hiking, gardening, wood-working, and the like, this imperious gravity pulls me to turn each one into something productive, cutting off its wings and tethering it with a burden of obligation.  Since last winter my only sure escape has been solitaire, not because it is especially fun, but because it is especially profitless, and so I can’t use it for brownie points with God.  While shuffling cards, I’m doing nothing good for the world; I’m just killing time.  And as I’ve learned to trust God’s grace there in the middle of that uselessness, I have discovered pure grace, not “grace” in exchange for my good efforts.

DUTY: LOOKS GOOD, BUT TIES ME IN KNOTS

How can I rebuild my life around the joy of being who God created me to be instead of the slave-driven motive of duty? As long as I keep believing that God loves me more when I do more for him, and less when I do less,  I can never find rest in his grace.  To truly discover the riches of God’s full acceptance apart from my profitability, I may need to become more useless still in order to set my faith free from its false grounding in my own goodness.  “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

GOING OUT ON A LIMB OF FAITH

GOING OUT ON A LIMB OF FAITH

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Posted June 15, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Is Selfishness Evil?   9 comments

The Giving Tree (for those who don’t know) is a children’s book that tells the simple love story of a boy and his tree.  As the boy grows, he loses interest in the tree except as it can benefit him, so the loving tree slowly gives itself away a little at a time to the boy–apples to sell, branches for a house, until finally…

Many see in Shel Silverstein’s book an example of unlimited, sacrificial love.  I see a brilliant example of co-dependence.  Is it a virtue to harm myself in order to help others?

A year or two ago I read a quote from Ayn Rand’s book “The Virtue of Selfishness,” and was intrigued by her siding with selfishness against altruism as our ethical necessity, our moral calling.  (She did not distinguish between selfishness and self-care, which is a complex contrast to untangle.)  Here is an example of her perspective, which rings true to a lot of my own life experience:

Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit [i.e. selfishness] is evil….  Observe what this beneficiary-criterion of morality does to a man’s life.  The first thing he learns is that morality is his enemy: he has nothing to gain from it,  he can only lose; self-inflicted loss, self-inflicted pain and the gray, debilitating pall of an incomprehensible duty is all that he can expect.  He may hope that others might occasionally sacrifice themselves for his benefit, as he grudgingly sacrifices himself for theirs, but he knows that the relationship will bring mutual resentment, not pleasure—and that, morally, their pursuit of values will be like an exchange of unwanted, unchosen Christmas presents, which neither is morally permitted to buy for himself….  If you wonder about the reasons behind the ugly mixture of cynicism and guilt in which most men spend their lives, these are the reasons: cynicism, because they neither practice nor accept the altruist morality—guilt, because they dare not reject it.

I had that guilt of never doing enough for others, but instead of cynicism I practiced and accepted the altruistic morality of denying my own needs (because the needs of others always trumped mine).  This conviction that my own needs did not matter left me with a sense of worthlessness.  Is selfishness evil?  Is it always virtuous to give?  I’d like to explore in a few blogs some of Ayn Rand’s views.

Posted September 11, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading, thoughts, Uncategorized

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Being a Nobody: God’s Love Letters #7   5 comments

Matthew 1:3 Perez fathered Hezron and Hezron fathered Ram.

Hezron and Ram have no stories, no histories, no parts to play.  They are nobodies, appearing in the Old Testament simply as names in lists of genealogies.  The vast majority of Israelites who lived then are not mentioned at all.  They plowed and played; they held one another as their crops failed and laughed with delight at their grandchild’s  first words; many worshipped God faithfully and walked with him daily but are completely unknown to us, very much like Hezron and Ram.

Since the Jewish Bible is primarily about the nation of Israel, the leaders of the nation and events that directed its course are inevitably featured.  Still, it seems that God considers the “movers and shakers” as the important ones, the ones to write home about, the role-models to recommend.  Compare how much we know of David in contrast to his brother Eliab, the firstborn.  If you want to be on God’s A-list, you have to make a big impact in the world, make a name for yourself in his kingdom.  And to do that, all you need is faith.

This view of the Bible seems oddly familiar to me.  When I was growing up, the heroes were folks like Lincoln, rising from an obscure log cabin to the White House, or like Einstein, stepping out from behind a clerk’s desk to become the foremost scientist of his time.  I grew up believing that I could be anything I wanted if I had enough self-confidence and commitment to the vision.  This is the American dream, and ours is the land of opportunity where the only limitations are our faith and determination.  This take on life provides a value system, a goal, and a means to that end, and without realizing it, I bring all of this to my reading of Scripture.

I measure the strength of my faith by the greatness of my deeds—am I like David?  The completeness of my commitment will make me a Daniel.  The weight of my godliness will get my name written down next to Job’s.  I can be one of God’s role-models for my generation.  If I simply make myself wholly available to God, he will make something great of me.  But what if I give it everything I’ve got and never make it out of the log cabin or clerk’s office?  Do I lack faith, is my commitment faulty, am I unusable?  Does God find me of little value?

Perhaps something is wrong with my perspective of what God wants, what is important, and what I should value and aim for in life.  I don’t think God was less pleased with the unnamed in Israel who sincerely followed him.  But this culture runs in my blood—I invariably measure the value of my contribution, for instance, by how many folks read and find benefit from my blog.  The engine is not more valuable than the engine mount bolt… without the bolt, the engine will fall off and the airplane crash.  Every role in God’s kingdom is vital, irreplaceable.  If that’s my theology, why do I so often feel like a loser?

It seems a still deeper issue clouds my view of what really matters to God.  Does he care more about what I do or who I am?  Why do I find myself so obsessed with doing rather than becoming or relating?  Why does accomplishment determine my value–“I may be only a bolt, but I’ll be the best bolt ever made”?  How drastically would my outlook and life change if my focus were rather on who I am and how I relate to others?  How would it impact my understanding and application of Scripture?  If it is David’s faith rather than his triumphs, skills, and leadership that is to inspire us, what would that faith look like in the life of a farmer, a seamstress, or a store clerk, in Hezron and Ram and me?  Rabbi Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not more like Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”  Considering how God filled the earth with “nobodies” instead of “somebodies,” he must value us a lot!  Or to put it differently, everyone is a very big “somebody” to someone else, even if that someone else is only God.  Did I say, “only God”?!

Posted July 8, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace, Personal

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Addicted to Effort   1 comment

The strange path to freedom.

I have many coping mechanisms to protect me from the prickly world, a combination of defenses unique to myself.  I was a compliant child, a trait sometimes mistakenly referred to as “good” or “obedient,” so I responded to my insecurites by trying to make the grade (measured by my approval ratings).   This was my basis for self-worth: scoring a 10 on my performance.  When I was judged as inadequate, my deeply ingrained, almost instinctive reaction was to rachet up the effort.  I proved my value as a person by doing more, better, faster, by never repeating failures or mistakes, by meeting or exceeding every expectation that appeared worthy.

CHASING SUCCESS

Perhaps the hardest coping mechanisms to overcome are those which are inescapably tied to the necessities of living.  Every addiction has its unique power of control.  Bulimics, unlike alcoholics, literally cannot live without the substance to which they are addicted, and that significantly complicates their deliverance.  In the same way, I cannot live without doing.  I cannot abandon all tasks in order to break free from my addiction to effort–I am forced to keep succeeding at a job, at finances, at relationships, and all the other tasks essential to life.  They say success breeds success, but in my case, success breeds bondage (and unfortunately so does failure). 

For me, at a subconscious level, every task accomplished inevitably feeds my sense of worth and every task unfinished feeds my shame.  I don’t knowingly tell myself, “See what I have done. I am a good person after all.”  The telltale sign of this malady may only be a sense of satisfaction, which is natural enough, but the reason for my satisfaction is largely a sense of worth based on my work. 

In short: I have an addiction to effort as a means to gain worth, I cannot live without doing, but each time I do something and feel better as a person, I subconsciously strengthen my addiction.

Let me give an example.  I have said something that has hurt my colleague Mike.  I am afraid of what he now thinks of me, especially because his evaluation of me feeds my doubts of my own worth.  Since love is the best motivation, I tell myself to reach out to him in love and concern for his well-being. These are my conscious thoughts, but underneath, my very value as a person depends on his renewed approval of me.  My fear escalates as I ask for a minute of his time.  Why fear?  Because my worth is at stake.  If he is reconciled by my apology, my fear turns to pleasure.  “See,” I tell myself, “love works!” when in fact I have just succeeded in strengthening a false basis for my worth as a person–I am worthy because of what I do, in this case reconciliation. 

The motivation for what I do is the key.  I can act out of a place of grace or a place of should and shame, though that makes it sound dichotomous when really my motives are always mixed to some degree.  If I complete a chore more out of fear than of grace, I strengthen my doubt in God’s love.  If I act more from grace, I strengthen my faith in God’s love.  But if I am pressured by ‘should,’ how can I respond out of grace?  For me at least, operating out of a sense of should is really responding from a doubt of God’s acceptance, from a sense that his love depends on my behavior, from a fear of being unworthy.  I find that if I do not first challenge the should, face it down, call out its lies of conditional love, then I feed my doubt and insecurity with each task I complete.  I feel better, but am worse for it.

Back to Mike.  If he is unwelcoming, I become defensive–I try to “explain” more clearly, I express my hurt at his response, I point out his matching faults.  Unlike my successful attempt, my failure to win him over suddenly reveals my real motivation.  It was not love, but insecurity. Insecurity will always be present, but if it predominates as my motivation, it will harm me and my relationships.  It may feel better to both of us  if it “works,” but it is a sugar high that eventually leads to diabetes.  I am most aware of my insecurities when my coping mechanism fails, when my “right” actions for self-redemption flounder. If at first I don’t go to Mike, but sit with my insecurity long enough to find saving grace, to believe my worth has no basis in what I do, then I can go to Mike in a way that leads to wholeness for us both.

In certain situations, this time of processing is effective, but often, the longer I delay acting, the more anxious I become.  I am constantly being pressured by a “should,” and this crowds out the emotional space I need to find grace.  In the past I often had to go ahead and complete the task (and so remove the pressure), and then try to deal with the shame-based motivation.   My grasp of grace was not firm enough to escape self-condemnation if I failed to act, but at least being aware of my true motivations was a fundamental step to addressing them.  

To be continued…

Posted March 26, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Redefining Normal   Leave a comment

A blog post well worth reading:

My son Cade is a survivor.

To Cade and the Eight Percent

Eleven years ago this week, Rebekah and I celebrated the birth of our first-born. Despite his Down syndrome diagnosis, we were overjoyed to welcome this new life into our family.

But not everyone welcomes children like Cade.

It’s no secret. People with Down syndrome have been targeted for extinction. In November, the New York Post heralded The End of Down Syndrome and profiled a new, safer test for pre-natal detection. Before this test was available, 92% of Down syndrome diagnoses (and many times false diagnoses) resulted in the mothers choosing to terminate their pregnancies. With these new tests, some experts foretell the end of Downs.

Why the rush to rid the world of people like Cade?

Certainly, it isn’t because his disability physically threatens anyone. Rather, Down syndrome children pose adifferent kind of threat to society—the in your face reminder that our aspirations for “perfection” may be flawed. People like Cade disrupt normal. Whether it’s his insistence that everyone he says “hello” to on the busy streets of Manhattan respond in-kind or his unfiltered ability to hug a lonely, wheelchair-bound, homeless man without hesitation: people like Cade bring new dimension to what normal ought to be.

I’ve been encouraged to see several pop-culture venues putting on display just how normal children like Cade—and the surviving 8%—really are.

I was surprised and delighted when I opened a Nordstrom catalog a few months back and saw a young boy with Downs syndrome posing as a model for children’s clothes. No mention or special attribution was made of it. But there he was, hanging with a few other boys, included as one of the gang. The way things ought to be.

Then again, last month, dozens of major news outlets picked up this story line when the same young model was included in the latest Target ad campaign. One father and advocate, Rick Smith, took the story viral when he posted 5 Things Target Said Without Saying Anything on his blog.

Only two weeks ago on the popular show Glee, a sixteen-year old girl with Down syndrome was portrayed beautifully. Her character showed life as a high school teenager, a member of the cheerleading squad dealing with the pressures of modern teen life. During the episode, you could hear her internal thoughts playing out as the writers took a bold step forward in portraying how it might feel to walk in her shoes.

But these public displays of inclusion are only part of how we counter the extinction of those with Down syndrome.

Why do the majority of expectant parents determine not to carry these pregnancies to full term?

Fear.  [for the rest of this insightful article, connect to http://www.qideas.org/blog/to-cade-and-the-eight-percent.aspx

Posted March 15, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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Chased into the Harbor   2 comments

GOOD TO SEE YOU... FINALLY

 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.

Clinging to Grace with Our Fingertips   3 comments

This is where my story gets hard and healing, frightening and amazing.  First the mess.  My needs displayed themselves in a hundred ways that were threatening to Kimberly and her needs.  For instance, I have often used anger and blame to protect myself from looming danger, but Kimberly was raised by a mother who screamed and shouted, so when I honestly expressed my feelings, her alarm tripped.

Early in our dating we sat for lunch in a restaurant booth in Arlington, Virginia where I was living.  The man in the booth behind us, apparently a construction foreman, was carrying on a loud conversation on his two-way radio.  I muttered to Kimberly how rude this was, which she feared he could overhear, and then I swiveled around and gave him a “dirty look” hoping to shame him quiet.  When I turned back around, she was visibly shaken and said she did not know whether she could stay in relationship with someone with anger issues.  So began the saga of conflicting needs in the area of self-defense, specifically anger.

The machinations of the mind are complicated, so unless this is your experience, you may not understand the root of my anger.  Anger is the result of feeling disrespected, having my boundaries crossed.  As I grew up, my sense of worth grew dependent on the value others placed on me.  If they seemed to devalue me, I was  threatened at my core.  There are many ways folks can protect themselves from this, and one of mine was anger and blame.  When the crew chief raised his voice, I felt disrespected, and in my insecurity, I reacted to protect myself against this threat.

Is This Going to Work?

From childhood, Kimberly has taken the opposite approach of protecting herself by accommodating every one so that she is liked.  When threatened, I bared my teeth and Kimberly wagged her tail.  She was quite successful in acting in such a way that no one would ever get angry with her.  Underneath was her terror of rage and denial of her own anger.   Both of us were living out of fears that we did not recognize, incompatible anxieties, each person’s defense mechanism triggering the other’s fear.  I thought I needed a mate who would be okay with my anger and Kimberly thought she needed a mate that never got angry.  This did not look like a match made in heaven!

But what we wanted was not what we needed.  Let me put it plainly–we each wanted to marry someone who would help us escape our deepest fears.  Our coping mechanisms were not “working” (protecting us from pain), so we wanted a spouse that would reinforce our defenses, not so we could face our underlying issues, but so we could avoid them successfully.  We were both blessed to have a very supportive and accepting relationship…  except when it wasn’t.  She was not trying to expose my denial (the anger that hid my fear), but in simply being herself with me, and I with her, the truth was forced to come out, and it was very painful.  After all, there were quite good reasons why we developed these protective patterns early in life.  Let me relate a very common interchange

Me: “That jerk just cut me off and then slowed down to turn into Sheetz.  That’s really considerate!”  My insecurity is shouting at me that I have been disrespected.  I don’t realize that I feel threatened and fearful because my anger jumps in so quickly to protect me and blame the other driver.  I think my aggravation is his fault.

Kimberly: “Maybe he was running low on gas and saw the gas station at the last minute.”  Kimberly feels her fear rising at my heat, and she jumps in to protect the person I am attacking.  I feel unsupported and shamed.

Me: “He could have easily slowed down and pulled in behind me.”  My coping mechanism is being threatened.  If you take away my anger, I have no protection from being devalued.  I still don’t realize that my true, underlying feeling that needs addressing is fear.

Kimberly: “Maybe he didn’t have time to think of that.”  I feel the legitimacy of her argument.  I really should not be mad.  I begin to feel shame for my temper instead of sympathy, which would give me the safety to look deeper into the roots of my fear.  I shame my anger away, closing the one door to my true heart’s need, and I no longer feel safe sharing my feelings with Kimberly.

Me: “Whatever!”  an irritated dismissal.  Kimberly senses my disapproval of her responses.  She is deeply hurt by my unspoken criticism that she is not supportive and caring, that she is not enough.  I am challenging her one shelter against shame, her remarkable ability to be supportive and empathic.  Her solution for the world’s problems is “Life is so hard, let’s all just get along.”  To feel safe, she needs me to be nice to everyone, especially her.

This dynamic played out scores of times.  We were committed to honesty in sharing our feelings and in accepting one another “as is,” and this characterized our relationship, so we grew more trusting and secure with each other.  The problems came when our needs conflicted, when supporting her meant denying my own needs. But our commitment to love and understanding in the other parts of our lives slowly began to soften these areas of conflict.  Kimberly moved from “your anger is bad” to “your anger is hard for me” to “your anger is understandable” to “I see how your anger is a vital protection.”  I moved from “you are not enough” to “I feel hurt by you” to “I see why anger is a problem for you” to “wow, you have every reason to fight anger.”  This was only possible by understanding ourselves and one another better.  We had to face into our fears and trust one another to listen, understand, and accept us.  We often failed.  It was messy.

OKAY, LET'S TAKE THIS SLOW

Posted October 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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