Archive for the ‘weaknesses’ Tag

Bonhoeffer on Community   1 comment

In a Christian community everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain.  Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable.  A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them.  It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable.  Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak.  The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship. (from Life Together p. 94)

In the current economic/political context I need to point out that “employment” is about one’s role in the body, not about earning a wage.

Posted October 11, 2011 by janathangrace in Reading

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We’re All Broken   1 comment

From one of my all time favorite books, written by a non-christian with deep insight: Expecting Adam by Martha Beck,  a married Harvard student who discovered her fetus (Adam) had Down’s Syndrome.

With Adam, I had more fears than usual to plague me during those long, long nights.  The problem was that it was impossible not to fall in love with him.  It is a frightening thing to love someone you know the world rejects.  It makes you so terribly vulnerable.  You know you will be hurt by every slight, every prejudice, every pain that will befall your beloved throughout his life.  In the wee small hours, as I rocked and nursed and sang to my wee small boy, I couldn’t help but worry.  Will Rogers once said that he knew worrying was effective, because almost nothing he worried about ever happened.  That’s a cute statement, and I’m glad Will’s life worked this way.  But mine hasn’t–at least not where Adam is concerned.  Almost everything I worried about during the nights after his birth, almost every difficult thing I feared would come my way as a result of being his mother, has actually happened.

Thank God.

…….

What my fears all boiled down to, as I sat with my tiny son in the days after his birth, was an underlying terror that he would destroy my own facade, the flawlessness and invulnerability I projected onto the big screen, the Great and Terrible Martha of Oz.  You see, I knew all along that there wasn’t one label people might apply to Adam–stupid, ugly, strange, clumsy, slow, inept–that could not, at one time or another, be justifiably applied to me.  I had spent my life running from this catastrophe and like so many other things, it caught up with me while I was expecting Adam.

In this regard, as in so many others, my worst fears have come to pass.  But as they do I am learning that there is an even bigger secret, a secret I had been keeping from myself.  It has been hard for me to grasp, but gradually, painfully, with the slow, small steps of a retarded child, I am coming to understand it.  This has been the second phase of my education, the one that followed all those years of school.  In it, I have had to unlearn virtually everything Harvard taught me about what is precious and what is garbage.  I have discovered that many of the things I thought were priceless are as cheap as costume jewelry, and much of what I labeled worthless was, all the time, filled with the kind of beauty that directly nourishes my soul.

Now I think that the vast majority of us “normal” people spend our lives trashing our treasures and treasuring our trash.  We bustle around trying to create the impression that we are hip, imperturbable, onmiscient, in perfect control, when in fact we are awkward and scared and bewildered.  The irony is that we do this to be loved, all the time remaining terrified of anyone who seems to be as perfect as we wish to be.  We go around like Queen Elizabeth, bless her heart, clutching our dowdy little accessories, avoiding the slightest hint of impropriety, never showing our real feelings or touching anyone else except through glove leather.  But we were dazed and confused when the openly depressed, bulimic, adulterous, rejected Princess Di was the one people really adored.

Living with Adam, loving Adam, has taught me a lot about the truth.  He has taught me to look at things in themselves, not the value a brutal and often senseless world assign to them.  As Adam’s mother I have been able to see quite clearly that he is no less beautiful for being called ugly, no less wise for appearing dull, no less precious for being seen as worthless.  And neither am I.  Neither are you.  Neither is any of us.

Posted September 17, 2011 by janathangrace in Reading

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Response Part 3: Are Limitations Good?   4 comments

I agree with Elisabeth that “where I am weak is when I get to see God at work,” though I think it might be good to consider what this may or may not mean.  How does God work with or in spite of our weaknesses?  He can certainly override or bypass or compensate for our inbuilt weaknesses when he chooses, but I expect, like any other miracle, it is the exception rather than the rule for him to work contrary to the traits with which he uniquely designed each of us (and the circumstances by which he shaped us).  Not only the abilities, but the limitations he gives us are integral to our design, a key part of who we are.  A car is great for driving, but it is pretty bad at sailing.  If we make a car to also sail, those adaptations will hinder its ability to drive well, which is its true design. 

Allow me to get personal.  I was raised by a mother who was not time conscious and a father who was very time conscious.  This was the source of much contention, especially Sunday morning, and both my mom and dad agreed that the “right” way to be was prompt, which of course meant my mom was inadequate and my dad was adequate.  Dad was organized and Mom was disorganized; Dad planned out everything well in advance and Mom flew by the seat of the pants; Dad was very analytical and Mom was not.  We were taught by both parents that we should emulate our father in all these things, because this was godliness, and thus avoid the weaknesses of our mom.

Most of my life I fully believed this to be true.  My dad even taught a college ethics course that included a section on the moral necessity of being good stewards of our time.  The good ol’ American values of productivity and efficiency were apparently a fundamental part of God himself, handed down to us in his word.  The verses in the Bible about being punctual are fairly meager, so he used arguments such as the injury we did others by being late (“keeping them waiting”), which was both selfish and unthoughtful.  It is more the emphasis than the idea which became a real problem for me.  One could argue that good stewardship of the body requires daily bathing with soap for good health and so make showers a moral issue, but I don’t think I would go there with it.

It was decades later that I started to question this thinking.  I found that examples of godliness in Scripture seemed to have a very different perspective of time, one that did not include minute hands on sundials.  Jesus himself seemed to be much more God conscious and people conscious than time conscious, and he regularly chose to live by the former values at the expense of the last.

I don’t mean to suggest that punctuality is of no worth, but I wonder if it does not fall farther down the scale of true values than most white, middle class Americans would like to think.  I wonder if it is a constant source of judgment towards other cultures and people who value it much less.  Might our insistence on timeliness do more injury to individuals and relationships than our being more flexible with our schedules?  In fact, is too much of a need for promptness a weakness of another kind and is flexibility perhaps a strength?  Do we unnecessarily devalue the traits of some folks instead of appreciating their uniqueness and important contribution to perspectives, relationships and plans?

I find myself valuing strengths in others that I do not have.  But instead of simply being grateful for and blessed by their contribution to my life, I compare myself to them and challenge myself to be like them… and then judge myself for falling short.  I tell myself that I must be as organized, as gentle, as confident, as humble as they are.  These are all good things to work on, but things that do not come naturally to me as they do to others, and in fact, they usually have their own downside.  People who are temperamentally gentle often have a very hard time confronting others; Those who are typically confident tend to be less open to the perspectives of others.*

If I use a lot of energy trying to “fix” these weaknesses I attribute to myself, I not only make no room for others’ contributions to my life, but I end up undermining my own unique gifts.  Others become competitors to me instead of partners, and relationships suffer.  The differences between us that were meant to teach us, unite us and make us interdependent become the very things that drive wedges between us because I expect others to be like me and shame myself for not being like them.

Let's Work Together!

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*Of course, we usually think of humility and gentleness as virtues (moral attributes which are acquired) and organization and confidence as character traits (nonmoral attributes which are given).  So for the purposes of this discussion, let us leave aside the “virtues” and think simply of “traits.”

Response to Elisabeth Part 1: Becoming Myself   Leave a comment

Elisabeth offered some insightful questions on Facebook in response to my post “I Am Handicapped”  She was responding to my comment “We all have handicaps, and we do well to recognize them.  God not only gave us all strengths, but he deliberately created us with weaknesses as well.  I think this was his way of making us interdependent, of tying us together in community.  Our weaknesses are not “bad” things, they are just part of who we are and who we will always be.  I may be able to improve or compensate for my weaknesses, but if I try to quash them or force them into conformity, I am being false to the way God created me.”

Elisabeth wrote, “I have been trying to think what it is that has been niggling at the back of my mind … Anyway, it is a feeling like the “That is just the way I am” statement if received with love and grace seems to be more like “That is out of my comfort zone” “God made me this way so just accept it even though it is inconveniencing or hurting you” … If the other person’s strength meshes with your weakness then that is great… although where I am weak is when I get to see God at work … “That’s just not me” is not off limits to God’s work and purpose. When both people say “That’s not the way I am made” then what happens. A friend told me that when your eyes are “going” (which mine are and I increasingly need reading glasses…smile) that as much as is possible to not use glasses so the eyes will continue to work…If you use the glasses all the time then your eyes just adjust to that. So if someone else “lovingly” steps in and is compensating for my weakness then I adjust to that and don’t trust Jesus to work on it. I am probably not making sense…I am just mulling things through so these are just thoughts on a journey not destination thoughts…”

Wow, she raises so many issues!  Thank you, Elisabeth, I want this site to be interactive.  It seems to me it would be so much more beneficial to all of us if it is a dialogue.  I think this will take several posts to touch on so many things (just to barely touch on them!).  I would like to share my personal journey regarding weaknesses, but the story is so long, I will put that on a separate page for those who have more time or patience or interest.  Suffice it to say here that most of my life I faced personal weaknesses as obstacles that needed to be “gotten over,” to be overcome and replaced with strengths.  I would compare my weaknesses with others’ strengths, setting that as my goal and mentally flagellating myself for falling short.  This belief had multiple downsides within myself and my relationships.

A few of my many weaknesses include forgetfulness, accident proneness, disorganization, and procrastination.  I do my best to compensate for these.  For instance, I am more organized in my work than most folks, but it does not come naturally to me.  Instead of being inherent and well-grounded, it is an entirely jerry-rigged contraption, like a fort built with scrap material by a little boy instead of one made from a manufactured kit by a skilled carpenter.  I have developed multiple props of lists, systems, calendars and the like, but it goes very much against the grain for me to operate this way, so I have to drive myself to it with shame and fear.

Inevitably, in spite of all my efforts, my disorganization glares through, and I fail to do what I am “supposed” to do.  Because my self expectations do not take into consideration my weaknesses, I feel ashamed for not meeting my own standards.  In short, I can only be an acceptable, worthy person by changing into someone I was not designed to be.  I don’t consider what method of work (and what choice of work) may be most fruitful for someone with my characteristics, but assuming that efficiency and productivity are the ultimate goals, I force myself into the system that will best meet these criteria, like David mistakenly trying to get into Saul’s armor to fight Goliath.

Weaknesses are often the alter-ego of our strengths.  In contrast to organization and task orientation, I am more naturally spontaneous, creative, relationally oriented.  By putting all my energy into becoming more organized around projects at work, I tend to stifle my strengths (which limit efficiency and organization).  Of course, efficiency and organization can be quite important, but if I make these my primary, default objectives, I have to ignore and override my natural tendencies which are valuable in their own right and are my particular gift to offer the world.  In contrast, I could use efficiency and organization as supports to my strengths (as needed) instead of a competition with them.  Allowing me to be myself in this way will require those who are more organizationally minded to either be patient with the speed, neatness, and method with which things are done or step in to add their gift of organization (not to insist that this be the paramount value, but just another part of the mix).  In this way we can learn to respect and value one another’s contributions.

Our Needs and Gifts Are Designed to Fit

Posted July 24, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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I Am Handicapped   5 comments

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...Our accident brought some of my handicaps into the spotlight.  First of all, I am not a multitasker in any sense of the word.  I do very well concentrating on one task, but if a second is added, one of them will get seriously neglected.  Furthermore, I get trapped in the mazes of my own brain.  If I am reflecting deeply (which is mostly the only kind I do), I better be engaged in a physical task that can be accomplished on auto-pilot.  My problem is not drinking and driving, but  thinking and driving.  I’m being quite serious.

I can’t turn off my brain unless the activity I am involved in requires my complete mental attention (such as taking a test).  I have often come close to stuttering to the roadside on empty because I can only force myself to think, “Stop for gas!” for about 30 seconds before I am off in some other world.  On the way to the lake last week, my wife suddenly asked me if I had taken the right exit… I couldn’t remember.

I guess this has been a problem for some time, since Kimberly tells me that when we first met, I drove straight through a red light without realizing it… I don’t remember.  The one area where it has come out most prominently in my driving is failing to notice things ahead that require me to slow down or stop.  I do fairly well on my own, though it regularly calls for an uncomfortably quick stop, but when I get further engrossed by conversing with Kimberly, I am downright dangerous.  Many times Kimberly has had to warn me of things up ahead which I am approaching too quickly.

The accident forced me to realize that it is not enough for me to try harder to concentrate on driving, but I really have to take a serious action step.  I haven’t talked to Kimberly about it yet, but I think when we are driving in traffic together, she needs to be behind the wheel.  I usually drive because she prefers not to.  Also, as I told her on the way back from our accident, “I’m only 50, but I’m going to have to start driving like a geezer.”

A second serious handicap of mine is that I don’t notice the need for a change (in practical matters) unless I am forced to see it.  I will be semi-conscious of a problem, but will keep performing the same old routines without ever consciously making a decision to do so.  It niggles somewhere on the outskirts of my mind, and may take a very long time, sometimes too long, to burrow up to the level of conscious deliberation.  I “should” have realized this driving issue as a real problem and looked for a solution long ago.  We knew it was a problem, but it never occurred to me to make a significant change… I just kept trying to do better using the failing system.

I’m not beating up on myself.  I put “should” in quotation marks because I don’t really think it was negligence on my part; it is part of who I am.  We all have handicaps, and we do well to recognize them.  God not only gave us all strengths, but he deliberately created us with weaknesses as well.  I think this was his way of making us interdependent, of tying us together in community.  Our weaknesses are not “bad” things, they are just part of who we are and who we will always be.  I may be able to improve or compensate for my weaknesses, but if I try to quash them or force them into conformity, I am being false to the way God created me.  I have believed this very late in life and have suffered a great deal for not recognizing it earlier, but that must wait for another post.  As L’Arche says, the world is not divided into those with handicaps and those without; we are all disabled and badly in need of the gifts of others.

Posted July 13, 2011 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

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