A Good Day

Someone recently told me that I had ruined their day. My immediate feeling was shame and sadness, and in the past I would have felt guilty and horrible about this. I would have scrambled to figure out how I could fix it and make it better and, if unsuccessful, would have spent DAYS feeling sad and scared and ashamed. But today I am doing none of these things.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been through some incredibly humbling experiences that have made me realize that if I do not figure out some way to start taking control of my own emotions, rather than expect others to change in an effort to appease them, I am going to ruin my own life. I have been thrust into a crisis moment where it has become critical for me to find a way to accept that it is MY responsibility—and mine alone—to regulate my feelings, think through the stories I’m telling myself, and pay attention to how my reactions affect me and those around me. And today I realize with stark clarity that if I am in charge of my own emotions, then I must also allow others to be in charge of THEIR emotions. Rather than enter into the shame cycle or adopt the criticism of others as fact, I must fervently defend my own self-worth.

So today when I was told that I had “ruined” the day, I reminded myself that I don’t have that power. And instead of spending the rest of my day in fear and worry and shame and sadness, I will spend some time honestly looking at the part I played, apologize where/if necessary, and then move on. I will trust the love of the person whose feelings are hurt to enable them to find empathy and understanding, just as they always have. And I will trust in the power of taking ownership of my own feelings to allow me to have a wonderful day.

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Healing Through Revealing

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I healed myself through telling the truth all the time.
—Elizabeth Gilbert

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“You don’t have to tell them EVERYTHING.”
“Can’t you just do it and not say anything about it?”
“Just lie.”

For the past few years, I’ve been working hard on being honest and transparent in all situations, and the results of this have not always been pleasant. I have made people angry, been forced into difficult and painful conversations, and lost several loved ones along the way. Some of those who know these stories have often given the advice, above, and I’m sorry to say that too often I have taken it. Especially in the last few months, things in my life have been hectic and fraught with the disapproval, anger, and disappointment of loved ones, and I have, little by little, reverted to old patterns of—if not exactly lying, at least slanting the truth in ways geared toward revealing only those parts of the truth I knew wouldn’t result in pain. The funny (not-so-funny) thing is that although this has helped me to avoid pain, it has not brought me peace. The opposite, in fact. It seems the more I have reached for peace over the last few months, the more illusive it has become. I didn’t understand what was happening to me until recently, when I picked up a book by Martha Beck, The Way of Integrity, and the following words practically leapt off the page to settle directly into my heart:

“When we deliberately leave our own truth, we live in a foggy world where nothing we experience feels trustworthy or reliable, because we ourselves aren’t trustworthy or reliable.”

This is what had happened. I had left the truth.

Not in huge ways, not even by deliberately lying, but by hiding. Hiding little bits of truth or slanting truth when I knew revealing everything would result in pain. Brad Blanton, in his book Radical Honesty, says that when we tell the truth, we are free simply by describing what is so. I had built myself a cage.

There is only one way out, that I know of, and that is to do what Elizabeth Gilbert calls an “integrity cleanse.” It is to do what I described in an article I posted over a year ago:

Speak the truth, as kindly as you can.

Every goal (or every goal I can think of that has dominated my life for the past few months) must come secondary to this one. I must lay aside my efforts to keep the peace, make people happy, play by the rules—even the goal of building good relationships must come second to speaking the truth (a good relationship can only be build on a foundation of truth, anyway, and any relationship I must lie or hide to keep is an unhealthy one). In short:

I must be willing to pay the price of whatever truth may cost me.

This means telling people I don’t want to talk when I don’t answer their call, saying “I don’t want to come” rather than making up excuses, letting people in—even just a little—when asked how I’m doing and the answer is not “fine.” It means no longer hiding parts of me I’m ashamed of or embarrassed about, revealing things people might not want to hear, risking the loss of relationships that full disclosure could destroy. It means sharing things I know could cause anger, resentment, pain, etc. and no longer taking on the responsibility of other people’s emotions.

Because I have experienced first-hand the peace that comes from honesty and the discord that comes from hiding. And I am convinced it is only in revealing the truth that God can lead us, on step at a time, in the direction we are supposed to go. I am convinced that truth is the only door that leads to peace.

“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Christ.”
—Ephesians 4:15

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Related Articles:

The Truth Will Set You Free

Be Free

 

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Learning to Drive

The one complaint I’ve received from every partner I’ve ever had is that they never feel good enough for me. Not only am I an overthinker, I also incessantly worry and battle constant fears that—despite all evidence to the contrary—I am not loved. When these fears rear their ugly heads, I look to my partners to “fix” them for me, constantly bringing every concern I have to them in hopes they’ll change to make me feel better. On the healthy side, this makes me extremely sensitive to my partners needs as well as my own and passionately committed to doing all I can to create the best relationship possible. On the unhealthy side, this can manifest much like obsessive compulsive disorder because of the way I feel that every fear must be spoken of immediately, every negative emotion must be fixed as quickly as possible.

I once wrote a poem about this, which lists actual journal entries from a two year relationship. It includes things like: “She didn’t answer my text; I feel like she doesn’t care. She got off the phone early; I feel so rejected. Why hasn’t she kissed me? Why is she sitting so far away? Why is she so quiet? Why did she make that face? Is she angry? Is she happy? Is she sure? Is she confused?” These are the types of the things that go through my mind, constantly. The things I want to talk about and want my person to fix. Text more often, talk longer, kiss me at every opportunity, hold my hand, sit next to me AT ALL TIMES. No wonder no one ever feels good enough. I’m much like the unwise woman described in Proverbs 41 who “tears down her house with her own hands.” And so, my therapist is now helping me learn an important lesson:

I must allow myself to be uncomfortable.

I’ve written about this, before, but it seems a lesson I keep returning to over and over again in various ways. I must allow myself to accept the feeling of discomfort. To recognize that not every thought must be acted on, not every fear must be fixed. I try to be patient with myself. After all, I adopted this fear as a response to trauma and in an effort to avoid pain, and it is as much a part of myself as all the good qualities I have. But I must also learn that this fear is not allowed to control my life. As Liz Gilbert said in a letter she once wrote to fear:

“I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life and that you take your job very seriously. Apparently, your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting, and may I just say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize that you are part of this family so I will never exclude your from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps, you’re not allowed to suggest detours. You’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

I am learning–slowly, haltingly, and with quite a few bumps in road (and the help of a partner who has been much more patient than I deserve)–to drive.

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Related Articles:

What if pain is necessary?

What if pain is a place brave people visit?

Staying On the Mat

 

Posted in Fear, Love, PERSONAL | Leave a comment

Willow

“My life is better when I work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can.”
—Brené Brown

I recently heard about some judgments that have been passed against me by various people in my life, and it has left me feeling bruised and raw and aching. The thing is, I don’t blame them for their judgments. In fact, they more clearly help me appreciate the fact that God looks on the inside, because from the outside my life is damn-near perfect. Inside, however, I’ve been going through some incredibly difficult things, and I’ve been forced to face some major things inside myself that need healing and doing the often-excruciating work to get there. But in addition to feeling grateful for the knowledge of God’s love in the midst of my many, many mistakes and failings, I am also feeling extremely humbled.
Because in the same way that others are judging me, I have been judging someone in my own life. I have looked at the ways this person treated me and I have been hurt, angry, resentful, and bitter. I have positioned myself in a war against this person and seen them as an enemy to be defeated rather than a sibling-in-Christ to be loved. Over the past few weeks, I had all but stopped seeking to understand and moved into a position of self-righteous judgment where I could sit upon my moral high horse and look down from a distance at which I felt safe.
Today, I am reminded that the solution to anger and resentment is never to move away but to move closer. To find a way to connect and seek to understand. To be brave enough to walk through our own pain in order to understand the pain of another. The truth is, we are all doing the best we can. Sometimes our best sucks. Sometimes other people’s best sucks. But today I have been gifted a reminder—a reminder that for every external action I see, there are thousands of internal hopes and dreams, fears and wounds, which drive our decisions. And I am reminded once again of the importance of loving people exactly where they are.
Even when it’s hard.

Others may never change, but WE can. And when we do, we become like the branches of the Willow, which allow the wind to bend them, and in doing so, ensure the wind will never break them.
— Wind in the Wilderness

Posted in Criticism, Forgiveness, PERSONAL | Leave a comment

What Would Jesus Do?

In the 20+ years I have known Jesus, I have always loved worship music. But lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve been having a stress reaction to certain songs due to the treatment I have received from a few people who claim to be His followers. It’s a foreign feeling to me, and paying attention to it has been an interesting process—one that has caused me to wonder: if this is how I’m feeling about something I’ve always loved, how must it feel for someone who has never known God? If my physical body is having a negative reaction from the unkind treatment of just a few Christians, what must the psychological repercussions be for those facing unkindness and even hatred from the entire Christian church? What happens to those who have been treated THEIR WHOLE LIVES the way I have been treated only recently? What happens when a stress reaction, not just to worship, but to to the mention of GOD HIMSELF becomes normal? In how many ways are we “shutting the kingdom of heaven against men” (Mat 23:14)?

I am no innocent in this regard. I, also, have rejected people I perceived as “living in sin.” That sort of unkind treatment and social shunning must make some measure of sense to most of us, because the thing Jesus was most often accused of—the thing people got most upset about—was that He hung out with sinners. Everyone expected Him to reject and act unkindly toward those people, perhaps in an effort to manipulate them into repentance. But Jesus remembered something we often forget: No one crawls out from under condemnation to become a better person, and no one draws closer to God while drowning in disapproval.

What I am seeing now, that I am ashamed to say I did not see until experiencing it first-hand, is that not only is this kind of treatment ineffective, but it can also produce the opposite affect: instead of helping people OUT of sin, we give them MORE to struggle against. I am currently SEETHING with an anger I did not have, before, and I find myself struggling with the most horrible, hateful thoughts—struggling to maintain even the smallest measure of compassion and empathy. There are times when it takes everything in me not to retaliate. But at the end of the day, I’m left with an age-old cliché, one that constantly stops me in my tracks and forces me to reconsider my responses:

What would Jesus do?

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Today, I Choose

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”
–Maya Angelou

I tried to hide something from a loved one this weekend. For the second time. And the the hard thing about this is not just the hurt I caused or the trust I broke, but also something they said, afterward. Something I am sorry to admit I have heard before:

“You talk so much about honesty and transparency and here you are, doing the opposite.”

And the thing that hurts so badly about this is that I BELIEVE what I say and write about honesty and transparency, and falling so horrifically short of the practices and I am constantly, constantly trying to encourage others to adopt makes me feel like the worst possible failure. Especially when it causes pain. Especially when it damages trust.

And so today I spent some time looking over what has led to this behavior, and I realize it all comes down to fear. I hide because I am afraid. Afraid people will judge me, afraid people won’t like me, afraid people will be angry.

Brene Brown, a leading researcher on the subjects of shame and bravery, says we develop courage when we choose to be vulnerable. She says that if we are brave with our lives, we are guaranteed to “fall, fail, and get our asses kicked.” And this is SO HARD. We’ve all experienced so much pain and suffering and trauma; we’ve all experienced SO MUCH REJECTION. But I am still convinced, despite my failure to live up to my own convictions, that truth is the most important thing we can offer the world.

So, in the words of Brene Brown:

Today, I will choose courage over comfort. I can’t make any promises for tomorrow, but today I will choose to be brave.

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Related Articles:

The truth will set you free

Be free

Is it True?

No, honestly

 

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What if pain is necessary?

“Instead of constantly working to get comfortable in my relationship and feeling that something is wrong because I can’t ever quite get there, I can relate with instability as a strange invitation to remain awake in love. So if you were ever thinking ‘When am I ever going to get comfortable in this relationship?’ I invite you to consider that the answer might be ‘Never.’
I’ve come to think that the most deeply loving gesture I can make with my relationship is to tolerate my own discomfort; to recognize my feelings and leave the story behind; to cease and desist from threatening my husband with consequences should he fail to be the person I need him to be rather than the person he is.
There is something magical–yes, magical–about this discomfort. You are right there, never quite in your comfort zone. There is no possibility of falling asleep. You are always a tiny bit on the edge, as if you are trying something new for the very first time. When it comes to love, this is not such a bad approach. Brilliance and inspiration and everything fresh are discovered on this edge, including how to open your heart beyond what you ever thought possible. This is the noble experiment of love.”
–Susan Piver

 

If I were to write a mission statement for every relationship I’ve ever been in, it would go something like this:

“Cultivate a relationship in which we both seek to understand the other and work toward never hurting each other.”

Sounds like a damn good goal to me. After all, I certainly don’t want to hurt my person, and I don’t want to be hurt, so why shouldn’t that be the goal? But over the last few weeks, I’ve come to understand something:

My partner is never going to be able to keep from hurting me.

I mean, sure, there are things she can do to avoid hurting my feelings and things she can do to make me feel loved, but I have never yet been in a relationship where pain wasn’t present, and working to avoid pain and trying to make my partner change to keep me from feeling it has only ever led to distance, discord, and, eventually, a breakup. Yesterday, as I thought about this, the realization struck me:

I have accepted work as a necessary part of loving someone. Can I accept pain the same way?

Granted, not all pain ought to be accepted, and some differences are too great to overcome, but when there are things my person needs that put me in that place of pain, can I stop and ask myself whether it’s a pain I’m willing to accept for her sake and for the sake of our relationship? What if there are things my person needs that will hurt me? What if there are things she wants in her life that—rightly or wrongly—cause me pain, and if I were to ask her to give those things up, I would be placing her in a position of losing something important to her? If I make pain avoidance my goal, I am left with only two choices:

A. Force her to give up the things she needs and wants or
B. End the relationship.

But what if there is a third choice?

What if I can accept pain, for the sake of love?

What if that’s part of what Jesus meant when he said:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.)

I can’t help but think that Jesus meant something much more than physical death. After all, very few of us are ever placed in life or death situations with our friends, but how often does giving someone what they need involve sacrifice? How often does love mean laying aside our own desires or preferences for the good of someone else?

What if pain is a price we pay for unconditional, sacrificial love? I wrote this years ago, but I don’t think I fully understood it until now:

“I’ve come to believe that pain and love are bound together in our experience of this world. I’ve come to believe that the only way to truly accept love is to accept the pain that necessarily accompanies relationships with fallible human beings. God’s own love for us was made manifest on the cross of Jesus, through unimaginable suffering and the ultimate sacrifice of his own life. I think true love is the act of laying our hearts wide open and giving others not just power, but permission to wound us. To resist the temptation to close ourselves against the very people our soul wants most to open up to. To allow ourselves to experience pain not as a force of destruction but as a refining fire.”

What if pain is not just unavoidable? What if it’s necessary?

 

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