Naked and Unashamed

Some day, I will stand bare before you.

Tender. Vulnerable. Exposed.

And I will be safe.

Accepted. Cherished. Loved.

Not because you have created a safe place for me,

But because I have.

Rina Marie

30 Days of Poetry, Day 18

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More thoughts on judgment…

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“I know who you are.”

Directed at me in anger, the statement takes me by surprise. By what form of clairvoyance, I wonder, did this person obtain such extensive insight into who I am, considering we’ve only had a handful of conversations in the past five years? I certainly don’t know him, so how is it that he knows me? The truth is, he doesn’t. The truth is, none of us really know ANYBODY.

Yesterday I wrote about judgment. Today, I realize that part of my judgment of people comes from the fact that I believe I know them. Especially if they’ve been in my life for a long time, I believe I have insight into their motivations and often assign blame for intentions that, in reality, I don’t know they actually have. Because the truth is that all I ever know about anyone are the parts of themselves they choose or are able to present to me. I am familiar with the Jon who lives in this house, the Jon who is my husband, the Jon who is the father of my children. But I know nothing of the Jon who shows up to work each day. I don’t know the conversations he has or the advice he gives or what kinds of things he laughs about. It’s very likely I would be surprised by that Jon. We’ve all experienced the thought about a loved one: “I can’t believe they did that!” These are the moments when what we think we know about someone runs dead into who they actually are.

Each of us exists in the minds of everyone we know as a different version of ourselves. In the minds of our friends, we may be outgoing and free-spirited while in the minds of our coworkers we are serious and hard-working. My best friend’s version of me might be caring and compassionate, while someone I have deeply wounded might see me as judgmental and hateful. We play the villain in some stories while in others we play the hero. Some of these versions are closer to the real truth of who we are than others, according to proximity and time spent together, but no one knows the fullness of who we are, which is, I think, why God says He judges the inside and not the outside.

I realize today, after hearing my loved one state so categorically that he knew who I was: I am guilty of the same mistake. I, also, assume that I know the people in my life, simply because they’ve been around for a while. I, also, assume I know their internal motivations simply because I have so often witnessed their external actions. I, also, assume the version I have of them in my mind is who they really are. And today I realize that any time I begin an internal dialog with the words “he just thinks…” or “she just wants…” or any other assumption about someone’s thoughts or motivations, I need to be very, very careful of the thoughts that follow. Because I DO NOT—AND CANNOT—KNOW what is going on within someone else’s heart. I might be able to take a good guess, depending on my level of interaction with them, but I can never be certain.

Our thoughts have consequences and we live the consequences of the stories we tell ourselves. We lock ourselves into certain mindsets by those stories, and can easily sabotage ourselves and our relationships. We can cast ourselves and others into the roles of victim or hero, oppressed or oppressor, villain or saint or martyr or warrior, and we get to keep those roles. No one is going to take them from us, and we will experience all the ramifications of those beliefs, and suffer or thrive accordingly. This experience reminded me that I must be very, very careful about making assumptions regarding someones internal state. Better not to make assumptions at all, but if I’m going to, I think a good rule of thumb is:

Don’t declare things as true unless they’re good for you.

That is, unless the outcome of my assumptions are greater understanding, compassion, and empathy–unless they take me to a place of peace and joy and love–it’s best not to use them as the building blocks with which to construct my worldview. It’s best to allow myself, as I mentioned yesterday (and also HERE), to live in the unknown and remember the advice a good friend once gave:

Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

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Related Articles:

The Bad Guy

Misunderstanding

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The Bad Guy

“My life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”
–Steve Brown

“I am so angry with you! I feel like you don’t even care!”
“That’s not true! Did you know…”
And with that, my loved one began listing everything he’d recently done to show his care and compassion.
And I panicked. I was actually afraid he’d reveal information which would force me to admit I was wrong about my judgments of him. Because the truth is, I wanted to be angry. I wanted him to play the role of villain in my story.

Today as I sit and think about this response, I wonder: why does my brain automatically want to make someone the bad guy? Why is it that within the plot of any good story, there must be an antagonist? It occurs to me that we as human beings are hard-wired to see the world in black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. But what if this itself is wrong? What if this is simply a coping skill that, although effective, keeps us from connection? Blame and anger and hurt and resentment and hate are so much easier to reach for than compassion and love. It would have been much easier to cast blame and wrap my story up with a nice little bow, shove it into my prefabricated understanding of the world, and compartmentalize everything in a way that made sense to me. Talking it through and putting myself in someone else’s shoes, striving to see the world through their eyes, and being willing to admit when I’m wrong forces me to constantly re-work my understanding of the world and MY GOD, how exhausting and frightening that is!

We are creatures of comfort. We’re biologically hardwired to take the path of least resistance to avoid pain and struggle. But just as being willing to experience and learn from pain is how we grow, being willing to do the work that leads to compassion—putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, seeking to understand, or (most difficult of all) accepting the fact that we never will understand—is how we love.

We may never know the motives behind someone’s actions, never get the whole story, never have all the facts. I realize now that being willing to stand in the place of confusion and accept that I may never understand is a much better place to live than the illusion of certainty that judgment provides. It’s not an easy place, but it’s much better—much more compassionate—to live with humility in the unknown than to try to force things to make sense by building a foundation of half-truths and assumptions.

But what about when we do know the whole story? What if there really IS a “bad guy” in the sense that someone did something horrific that led to the pain and harm of others?

The bible speaks of judgment in two different ways:

“You will judge a tree by it’s fruit” (Mat 7:16).
“Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

I wish the English language had different words for these two forms of judgment, because the first speaks of a healthy form (which I will call discernment) based on someone’s actions, and the second speaks more of a hateful, self righteous, finger-pointing kind of blame, based, typically, on what we believe about those actions. We need discernment. It’s how we form healthy relationships and create appropriate boundaries. But we typically take the path of blame to get there, assuming we know the internal motivations behind the actions and judging/blaming them accordingly.

Judgment/blame from this place of anger, hurt, and resentment keeps us disconnected and is the place I was judging my loved one from in the beginning of our conversation. Compassionate discernment and the willingness to acknowledge that people are doing the best they can might lead me to the same conclusions about the wrongness of their actions (ie. Hitler’s best was evil) but it also enables me to discern that person’s actions while still loving and having empathy for them. I imagine it’s the way God sees us—what He means when he says nothing can separate us from His love. Because God can see that we do evil, but can somehow, almost inconceivably, continue loving us. Maybe it’s because he loves us from this place of being able to see that we really are all doing the best we can.

“God does not see what man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord sees the heart.”
–1 Samuel, 16:7

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Related Articles:

Misunderstanding

Pain, the path to freedom

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Evergreen

We’re all growing,
stretching,
reaching for clouds,
dropping our leaves with the fall of our faith
and budding again with the spring of new hope;
trying so damn desperately to belong
that we haven’t yet learned how to stay evergreen.
But if the only place we ever belong is to ourselves,
and the only peace we ever make is with ourselves,
it is enough.
It is as it should be.

Rina Marie

30 Days of Poetry, Day 17

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Freedom

I started this poem many years ago after losing a good friend, and have since adapted it several times to reflect on other relationships. Today I re-worked it once more with every person I’ve ever attempted to change for in mind, but one, especially: my own internal critic…

I’ve read the pages of your story.
I’ve examined the words,
the inflections,
the pauses,
the silences.
I’ve made my life a study of yours.
Poured myself into a mold I thought would please you.
I thought small meant safe
and limits were love
and confinement was commitment.
But now I swell and spill and surge over the edges.
I see the sun
and I am fascinated
by its warmth,
by its light,
by the way its rays dance across my skin.
I must learn to love this new illuminated, illimitable woman.
Unconditionally.
Unapologetically.
I will no longer be the one who reads you.
I will be the one who writes.
My own story.
I move,
one tentative step after another,
toward freedom.

Rina Marie

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Dad

(In an effort to avoid confusion, please know that the dad I speak of here is my dad Richard, not my dad Rick. I never called Richard my “step” dad, except on occasion to distinguish between the two, because he WAS my dad. He was just as much my dad as my dad by blood. Together, they raised me. Together, they walked me down the isle. Together, they helped make me who I am.)

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For as long as I can remember, my dad has been reading every article I’ve ever published, and although I haven’t posted much publicly about his passing, I could not write anything new here without acknowledging him. I thought about him every single time I went to write something for this blog: “I wonder what he’ll think about this?” or “I hope this makes him proud” or, when I wrote on topics like sex or body image, “oh, geez, my dad is going to read this!” Ha!

And I know, some where, some how, he’s reading this right now with a smile on his face, laughing out loud at all the right parts.

I love you, Dad.

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He taught me how to ride a bike
and and kick a soccer ball
and play checkers
and bake a sweet potato pie.
We jumped in leaves
and sled down hills
and roasted marshmallows
and played countless games of Atari Pole Position and Wheel of Fortune.
He climbed a tree to catch my bird when I left his cage open
and quizzed me on my spelling
and bought me flowers when I passed the test.
He took me riding
and hiking
and fishing
and trick-or-treating
and entertained me with endless games of Don’t Smile.
He promised he’d buy me a horse if I didn’t smile
but I never could resist smiling at him,
not even for a horse.
He was my biggest fan
A constant support in everything from writing to music to farming to gardening.
He bought me my first computer
my first five goats,
the fencing we needed for our cow,
the trees we planted in our garden,
my first pair of riding boots,
and a real suede winter coat during my first winter in New York,
because that’s what I wanted,
even though he was financially struggling at the time
(I didn’t know this until years later.)
He texted each week, just to check in.
He read every childhood story I ever wrote
and every article I ever published
and laughed at all the right parts of my stories.
He offered the best advice
and gave the biggest hugs
and told the corniest jokes
and ran the fastest races.
Even in his sixties.
Even against my teenage children.
He played guitar
and taught Kung fu
and worked with the homeless
and made me feel safe.
Always safe.
Even as an adult.
Because he was there.
Always there.
To help, to support, to lean on, to share his wisdom.
As a child, he was my world.
As an adult, he helped me shape it.
Thank you, Dad.
Thank you for your life.
Thank you for your love.
Thank you for making me better.
Softer.
Kinder.
Wiser.
For the miracle of you in my life.
For the privilege of sharing it with you.
I love you.

 

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Anam Cara (Soul Friend)

Barriers down borders annulled
Life opened to each other
An invite to the secret place
We dare not show another
You come to me in hunger
I go to you in thirst
We share the fullness of our hearts
And fill ourselves with truths
We dare the risk of being known
Drop all raiment of pretense
And let ourselves be intimate
Beyond our layers of defense
Complete surrender soul to soul
Our secret selves unbound
Tender hearts lain bare, exposed
We stand on holy ground

Rina Marie

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