Monthly Archives: September 2016

I’m Gonna Build Me A Wall

I am one of those people who loves metaphors.

God knows, I am plenty verbal.  (Ask anyone who knows me: I will talk your ear off!) Nonetheless, when I need to learn something or teach something to someone else, I look for images or metaphors that will help explain the concept.  Visual images that represent a concept are great because they can gather meaning as time goes along, representing multiple things as you learn more about the concept/subject.  Images that can do this are “multivalient.”   It’s a bizarre made-up word that I learned in seminary that means “more than one meaning” and it only reinforced my desire to use images to represent concepts.

On to our subject for today: WALLS.

I’m a counselor, and when counselors talk about walls, we are usually talking about emotional blockades that people use to keep others at a distance emotionally.  We talk about refusal to be vulnerable and to “let people in” so that they can know the “real you”.

That’s not what I’m talking about today.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about walls, mostly with the focus of keeping undesirable people OUT; walls as a means of keeping the ‘good people’ safe from the ‘bad people’ who want into our country and our economic system.

That’s not what I’m talking about either.

I like to talk about walls when I talk about relationships, especially romantic relationships, and most specifically marital relationships.  The reason that I do that is that so many people have misconceptions about what it takes to make a marriage last, to truly succeed as a couple.  I tell the couples that I am working with that a good love connection is going to be a lot like a really good brick wall.

Here in Arizona, most of our fences are concrete block walls or brick walls, so you see freestanding brick walls in almost every neighborhood.  Every now and then you find a block wall that has collapsed, scattering bricks or concrete blocks as well as chunks of mortar all over the sidewalk and the yard.  On a rare occasion you will find bent rebar (the metal bars used to reinforce block walls) still sticking up out of the ground with a few blocks still intact at the bottom, held in place only because of the rebar.  That’s a rare occurrence, mostly because walls reinforced with rebar don’t ‘collapse’ per-se…usually something happens to bring them down, like an uprooted tree falling on the wall.

What does that have to do with relationships?

Well…block walls are usually built of bricks and mortar, and occasionally rebar. Each of those things represents something crucial to a successful marriage. Let’s start with the bricks.

When it comes to relationships, the bricks represent the common morals, values, and priorities of the couple.

It is very important to have shared morals because it means that behavior that is forbidden for one of you is forbidden for the other, and behavior that is considered laudable for one of you is considered laudable by and for the other.  For instance, the animal rights activist is never going to want a fur coat as a gift from their spouse, no matter how cold the climate they live in, or how much of an expression of love their partner might think that would be.  You might think that shared morals is a given, especially when your partner seems like such a good person, but it takes exploration to suss out the finer points of morals.  Do you cheat on your taxes? Do you take office supplies from work?  Do you lie…to anyone? When is that acceptable and why? Do you support abortion rights? Would you ever opt for an abortion in your own life? What do you do if your child is profoundly intellectually disabled? Would you ever put a child in an institution?  What if you become really rich?  Do you give a bunch of money to charitable organizations? Do you ever give money to family members?  What do you think about helping out adult children with financial issues?

See what I mean? Morals aren’t as easily determined by daily behaviors as we think they are.  Of course, your partner’s daily behaviors say an awful lot about who they are and what their morals are, but you have to ask the hard questions…and answer them yourself as well.  I am consistently shocked by the things my clients reveal that they didn’t discuss before they married…and that topic always comes up because of the problems they are having in their marriage now.

Commonly held values and priorities are also important and act as the bricks in your marital wall.  Let’s use work as an example. Work should hold the same value and your careers the same level of priority for both members of the couple.  This doesn’t mean that one of you can’t stay home to take care of the children, because that is another thing entirely and has to do with your beliefs and values (and priorities) around raising children.  However, a lack of common values and priorities around work can lead to one partner frustrating the other by working long hours for an extended period of time, or by repeatedly changing jobs or careers.  The first illustrates a difference in the how work is valued as a priority, and the second a difference in the value of stability and commitment to career.  Money is another area where common values and priorities are really important, because money is frequently a subject of conflict for couples. One partner usually wants to save and invest and the other partner is more prone to spend and the truth is that there needs to be a balance of both saving and spending as well as financial responsibility focused on a saving for retirement and aged years. This kind of stuff can create major rifts for couples and long term resentment, and these are two things you never want developing in your marriage. In the end, having similar values and priorities allows you to act in concert and support each other as decisions are made and changes occur.   Both of you will feel equally respected and equally committed to each others goals, since after all, those goals will be driven by common values and priorities.

So…you’ve got the bricks to build your wall because you share morals, values, and priorities.  Now you need mortar, and sex and intimacy are the mortar in a relationship.  What separates a partnership/ marriage from a regular friendship is the level of intimacy.  Friendships might have a great deal of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intimacy and the more there is of those three things, the closer and longer lasting the friendship will be.  I frequently tell couples that the best thing they can do is become really good friends as well as lovers, because their friendship will get the relationship through difficult times when they don’t feel as ‘in love’ as they used to be.  The ‘in love’ thing is what brings the flush of sexual intimacy to the fore.  Sexual intimacy takes the other three levels of intimacy and deepens them significantly, and then it ices the cake, so to speak.  Sexual intimacy creates an incredibly strong bond because it’s hard to hide from your partner when you are naked and being sexually expressive. It is the deepest and most private form of intimacy, and I truly believe that it is sacred. Maybe I’ll blog more about that another day, but for now I just want to say that sexual intimacy becomes the mortar that holds all the bricks in place, that brings the wall to a level of cohesion and stability that other relationships cannot reach.

We’ve all had friends who were really good at the sex thing but who lacked commitment to the other person in the relationship. You can call this commitment issues; you can call it “friends with benefits.”  I call this an example of someone trying to build a wall out of mortar alone.  You can do it…you can mound up your mortar and try to build a wall, but it won’t last through any serious storm.  The difficulties that life brings will inevitably cause the wall to slowly disintegrate and crumble.  This is why marriages based in chemistry alone don’t work for very long.  The sex is great and for a while the couple can use the sex to cover up the growing divide between them, but eventually no amount of sex is enough to cover for what isn’t there: real friendship, along with common morals, values, and priorities.

So what’s the rebar for? Well…rebar is there so that the wall can’t be toppled easily.  Like I said, my neighborhood is full of block wall fences, and occasionally they collapse…usually due to harsh weather.  Walls with rebar in them, however, tend to remain standing until something specific happens—something like a car crashing through the wall, or a tree falling in a monsoon, or someone purposely trying to tear the wall down. This is because the rebar is driven into the ground below the wall to anchor the wall and the rebar acts as an internal support for the bricks and mortar.  In a relationship, rebar is made from a common spirituality that often establishes many of the common morals and values.  In my marriage, the rebar is our Christian faith.  When life gets rough, my husband and I turn to God for support and we openly discuss the evidence we see of God’s action in our lives.  We encourage each other in our faith, and when we are struggling, we pray together.  I’m not saying that a couple without a common faith will fail; that simply isn’t true, since those couples have shared values, morals, and priorities and hopefully deep levels of emotional and intellectual intimacy, as well as a robust sex life that builds their wall tall and strong.  However, having gone through quite a few “storms” that tried to tear down the wall of my marriage (a child addicted to cocaine and opiates, the death of both of my husband’s parents, a severely ill child, etc.) I can tell you that a common faith will strengthen the union in ways the common morals, values, and priorities as well as sexual intimacy simply cannot achieve.

Having said all that, my mind wanders to a certain politician that thinks that building a wall will solve some of our problems with Mexico and its citizens. Perhaps he’s right, but only in the sense that focusing on our commonly held values, morals, and priorities might bring us to a much closer relationship that could change everything.  It would be a wall built of bricks alone, as many friendships are…and honestly, it could change everything.   Maybe he’s right. Maybe we should build a wall, one that no one would have to ‘pay for’…but wouldn’t it be worth everything?

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All The Things I’d Tell My Daughter

My daughter is getting married in November, and there are so many things I want to tell her about marriage that I don’t know where to begin.  It’s not that she hasn’t been witness to her parents’ marriage for her entire life, but so much of marriage takes place behind closed doors or simply away from the children’s eyes that I’m sure there is plenty that she hasn’t gotten a chance to witness.  I have been trying to write it down in some meaningful narrative, but it isn’t working.  I have tried several times to parse the many things I’ve learned in 28 years into a concise story but I haven’t managed to write anything really meaningful. This morning I thought it might work better if I separated the information into the early years, once we had children, etc.  And so here we have:

The First Year

Everybody tells you that this year will be the most difficult, and they are right, but if you’re lucky it won’t seem that way until you look back after 5 or 10 years of marriage.  The first year is quite a lot of fun but there are a lot of things to work through before you can settle down into the long-term work of marriage, which is staying married. More on that later. For now, it is important to pay attention to a few things that you may not have discussed prior to marriage…things like gender roles.

You moved in together before you got married and you’ve probably fallen into one of the more common expressions of gender roles in dating: she does the dishes and the cleaning and laundry and thinks nothing of it, and he does an occasional load of wash or dishes and thinks he’s Mr. Wonderful because he’s helping.  It can stay this way for years if you let it, but I encourage you not to do that because one day you will have kids and if you think you are busy now…you have no idea.  Spend some time discussing how the work should be divided, and don’t be afraid to be bold when telling him that no, he is actually NOT doing an equal share of the chores.  Men, especially men who didn’t live on their own before moving into a committed relationship, often have no idea what it takes to run a household.  They have no idea what it costs financially and what it costs in time and effort.  He had his chance to live like a bachelor (read this: in filth, eating crap food) prior to his marriage and if he didn’t take that chance, too bad for him.  He’s going to be a married man now and it is time for him to learn how to pick up a rag and clean; how to fire up the vacuum cleaner and sweep; how to run a dishwasher and how to run a washing machine without ruining the contents of either machine. You will be a much sweeter wife if you don’t feel like his maid, and never underestimate how good he will feel when you listen to your girlfriends complain about their lazy live-in boyfriends and then state that you “don’t put up with any crap like that” because your husband is a good man. To quote my mother, “Get ‘em young and bring ‘em up right!”

On the other side of that coin is this: if he is genuinely trying to help you, give guidance but don’t criticize unless he is only giving a half-ass effort.  Many men want to help their wives but find themselves victims of the “can’t do anything right” syndrome that overtakes women when they get used to running a household.  If he loads the dishwasher wrong, so what? If he folds the clothes wrong, re-fold them.  If he folds the clothes wrong and you have to iron the entire load because of that, coach him…repeatedly.  And remind him: if his ‘work’ around the house creates more work for you, that isn’t sharing the load. That’s punishing you for making him do work around the house.  Only the occasional man will be that rude and ignorant, and if yours turns out to be that variety (which I sincerely doubt) you need to kick that lazy bum to the curb.  Otherwise, coach, gently, and thank him for every single thing he does for you, even if it isn’t done the way you would do it.  Be grateful for each and every single thing he does because each and every thing that he does is something that you don’t have to do.  This is how you keep yourself in the gratitude zone.  It’s easy to take your partner for granted, and you will have to work on that the most after the first year, so start early and be grateful consistently, even when he is simply doing the jobs he agreed to do.

Take time to discuss needs for privacy and private time.  No matter how much you love him, you will need time alone.  And I mean, TIME ALONE, not time to be out with your girlfriends. You need time for that kind of stuff too, but time with friends does not substitute for time alone.  The thing is that you and your wonderful husband won’t have the same needs for time alone.  He might not need much and you might need an hour every day.  If you don’t discuss your needs for time alone, he might think that you are being rejecting, or that he’s angered you.  Discussing what you need and how you need it is a great way of putting yourself in context for your partner.  When your father and I traveled to China we were in a tour group and I would get overwhelmed by all the noise and lack of time alone, and so I would put in my earbuds while we were on the bus and zone out while staring out the window. It wasn’t until later that I found out that your poor father thought I was angry with him every single time I put in my earbuds and ignored everyone including him.  No context means no way to understand your partner. You would think that after 20 years of marriage that your father would automatically understand me, but NO…that’s unrealistic. Your father still needs some context to understand me, just like I need context to understand him. Tell your husband what you need and make sure you take time to listen to his needs for time with friends, time alone, and time with YOU.  By the way, no one should have to explain WHY they have a need.  Needs are needs and who cares why?  No one should have to justify themselves unless they are opting for illegal actions…and that’s a whole other topic.

Sadly, it won’t take long for the two of you to get past the initial flush of love and marriage and settle down into the daily humdrum.  Life is boring and mundane; at times life is hectic, chaotic, and painfully difficult.  Those wonderful and intense feelings that you have right now when you are around him will pass, and when they do, you will find yourself wondering if that means something is wrong with the marriage.  The answer is: probably not.  Love, much like life, gets boring and mundane.  Love is NOT a sentiment felt in the heart…at least not for long.  Love starts as a sentiment in the heart, and then love becomes a set of choices you make based on a commitment you made before God and your family. Love is a choice you will have to make again and again, multiple times a day.  Choosing to act in loving ways and choosing to take time to work on the relationship will yield years of joy with each other.   If you don’t put work into the relationship, it eventually will die like an un-watered plant.  The thing about plants is that even when they are well-cared for and watered consistently, most of the time they aren’t in bloom.  There’s nothing showy or eye-catching about them.  The ‘plant’ of your marriage will be much like that, in the sense that you will need to give your marriage daily attention and most of the time it will still feel kind of mundane and somewhat boring…and then there will be seasons where it blooms and your marriage will feel like the most amazing thing ever and all the emotions you had in the beginning will be there and you will feel them as surely as you feel your beating heart. And there’s another great metaphor: your marriage and your heart are much alike.  Your heart beats in your chest all day long and most of the time you don’t really notice it—but fail to take care of it and you will notice it right away!  You will have to devote time and effort to the health of your marriage just like you need to devote time and effort to your own health.  What I’m trying to say is: DON’T JUST BE MARRIED. Actively work to be a couple growing together and you will find that your marriage is one of the most satisfying things in your life.

Shortly before your father and I married, a friend told him that marriage is either the best thing that ever happens to you or it is hell on earth.  On a related note, many of your father’s friends told him that he better be prepared to give up his sports car, his hobbies, and sailing catamarans on Sundays.  Thank God those two messages came at the same time, because your father shared both of those messages with me and I decided two things simultaneously: 1) I was going to have a ‘best thing that ever happens to you’ marriage and 2) that I absolutely refused to make your father give up all the things he loved just because he married me.  That turned out to be a great decision, because many years later your father told me that one of the things that made him happiest in our marriage is that I encouraged him to do the things that he wanted to do: learn to fly a sail-plane; make stained glass windows; go back to get a second master’s degree; learn to blow and fuse glass.  Part of being ‘the best thing that ever happens’ to your spouse is encouraging them to constantly grow and learn; encouraging them to challenge themselves; being their biggest cheerleader; and not holding it against them when they fail.  This doesn’t mean that you give your husband a pass to do whatever he wants no matter what it does to you financially, or that you don’t ever hold him accountable.  That is unreasonable and foolish.  On the other hand, criticizing him for failing doesn’t really change the failure and doesn’t help him figure out how to move on and succeed in the future. Letting your husband explore his interests keeps him interesting to you and encourages him to stay young and keep expanding his life and his mind.  Treat yourself in the same way (and ask him to treat you the same way) and you will have endless numbers of reasons to talk to each other and listen to each other and share your separate experiences with each other.  It doesn’t hurt that your marriage becomes the reason that you do interesting things…because for many people their marriage becomes the reason they stop doing anything interesting at all.

And that’s a bunch of what I learned the first year I was married. Obviously I wrote this for my daughter, but if it helps you or anyone you love navigate the early stages of marriage, that’s great!  I probably left at least 20 things I learned that first year off of this list…mostly because I couldn’t remember them all when I sat down to write this.  You can count on a few more installments on this in the future, although I promise not to post one blog entry for every year that I have been married.  No one needs to read 28 posts on marriage, not even me.

How Can Feeling so RIGHT be so WRONG?

Anger is a poison you drink hoping the other person will die.   Unattributed

Anger.

It’s everywhere!  Part of it is the political season, but lately it just seems that anger is the emotion du jour.

Anger, by itself, isn’t really a bad thing.  It helps you express your opinion and your frustration, often loudly and forcefully.  But the whole thing about anger is that you are supposed to speak your peace and then be done…let go…get over whatever happened and get back to normal, which for most people means getting back to contentment and maybe even happiness.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for everyone.  Or more accurately, that is not how some people choose to deal with their anger.

I regularly deal with clients who live in a perpetual state of anger, constantly reciting the wrongs done and the righteous indignation that comes from being wronged over and over and over.

I don’t really blame them for their anger.  After all, things actually did not go their way and they did get hurt…there are real reasons for their anger.

But why in the world would anyone want to be angry all the time?

There are lots of reasons.

Admit it: there is a certain amount of self-justification and righteous indignation that go with being angry.  It is very affirming to know that you are RIGHT when the other party is SO WRONG.  And can we admit that being angry is very energizing?  I know several women who pour their anger into cleaning frenzies that leave the entire house spotless while leaving them spent, with no energy left to feed their anger.  It’s a great way to burn off all the jagged hyperactivity that anger can bring, especially if you want to avoid pouring your anger out all over your kids or your partner.  I have indulged myself with more than one cleaning frenzy since I got married and I have warned my husband to never try and stop me because no one should have to deal with me when I’m that angry.  Besides, a clean house is a nice thing. So get out my way, don’t talk to me, and LET ME CLEAN!!

There…I feel better now.

Every angry client I see says the same thing: I can’t let it go. What they did was so wrong. I can’t seem to get over it!  And I respond the same way every time.

Anger is a secondary emotion.  Anger is the human version of a dog growling and baring its teeth…and dogs do that when they are afraid or in pain.  Humans become angry to cover three emotions: pain, sorrow, and fear.  We use anger to gird ourselves for battle despite our fear and pain, and to cover our grief with energy for action.  After all, when we are afraid we want to do whatever we can to eliminate the reason for our fear.  When we are filled with grief and sorrow we want to stop whatever caused our grief (thus groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Stand Up 2 Cancer, etc.)  When we are in pain, we want to lash out at whatever and whoever is causing our pain.  Thus…anger and all the energy it brings.

Anger is a great emotion, created by God to help us take action (when we need to) to get out a bad situation that is causing us fear, pain, or sorrow.  Anger is very useful, and the energy that anger brings is often exactly what we need to get through a difficult moment.

However, anger is supposed to be a temporary solution.  We aren’t supposed to stay there, lingering in our anger, simmering like a pot constantly on the edge of boiling.  We are supposed to use our anger while the threat still exists, and then move on to processing the underlying emotions that fed the anger.

Counselors have a saying about emotions: Feelings are like farts. It’s best if you let them out, even though it will be unpleasant for a while.  Suppressing your feelings is as bad for you as trying to hold in your farts: eventually they will come out and it will always be at the wrong time and it will always be messier than you want it to be.

Emotions are also a lot like water: if you give them air, they will eventually evaporate.  Unfortunately, anger has to bottle up the fear, pain, and sorrow in order to gain its energy; as long as the anger continues, the fear, pain, and sorrow cannot evaporate at all.  The thing is that in order for the anger to stop, you have to choose to open up that bottle and pour it out, and most folks don’t want to do that. And who would blame them?  Fear, pain, and sorrow is that they are really unpleasant emotions.   Even worse, when you are dealing with fear, pain, or sorrow it can feel as if you will always feel this badly, that you will always be stuck in this agony, unable to move forward.

Of course, that is a lie.  For some reason we are deeply aware that happiness and joy are fragile, passing emotions that can be swept away from us by circumstance. Despite this awareness, we often act as though our pain, fear, and sorrow can trap us, keeping us locked in misery for the rest of our lives.

Maybe we believe this because we’ve seen people who seemed to live in perpetual misery.  Dealing with them is another blog post entirely, but for now let’s just say that anyone who lives in perpetual misery has allowed a single emotion to become their identity…but they CHOSE to have that emotion become their identity.  It didn’t happen by accident.  They invested in keeping that particular emotion alive. Thus the person you know who is always angry for one reason or another: they have chosen to let anger become their identity.

So what does this have to do with you?

When you find yourself stewing over something, constantly mulling it over and replaying the argument or the situation, take some steps to kill your anger.  Remember, you have to choose to open the anger bottle and pour it out.  Here are a few techniques to help you:

Ask yourself:

  • Is there some action I need to take? Realistically, is there anything I need to DO before I let this go? Do not include things like giving someone a piece of your mind, or giving them a taste of their own medicine in this list.  Valid actions would be having an honest discussion with the other person, or looking up the relevant rules and laws surrounding the situation.  In other words, angry actions do not belong on this list.  Pick actions that could potentially create a solution to the situation.
  • What am I feeling besides anger? Am I afraid of something bad happening? Am I hurt or embarrassed and therefore lashing out? Does this situation make me deeply sad?  What ELSE am I feeling?  This one could take some time because often we go straight to anger without really giving ourselves time to feel the fear, sorrow, or pain that started up our angry reaction in the first place.  This is an exercise in getting in touch with your own self and your own needs.  It can be difficult, so be prepared to journal, to give yourself time in silence, to pray, and to talk with a friend (not about your anger!) to clarify your feelings.  Ask yourself: what am I afraid of in this situation? What do I stand to lose? (grief/sorrow) What does this situation mean about me? (pain)
  • Take a moment to honestly assess what could go wrong if you don’t stay angry. What do you stand to lose? For instance, if staying angry means that you stand up to someone who is trying to take illegal action, then stay angry for a while and go back to #1 and decide what you need to do.  And let me be clear: letting go of your anger doesn’t mean that what the other person did or said is okay.  Letting go of your anger has nothing to do with the other person at all.  Your emotions are your own and no one else is feeling them.  They may know that you’re angry and it might even matter to them, but you staying angry doesn’t make them decide that they were wrong.  Your anger isn’t a punishment to anyone, but if you hold onto it long enough it will become a punishment to you.

Most important to remember is that most human beings don’t do what they do in order to hurt you, scare you, or make you sad.  If you have people in your life who actually do things just to make you hurt or be frightened…leave them!  Leave them now!  That kind of behavior is sick and disordered and you need to remember that is not just my opinion; I’m a counselor and I’m telling you that people who hurt you and scare you on purpose are disordered and sick. Normal behavior is mostly self-focused, and when the average person behaves they are simply meeting their own needs even when the behavior seems directed at YOU.  Personalizing someone else’s behavior or words makes about as much sense as believing that guy who lives across the street brushes his teeth in the morning to make fun of you.  Stupid, isn’t it?  Yep…so stop believing that your partner leaves their shoes and clothing all over the house because they don’t care about you, or believing that the guy in the next cube turns his music up too loud because he’s trying to piss you off.  No…they are simply choosing not to perceive how their behavior impacts others, which isn’t great, but it still isn’t behavior done on purpose to hurt you or make you angry.

Do yourself a favor: don’t drink the poison.

Are You Sure You Want to Say That?

This week has been a hard week of watching one unkind thing after another, mostly on Facebook or the news.  I would love to say that I can rise above it all but I can’t simply because of one thing: the dang Christians.

I have been a Christian my whole life and I know, and have experienced, Christians making terrible mistakes and doing incredibly stupid things.  I have been blessed not to have been deeply damaged by those ‘stupid things’ but that’s mostly because I had very loving and kind parents who provided me with plenty of love-based Christian teachings that countered all the judgmental, ‘holier-than-thou’ crap that I experienced at the hands of others.

Nothing beats good parenting when it comes to overcoming the slings and arrows of growing up in the Church.

And then…I became a pastor.

After I began doing ministry, I began to understand at a much deeper level the immense damage that Christian leaders can do to the community with judgmental words, with words of condemnation, and with the way that they dismiss the experiences of others they deem ‘not Christian’ or ‘not truly Christian’, thus rendering those realities and the people that experienced them insignificant.

What in God’s name are we doing?

Over and over again I am confronted with horrible words posted on Facebook by church leaders and pastors who supposedly preach the love of Christ while condemning anyone who doesn’t believe and behave like they do.  Some of them even condone violence!

Over and over again I am assaulted by news reports of another church leader or pastor arrested for horrifying crimes…some financial, some sexual, some for crimes against children.  I could swear that I remember Jesus saying that it would be better to tie a millstone around your neck and drown yourself in the sea than to lead a little one astray.

I’m getting the feeling that we’ll be able to build a pier with all the Christians tied to millstones that we’re going to find, if you know what I mean!

One of my clients brought up another incident in session the other day, and I guess the look on my face shocked her. She said that I looked like I was going to cry…and she wasn’t far from the truth.  I have come to the point where my heart actually aches and cries out to God when I hear reports of cruel and unloving Christian behavior, especially when that behavior comes from a pastor—the very people that God called to lead His children, to guide them in the way that leads to peace.  How can we tear apart the very people we were called to shepherd?  How can we not see the carnage we leave behind and the people we destroy?

My reaction shocked my client. I guess she didn’t realize just how deeply her words would affect me. She started to apologize for upsetting me and I told her that she had done nothing wrong. I had simply come in contact with another example of what is wrong with the Church.

You see, we are all broken people. We come into the world whole, but then circumstance and losses and the failures of the people who are supposed to love us start the cracks forming…little cracks that over time can develop into huge broken areas in our souls.  And as life goes on, losses become tragedies that define our lives, events we can neither escape nor undo, and our own choices add to the sorrows that break us.  Sometimes our choices become the tragedies that we cannot escape and we become our own worst enemies.

At some point in our journey in this life, the world itself starts to tear us apart one chunk at a time, labeling us ‘Not Good Enough’ or ‘Worthless’ or ‘Ugly’ or ‘Stupid’ or (insert racial epithet here) or (insert gender based insult here) or (insert sexual orientation based insult here)…  It goes on and on, and each negative label tears us apart a little more.

In the end, we end up broken and torn, un-whole and aching, wondering what we did to deserve what life has dealt us.

The funny thing is that our lack of wholeness isn’t really that problematic if we will simply own our broken and torn places and then seek out the healing places.

I’ll try to explain what I mean, but I need you to be patient for a moment.

Most of us are aware that Alcoholics Anonymous groups use the 12 Steps to guide recovery from addiction.  What you may not know is that there are also 12 Promises that they count on as they recover, and I have found one of those promises to be crucial to my own sense of wellbeing.

“#10 Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.”

At first you may think “What does that have to do with this post?”  More importantly, what does this have to do with our broken and torn souls?

Well, when you read the fuller text of the 12 Promises, it tells you that you no longer have to fear people and economic security because really, what you are fearing is not having enough…not enough friends, not enough money, not enough acceptance, not enough stuff, not enough wisdom, not enough information.  Promise #10 is that we will no longer have to fear all the things that people and money can bring or deny us.  WHY? Because…within the group (in the case of the 10th Promise, they are referring to the 12 Step group) we will find everything we need.  Essentially, the promise is that within the group, we have everything we need.  Do you need a truck so that you can move?  Ask the people in your group.  Do you need someone to help you sort through some feelings? Ask the people in your group. Do you need to borrow a mixer so that you can bake your child a homemade birthday cake?  Ask the people in your group.  Do you need comfort because you’ve realized the magnitude of your brokenness? Reach out to the people in your group.

Within the group, we have everything we need.

In our lives, we group together with friends, family, Church members, coworkers, colleagues, neighbors, even with something as simple as the folks in our yoga class. We have tons of groups we participate in.  And each member of every group is broken and torn. Some are broken and torn in the same way that we are, and some are broken and torn in different ways.  The people that are broken and torn in the same way truly understand how we feel, and the people who are broken and torn in different ways are often strong exactly where we are weak and they can offer us someone to lean on.  Do you see?  Within the group, we have everything we need!

I think that this is why Christ founded the Church.

The Church is supposed to be a place where you take your wounded, broken soul and find peace, healing, and love.  You are supposed to find unconditional acceptance inside the Church and people who will walk with you along the path to finding a relationship with God and a deeper love for yourself; one that reflects the abundant love that God has for you. When you love yourself in the right ways it’s so much easier to love everyone else in the right ways.  Christ wanted us to be able to turn to the Church to find our group…the people who understand us perfectly because they are familiar with our particular brokenness, and the people who can help us understand what things might look like if we weren’t broken or torn in that specific place—people who can be strong while we wait on our healing, while we discover what love can do.

This is why it breaks my heart and hurts so much when pastors use their position and power to judge, to condemn, to be the force in the world that breaks and tears and stomps and does damage.  We have enough sickness in the world to do that already and we don’t need the people of God to help the sickness and hatefulness along, you know?

If you are one of the people who has been broken and torn by the very people who were supposed to love and nurture you, by the Christians who were supposed to help you find your path to God, please accept my heartfelt apology.  It was never supposed to be this way, and you have no idea how much it hurts me to know that the Church failed you.  Let me encourage you, however, not to give up…because God has way more up His sleeve than you can imagine and there are many wonderful people in the world, both inside and outside the doors of the Church.  Look for your group—the one that will love you for the broken, torn, beautiful creation of God that you are—and then set about becoming part of what makes it possible for the group to have everything you (and the rest of the group) needs.  Don’t just take, because no matter how broken you are, God has not failed to fill you with good things that have been kept hidden just for a moment like this.  The fantastic stuff that is you cannot be destroyed by the world. It can be broken, and it can be torn, but it cannot be destroyed and God delights in making treasures out of the brokenness that we bring Him…and it works best when we do that with a group of people who are willing to be a living expression of God’s love to us while we wait on our healing.  This applies as much to pastors as it does to everyone else: find your group and let yourself be healed in the most wonderful ways.  And don’t be surprised if the group you find is inside the Church, because there are just as many wonderful people in the Church as there are holy terrors.

If you are one of the pastors who is doing the breaking and tearing, know that I cry for all you were called to be and have abandoned.  You have bought into the lies of the Enemy, who tells you that your power and your false righteousness are impressive to God.  Trust me: you and I cannot impress the God who created the entire universe, and God has no faith in our ‘righteousness.’  If he did, He never would have sent Jesus. The proof that your ‘righteousness’ is worthless is hanging on the cross, bleeding and dying for all the damage you’ve done.  It’s not too late.  Abandon your righteousness and own your brokenness and you can be healed…or admit that you love the blood on the edge of the blade of your self-righteous words far more than you love the man on the cross.