Tag Archives: Good Enough

It’s Not About You

My friend saw an article about marriage on the Internet the other day and wanted my opinion.  The article was from Relevant, a Christian magazine, and it was titled “Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness.” **

My friend asked me to read the article and then give her my opinion.  She felt as if the article basically stated that marriage is about giving and your happiness shouldn’t be a factor. I can see how she might see it that way, and it would be easy to read the article and think the author was advocating for endless self-sacrifice for the sake of your partner.

And she is advocating for endless self-sacrifice…but not in the way you think.  I think a quote from the author might clear things up a bit.

“I heard a married man on TV say (regarding whether or not he was going to stay in his own marriage), “I shouldn’t be with someone if I’m not happy.” It’s an attitude many people have, and hearing it made my stomach turn.

What an accurate reflection of the self-centered society we live in, everyone believing their main goal in life is their own personal happiness. What a small and shallow way to live.

If you’re getting married with your own happiness as your main goal, you will be disappointed in a severe way.

Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about love—which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving—and then doing it all over again.”  **

You can see how my friend, who has been in a few failed relationships, would question the author’s assertion that happiness is what marriage is about, especially when you consider that it was her unhappiness that finally gave her the strength to leave her spouse.

But the author’s main point is summarized easily. “If you are getting married with your own happiness as your main goal, you will be disappointed in a severe way.”   You got that straight!  As a matter of fact, when my husband and I were getting married, a thrice married coworker of my husband told him “Marriage is either the best thing that happens to you or it is hell on earth.” Again, you got that straight!

Before I can proceed, I probably need to state a few personal beliefs that I live by, because without stating that, I stand to be just as misunderstood as the author of the article mentioned above.

  1. You are responsible for meeting your own needs. The only time someone else assumes that role is while you are too young or too old and feeble to care for yourself. Any other time, you are fully responsible for yourself and meeting your own needs.
  2. You are responsible for making yourself happy. We human beings essentially choose our own emotions based on our thoughts. No one can ‘make’ you feel anything until they have a gun pointed at your head…then they are capable of forcing you to feel something, which is usually crushing fear and desperation. Most people don’t have a gun pointed at your head, which means that no one can ‘make’ (force) you to feel anything, which also means that someone else cannot ‘make’ you happy. If you want to be happy, that’s your responsibility.
  3. You are responsible for contributing to the health and stability of your partnership/ marriage, but remember that you are only ½ the team. If one member of the couple no longer contributes to the health and stability of the relationship in any way (and they are doing that on purpose, by choice, and not because of terminal illness or disability) then you are NOT in a relationship at all.

Okay, having said all those things, the author is right. Marriage is not about your happiness.  It’s not that marriage cannot contribute to your happiness, because it can.  But marriage, in itself, is not about making you happy.  Saying that marriage is about your personal happiness is akin to saying that going to college is about your personal success.  Sure, going to college can contribute to your personal success, but if you go to college and then sit on your butt and refuse to work hard and continue learning, you are probably going to fail in the long run.

What I’m trying to say is that getting married isn’t a magic tonic that confers ‘happiness’. Marriage is a commitment that requires you to sacrifice for the sake of your partner which, by definition, will sometimes not be a happy thing. That’s why it’s called SACRIFICE. Shortly after my husband and I moved to Phoenix, my favorite band announced their tour dates and their date in Phoenix fell on the weekend of my husband’s 10th high school reunion in Indiana. So, which is it? See my favorite band in concert, or go to Indiana with my husband who wanted me to meet his friends?   When it came time to decide, I had two thoughts. First, there is only ONE 10th reunion, only one chance to go back to high school and laugh in the face of everyone who called you nerd-boy, now that you are a successful engineer with a nice house and pretty wife. Second…oh hell, there is no second point. I decided to be a wife and go to Indiana with my husband. I missed the concert and it made me unhappy to do so, but 27 years later what I value was that I chose my husband’s happiness over my own that day. It’s not always about his happiness when I sacrifice for him. I have cared for both of his parents as they died, and that was definitely NOT about happiness. Again, it was about choosing to be a wife, to be the woman who sees my husband’s needs and does my best to meet those needs. It would be a bitter pill to swallow for me if I was the only one who sacrificed in our relationship, but my husband constantly sacrifices for me. This is the man who paid for my seminary education so that I could follow God’s call. This is the man who committed to go wherever the bishop sent us, no matter how that would impact his career. This is the man who stopped on the way home from work one night to fix my parent’s leaky tub…and brought a huge flower arrangement to leave for my mom because my father was in the hospital after having had a stroke that morning. She came home from the hospital to find the flowers and no leaky tub…and he never said a word to me or to her about what he was going to do.  I call that choosing to be a husband, choosing to see be the kind of man who sees his wife’s needs and does his best to meet those needs.

And that’s where the happiness in marriage actually comes in.

When we sacrifice for each other, it’s not the sacrifice itself that leads to feelings of happiness. It’s that the sacrifice is tangible evidence of the depth of our commitment to each other, our desire to serve each other, and our deep desire to have a positive and lasting impact on our spouse. We love each other and so we strive to make the world a better, softer place for our partner. It’s not that different than the feeling we have when we sacrifice for our children. We know it’s the right thing to do and we know it’s hard, but we also desire for our kids to feel secure in our love and care for them; we want them to feel safe in the world simply because we are there to help them. Marriage is about creating a deep sense of being loved and valued for who you are; it creates a sense of security and safety.

Marriage is a strange exchange. It calls for you to become less self-centered even as it forces you to take responsibility for your own happiness and for meeting your own needs. It simultaneously calls for you to be invested in emotional, physical, and spiritual self-care, while asking you to give and serve and sacrifice for your partner. When both members of the couple behave in this way, marriage becomes a haven of rest and release and true contentment and peace; it is the place where you can be truly vulnerable and frail and know that you are loved.  A good marriage is like Miracle Grow for the soul.

When only one member of the couple is willing to practice self-giving, it becomes a hell of endless servitude and diminishing of self in the service of your partner’s throbbing ego, which demands adoration and abject devotion.  The marriage becomes destructive to the serving partner who can never give away enough of themselves to satisfy their partner; it is truly psychologically damaging, and I have spent many hours working with the broken partner from an unequally yoked marriage. Inevitably it is the partner with the larger ego who always speaks the words “I shouldn’t be with someone if I’m not happy.”  The lament of the self-giving partner is also inevitable: “It was never enough, no matter what I did.”

If you are reading this and realize that you will never be enough, no matter what you do, get help and if you can, get out. It’s not about your happiness. It’s about your SELF. God created you and you are enough, and anyone who causes you to believe otherwise is slowly destroying your soul. Don’t let anything, no matter how precious it is to you, destroy you. You are of sacred worth and you deserve to be whole and healthy; destroying your soul in the pursuit of making your partner happy is not the road to health and wholeness. Please, get the help you need, and then get out of that relationship.

If you are reading this and wondering if you will ever find someone capable of giving to you in the same way that you are willing to give, then I encourage you to just keep working on yourself. Become healthier and healthier. Work on the condition of your soul and on the peacefulness that can be found in gratitude, faith and mindfulness. Work on being as responsible for yourself, your needs, and your happiness as you can possibly be.  It is important to know that we draw partners to ourselves that have similar levels of emotional health and wellness, so the healthier you are, the healthier your partner will be.  Can I be sure that there is a partner for you?  No, I can’t. What I can be sure of is that any work you do on yourself pays off in dividends that are reaped across your lifetime with friends and family as well as in your relationship with your partner. So get busy making your life into a wonderful place of self-care, responsibility, gratitude, faith, friends, and service…and then see what comes your way. You’ll already be happy, so it won’t be like you’ll be waiting for a partner to make you happy.  So why would you need a partner? Because…why not?

**  https://relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/marriage-isnt-about-your-happiness

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I Promise

For all the parents out there…hang in there. It gets better. I promise.

Parenting is a thankless job that requires you to act wisely and lovingly even when you don’t feel very wise and you’re starting to wonder why you chose to breed at all.

Parenting requires you to do the right thing no matter how inconvenient, exhausting, or expensive doing the right thing is going to be.

Parenting requires you to hold firm to boundaries and rules even as your children scream that you are ruining their life.

And of course, you are ruining their life…at least the life they think they should have.

The problem with parenting is that there is nothing to give you that smug sense of assurance that you have made the right choices, held firm at the right times, and bent the rules in the right ways. There is no way to be sure that the parenting choices you have made will lead to a happy, healthy child.

In so many ways, parenting is a crapshoot.

Maybe you throw a 7, and maybe you crap out. ***

And the big fear that hangs over every parent is that your child will grow up, look back at their childhood, and declare you a bad parent.  The fear is that they’ll remember the discipline and not the lessons, the punishments and not the good times, the fights and not the nights spent at their bedside when they were sick.

Hang in there, parents.  It gets better. I promise.

Today my oldest daughter called me to thank me, saying that she had recently read that children gain confidence in themselves from their interactions with their parents.  She wanted to let me know how much she appreciated her father and I and how much time and attention we gave her.

I want to make this clear: I was not a stay-at-home mom, and her father wasn’t a stay-at-home dad.

We both worked full time.

Then Phil started graduate school just before I got my call into ministry. I quit my job and went to seminary full-time while Phil worked full time and attended one class per semester at ASU in pursuit of a Master’s in Computer Science Engineering.

Five years later, we graduated within 7 days of each other, having done a ton of creative things to get through the grueling 5 years it took for both of us to graduate.

My seminary was in California, so I had fly to school every week. I was gone for two days each week while Phil had to do everything and I do mean everything: he had to deal with both kids, his job, and all of his homework. It damn near killed him and there were many semesters when he was so busy that he felt exhausted and on the edge of tears almost every day.

And the kids?  They don’t remember how tired and emotional their father was. They remember that when I was gone at school, their father would pick them up from aftercare program and take them straight to the library where they would return last week’s books, pick out new books, and then listen as their father read to them for a good hour. Then they would go the park next to the library and play on the playground, where Phil would morph into the Tickle Monster. He would chase the girls and they would run (and scream…you can be certain that they screamed enough to drive a grown man crazy) until they were tired and hungry. Then he’d take them to Taco Bell for tacos or burritos and then home for a bath, more reading, and bedtime.

Trendy parents might scoff at the quality of the food he fed them for dinner, or the repetitiousness of the playtime. Other parents might complain that dad seemed more like a babysitter doing the “good time” stuff while mom got the laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping.

What my daughter told me was that while I was away, she and her sister soaked in their father’s undivided attention and adoration.  They became dyed in the wool “Daddy’s girls”…and both of them still idolize their father to the point that I actually apologized to my son-in-law when he married my daughter.  That might explain why he almost immediately moved her to Oregon. Hmmm…

ANYWAY…

You might wonder if my relationship with my daughters is tense and distant considering that I’m the one that kept leaving the state to go to school.

Nope.

In fact, I am very close with both my girls.

My oldest daughter said that she remembers spending summer breaks with me. I took her and her sister to swim team and dive team every day and then we’d rush home to watch I Love Lucy while we ate our lunches.  They’d spend their afternoons playing inside while I did laundry and cleaned house in between spates of doing homework.  When I had free time, we would make homemade jam or bake brownies together. Basically, I made food while they made a mess and then I got to clean it up.  My daughter said she could not imagine how I didn’t go crazy sitting there for hours in the heat and humidity (hello indoor pool) waiting for them, while they got to swim and dive and have fun.  Then she spent twenty minutes going on and on about how much fun it was when we would buy bagels from Einstein’s, and then go home and make homemade veggie cream cheese.

Listen parents: what I’m trying to tell you is that you are harder on yourself than your children will be when they look back. They won’t remember how crazy busy you were, not if you took a minute or two to braid a friendship bracelet with them, or to be the Swim Mom, or to be the library Dad. They will remember the times you danced in the Walmart aisles because a good song was playing, or the times you played nail salon, or the times you watched their favorite movie again and again.

You don’t have to be a perfect parent.

You don’t have to give them everything they want.

You don’t have to let them break the rules and get away with murder.

All you have to do is…

Be yourself.

My husband and I didn’t do these things because we are such spectacular parents. We did what we did because it made it easier for us in the midst of a very difficult time of our lives. It’s what helped us smile even as we were crushed under the load of work, kids, housework and homework.

Hang in there, parents! I have good news!

You are enough after all, and the likelihood is that your kids will one day tell you so, right to your face.

Hang in there. The good stuff is coming, I promise.

 

*** In case you’ve never heard of Craps    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craps#Rules_of_play

Florescent or LED?

Matthew 17:1-13

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11 He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

This is one of those passages of scripture that I cannot read without giggling. Seriously…I lose it when I read this passage.  If you aren’t in the mood to indulge my stupidity for a moment, be kind to yourself and skip ahead a few paragraphs to the point where I say “Back to the topic at hand.”

Okay…ready?

First I want to call him Jesus Christ Glow Stick or just Glow Stick Jesus. It’s as if Jesus was normal all this time and then he bent over too far and ‘click!’ and the glow stick part of Him was activated and he got all bright and glowy “and his face shown like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.”  This is the point where I start thinking that marketing folks could use Glow Stick Jesus to advertise the whitening properties of their detergent. “Transfiguration Tide…for clothes that are dazzling white!

Then I start imagining Glow Stick Jesus at a rave and all the little ravers, drugged up on Ecstacy, oohing and ahhhing over Jesus’ glowing visage. It makes me wonder if Jesus is able to glow in any other colors than ‘like the sun’, because if He can glow in different colors, that would be a major money maker.

Then I start wondering about Peter. What is wrong with that man? Your Lord and Savior turns into a glow lamp and two historical characters appear in front of your eyes, and the first thing you do is offer to build them each a house?  The least Peter could have done was to fanboy for a few minutes over Moses and Elijah, but NO…he goes all Bob the Builder on them to the point that God has to get involved and tell Peter to shut up and listen to Glow Stick Jesus.

Okay, God didn’t quite say “Shut up and listen to Glow Stick Jesus” but you get my point.

Finally…I have always wondered how the disciples knew that the two guys who appeared next to Jesus were Moses and Elijah.  Unless God requires the residents of Heaven to wear name tags (which makes Heaven sound like a convention or a senior center) then there has to be a couple of lines of scripture missing where the disciples say “Who were those guys?” and Jesus tells them that he was talking to Moses and Elijah.

And this is where I go from stupid to serious.

I’m a little stunned that Jesus forbade Peter, James, and John from telling the other disciples about the Transfiguration. Why would He do that? Why would Jesus set certain disciples apart from the others to have special knowledge about life after death, which would provide a huge amount of consolation during the crucifixion.  After all…Peter, James, and John just saw Moses and Elijah…two guys who had been dead for hundreds and hundreds of years and there they were, alive and well and speaking to Jesus. That’ll change your point of view when it comes to believing in life after death, and it would certainly change your experience of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus if you had already seen someone vividly alive after their death.  I feel like Jesus cheated the other disciples just a little. I don’t know why He would do that, and I have to trust that He knew what He was doing, but it still seems kind of unwise and even unkind to the other disciples. Don’t you wonder what seeing the transfiguration would have done to change Judas’ mind?

But that’s a blog post for a different day.

Back to the topic at hand.

Usually, after I stop giggling, I find myself wondering if we, or more specifically I, will ever find out what my transfigured self is like.  Do I shine like the sun and become dazzlingly white, or am I so flawed that I will flicker and sputter like a bad florescent bulb?  I’m guessing that it’s more of the latter, and that disturbs me.

Recently I was rereading a favorite book, Voices of Silence, the Lives of the Trappists Today by Frank Bianco.  I originally read this book when I was in seminary.  At that point in my life I was struggling to reconcile my own flawed humanity with a life devoted to ministry, and this book provided story after story of Trappist monks and priests struggling in exactly the same way, trying to reconcile their lives and failings with a deep desire to dedicate themselves to a holy life, set apart.  I reread the book every now and then and I always find new gems that I missed in previous readings.

The passage that caught my eye this time was actually a passage that caught my eye the first time I read the book.  Bianco was discussing his need for a hero with Dom Thomas (known as Mac in Bianco’s book) the former abbot of Gethsemane Abbey, who tells Bianco that this struggle is exactly what led to the fall of the angels.

“People need to feel that somebody has all the answers, that somebody is in control. They spend the major portion of their lives and energy trying to gain and…keep control.  They’re trying to prove they’re perfect…It’s a self-delusion that the devil himself bought. ‘Let us be like God’ he urged all those poor angels who followed him into damnation.”

My awareness that I would flicker and sputter like a bad florescent bulb might be a good thing if the search for perfection leads to damnation. I am acutely aware that I am nothing like God, nowhere capable of sustaining that kind of goodness, kindness, or awareness of the needs of others. Jesus was always caring for others and healing them, and I…I am mostly about myself, which is normal but annoying for a Christian who is supposed to be a leader of the Church.

Mac goes on to make the point that our imperfections are not what will lead us into damnation.

“You still don’t understand God’s love. Perfect love, he explained, cannot see imperfection …God is perfect love. Evil is self-love. It is philosophically impossible for God to even ‘think’ of evil. He cannot ‘see’ evil. It is completely outside His orbit. That fact tells us what our final judgement will be like…We will come before all-perfect love (God), who can only recognize love. He will only see as much of us as has been loving. That He will take unto himself…Sin and evil are nothing less than our inability to love. At those moments, it’s as though we’re invisible to God. He, the all-good, perfect lover, can only see the good in us.”

I am not sure that I buy into the idea that God cannot see us at all when we are sinning because an action that is love-less cannot extinguish all the love that’s within me, not even for a second. It does, however, explain my feeling that I flicker and sputter and flash like a florescent bulb struggling to light and remain lit.  The love inside me is like a force that fights for dominance, pushing its way to the surface only to be capsized by my ego and my self-will.  Luckily love is more of a buoy than a boat, inevitably righting itself and rising to the surface to claim its rightful place in the center of my life again and again despite my stupidity and sinfulness.

Suddenly, the idea of Jesus transfigured, shining like the sun and clothed in dazzling white makes total sense to me. Apparently love glows like sunlight, shining from within, illuminating not only the person who loves but the beloved, who bathes in the warmth of that love.

And so I flicker and sputter like a bad florescent bulb, and while that is not optimal, it is good news because it means that there is light and love in me that cannot be suppressed for long.  My job is to stay plugged into the Source and do my best to clear away anything that dims my light. This, I think, is what Wesley would call being ‘perfected in love.’  I would call it upgrading me from florescent to LED.

I’m still giggling about Glow Stick Jesus and the laundry detergent.  Sorry.

 

Watch Out For the Alligators!

Lately I have been busy.

Like, epic busy. Ridiculously busy. I have been so busy that I am on the precipice of becoming crazy busy, which means that I will be unkind, unloving, and unreasonable.

Perhaps that’s not fully the truth, because if you ask my husband I’ve already been unkind, unloving, and incredibly unreasonable, but not consistently.  Right now I am just unkind, unloving, and unreasonable in spurts, which thankfully my husband can bear for short periods of time.

Despite his patience with me, I hate when I get so busy that I’m not a nice lady anymore, especially when I am not nice to my own husband.

Back to my point. I’ve been really busy doing work for the Church. Not that I haven’t had work for my counseling practice; that’s always a thing. It’s just that I’ve been doing more work than normal for the Church.

I’d love to go into details because when I start listing all I’ve been doing, other people get that look on their face that says “Oh dear God…seriously? I’d EXPLODE if I had to do that! I’d lose my MIND if I had to do that!” and then, of course, they ask how the heck I’m doing all that.

I told my girlfriend that my work for the Church has me up to my a** in alligators. After listening to my frustration, she corrected me and told me that at this point, the alligators have taken up residence in my a** and I should start charging rent.

I like the way that lady thinks and have to admit that having alligators in my a** might explain why I have been unkind, unloving, and unreasonable.

Seriously, though, how did I get into this predicament?

I have had a number of people tell me that I need to learn to say NO when it comes to requests for assistance.

There is some wisdom in that, because being able to set boundaries is a huge part of healthy living.

The thing is that you don’t always get the opportunity to say no. What do you do when the cost of saying NO can be the integrity of the project that everyone is working to complete?  What do you do when no one asks if you would be willing to do something…and instead just tells you that they need you to do this?

What do you do when you feel like NO isn’t an option?

There is no easy answer to this question, but I am learning where the line is that demands that I say NO.

You see, I am one of those people who is really pleased with my own efficiency, my ability to get things done when things are on the line. I like to be the person that everyone relies on, the one that people turn to when the going gets tough.

There is nothing wrong with knowing what you are good at and making sure that others know what you are good at…on the other hand, it gives me a huge sense of pride to be doing all that I am doing, and a huge sense of martyrdom to be working as hard as I am working, and neither of those things is good for my ego.

It makes me an idiot to think I am more committed, more dedicated than everyone else in my position. It makes me haughty to believe that I am sacrificing myself for the sake of the group.  It makes me…unhealthy.

What the heck am I supposed to do?

I guess that I should break this into pieces and look at each piece.  Let’s start with “It makes me haughty to believe that I am sacrificing myself for the sake of the group.”

There is never a time when haughtiness, or extreme pride, is good.

Pride in itself is not bad. Pride is that thing that allows you to feel good about the things you do, what you are able to achieve and what your abilities allow you to contribute to the mix.  I like to be good at what I do, and being good at what I do allows me to be proud of myself.

Hello, self-esteem!

There is nothing wrong with self-esteem. Self-esteem, however, is based in the idea that I give the best that I can to any given task so that I can succeed as much as I am able.  It isn’t based in anything other than my own ability and my awareness that sometimes I am exactly what is needed to get things done.

On the other hand, extreme pride, or haughtiness, causes me to think that I am better than others.

What does that mean, to be “better than others”?

Is that a permanent thing, or am I only better than others at this particular moment?

When I’m better than others, does that mean something concrete or is it only relative to the people I’m working with at this moment, and the project I’m working on at this particular moment, and the needs of the group at this particular moment?

Are you seeing where I’m going here?  Being better than others is always relative to the project at hand, the people doing the work, and this particular moment.  In other words, I can be better than others at what we are doing right now but I cannot be better than others, period. I cannot excel past my brothers and sisters once I step outside this particular project and this particular moment.

Being ‘better than others’ is so limited to a specific place and time as to be meaningless.

Self-esteem, the awareness that I have done well when people were relying on me…self-esteem is just as time bound as haughtiness, but self-esteem’s location in time cannot erase the reality that I did the right thing at the right time for the people who relied on me.  The good thing about self-esteem is that it doesn’t rely on what others are doing, just on whether or not I fulfilled my task and helped the people that God set before me.

But what does that have to do with saying NO to too much work?

Well, if I need to be better than others, if I need to fulfill my haughty need for perfection and being ‘better-than’, there is no such thing as saying NO.  I can’t say NO, because I have to better-than-others and people who are better-than-others do not say NO. Only mere mortals say NO.

Self-esteem on the other hand lets me say NO when NO is the most reasonable answer. Self-esteem lets me say NO when I am not able to fulfill the task in a way that will be satisfying to everyone involved. You see, self-esteem doesn’t like to fail any more than haughtiness does, but self-esteem will admit when the job is too big or too difficult or beyond our abilities right now…because self-esteem can say “I can do a lot but there is no way that I can do this thing you are asking” and not feel like it has lost anything. Haughtiness and extreme pride need to be the best every time, all the time, and there is no space for NO there.

The last three months has been a lesson for me. I can do way more than I thought I could, so much more than I thought I could. I can be busier than is good for me for extended periods of time and not fail. On the other hand, it has also taught me that my self-esteem is much stronger than I thought it was and my self-esteem is ready to say Enough!!! and slow things down.  It’s nice to be efficient and it’s nice to be relied upon, but I have no interest in letting myself buy into the bull poop that haughtiness would like to sell me.

I guess what I want to tell you is that there is a fine line between self-esteem and haughtiness and that only YOU can determine where that line is. Only YOU can figure out where the line is between being healthy and being pride-filled, and that means that no one else can tell you when to say NO.

It is only January 13 and I have run into my limits.  Admitting those limits, as much as it will chap my behind, can only be a good thing.

This year my resolution is to stay with self-esteem and kick haughtiness to the curb.

I’ll let you know how I’m doing with this NO thing in the coming weeks. I pray that my ego gets out of the way and lets my self-esteem have a breather.

Here’s to health in the New Year!!

The Apple of His Eye

I met with a client this week who is struggling to rebuild her life as she trudges through an ugly divorce.  Let’s call her Anna.

Anna believes that God has a plan for her life and a path for her to follow so that she can move forward after the end of her marriage, and she is doing everything possible to be faithful to both.  She is doing her best to raise her two teenage girls to be women of faith.  She is working hard to build the realty business she opened when she left her husband.  She is struggling every month to pay the bills but is determined to become financially secure so that she can stop relying on her ex-husband, who isn’t interested in being reliable or remotely honest when it comes to child support.  The thing that amazes me is that in the midst of all of this, Anna continues to give to others even when she doesn’t have much herself. She particularly likes helping low income families get affordable housing even though she doesn’t get much of a commission from that kind of work.  Anna and I both believe that she is doing everything she can to be on God’s path, and we can both very clearly see God at work in her life, so why isn’t it getting any easier?

That is the one thing that Anna just can’t get over: that no matter how hard she works to do exactly what God wants, her life is just as difficult now as it was only a month or two after she left her husband.  Anna sits in my office and cries, just wanting God to reveal to her what she’s supposed to do next. What is the next step on God’s path? Not knowing makes her anxious and fearful about what’s going to happen next.  It makes her fear that she has screwed up and has wandered off God’s path somehow.  In the end, despite her deep faith, she’s incredibly anxious, frequently exhausted, and always at the end of her rope, and she doesn’t think that a good Christian woman should feel the way she does.

I try to remind her at every session that no matter how perfect your life is otherwise, raising two teenage daughters will have you at the end of your rope every day, all the time.

Beyond that, though, I get where Anna is coming from.

My parents have always attended an evangelical, fundamentalist church.  They did when I was a child, and they still do now.  As a child, I remember learning about God’s will and God’s plan for your life.  God had a path for your life and you had better be on it. If you stepped off that path, even one tiny step off of the path, you were in big trouble.  Even more frightening was that stepping off the path meant that you were on your own, that God was not going to be present to you and your needs while you went on your little ‘jaunt’ off the path.  If you realized your mistake later and wanted to get back to a good relationship with God, you had to backtrack to where you left God’s path in the first place, and then get busy moving forward on God’s path because being off God’s path was unacceptable, sinful, and a good reason to condemn you to Hell for all eternity.

I suppose that makes some sense, especially to fundamentalists.  The thing is that it makes God sound awfully petulant and kind of like a narcissistic parent. You know, you better play by God’s rules or He isn’t going to play with you anymore.  He’ll just take His ball and go home and you will be All. By. Yourself.  Oh, and you’ll spend eternity in Hell.

I don’t believe any of that anymore.

I’m Methodist now, and I am a feminist process theologian.  That doesn’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t study theology, so I’ll just say that I really like the idea that my beginning (birth) is fixed in God’s hands and my ending (death) is also fixed in God’s hands, and the life that exists between those two points is a negotiation between God and me.  I believe that God will never leave me because God is not in the business of abandoning His children…not even the disrespectful, rebellious ones.  For me, it’s all the more reason to love Him and serve Him.

What does that have to do with Anna?

Well, Anna was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist church just like I was.  Both of us learned early on that ‘true Christians’ had the peace that passes understanding (Phill 4:7) and that meant that you don’t get anxious if you really love the Lord.  ‘True Christians’ trust God and do not fear circumstances.  ‘True Christians’ wait for God’s leading and are patient because God always acts in God’s time, which is rarely early but never late.  God is all merciful and knows your needs; He has numbered the hairs on your heads, so you have nothing to worry about. (Lk 12:7)

What all that boils down to is that ‘true Christians’ don’t ever have unpleasant emotions like worry, fear, or anxiety.  Anger is pretty much unacceptable as well, unless it’s holy anger at the sin you perceive in the world (or in someone else, but that’s another post.) ‘True Christians’ sail through life so zen that nothing ruffles their feathers; after all, their Father in Heaven is looking out for them, so why worry?

I know devout Buddhists who that aren’t that zen and never will be.

Anyone who reads their Bible…heck anyone who has seen the movie The Passion of The Christ knows that Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and was so distressed that God sent angels to comfort Him.

Seriously? Jesus sweats blood, but somehow our faith in God is going to insulate us against the icky feelings that we don’t like?

No, that’s not how it works. Faith in God is not a magical pair of rose-colored glasses that will make our lives all sunshine and puppies.  Faith in God is not an extended release Valium for the soul.

Don’t get me wrong. Please, seek God’s will in your life and then do your best to live by it.  And when following God’s will leaves you exhausted, disappointed, and anxious, know that you have stumbled onto all the things that Christ experienced as he led the disciples for three years and then walked the path to His own crucifixion.  Definitely check in with God daily to make sure that you are following the path He has set before you, but plan on a few nights where you sweat some blood and need some supernatural help to make it through to the morning.

And if you are going to trust in something, trust that the God who delighted in creating you also delights in watching over you, because His son has made it clear that this is a difficult world to live in and we need all the help we can get. The God who created you loves you beyond what you can ever understand and will never leave you because it would break His heart to do so.  You are, in so many ways, the apple of His eye and He adores you.

If that doesn’t make you love God, I’m not sure what will.

That’s My Resume?

Self-esteem is such a dicey thing.

When you’re a child, most of your self-esteem comes from your parents and how they treat you. If your parents are kind and loving, you come to believe that you are deserving of love, deeply worthy of time and attention, and that your potential is unknown and therefore you are capable of almost anything!  Sadly, if your parents are unkind and unloving or unavailable, you learn the exact opposite: that you are unlovable, unworthy, and your potential is meaningless.

I was blessed with loving and kind parents and I came away from my childhood deeply aware of my own lovability, worthiness, and potential.

As a teenager, you start putting more faith and weight into the words of others, and your parent’s opinion of you comes to mean less and less.  This is why the teen years can be such damaging years. It doesn’t matter if you are utterly geeky or unbelievably popular, there is always someone in your peer group who is glad to tell you how worthless, stupid, and disgusting that you are. It’s during our teen years that we learn to hide ourselves lest we become open to criticism and character assassination.  Some of us discovered that no matter how much we hid, that we become the target of people whose need for power and attention drove their need to belittle and harass others, and we become the target of bullies.  That’ll kill your self-esteem for sure.

If you aren’t careful, you can come out of your teen years with no self-esteem left at all, believing that you are utterly worthless with nothing to offer and no one who cares enough to challenge your self-evaluation.

It can take years to stop believing in the opinions of others and regain your self-esteem.

I spent plenty of years learning to care less about what other people thought of me and more about what I thought of myself.  I learned to ask myself crucial questions: Would I trust me if I was my own friend? Am I honest? Am I genuine and kind? If I met myself coming down the street would I want to be my own friend?  If I met myself and took an hour to talk to me, would I respect me when it was over?

These questions changed me and how I behaved, because I could no longer betray myself in the interest of getting other people to like me better.  With only myself and my God to judge me, I became less beholden to the opinions of others and more free to be authentic in all my interactions.

This whole experience led me to share what I learned with my clients.  I tell them to be themselves all the time, no matter what anyone else is doing, because at the end of the day there is only yourself, the mirror, and your God to evaluate you.  God will always love you, but…if you met yourself coming down the street, would you want to be your own friend? Would you respect you?  Would you trust you?

Sometimes it is painful to discover how little respect people have for themselves, how untrustworthy they feel they are, and how disgusted they are at the thought of being their own friend.   It breaks my heart.

Over time you learn not to believe what other people think about you because of the damage it can do.  You learn to create your own self-esteem lest you find yourself at the mercy of others who don’t care how their opinions take you apart and render you worthless.

But what do you do when what other people think of you…is amazing?

This week I led a two-day meeting that was supposed to be led by a friend of mine.  It was a last-minute change brought on by a severe illness that he could not control.  He was so sick that I wasn’t even able to get direction from him; I couldn’t call him and ask me what he wanted me to do.

In my own evaluation of me, I was irritable, exhausted, freaked-out and barely functioning.

That’s not the feedback I got.

Certainly people sensed how taxed and exhausted I was.  Many of them asked if I was okay and I was honest with them: I was so anxious that I wasn’t sleeping well at all.  No sleep leads me to be cranky and brainless. I admitted that I was overwhelmed.  Why lie?  It’s not like they couldn’t see it on my face.

But still…when all was said and done, the praise was effusive and more than kind.  After the meeting was over I led a training that ended with even more praise and kind words.

I was stunned and didn’t quite know what to think.

What do you do when you discover that others think you are better than who you think you are? Do you believe them? Do you disagree with them openly and tell them that they are wrong? Do you secretly discount their opinions and ignore what they say?

My daughter is in a 12-step group where they teach that “what others think of you is none of your business.”  It can be daunting to live by the opinions of others, and when you have no self-esteem you can find yourself seeking the approval of everyone, yanked hither and yon as you try to please each and every person that matters.  I get that.  I have it in me to be a people-pleaser, and it has taken years for me to get comfortable with people who are angry with me or people who think I have failed.  I still beat myself up when I have genuinely failed another person because I have trouble forgiving myself for being human.  I am still growing as a person and I hope that by the time I am 60 years old, I will have mastered the art of forgiving myself after I genuinely disappoint someone else. You think that I’d be disgusted with myself for still being this sensitive after 52 years on the earth, but the idea of still growing as a person as I move through my sixth decade of life is actually an exciting thing for me, so hey…I guess I’ve got to be failing somewhere or I’d have nowhere left to grow.

The funny thing is that I struggle with praise almost more than I struggle with criticism.  When others criticize my failures, I find myself agreeing with them most of the time.  It’s not like I don’t know where I have failed.  But when they praise me, I feel…

Terrified.

There. I said it.  When other’s praise me, I am terrified that I am not who they think I am. I fear that I am much less than they say I am; I fear that they will trust in my skill and my fidelity and that I will fail them terribly.

I guess that’s because I’ve had people trust me before and I’ve failed them so badly.  I can tell you each and every person I’ve failed because I never let myself forget.  NO…I’m not saying that I don’t forgive myself for being frail and human and incapable.  I just try to remember where my weak points are and how I have failed others in the past, because the past is a great predictor of the future, and I want to do so much better next time.

So why does praise terrify me so much?   Honestly, I don’t know.

I could say that it’s fear of failure or an acute awareness of my own frailties.  Maybe I still don’t have enough self-esteem, but honestly, I doubt that.  I know what I’m worth, and I know what I am good at.

I think the truth is that I struggle to accept how much impact I have on the lives of others.  It’s so much easier to believe that I could fall off the face of the earth and only the people who love me would notice.

I think I struggle to trust in my own worth because my creation is much more magnificent than I can understand, and my potential is so much greater than I am willing to believe.

I truly believe that God created each of us with the seed of greatness already planted inside of us.  I guess that I just want to believe that my seed is smaller than yours and therefore so much less meaningful then yours.  It’s easier for me to see what you are worth and why you have that worth than to actually step back from myself and admit that I have the ability to do great things over and over and maybe even the ability to make a difference.

I think that I struggle…just like everyone else does…with what I’m capable of, and I mean that in all the best ways. And so I’ve come to believe that everyone struggles with praise and positive feedback the way that I do.

I think we struggle with the image of Jesus within us because we think we cannot possibly be that kind, loving, and self-giving.  We like to forget that Jesus was also irritable, occasionally wrong, and short tempered. Lest you not believe me, let me remind you that Jesus went a little off the hook, braided a whip out of cords (wow that’s so loving!!) and then turned over tables, screamed, yelled, and beat people while he chased the money changers out of the temples.  Do something like that in the food court at the mall and you WILL get arrested no matter how much you talk about zeal for your Father’s house.  You can zeal all you want and you’re still going to end up in the back of a patrol car.   Jesus may have been sinless, but perfect in all things?  Not so much.

My point is that we think we are so NOT like Jesus, so not loving, and not patient, and in the end, not capable.

Wrong.

You have been created in the image of God Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.  Jesus Christ dwells within you and guides you with His wisdom.  The Holy Spirit fills you and produces fruit like love, patience, kindness, and humility deep within you when you aren’t looking. Don’t be surprised when other’s see the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing in you before you can see it in yourself.

Give your life over the One who created you and you will discover that your potential is limitless. Your worth is beyond measure. Everything you are is all that God intended you to be and nothing about you is a mistake.

Maybe it’s time to start listening to what other people say about you…and believe them.  Not because I want you to become a people-pleaser, fearful of angering those whose approval you seek, but because there is no way to step outside yourself and objectively see all that you have become in the Father’s hands.

Maybe it’s time to start listening to what other people say about you so that you will understand just what good you are capable of, what potential the Lord has given you, and the exact ways that you reflect the image of God.  You have an impact on others and you should know what it is.  Let them tell you.

What other people think about you still isn’t your business, but it might be your resume.

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.