Pleasing Others

I’m in the midst of a job change now after nearly 10 years, after somehow working my way into the Committed Club.  You know the Club, you’re probably in it too.  The Club is for people who go above and beyond, even when no one is looking, in order to please…. who exactly?

White Women, serigraph on paper, by Hannah Hislop
White Women, serigraph on paper, by Hannah Hislop

Even after giving notice, my manager is still pouring on the requests and I am still – still – trying dutifully to fulfill them, on my way out the door.  But instead of writing about his high expectations, I once again have to own this – this is me and now that it’s happened in two significant parts of my life, it’s clear that I am the common thread.

Yet another strand to unwind from this spool of yarn deconstructing all over my floor.

I did the same as a volunteer.  My organization of choice just happened to be the church. Now that we have attended a new church for a few months, Continue reading “Pleasing Others”

Angry Tides

Anger is a great motivator, driving us to rant, agitate, and wake up in the morning – and too often in the night.

But writing is also pushed along by anger’s focus. Wanting your voice to be heard makes adults and toddlers alike do audacious things, screaming from the backseat of the car, hoping the driver will hear of your injustice and recalculate the car’s GPS.

When I’m upset about something – but don’t want to hurt those around me – my brainwaves spin up a nuclear power plant to analyze the thing, working down the levels of what bothers me, who is to blame (me?), and the likelihood of change.

My pastor recently told me that when hard things come along, people are invariably angry, and usually turn that on their spouse.  Fortunately for my marriage, that wasn’t the case – because the anger was focused elsewhere:  the church. Not necessarily MY church, but THE church. But certainly we’re all a part of the whole.

How could the church be so sure about everything?

How could the church be so sure about everything – her teachings so consequential in people’s lives, at times denying, insisting, shaming towards the narrow way? And now look what’s come from it: this one hurt, that one hiding, the other has left it all behind. Anger.

It’s ok:  the church can take it.

People have been mad at the church since it first began and everywhere in between.

And the church is used to it, even expects it, because its visionary founder said there would be trouble in this world.

Quick word though:  trouble comes in many forms and needs to be heard – is this constructive criticism or just criticsm?  When fresh wind blows in, the hatches may need battening down, but sometimes the windows need opening up.

To push the analogy: with the windows only half-open to start with and the issues of the day blowing about, too often the church’s first reaction is to slam the window shut, then crack the window slightly, cautiously, wait about a decade too long to follow the world’s lead and inch the window up (“ok, maybe, but you can’t be in leadership”), and in the end discover its core message of grace survived the whole episode. Each generation has had its issue, so there’s a track record here to learn from.

Why wouldn’t our gut reaction be to throw the windows open and share that grace?

If we’re in touch with the grace we are living in, why wouldn’t our gut reaction be to throw the windows open and share that grace?  To first of all pull closer and declare, “I’m with you” (Moving Inward) and then go find out what that means.

Recently though, the anger fog has been rolling back a bit.  It seems the anger and the pain finally drew their guns and said to each other, “there aint enough room in here for the both of us.” The anger lost, though it’s still wriggling in a severed lizards’ tail sort of way.  Maybe re-organizing itself for a grow-back, who knows.

GlassBeachTideRecedingAnger may dominate for awhile, but then it finally pulls back from the shore and reveals other emotional tidepools to be explored.

When this point came, well, we headed into church – where else did we have?  When we feel hurt by or angry at God or the church, the friends who have carried us through it have largely been from the church. (not ironic: by design)

Though church history, doctrines, and institutions may challenge us, in the end it is full of regular people, who are sometimes willing to be honest about life’s complexities.  For us, those people have been our community, including many long-term, for-better-or-for-worse friends. The depth of conversation, the willingness for and relief of confession, the readiness to wrestle with God’s big story.

Maybe the left hand knows best how to heal the damage caused by the right hand, I don’t know, but the body analogy sure works. I didn’t come up with that one.  Each part playing its role to keep the whole thing moving toward wholeness?  It’s been said before:  “If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”¹

♦ weekendswell ♦

For another sequence asking if the church is late to the party, see Ulysses Pact

To be notified of the next post (about once a week), use the “follow via email” link

¹ Eugene Peterson’s phrasing of Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 12:26

Alone-ness

The elephant discovered by a group of blind men, each feeling a different part and being sure of their description, crosses my mind a lot.  The first man touches the elephant’s huge leg and convinces the others he has found a strong pillar, the second finds the tail and describes it as a rope, and so on, until they begin arguing about who is correct.

Each of them is right of course, about their part, but wrong in concluding their part is the whole.

It’s easy to relate this to our disagreements about God, but perhaps it also illustrates how blind-spottedly we see each other.  I talk to that friend about soccer, this friend about work, the other about his kids.  But I never really know the whole of someone’s experience.  Even if we are close friends – even if we live in the same room – I didn’t live their childhood, I don’t live inside their thoughts.

Uniqueness: We are all in the river, but the river is never the same twice.

It follows then that no one else truly knows me, and realizing this can make me feel alone.

I remember bonding moments, times we were “all on the same page”, like a close sports team or camp experience, when we may have come together for that experience but didn’t know the guts of how each arrived there or what each returned to.  We may have shared a cause, uniting in protest or praise; we were a part of a larger movement and it invigorated our sense of direction.  But when it runs its course, when I didn’t get what I fought for – or worse, when I do – what then?

Why is everyone around me moving on with their own causes when I’m still stuck here with mine?

If I’m surrounded by friends but still feel alone, are my friends flawed?

When you think about that part of you that no one understands, how it makes you feel alone, know this:  I feel it too.

And so does everyone else.

Which means it’s something we have in common.

Which means we’re not alone.

I had a deep and moving conversation recently with long-term friends about the challenges they have faced caring for a loved one with hidden disabilities.  The classroom struggles, what people say and don’t say, having to guide others through this while also guiding yourself:  Alone-ness.  And all along we have been friends chatting on about life, with no real – REAL – understanding of what it’s like for them to walk forward making decisions without a roadmap.

“Alone-ness” here, if a word at all, is less about how many people hang out with you and more about how many people understand you.

I am thankful that a friendship can mature to the point where we can acknowledge that we are not the solution to each other’s alone-ness.  I am not the one who can say to them, “This disability that challenges your loved one, I understand exactly what it’s like.”  I will try, and I do well to encourage them to keep looking for those people who can say it, or as close as exists.

But I can surely say, I know what it’s like to feel alone.  It’s something we all share.

Connection: The river is never the same twice, but we are all in the river.

♦ weekendswell ♦

For another take on understanding others, see Cover Songs
Get notified of next post by clicking “Follow”

Choosing Headlines

A protestant friend recently invited us to a service project.  He briefly mentioned the details then told how he last served there alongside some “Roman Catholics”.  While huddled in preparation these Catholics were praying the rosary to Mary – he went on to say – so he just observed and silently prayed, “to the living God,” repeating this last part twice.

Hmmm.  His story had all the facts, but his headline seemed to be theological correctness rather than, say, how beautiful it is when people of varying faiths unite around a common cause.  Or focusing on the cause itself.

His headline seemed to be theological correctness

A different friend had a big stage-event to share his music and the next day I asked him what it was like.  “It was so hot up there,” was his reply.  But how was the music, I probed, and he replied that it just was so much work to setup instruments on the outdoor stage.  I was hoping to hear what he liked about the experience, but he chose discomfort and work as his headline.

He chose discomfort and work as his headline

Newspapers may have their own reasons for choosing headlines (see this example¹ of a same-day, same-paper rewrite). WSJ-newspaper-annotated

But when it comes to your personal stories, do you realize the headline you’re publishing?

Of course, the majority of our days are spent down in the body of the article.  We can’t always choose the who, what, when and where of our day, but eventually a few subtitles bubble up as themes. Finally we settle on a headline, sometimes only if asked.  If we’re not reflective, we immediately grab onto the most recent thing, or strongest feeling, and print it as our headline.  

Granted, we take relational context into account when we share, and in fairness, my two friends may have assumed our same page-ness when they focused their headlines.

For instance when my bride and I share about our workday, we don’t usually start by saying, “I’m so thankful for my job and overall my co-workers are great,” even though that is our long-term mindset.  We tend to jump right in with the most frustrating thing that happened that day.  But in this familial context we may consider large swaths of days as one body of work, knowing that on the weekend, or on our next vacation, we’ll reflect again together how good the work is.

And that is our chance to reset the headline.

We once again pull ourselves out of the body – with its small paragraphs and many quotations – to summarize the story we are living.  Writing this I am reminded that headline selection is a key role that meditation and prayer can play in our lives:

A few breaths to let go of being in charge and remember Who is.

A few readings from timeless scriptures to see how transient our troubles are.

A few moments to stop talking to the temporary and instead listen to eternity.

How do you set your headline?

♦ weekendswell ♦

Get notified of next post by clicking “Follow”
——————————————-
¹Image source: http://www.jantakareporter.com/world/different-story-wall-street-journal/59948/: