Vulnerable, Sensitive and Emotional- The Challenge of Authenticity

15 04 2014

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I have spent most of my life in denial- denying (or at least failing miserably at coping with) my emotions, never sharing any sort of sensitivity, and hiding my vulnerabilities at almost any cost.

Part of this was a survival tactic. If I pretended as though nothing could penetrate my thick skin, then maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I could learn to ignore the teasing and the beatings, and eventually the other kids- my sisters and later their friends, and the kids at school, would leave me alone.
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I didn’t have the strength to fight back, and my calls for help were largely ignored. I didn’t get any peace until high school when I had a car and access to large friends.

Empathy and caring were liabilities I could not afford. In order to live in this world I had to create a convincing façade. I had to “out-normal” the normals.  I had to be tougher than them.  I had to be able simply stand and take it and never surrender.
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For most of my early adulthood I was NOT a nice person at all. I was cut throat, ruthless and not terribly concerned for anyone but me. But I was living a fake life. In reality, I was still the scared shitless little kid with the thick glasses and ill fitting clothes who got tossed in the bushes every morning before school.  I had made up my mind that if any pounding was going to be done (now more in a figurative sense) I was going to be the one doing it.  The pound-ee became the pound-er, in what I think was sort of a preemptive attempt at self defense.

I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt me- physically or emotionally- again. I can be a good actress.  As long as I understand the role I’m playing, I am pretty good at showing other people exactly what they want to see. For someone on the spectrum, being “socially acceptable” and learning the rules of both etiquette and power is a pretty big deal.  I admit I’ve done well with both, and for a long time, too well for my own good.

Living the soulless, emotionless façade is positively draining, and for me, dishonest. Keeping up that façade has also cost me greatly in terms of physical, emotional and spiritual health.

I am not “Iron Guts.”  Far from it.  I just don’t process emotions very well.  I can’t really feel until I have a chance to put those feelings into words, to mull them over, and actively think about them.  Sometimes that act of processing can take hours, or days, years, or even decades.

 

 passage of time

Two things are inevitable in this world- death and taxes.  Everything else…is negotiable.

I can make a good argument for the theory that time isn’t necessarily linear as we process it, but that it might just be a more cyclical thing.  Most of the time I don’t process emotional stuff in “real” (or linear) time.  I can break into inconsolable tears and that deep and breathless despair and mourning 20 years after a loss, (with or without an appropriate trigger) even when at the time of the event I couldn’t process anything other than facts.

Maybe that phenomenon of the super-delayed reaction is simply my faulty wiring taking its time making the heart-head connections that normal people just sort of do on auto-pilot.  I’m sure that the primal, emotional part of my brain has to take the long way to get the message to the analytical, logical part of the brain that can dissect, categorize, and to a degree translate those vexing and foreign raw feelings into a format I can understand.

I can guarantee that quite a few of those emotional maelstroms get lost in the translation, and that’s probably a good thing.

I know that I’m weak.  I know that sometimes my intellect makes assertions that the rest of me, for whatever reason, can’t (or won’t) understand, or back up.

I  know that I would be tempted to make the same statement as the apostle Peter – “Lord, I would never deny You,” while at the same time being willing to sell the Lord up the river for the equivalent a few silver coins.

The self-preservation instinct runs deep within humanity, but the irony is that loving the finer things in life and/or trying to save one’s hide are sure fire paths to spiritual death.  We supposedly know better, but we do it anyway.

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I don’t want to think about betrayal, but I know I do it too.

I’m beginning to believe that many of my misanthropic tendencies (dislike of people) come from the fact that I never know who is going to stab me in the back next.  I don’t trust people.  Not at all.  I didn’t trust people when I was a little kid who was beaten up every time the adults turned their backs, and I don’t trust people any more today because I never know who is going to (figuratively) throw me under the bus to save their own hide, or set me up to fail to make themselves look good at my expense.  Betrayal is part of the human condition, and it is bitter to forgive it.  I know I want retaliation. I want revenge.  “Give me my pound of flesh!,”  is usually my knee jerk response when I am wronged.

It’s sort of hard to imagine Jesus being betrayed to his death by one of His intimate friends, and then denied by one who was closest to Him.  It’s even harder to imagine forgiving those guys for doing that.  I have a hard enough time forgiving those every day slights.

Yes, I am broken.  Yes, I am a betrayer, not to be trusted.

And yes, Jesus forgives even me.

 





Matthew 16:15-16 How Deep is Our Love? (Holy Week: Maundy Thursday)

28 03 2013

last supper

“He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But who do you [yourselves] say I am?  Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'” Matthew 16:15-16 (AMP)

Early in Jesus’ ministry, the apostle Peter got it.  At this time, at least on an intellectual level, the apostle Peter understood Who Jesus is.

If we fast forward to the night of the Last Supper, after Jesus had shared His Body and Blood with the disciples, the apostle Peter still maintained what he knew about Jesus:

“Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”  Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples. Matthew 16:15-16 (NRSV)

acts of the apostles

The spirit is willing, and Peter knew in his rational mind that Jesus is Who He claims to be.  Head knowledge, in this instance, wasn’t Peter’s problem.  Unfortunately, the things we humans do when our hides are on the line sometimes defy rationality.  Our flesh is weak, especially when that primal self-preservation instinct kicks in.

Head knowledge is something to be sought after, but not simply for the sake of knowing facts and figures.  Knowledge without practical application is at best, superficial, and at worst, pointless.  Knowledge that rests on the surface, but that really hasn’t sunk in and become part of one’s deepest heart of hearts is not of much value.

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There’s a reason why the Israelites were commanded in the Shema, which is the primary prayer in Judaism, (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) to keep on repeating and meditating on Scripture at all times:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

It is a good thing to internalize the Scriptures, and the act of reading, reciting, teaching and memorizing them does serve to write them not only on our minds but also on our hearts.

Even considering that the apostle Peter would have been taught the Shema from his earliest days, and he spent three years with Jesus, it’s still one thing for us weak humans to know Who Jesus is, but it’s quite another for us to act accordingly.

Jesus knew the disciples’ weaknesses, including Peter, who shared with us the human flaw of having a crocodile mouth but a canary patoot.  It’s one thing to pledge to follow Jesus to His death, but the irony is that it’s impossible to do that apart from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ statement directed toward the disciples on the night of the Last Supper is telling: “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”(Matthew 16:15)

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Apart from the Shepherd, no matter how much they might know, the sheep don’t have a chance.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6 (NRSV)

There are deep spiritual benefits of studying and meditating upon Scripture, but the point of any spiritual discipline, and the point of our faith is always to remain connected with Jesus.  Knowledge is meaningless if there is no practical application of that knowledge, and faith is pointless if we believe in the wrong things.  The scattering of the disciples after the Last Supper simply proves that we humans (even disciples who walked and ate and took part of the Body of Christ in an intensely tangible way) cannot stay faithful to God apart from Jesus.  It’s impossible to stand strong, no matter what you know, no matter what kinds of high spiritual experiences you can claim to have experienced, if you are apart from Jesus.

Jesus said that if a person loves his/her life, he/she will lose it. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25 (NRSV)

This statement speaks to our self-preservation instinct.  Most of the time it’s wise and prudent to heed that instinct, but if and when our choices come down to this life and this physical body versus things of God’s Kingdom, we should choose the things of eternal life over ease and expediency in this life.  It’s easy to say, but infinitely hard to do.

The good news is that Jesus came to live in this world to show us how to do that, and to give us the strength we need to do what He calls us to do.

I pray that we will find strength in sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ with other believers, and that Jesus will hold us up to stand for Him when our weak flesh cannot.





Proverbs 16:25 The “Right” Way? (Holy Week Tuesday)

26 03 2013

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There is a way that seems right to a man, and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death.” Proverbs 16:25 (AMP)

It’s easy to malign Judas.  After all, he betrayed Jesus to the high priests for what would (roughly) be about $42.97 in today’s money.

The Author of the Universe, sold for less than fifty bucks.

It’s no wonder there are no pretty stained glass windows with “St. Judas” in them.  Nobody is naming their kids “Judas” either – it would be as bad as naming them “Pontius Pilate,” or “Hitler” or “Stalin.”  The name Judas equates to evil and treachery because of the deed he committed.

But before I’m too critical of Judas, I need to listen to what Jesus said to the Pharisees and others who were itching to stone a woman caught in adultery:

“When they kept on questioning him, (Jesus) he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.” John 8:7-8 (NRSV)

writing on the ground

Some scholars and theologians speculate that Jesus might have been writing names and deeds on the ground- calling out the would be stone-throwers to be mindful of their own sins.  Others suggest that Jesus might have been simply doodling on the ground.

If Jesus was naming names and deeds, perhaps He was saying something to the effect of, “Hey, Jack- I know what you did in Vegas,” or “Hey, Cindy, what about that money you embezzled from your employer,” or “I know every single sin you’ve committed since you first drew breath!”

If most of us were confronted with a frank and all-encompassing assessment of our sins, (known and unknown) we would be dropping the stones too.

As far as Judas goes, it’s hard to say what his motivation was in selling Jesus down the river for less than what a full tank of gasoline costs most people today.  Perhaps he feared the power of Rome, as the high priest and Pharisees did.  Maybe Judas disagreed with Jesus’ methods.  Or maybe his motive was more self-serving than that?  Perhaps he needed money to support a gambling addiction, or to satisfy a taste for fine wine.  Scripture doesn’t spell out Judas’ reasons, although it does tell us that Judas did occasionally pilfer a bit from the treasury box.

Maybe Judas thought that surrendering Jesus was the right thing to do, which is even more troubling.  Maybe it was poor judgment rather than malicious intent or a love of money that motivated Judas.

How many times have we done what we thought was the right thing at the time only to find out later that it was a dreadful mistake?  How many times have we rationalized a wrong choice, and told ourselves that the end justified the means?

The sad thing about history is that it tends to repeat itself.

hitler

Millions of people thought following Hitler- and going along with mass genocide- was the “right thing to do.”

Like Judas, and like all the people in the world remembered for their evil deeds, we make decisions that cause harm to myself and others.  The irony of this is that that those who are remembered for their evil deeds often thought that they were doing the right thing.

It is guaranteed if the only thing we do is “look out for number one” that we are going to make bad choices.  It is guaranteed that if the only thing we do is follow “common” wisdom and just do what everyone else is doing that we are going to make bad choices.

Even if we try to do the right thing, there are times when our judgment is going to prove dreadfully wrong.  There are times when following the crowd turns out to be a fatal mistake.  There is not always strength in numbers.

The only way that we can make good decisions and have good judgment is by submitting our heart and minds to God’s will.

I pray that the Holy Spirit would guide us when we have difficult decisions, and keep us on God’s path.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 (NRSV)





James 5:16 Being Open and Vulnerable (Holy Week Monday)

25 03 2013

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I need to make myself vulnerable.  I need to admit that I am weak and fully dependent upon God.  I need the prayers and intercession of others.  I need restoring for my soul.

 

“Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart].  The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” James 5:16 (AMP)

Traditionally Holy Week has been a time of prayer, contemplation and reflection.  As we reflect upon Jesus’ journey from the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday to His Passion on Good Friday, we are called to examine ourselves as well.

The apostle Peter (who was anything but a wallflower) thought that he could hang tough with Jesus when the time came, but his reaction was very different when he was thrown into the time of trial.

“Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples.” Matthew 26:33-35 (NRSV)

I don’t blame the apostle Peter for acting as any scared human being would.  Sometimes we speak with a crocodile mouth, only to discover we have a canary patoot.  I know I’m a coward.  I know that the only way I can muddle through trials is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and even then I struggle.  I could only pray to have as willing a heart as Peter, though my flesh is infinitely weaker.

If I were to enumerate my faults, sins, false moves, bad judgment, poor decisions, and so on, one by one, it would take years.  I do mean years.

I think that it’s important for us to see the apostles and other heavy hitter characters in the Bible for who they are- simple, human people who GOD used for big purposes.  Apart from meeting up with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the apostle Peter would simply have been an obscure fisherman like so many other fishermen of his day, and his name would be lost to history forever.

That’s why I have a little bit of cognitive dissonance with putting “saints” on a pedestal.  We should examine the lives of the people who are part of the Biblical narrative.  We should thank God for their record and their witness, but to see the players in the Biblical story as serene figures on stained glass windows misses the point.  They were flesh and blood human beings.  They made mistakes.

Saints in stained-glass

I enjoy the aesthetic of stained glass windows, but we miss the point if this is the only way we see the “saints.”

The calling to the Christian life is a bold calling.  It is a calling that requires us to be open and vulnerable if we are to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us- not only through our own prayers but through the intercessory prayers of others.

The Christian community is important- it is the Church Militant here on earth.  Although the military reference is rather un-PC, we are called to fight, not with weapons but with healing actions and gentle words.  We are the ground forces here on earth who live out the Kingdom of God here and now.

I would rather see the apostle Peter as he was- a tough, barely educated, coarse, fisherman who worked with his hands.   I can relate to a guy like that.  He wasn’t some guy with pretty clothes and a halo on a window when he was living and acting down here on earth.  He did some things right.  He made some pretty drastic mistakes.  He was human.  What made him and his witness special was God working in and through him.

This Holy Week I pray for my friends and fellow Christians that we would look to Jesus for our courage- because I know I don’t have any apart from Him.  I pray that the Holy Spirit would open our hearts and make us vulnerable- not so anyone can take advantage of us- (been there and done that too many times)- but so Jesus can give us a new heart and new strength, that He would transform us and invite us into His story.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:36 (NRSV)