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.

 





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)