|None of us have endless possibilities to show that we care. We may firmly believe that we do, but it may all be in our heads as a beautiful ideal. If we are not making a real difference in the lives of others, we may be fooling ourselves. We are needing to grow in our ability to be more emotionally available to others. |
As we risk being really present (sometimes against the trends of our culture) we are transformed for we also discover new parts of ourselves. Instead of repetitive, formulaic responses that will just make us dry up inside, we are energised and alive. For it is only in spending ourselves generously that we become rich, and not when we budget our self giving and eke it out sparingly.
We all have a past and with it, a good question to ask is: ‘What is my relationship with my past? Am I free of it or am I bound by it’? Few of us would deny that we have been formed by our past, but does it still control us or does it liberate us? We may try to forget or deny our past, but it will always be with us – for it is the uniquely personal foundation on which we each stand.
We may seek to blur the effect of our past by simply going with our need for comfort and doing things as we’ve always done them. Choosing the less adventurous route to avoid the unfamiliar or unknown is to be dead in the repeated patterns we have always preferred. Since what suits us only dulls down our precious God-given gift of choice, we may easily waste it on small, safe ideas of life. So instead of giving real flavour and joy to the lives of others, fears from our past keep us inconspicuous and ineffective as the ‘light of our world’.
Much current psychology asserts that we are formed and driven by our past and cannot escape it. The best we can hope for is to accommodate ourselves to it. The therapy seeks to explore the options we have, given an immovable past.
Jesus presents us with a different scenario. When asked was it his sin or his parent’s sin that resulted in a man’s blindness, he answered, ‘No one’s sin (past) caused it. This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’ John 9:2. The fatalistic view of being a prisoner of our past was replaced with a momentous possibility, one where God uses it as a lens through which we see Him at work in our lives. Far from being a prison, it is a layered story giving foundation and substance to our lives. Though we cannot change our past, we can CHOOSE to let it inform and empower how we live rather than debilitate us.
Jesus is always stretching us to take risks in our areas of discomfort as in ‘love your enemy.’ We often avoid the passages where He challenges us, but He is serious when He tells us to ‘leave everything’ and live as he did. Are we prepared to change how we choose to engage with life and hold things lightly so we can move freely at His bidding?
When we look back on our lives, we will see that even though there were ups and downs, we will be glad that we chose to take risks. We became fully alive as we dared to do things differently. None of us want to simply wind down into meaningless repetition of past choices and be like ‘salt that’s lost its’ flavour’. Let us keep flavouring life all our days, bringing joy in the lives we have an impact on.
Much of what we normally choose is due to our past. Though this strong reference point is very different in every person, it feels normal to each of us. We may not realise the extent to which it remains the lens through which we interpret everything.
Jesus wants to heal us and to help us grow to become more fully who He made us to be. He has witnessed all that we’ve experienced so He understands all that has controlled, limited and stressed us and distorted our insights about ourselves and others. He loves and accepts us as we are and understands why we react as we do. But He is not wanting us to still be living an extension of the life we had 20 or 30 years ago. Instead, He wants us to respond and choose in a fresh and free way – informed by past experiences, but able to be present to the new moments He blesses us with.
All of us carry wounds and we each have our own ways of dealing with them. Some are not easy to brush away. These often lie in our subconscious until someone says or does something that exposes them again. We may try to keep going while our emotion pain tank is getting too full. It may surprise us when it unclogs and overflows and we become over-sensitive or depressed. A sure sign that we are carrying too much is when we just can’t receive another’s pain.
We need to find ways to clean out what’s stored in our pain tanks. We know that not all pain we receive impacts us to the same degree. We take hurt differently depending on whether it is from someone we love or someone we hardly know. We feel offence more deeply if it’s an attack on our person or if we are let down by someone close to us. Instead of addressing it we may try to cope by avoiding that individual, or may choose to pull back and not risk relating again. We may move home, job, change friends or chose sides against the offender.
We all have seen how harbouring offence can be a way to give us identity and meaning. We hear of long-standing vendettas that continue through generations, causing bitterness and cruelty to both sides that refuse to forgive. Here old wounds are continually re-opened, so they never heal.
It does not help to pretend offence didn’t happen and that it doesn’t hurt. Pain does not disappear by trying to drown out our experiences. We may well have to give ourselves time to grieve our real losses and hurts. We are not however alone in this process. Jesus knew we would have trouble in this world. He uses our pain to draw our attention to our wounds that He has carried on the cross, and is wanting to heal. He so graciously wants to partner with us to transform our pain and to then to make it into a gift that can help others find healing too.
Our journey to becoming our full selves is never smooth. Along life journey we will have to learn how to weather the often unpredictable knocks that will come our way – and to realise that how we will interpret an offence depends very much on who we are and where we’re coming from.
Offence is not always outright. It comes in different forms. Sometimes it’s more subtle, and at times when we take offence, it wasn’t meant as we took it at all.
Each of us has a dominant pattern of response that we have learnt, and each way has both a positive and a negative side to it. Though challenging an offender may be our attempt to equalize the power imbalance, we may quickly realise that this actually makes a situation worse and that we have ended up getting even more hurt.
If we tend to take the stance that we are to blame, and back off, we may get stepped on even more and carry unforgiveness for a long time. Equally, blaming others leaves us as victims, unable to free ourselves. Withdrawal gives us a chance to think things through, to clarify what took place and to gather ourselves before speaking our truth.
It takes courage to reflect and to come to understand why a particular nerve was hit by a hurtful comment or gesture. When confronting the offender it will help to avoid reactive accusations like, “You…xyz!!”, to a more personal, “When you…I feel…”. Hopefully both sides can learn from what happened and if not it’s then up to us to have done what we could to be real and transparent in trying to bring about peace. We are not meant to remain the victims of offences, but to grow through them, developing our relational muscles as we work towards resolution and healing of what has hurt us in life.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”
Although we may have said this trying to defend ourselves at school, we all know that this is not true. Many of the ongoing wounds we carry are word based. We each can recall offensive things that were aimed at us, whether they were meant to hurt or not. We remember still, when our inadequacies were exposed in some way and we either retreated or fought back, not wanting to show how much it actually hurt.
Those offensive words, often said by someone who wasn’t close to us or who didn’t understand our situation accurately, continue to fester over time. If they came at times when we were feeling vulnerable they more easily eroded our self-esteem and caused self-doubt.
Though offensive words sting, they do not need to continue to define us. Understanding the intention behind someone’s comment may help us let it go, so, if we can, we need to risk asking them to clarify why they said what they did. We help each other when we risk being more transparent and real in our relationships. We need to be very wise and loving in order to be able to speak and receive truth.
God knows and sees our weaknesses, but never reprimands us in a demeaning way. His unconditional love gives us the safe space to risk looking at our sinful patterns. He hurts too at the destructive words that have offended us. Yet He wants us to walk free, to keep our emotional accounts clean and to become safe, life giving presences for others.
We live in a very word based culture in which we’ve developed strong mindsets. We perpetuate our patterns of thinking, believing them to be correct, and allow very little in that will change them.
Jesus challenged this mental rigidity with comments like, “You have heard it said…but I say unto you…” He was inviting his hearers to reconsider their habitual stance and to be opened to His new perspective. This willingness to gain a different perception of a person, belief or situation is essential for our life and growth.
All of us have received insensitive damaging words from those who presumed they saw and knew us correctly, or thoughtless shallow words when we were desperate for deep human connection. The words coming out of someone’s mouth may sound right, but may not be touching the receiver in the way they are needing to be touched – our tone and body language are also speaking – so the message may be received differently.
We all long to know what we think of each other and we give another a great gift if we can use our words more intentionally. We may need to hold back our initial response, notice our bodily feelings, become attentive to the other without words, or gently risk asking significant questions. We are being invited as fellow travellers, not just to relate repetitively, but to strengthen the way we use words so that they can become messengers of life, love and transformation.
In our culture, thinking is probably our strongest function and how we think becomes who we are. We may justify our set beliefs which define our norm, but may be totally misguided. We may believe we are choosing freely but not realise how advertising has skewed what we see as acceptable. We might think we are sharing our own opinion and forget how the internet has influenced us. We could want to do something courageous, but because we think we are ‘past it’, we lose out on life.
As we journey through the sea of life we need to be aware of the cross-currents and winds that pull us off course. We will get blown around if we do not manage our thought processes and will end up where we never wanted to go. We can’t always change prevailing currents, but need to be aware of pressures we are facing and to take risks in being original. We can stop blaming our actions on simply following our cultural thought patterns.
We’ve each been created for a specific purpose, not to just go with the flow of our prevailing culture. Each of us has a beautiful and specific calling, yet this has often been smothered under layers of secondary stuff. Jesus tells us not to be conformed to this world. He wants us to use our minds for His creative purposes, to be in touch with how we see and choose to act. We have Him at the helm of our boat on this life journey. He is busy teaching us to navigate and how to get to our destination, despite the many winds and cross currents that threaten to take us off course.
Click here to listen to the ‘Cross-Currents of The Mind’ audio.
There are parts of ourselves we like, and parts of ourselves we avoid
All of us are at home with the parts of ourselves that we like. These we elevate and present to the world. Yet this is not all of who we are. We often don’t have a good relationship with the parts that ‘don’t work’, and have separated some places into ‘No-Go’ zones. So, in order to cope with our lives, we don’t embrace some of our painful emotions that are not working so well in us – like our fear, remorse, guilt. We find it hard to appreciate those unlovely places. We might fill our empty spaces with noise and obligations so that these emotions get quietened or at least pushed down again. For we do not feel comfortable with our powerless feelings.
Continue reading Accepting parts of ourselves that ‘don’t work’ can enable us to have better relationships
Just as we have a body, we have an inner self. There are similarities between our physical and our unseen parts. If we reflect on our body and how we care for it, we can learn a lot about about how to tend to our inner ‘body’. Just as we eat well and exercise to keep healthy, so too we nurture and love our inner self.
Continue reading “Where does it hurt?” Healing our wounds in order to live more fully