Wednesday, December 26

North Is Always Up

"North," my son insists, "is that way." He's pointing determinedly toward the corner of our yard in a direction that I feel, instinctively, is East. Or almost East, at least.

The younger two boys, backed-up by my husband, join the argument. The argument wherein they assure me that they are all right, and I hold out that they are all wrong. Because I can feel that West is not in the direction they claim, and nor is South. They must be wrong, because my instincts tell me so.

My instincts, it turns out, are out of whack. A compass is yanked from the school drawer and it is quickly determined that I don't have the slightest idea what I am talking about.

It would be safe to imagine that, having been proven wrong, I would drop the subject there. Directionality comes up often in conversation ("I saw a pair of coyotes just East of here this morning," or "Hey, Mom, which direction am I pointing in now?" All knowing smirks to follow.) and every, every time I am committed to my sense that the compass must be skewed because my insides tell me which way is what.

Road trips are an adventure with me at the wheel. I'll follow my nose ("This way feels like must be South."), sometimes with challenging results. I once drove a full hour in the direction exactly opposite to the one I should have been heading simply because it felt right!

Which brings me to a thoughtful point: Sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes our perceptions about ourselves and our surroundings are out of line with our Compass. We see ourselves, our loved ones, our companions, our children as something that they are not.

If we're optimists, we may have the joyous luxury of seeing things in the lovely glow of beauty and success. More likely, we're realists, pessimists, even fatalists: things are ugly, failing, not measuring up.

What did your inner voice tell you about yourself when you looked in the mirror this morning? What did it tell you about how you handled the Christmas crowd or your child's last misdemeanor? What did it tell you about your temper, your sense of humor, your talents, your contribution to the world?

Is it telling you the truth, or is some invisible magnet pulling it off the north arrow?

"Believe all that Jesus says about you, and some of what others say about you ~ even if it's something nice." That's one of the attitudes I've been struggling to adopt over my years' long journey toward a healthier body. It can be difficult, even impossible, for us to believe the kind, building, I-adore-this-about-you words of our Savior and our friends.

Our insides tell us, with stout determination built on decades of experience, that it's all flattery or feel-good mumbo-jumbo. But sometimes the good stuff is true. Our experience tells us that it'd be better if we stayed out of potentially painful relationships. Jesus says, "Go. Do. Tell." Our years tell us we're not very funny, we're too loud, we say all of the wrong things (all of the time). Our friends say, "You said just the right thing yesterday. Thanks!" or "You make me laugh!"

More difficult to accept (at least graciously!) are words of correction. Sometimes our thoughts about ourselves, our children (My little Johnny would never do that!), our lives are nice and shiny on the outside but a little rotted and rusty on the inside. A warning, a rebuke, a criticism from a friend can be hard to accept.

My guess is that my internal compass is never going to improve. West will always feel West even if it's actually South. What may improve, if I choose to let it, is my willingness to acknowledge that my sense of direction is off. Way off.

My ability to assess myself, my friends, my world may not improve much either. Maybe my judgement will always be a little wacky. Maybe, when it comes to myself, it will always be on the cruel side. What may improve, if I choose to let it, is my willingness to acknowledge that I'm not always perceiving things correctly. I may learn to live in agreement with the tender things that others sometimes say, or the leading things that Jesus might point out.

What about you? If I tell you now that you are so lovely, so funny, so wonderfully intelligent, can you hear me? Because I'm telling you the truth. You are made to look like God and I think that you are brilliant!

If a friend says, "Watch out! There's trouble ahead ~ you may not be as strong here as you think you are," are you able to listen?

Can you ignore that critical, sneering voice of Accusation, or the flattering, stroking hand of Pride and align your thinking with a more truthful compass? Maybe your internal compass is off? Just a little? And maybe the God who made you and the people who adore you are telling you the truth.

That said, I'm going out to buy a new compass. Ours is obviously broken and I wouldn't want to impede my sons' education by forcing them to use faulty equipment.

Friday, December 14

Stepford Wives We Ain't!

The morning hours are teeny tiny and I'm too tired to think as I connect with a gal I know through a mentoring program. She is angry. Frustrated by an ongoing marital conflict, she has grown weary of the effort involved in keeping her relationship afloat.

"Why," she demands, "do women have to do all of the work in bettering a marriage? Why don't men do any of the work? Does God intend for us to be Stepford wives, always subservient, always assuming the role of the one who will attempt to make our relationships stronger? Women are tired and frustrated of being the ones who always have to change. I realize that the Lord has gifted women with certain sensibilities, but when do we get a break? No pat answers, please. I'm looking for clear insights."

My acquaintance has been married for over forty years. I hesitate to respond, knowing that "clear insights" into such a muddy area may be hard to come by! If dozens of self-help books and forty years of experience haven't provided the answers, I'm pretty sure my musings will fall short!

I make an attempt, pondering my response over the course of the next two days. Struggling to put words to a complex, pervasive, romance-choking problem. And this is what I said...


Dear Lena,

I have given considerable thought to your question and I think I've written you six essays in my mind today! I am going to assume from the tone of your well-worded thoughts that you are not being abused. If you are being abused, please disregard the following and write me again so that we can approach this from a completely different angle, okay?

I don't want to be verbose in replying, but I don't want to oversimplify this intense issue either. Can we look at it from a few different perspectives? I'm not sure any of them will give the answer(s) you're looking for, but this might be a place to start this conversation:

1. You're right: Women work hard at relationships ~ love, friendship, family, all. God does not intend for us to be Stepford wives (!). Women do grow deeply weary in this area. If they didn't our North American divorce rate would be a fraction of what it is because our tenacity and faithfulness would not waver.

I relate uncomfortably well to your careful anger in this area. In the fifteen years that we've been married, I have attempted to address this very thing fifteen (or fifteen-hundred!) different ways with my husband. A certain level of acceptance has settled in my heart and mind. Your thoughts, your assessment are correct, but I believe that the solution to our angst lies in the pat answers that we so despise (and despise them we do!).

2. Part of that angst is culturally based. We live in a land of plenty ~ of excess. And while we may not be privy to exceptional wealth or lives of ease, we are touched by the overbearing self-centeredness of our continent (as are our husbands).

While the majority of women in the world live in subservience, poverty, and suffering gross neglect, we enjoy the ease of countless luxuries.
We enjoy clean drinking water, access to education, freedom of religion, freedom of choice in whom we marry. We, arguably, have the same rights as men in career choice, societal status, and "say" in how our homes are run. We can read. We can write. We can holiday. We can feed our babies.

My point? With all of that wealth, there can come an attitude of entitlement. Our culture tells us, every day, that we are deserving of all of it, and even more. And, to a point, we buy in to that. We do, we tell ourselves, deserve to have it all and more.

And when our relationships, our marriages (our weight, our skin, our bank accounts), don't measure up to the fairy tale we've been promised, we feel cheated. We scramble after it, trying to achieve/acquire the romance we've read about, dreamed about, sang about.

But the fairytale is just that: a story. Our men are no more capable of being Prince Charming than we are of pulling off a Perfect Princess.

We have so much. So much. But we are quick to focus on the one, two, five things we do not have. And that makes us angry. (Lena, I'm preachin' to the choir here ~ I'm speaking to myself as much as I am to you right now!)

3. Men need our compassion more than they need our brow beating. They feel the pressure to get it right. They know the expectations of their culture are high. Their personal brokenness causes them to react to that pressure in dozens of ways ~ most of which do nothing to aid in the building of their marriages. But if you ask them, they're trying. They're trying very hard (sometimes only in their own minds, mind you!) to make us/keep us happy. They need our patience. They need our mercy. They even need our gratitude.

4. Women truly are gifted with "certain sensibilities." This is a powerful truth, Lena. As beings created in the image of the Maker of the World, we carry the relational aspects of the Creator about with us everywhere we go. We have the ability to by pliable - moved by mercy and tenderness and fierce love. We are responsive to suffering. We know how to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. We know how to listen. We know, sometimes, when to speak and when to remain silent. We know how to give ourselves away.

The words, "...consider others as better than yourself..." and "...Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friend," are written for us (for our guys, too, but let's just deal with the only people we actually have any sway over ~ ourselves). Our self-sacrifice is not empty ~ it is part of our "labor for the Lord" which is never wasted.

I've been considering Jesus' words about laying down our lives for our friends. For the past several months, I've been wondering about what that means in the life of a Canadian/American woman. We will not likely be required to take a bullet or a sword for our beloved. Physically, we will probably not be called upon to give up our lives for the ones we hold close.

But what about our "rights?" What about our feelings? Our hopes? Our plans? Can we lay some of those aside out of deep (or simply obedient) love for our husbands? Our children?
Jesus doesn't promise us self-fulfillment, happiness, comfort. He asks us to die. He asks us to die so that He can live through us. Does this apply to our marriages?

Feminism has taught us that we have to hang on to our dreams and gifts and rights at all costs. Jesus asks us, not as women, but as His followers, to lay all of that down. He makes that request with the promise that as we humble ourselves under God's mighty hand, He will lift us up in due time.

So, the question to myself and to other women then becomes, "In the short time I have here, where will I place my focus? On my immediate happiness? On my own well being? On the failings of the people I love? Or, out of love for the One who gave Himself up for me, can I let go of all that I consider important and trust Him with the outcome?"

If you had asked me that question two weeks ago, I wouldn't have been able to make a Jesus choice. My husband and I were in a dark place and your current struggle was roiling in my own mind. But sitting here, a few days later, I can see (for now!) that the choice is clear.


The remainder of my response was on a more personal level so I won't include it here. I would love to hear your thoughts and insights on this. My personal feeling is that we, as women, have the opportunity (the responsibility?) to become relational experts. Really.

The truth is, girls, that we know how to make our relationships strong ~ friendships, loves, even acquaintences. Sometimes we put our heart and skill into building our circle of connections, but often we turn inward, focusing our energy on our own wounds, our own needs, our own wants ~ all at the expense of what could be healthy, thriving, mutually satisfying bonds.

I'm not suggesting that we go backward in time, neglecting ourselves and smothering our own desires: we are men's equals in every, every way. Except in this area. In this area, we are stronger. We are more skilled, more intuitive, more patient, more determined.

Let's not waste those amazing qualities by fussing and grumbling about what we do not have. Let's hone the skill of relationship making. Let's perfect the art of loving well.

If we can do that, my friends, we can change the world. We can change our churches. We can change our neighborhoods. We can change our workplaces and our homes.

What do you think?

Monday, December 3

Loving unselfishly does not mean making the least of ourselves

but making the most of someone else.

~ Jo Ann Lemon ~