Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Legacy of Loneliness

My father was the only child of a rather reserved house painter and a chronically depressed nurse. During the Depression, he mother would drive from their small town in central Massachusetts into Boston and work all week at Massachusetts General Hospital, leaving her young son and her husband to fend for themselves in a very stoic environment. His childhood was, from what I have gathered, intensely lonely and that colored his ability to relate to people for the rest of his life.

He came by that loneliness honestly, perhaps. His mother suffered much the same fate. She was an only child as well, the daughter of a Standard Oil executive from Ohio and a younger woman from the Deep South. Her parents's divorce circa 1903 when she was around 5 years old was a devastating blow and changed the course of her life. She spent six months with each parent. As an adult she refused to visit the South.

My mother was an only child as well and I heard from her how badly she longed for siblings her entire life. Beneath the backdrop of her Depression era childhood was the constant theme of loneliness.

I have always been against the idea of only children for this very reason, having seen my own parents suffer so much. Yet you don't have to be an only child to struggle with loneliness.

If I am totally honest, I would have to say that a common thread throughout my childhood, especially into my teen years, was loneliness. Perhaps that is what comes from being the youngest. The one who is left out and left behind when the others have moved on with their lives.

Yet I have a daughter who struggles terribly with loneliness. She isn't an only child. She, like me, has three siblings, but she is not the youngest. Yet she can feel that loneliness with the same intensity.

It left me wondering....can loneliness be inherited? And I looked it up and found articles that say that indeed it can. Depending on who you read and what study it can vary in terms of what percentage of loneliness is genetic vs. environmental but studies show that there is indeed a genetic predisposition to loneliness. In effect, your genes may help determine if you interpret your circumstances as lonely or not.

I find this in some way comforting, like it isn't all in my head. I'm not imagining it.

Now, from what I've seen, all the studies have been on people 50 or older and my primary loneliness was in childhood, though I can certainly experience intense bouts of it still today. The studies talk about how, because loneliness is so dangerous...a strong a predictor of early death as obesity or smoking...people need to learn to read the cues and find ways to address loneliness in healthy ways, the same as we would address health concerns. I think it is so important to take loneliness seriously. Treat it like high cholesterol or high blood pressure or diabetes.

What makes us lonely? What keeps us lonely? How can we learn to reach out to each other in our loneliness?

And for kids? Kids have so few resources. How can we love and care for and teach kids to let us know when they are lonely? How can we be a community that wipes out loneliness?

These are just some thoughts. I would love to hear your ideas. 



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Maybe Too Personal

I'm going to get personal here. Who me? Yeah, me. Of course. 'Cause that's what I do.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the fear of the Slippery Slope and how that pertains to the disagreement and debate over the role of women in the church. I've written before about the need for women to be listened to, respected, and protected. And I've thrown it out there in saying that, regardless of where you come down on which roles women can and can't do within the church, we really, really want to matter.

I'll be honest here that my experience with men, especially older men and men in authority within the church, hasn't been terribly positive. My opportunities to speak up have been limited. My words have been misunderstood or ignored or corrected. I feel that there is little value in my presence. Yes, I "feel" that way. Another bad word.

Here is the issue for me. I grew up with very little interaction with my father. The interactions I did have with him were oftentimes corrective in nature. He could be brusk. And forceful. And scold. Then he was gone. I had no grandfathers in my life. No uncles. No family friends. I had no males in my life whatsoever that told me that I had any value in who I was. This left in me a gaping hole and a terribly skewed view of who God is and what he thinks of me. Then I am in a church of all male leadership. Authority figures. Like my father. Like God.

I was a disappointment when I was born. My father desperately wanted another son. I found the letter my grandmother wrote to him after I was born, telling him how sorry she was that I was a girl. You know what? I can't change that. I can't change the fact that God saw fit to make me a girl.

But it is so hard to go into churches where there is an all male rule of authority and rarely be engaged with and or listened to and then, when you speak up, to be chastised that you are doing it wrong. Do you think that in any way that helps me view God as any different than my father?

Diane Langberg is one of the best of the best when it comes to understanding people and pain. She explains how victims of childhood trauma, while they may fully believe the truths of Scripture, feel that somehow they are the exception when it comes to their relationship with God and how even thought they know the Bible says that he loves us, they believe they are the exception. She says that

One of the things that turns this around is ...others in the Body of Christ, who become the incarnation of God's love in the flesh for that person. It's over time, loving them through their anger and their fears and their struggles...speaking truth into their life with grace--over those years of experiencing in the flesh what they should have experienced in the flesh as children--that love begins to go in, little by little. 
 So it is the incarnational work to be in community with somebody who has been so injured because the Body of Christ becomes a representative of God in the flesh for the survivor. 
Her point is that, just as neglect, abuse, pain, and suffering happen through relationship, so does healing.

I'm sorry if this makes it sound like I am just going on a royal sob fest. I'm sharing my heart. But it isn't just my heart. This is the experience of thousands upon thousands of women out there. For once I know, I KNOW I am not the only one.

Think of every woman who has been sexually abused by the time they are 18. Think about every woman who has experienced control and abuse at the hands of her husband, maybe even an apparently fine, upstanding Christian husband. Both of these statistics alone are around one in three. One-third of the women in the congregation who have been traumatized by a man! THINK ABOUT THAT! Then think about all the women who grew up without a father. Or with a father physically present but emotionally absent, or perhaps even physically or verbally abusive.

I would dare to say that it might be the minority of women who enter the church doors with a remotely positive view of God as a kind and compassionate Father who values them.

So do you see how very damaging it can be to women when we are shoved aside? Left to have our own tea parties with cookies and doilies? And if we speak up we are put in our place? Do you think that in any way that helps us see God as one might care about us? Value us?

How men treat women within the church matters. It matters a lot. We aren't scary. We are't trash. We aren't out to seduce you and ruin your reputation. We aren't out to grab at all your power and run down the streets with it, squealing with glee. We are here, wanting to matter. Again. I'm a broken record on this and I've said it and I'll say it again. We want to matter.












Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Slippery Slope Slides Both Ways

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times. All the worry about the slippery slope. Give an inch, they'll take a mile and then more. An easing up of rigidity and before you know it we are all going to hell in a handbasket of warm, mushy, good-for-nothing feel-goodisms and have failed at our role as hardened warriors for God.

This is what I've seen when it comes to some of the issues within the more conservative church these days. The one that primarily comes to mind is the role of women. I've read and watched more debates than are good for my stress level.

Here's the problem. You have the complementarians on one side and the egalitarians on the other. And somewhere you have a lot of women, over half the church, best I can tell. And you have entire denominations of men saying that women cannot preach, and cannot teach a man, and then they say they cannot be an elder or rule over a man in any way, and then they say they cannot be on committees, and then they say they cannot be deacons, and then they say they cannot lead worship, and some even say they cannot speak in church at all.

I've watched one denomination debate the role of women. I've watched them want to have women as part of the conversation and seen men blow their stacks at even having women as part of the conversation. Why? Because of the slippery slope.

The reasoning goes like this. If you open up the conversation about what women can do, like perform deacon-type work, maybe even be called deacons (gasp), you are on the slippery slope to liberalism and before you know you you are no better than the wretched mainline denominations that have no place for the Word of God.

Excuse me, but I fail to see how talking about issues, really talking about them, talking about the millions of women in churches who may not be fully used to their potential because they are not allowed to do anything but hold babies, teach Sunday School, or cook casseroles, I don't see how talking about these issues is in any way a laundry chute straight to hell. To me it seems to be seeking greater stewardship of gifts and better allocation of the gifts at our disposal (not to mention the ringing of the Liberty Bell for those of us who like neither kids nor cooking).

But the slippery slope, you say.

I'll tell you this. The slippery slope slides both ways. One way to liberalism. But the other to oppression. And I know plenty of women who are feeling terribly oppressed right now. We can be looked past. Looked through. Talked over. Talked around. Ignored. Set aside. Patted on the head. But often not allowed to use the gifts we have to serve the people who need us. In effect, kept in our place. That, to me, is oppression. Or a set up for oppression.

I'm concerned that we only see the one side. We conservative types are so darn wigged out about the possibility of becoming liberal that we kill our freedom and suck the joy our of life in the mean time. There has to be a better way.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Pictures and Words

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, yet there are plenty of times that I'd prefer the words. I just don't see how a picture really communicates everything. It can show you your surroundings. Your externals. But a picture can't tell me your thoughts, ideas, feelings. A picture won't necessarily let me in on the struggles of your life.

Pictures are subject to such interpretation. Whether it is a picture of a smiling parent, a mischievous child, a beautiful sunset, or even a totally trashed living room after the toddler has had her way, a picture may trigger something in me, but it still doesn't tell me about you. It still doesn't connect me to you.

People are excellent at filling in the gaps with assumptions. You post beautiful picture after beautiful picture and I assume that your life is beautiful. You post nothing but smiles and I assume your life is nothing but smiles. You post nothing but weddings and birthdays and happy photos of happy times and I assume that that is your life. All the time. Pinterest worthy and Picture Perfect.

But words....words....if you use the words and if you are honest with your words, words tell me about you. They might tell me that it took 3 hours to get your toddler to sit still in order to brush her hair (hey, you're like me!) They might tell me that that smiling dad broke your heart when he left your family (hey, you're like me!) They might tell me that that beautiful sunset came as a much needed reminder that God is still on the job of making ugly things beautiful because you just went through two months of hell on earth (hey, you're like me!).

Facebook these days seems to be nothing but pictures. I don't get it. I need words. I need connection. I need to know who you are in the inside.

I don't have problems with pictures sprinkled here and there, but add words to them. Tell me about them. Tell me about you.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

On Rest

I have never been so tired in my life. I look in the mirror and am totally shocked at the pathetic creature staring back at me. Like a half-dead possum in the headlights. My husband says he has never seen me so tired. So completely empty. So raw. As if I have no skin left. Indeed, there are times when my skin actually hurts, as if it is telling me physically where I am emotionally. I have no guard. No protection. I am a tire worn to the metal. A truck running on fumes.

There are times when I worry. Just how close am I to totally losing it? What if I snap? What if my mind totally goes in the stress and exhaustion that is my life? What if I become one of those women who wanders the streets wearing a bad lipstick job and silly hats, handing out candy to children and rocking back and forth at bus stops. And people will say nice things about my husband and how he is such a kind and faithful  man takes such good care of that pathetic wife of his. They might even bring him casseroles.

I need rest. My pale, haggard face in the mirror says it. My worn out body says it. My trembling voice says it. My broken heart says it. My soul, if it is still in there somewhere, says it.

I have never paid heed to the whole Sabbath thing. It seems so pious. So legalistic. All those things that people say you aren't supposed to and are supposed to do. It seems a burden that was more than I could bear, the very opposite of rest.

I am in no way a theologian, but it seems like we got away from the original purpose of the Sabbath when we made all those rules...those rules which vary depending on where you grew up and who your family was. If the whole purpose of the Sabbath is for rest because we need it and God knows we need it because he knows we are but dust and if he told us to "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy" and if indeed holy means set apart, then it means that God wants us to set apart a day to rest. So basically, we get a day off.

I don't know about you, but I don't think we need to parse words about what that means and what that doesn't mean because rest means different things for different people.

Last month I had The Week From Hell. It was seriously one of the hardest weeks of my life. Then came a Wednesday when I had absolutely nothing on the calendar until 5:30 that evening. No clients. No appointments. No childcare. Nothing.

I got out the lawn mower and spent the day cutting the grass and crying. The hum of the mower, the physical release of stress as I shoved my partially functioning, non-propelling machine up our hills and over our rocks, the calling out to God to be merciful to me and my hurting daughter. The quiet when I could sit on the porch and just look out at it all and cry some more. I look back at that day as the closest thing I have ever had to a Sabbath. I needed it so badly. I need another one. I need them all the time.

I'm not good with boundaries. I take on way too much. I get overloaded. And even if I don't take on too many physical burdens, I take them on emotionally. Your problems become my problems. Wheee! My counselor (Yes, I'm in counseling. Everybody should be, in my opinion.) is really working with me on setting boundaries. It is a hard thing for me. I feel so responsible for so very much. In fact, one characteristic of people with OCD (moi!) is that they have felt a hyper sense of overresponsibility their entire lives. So boundary setting is huge for me right now.

Discipline means preventing everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on. - Henri Nouwen 
Discipline has always been a bad word to me. It has always meant to me either punishment or doing more and trying harder. I had never, ever considered the idea of discipline as doing less. Protecting myself. Protecting my time. Creating the blank canvas for God to work.

The idea of a Sabbath is growing on me. The word doesn't even scare me any more. It no longer sounds like something more I have to do...one more hoop I have to jump through to please God. Instead I am seeing it as just what it is. A gift. A gift I really, really need.




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Ministry of Listening and an Invitation to Spill

I am by no means a film connoisseur. I restrict my viewing strictly to educational or entertainment purposes. That said, one of my favorite movies is Legally Blonde of "Bend and SNAP!" and "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t" fame.

Elle Wood's first day of class at Harvard Law School proves horrifying on a number of educational and personal levels and she parks her fancy ride haphazardly and staggers with rumpled hair and a tear-stained face into a hair and nail salon. The manicure lady, Paulette, looks up and takes notice.
Paulette: Bad day?
Elle nods. "You have no idea."
Paulette: Spill!
What a beautiful invitation! Who doesn't want to be able to spill. Just spill. To pour their heart out to another human being without encountering judgement or chastisement or correction or fixing or lectures or debate. In effect, to be listened to. To be heard. To be known. We want it. We need it. But we aren't good at doing it.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
It seems that the first part of James command gets lost in the mix. How often do you hear a sermon about listening? Or read an article or blog post? We hear so much about the use of our words. What we shouldn't say (slander, gossip, false witness, profanity, the Lord's name in vain) and what we should (the truth) and sometimes we hear about how we should say it (in love). Sometimes we even hear about the value of keeping silent, so as to avoid sin. Proverbs is chock full of such wisdom and James later waxes eloquent about the destructive power of the tongue. We even have classes on logic and debate so that we can better communicate the wonderful truths of our biblical worldview. 

But when do we hear about listening? The thing is, listening is essential to all relationships. But listening is hard. It requires a humility to listen. It forces you to set aside your own agenda. It requires a certain level of other focus. It is proactive. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I do not think that you can truly love a person unless you are willing to listen to them.

I can already hear the pushback. "Aren't we told to teach one another and exhort one another and encourage one another and speak the truth (in love, of course) to one another?" Sure we are. But we aren't called to all of that all of the time. And how on earth can you know if you are to encourage or exhort unless you spend the time listening. Listening to understand not just listening to formulate your own response or fix the other person. 

Even Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and who can argue with him?)wrote of what he called "The Ministry of Listening."
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.
So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. 
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. 
This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”
I often hear people say that they don't know what to say to someone in crisis or someone that is hurting. You don't have to say anything. Offer to listen.

Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable. - David Augsburger 
Listening gets you outside yourself. Outside your well prepared answers. If love is all about laying aside your own agenda and desires, indeed your own life for that of another, there is not better way to do it than listening.




Monday, May 22, 2017

God is No Santa Claus

I have a friend who is in a tough spot financially, yet he is hesitant to go to God with his need. When I asked him about this he said because he had it beat into his head growing up that "God is not Santa Clause."

I know what he means. I've heard it, too. And really, nobody can stomach a greedy spoiled brat squealing "gimmee, gimmee, gimmee!"

But the message that God is not Santa Claus sent another message as well. It went something like this. You can't go to God with any issue where there is the possibility that you may be at fault because you would be expecting God to bail you out instead of suffering the consequences of your own sin.

So basically, the message my friend got is that God is this guy who you can go to if you have jumped through all the right hoops and lived the holiest and best of lives and then you can approach him with your needs and hope that he may hear you. But to me that sounds like Santa Claus. Only less so.

God is not Santa Claus. But he is not less than Santa Claus. He is much, much, much more. He is Creator. Protector. Provider. Healer. Shepherd. He sets the captives free. He does not pay us as our sins deserve. He rejoices over us with singing.

What does Santa Claus do? He makes a list and checks it twice and wants to find out if you're naughty or nice. With Santa Claus, we're all toast. There is no grace and mercy with Santa. He expects us to pull our own weight and to it right all the time. And then, and only then, will we get what we ask for.

God knows us inside and out. He knows our frame. He knows we are dust. Earthen vessels. Prone to wander. Yet his word tells us that he is a good, good father and he loves to give good gifts to his children. Gifts that we don't earn.

He also tells us to come and to cry out to him. To tell him our needs. To depend on him. To hide in the Shadow of his wing.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:11

Santa tells us we need to be on the nice list.

No! God is no Santa Claus! That is a very good thing.