Monday, June 17, 2013

Listening To the Nail

There is this video that is running rampant on Facebook: It's Not About the Nail. It is meant to be funny and yet prove a point. The point being that, even though women might be emotional and just want men to listen to them and not fix them, the problems men perceive and the solutions that men suggest are perfectly logical and just what is needed. You are left with the perception that women are  emotionally deranged beings and just want to whine instead of get with the program.

I watched it and laughed, too. The woman, we'll call her Miss Nail, sits there with a nail sticking out of her forehead, complaining of pain and how her sweaters are all snagged, and the man, Mr. Solution, says that she obviously needs to just take the nail out of her head and the pain will go away. "If you would just . . ."

But how many times do we hear that? We speak up, begin to share a burden, only to be answered with "If you would just . . . ." There is nothing that cuts off communication and stops fellowship in its tracks than being set up as a project for somebody else to fix.

The truth is is that it might NOT be about the nail after all. Or "just" taking the nail out might not be easy or even possible. What if the person the woman trusted more than anybody on the planet is the one that hammered that nail into her head and she is afraid to let anybody else near her? What if the only way to get the nail out is to travel a long distance to a highly qualified medical professional who can remove it with the least damage, but she doesn't have the money? What if that nail is in her head in such a place that its removal would result in her bleeding to death and so she has to live with it as it is? What if what she is talking about isn't about that nail at all? What if it is another matter entirely?

Mr. Solution might find this out if he were to maybe ask some questions and listen long enough to get the full picture. The "here I am, Mr. Fix-it to the rescue" attitude cuts off any true communication and understanding of the heart of the problem.

Listening is crucial. But listening takes time. Last week I read a most excellent article from a man who had interviewed a large number of college age and young adult atheists. He just wanted to listen and hear their stories. What struck me was that the most of these people came to him expecting to be argued with and debated and urged into changing their position. Once they realized that he was just there to listen then they really opened up. He said that early on most would claim that their decision to become atheists was a rational one, but if he listened long enough he would find out that often it was more emotional than rational. But he had to listen long enough.

Do we listen long enough? It seems like the knee-jerk reaction in society and even, maybe especially, in the church, is to fork over solutions and prescriptions without ever knowing the full story. We hear a snippet and assume, based on our own frame of reference, that we know exactly what is going on and how to fix it.

Young Woman shares with Older Woman that she is struggling in her marriage. Older Woman suggests that the solution is for Young Woman to keep her husband happy by having lots of sex. Lots of sex equals happy husband and happy husband equals happy marriage or something like that, maybe because that is what worked for her.

But the problem is that Older Woman never asked Young Woman any more about her struggles and the nature of the problem. What if struggling in her marriage means husband is having an affair, or abusing her or her children? What if husband is addicted to pornography and has rejected Young Woman as not exciting enough or forcing himself on her? What if struggling in her marriage means that every time she begins to have sex with her husband she is flooded with memories of being raped by her uncle and, try as she might, she just shuts down? The solution of "just have more sex" would not only be ineffective in the face of these situations, it could be downright harmful. But Older Woman doesn't know this because she never asked and never took the time to listen.

People who are hurting rarely fight for the right to be heard. Shut them down with a "you just need to" and you have shut them down for good. We are called to love and encourage one another, not necessarily fix one another. This isn't just my lame idea because I get tired of getting "fixed" myself, other people have said it, too:

Our mutual calling is to live out our faith together, not simply provide solutions to one another. —William P. Smith from Loving Well

That's not to say we cannot work toward solutions together. But we must listen long enough to truly understand the problem before we can, together, come with a solution. If we are to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2), we need to be able to identify what those burdens really are.

For Mr. Solution in the video, it will mean listening long enough to get the whole picture. It might mean that he has to earn the trust of Miss Nail before he can take out the nail himself. It might mean that he helps Miss Nail raise money to travel to the specialist who can remove the nail for her. It might mean that he is there to assist her when she puts on her sweater so that it doesn't get snagged on the nail. But he won't know until he listens.

I think that is one reason why James tells us to "be quick to listen" (James 1:19). If we listen, we just might learn something and end up loving somebody in the process. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bear With Me . . .

Dear Mama Bear, Junior Bear, Baby Bears and, I assume, Papa Bear (based on the basics of animal husbandry, I assume you must exist):

I come in peace. I feel no enmity between your people and mine. I understand that we have invaded your Happy Hunting Grounds and therefore you have no need to respect boundary lines nor fence posts nor restrictive covenants regarding the keeping of livestock or wild animals of any kind.

I understand that you are likely hungry and we humans seem to have the goods. We humans set out seeds for your gastronomical pleasure and bags of garbage to provide you with a satisfactory trash-picking experience. Not only that, but we even provide you with decks to climb, hot tubs for your bathing needs, and play structures to keep your wee cubs entertained.

I like you. But I have a problem.

You see I have dogs and my dogs have noses. And, seeing how you don't seem to have discovered the joys of Dry Idea or Speed Stick, my dogs can smell you from what seem to be miles and miles away.

Sometimes their sniffing starts out quietly and slowly. In the middle of the night it usually begins with a breathy "Hhhmph" followed by a growl and a large sniff and then another "Hhhmph" or two—or ten. So I am partially awake before the all out I Must Alert The World That We Are Being Invaded By Alien Beings bark sets in.

Other times there is no warning and I must peel myself off the ceiling and hope my pulse, that just tripled from the sudden Alert The World barking, will slow down some time this week.

Just this morning, dear bears, your presence set in motion a chaotic domino effect that ended with one sleep-deprived people-teen yelling out the window for the canines to SHUT UP! You may have heard about not waking sleeping bears. The same applies to sleeping adolescents of my species. To awaken such a sleeping monster is a foolish and dangerous thing, indeed.

I understand that this is all part and parcel of living in the mountains, or more particularly, living with dogs in the mountains. I don't have anything against your being here. What I do have a problem with is the fact that, no matter how much my dogs are sniffing and barking and trying to save the planet, I don't see you. And I like seeing the source of the chaos.

It is kind of like traffic jams. I understand that this might be totally lost on you bears, but we humans, when we get stopped in traffic on the highway and move at a snail's pace (or a sleepy bear's pace) for a mile or two and end up being late to the dentist because of it, we like to see WHY we were held up. There is something SO darn frustrating with never seeing the source of the jam.

This is the same case. If my dogs are barking themselves into a frenzy over you, I want to see you. You are fun to look at. In fact you are just plain cute. And, by the way, your babies look as if they were plucked from off the assembly line at the Gund factory.

So, this is my plea. Stand up and show yourselves. If necessary, just come and ask for food. I can understand the word "please" in five languages (six if you count Pig Latin) and am always happy to oblige. I currently have on hand some stale "everything" bagels, week old baked beans, and popsicles purchased last January to sooth a sore throat, and I am ever so willing to share.

So from now on, I am happy to share my chunk of the planet with you. I will try to be a good neighbor. But don't be shy. Show up every once in a while. And the pups will thank you, too. Dogs barking at bears are more tolerable and endearing to their owners than dogs barking at air. The least you could do is provide us with a wee bit of entertainment.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pick Two (Another Note for Young Mothers)

You, yes, you young moms. I see you. I know you. I know lots of you. I used to be one of you. It seems like eons ago and yet like yesterday, but I was there, too.

Here's the gig: You can have standards. You can have children. You can have sanity. Pick TWO. You can't have them all. It just plain goes against the laws of nature.

You CAN have standards and sanity:

Sure, in your pre-children state you can have standards and still maintain your sanity. You can be germ-averse and house-tidy. You can have a place for everything and everything in its place. You can dine at the finest of establishments while swigging down locally brewed beverages made from only the most organic of ingredients. Your house can look like the cover of Martha Stewart Magazine and you can vow never, ever, ever to set foot in Wal-Mart. Ever! You can shop at the local tailgate markets and fork over $4 for a tomato. But throw in kids and, well, you're toast.

You CAN have children and sanity:

Well, maybe one kid and you can keep up the standards . . . for a bit. One kid you can chase down and wrestle to the ground, to pull the dead stinkbug from his tiny fist or fish it out of his mouth. Two kids are a different thing. Three? Well, stinkbugs are a great source of protein. Four? "Let's make stinkbug ice cream for the science fair project!"

To have kids means to loosen up and go with the flow. You might be horrified to find yourself doing many of those things you smugly said in your pre-kid days that you would NEVER do, but you sigh in defeat and do them anyway, knowing that nobody is the worse for wear.

Kids and tidy just don't go together. Kids like dirt and water (and dirt + water = mud—lots of it). Kids like to experiment with gravity. Kids like Wal-Mart (mind boggling, I know). And kids like . . . no, they LOVE . . . McDonald's seemingly crack-infused chicken nuggets. And when you have a car full of hungry, cranky mayhem and you see the Golden Arches in the distance, you might find that the one thing that brings back your sanity is to bring the car to a screeching halt and partake, along with the rest of America, of those cultural entities, greasy at they may be. You have not failed, you have done what any good mother would do: You have prevented mass murder in your back seat.

You CAN have children and standards:

But don't expect anybody to be happy about it.

Not you. You will drive yourself nuts running around cleaning and straightening and fretting and panicking and never, ever enjoying the little beasts God has placed in your care.

Not your kids. You will drive THEM nuts. Snapping and training and taking all of the full-on spontaneity out of that thing called childhood. So what if he is eating Cheerios off the floor (a little added fiber)? So what if he is wearing the same shirt 4 days in a row? Everybody expects kids to be dirty, anyway. So what if he just dragged every blanket in the house into the living room floor and made a mound the size of Everest? This is what childhood IS. Deal with it.

Not your friends. You will drive them nuts, too. Nobody can live up to those standards. Even dear old Dr. Dobson says that the worst thing one mom can do to other moms is to clean up her house before they come over. We moms need to know we are all in the crazy mess called parenthood together.

There you have it. Standards. Sanity. Children. Pick two. 

Go ahead and enjoy your micromanaged, orderly, germ-free life pre-kids, but once those bundles of joy start piling up you are gonna have to change the game plan. If you try to maintain your high ideals with a growing family, you WILL go certifiably nuts, and drive everybody else crazy in the process. It just isn't worth it. Give it up and have fun with the chaos!