Sunday, June 15, 2014

It's Not About Winning

War is something that is as old a concept as man.  Since we were created we have found ways to be at odds with one another.  Harmony is not the natural state of man.  

If you think of humanity like water we are rarely perfectly flat and calm and glassy.  When water is calm, there is an undeniable beauty, but we know it never lasts long.  When there is peace among men we relish it but like a setting sun or glassy water we know with an often impending dread that time will cause this to end. 

It's sorrowful for us that we crave conflict that our base desire is not to be even keeled and peaceful with one another.  But there are reasons for this aren't there?  Both good and bad ones.  

Cain killed Abel because he was jealous.

Today in my house one brother fights another over territorial matters such as what toy belongs to who. Before long I imagine that it could progress to tape down the middle of the floor and "YOU STAY ON YOUR SIDE."  What my boys don't realize is that they're fighting a battle that's been going on for millennia.  It's normal or automatic or inevitable or maybe it's just human

Governments go to war sacrificing their youth over tax money or oil reserves.

Husbands and wives battle over what to spend money on or so and so's parents or more likely because they've forgotten to prioritize loving each other.  

Friends conflict over ignored texts and phone calls.  Pain is inflicted and harsh words spoken out of hurt feelings.

Conflict is present in every relationship on this planet and if it does not appear present it's probably because someone isn't living truthfully in their relationship and is passive aggressively relating to their partner.  Therefore the conflict is present and just unspoken.  

But there are times when conflict is unavoidable or necessary whether or not we want it to be there.  In those times we can feel drug into the conflict without choice in the matter.  I have done my fair share of creating conflict unnecessarily in my past.  But I've also been put in positions where if I didn't engage in the conflict it was going to cost me or my family a price that I wasn't willing to pay.  That's such a dreadful unfortunate reality.

In those moments when we don't want to be there, we don't want to be fighting or perhaps we'd be more comfortable avoiding standing up for ourselves it is important to realize that just because we don't want to be in conflict doesn't automatically mean that we are morally superior.  There are plenty of times that avoiding conflict is morally reprehensible.  Not standing up for children who are being abused because you don't want to rock the boat is something most people would agree is not a moral high ground.  But there can be a moral high ground.  There can be a better way that leads us toward some conflict and away from others.  

It is the abandonment of the winning mentality.  When you are able to come to the conclusion that this conflict that you may or may not want to engage in is not about you being victorious.  It has nothing to do with self, or ego or victory, you may have made some moral headway.  

I have been engaging in conflict lately, largely because I am choosing to, but some of it was not of my choosing.  Yet even as I chose to engage and fight for what I believe is right I was in this constant state of internal dissonance.  Because in my soul I knew that I really didn't want to fight this battle.  I knew that battling was going to cost me some internal peace.  But I also knew that if I didn't begin to fight back, if I didn't begin to stand up for what I believe is right that I would ultimately be robbing myself from the peace I could have in the future.  

To be sure there is a cost associated with conflict and that should be carefully considered.  But many (myself included) would rather steadfastly avoid conflict than to weigh the cost and evaluate whether or not we think it's going to be worth it.  There's always the possibility that we could be wrong.  The battle could cost us more than we have calculated.  But take it from constant worrier: it will never be as bad as you imagine it to be.  It just won't.  I have imagined hundreds of millions of scenarios and not one of the ones I have ever imagined has come true to the extent that I thought it would.  NOT. ONE.  NOT. EVER.  

So there you go it won't be nearly as bad as you think it will be.  But knowing that might not assuage all of your fears.  

Because there's still this: what if it's wrong to engage in the conflict in the first place?

In this we have the ultimate example of that not being the case in Jesus. That God/man found more conflict and more grace to handle it in the mere three years of his ministry than you and I can possibly go through on a daily basis.  And guess what?  He didn't shrink back from it.  He knew what was right and stood up for it.  

So maybe you don't have the whole "being God" bit going for you, but you know that God was more than okay with standing up for what was right.   You being made in his image should be more than willing to do the same.  For if you stand idly by and don't stand up for what is right, he has also made it clear to us that you will be held accountable for that as well.  But ultimately that leads us back to the same place: winning.

What happens when we go into conflict, be it with a family member or friend or with someone on the internet espousing heresy about God, what happens to our attitude?  How do we know that our conscience is clear?  How do we know were doing that from the right place?  

We know when we have given up the win.  We have given up on whether or not we're right.  When we have given up getting that piece of paper that says "Shannon you were in the right now you can have whatever it is you were fighting for."

When you have given that up and it has become about you doing what you feel like is right before God and not about you being right in front of men, then you know.  You will know, I am doing this for the right reasons.  

Because as long as you're holding on to some notion that other people need to hear that you were right, or that other people need to tell you that you were right or that your enemy needs to be crushed and defeated and broken... your focus is in the totally opposite direction of where it should be.  You will be filled with anxiety and tension and you will constantly be looking outside of yourself for validation.  

But when you have sat with yourself alone and you have decided that this is the right thing for you to do.  When you have sat with yourself alone and you know that you can do this on your own without a partner or someone with letters behind their name backing you up.  When you have sat there and had the clarity to know - this is the right thing to do.  Then your conscience is clear.  

That is a beautiful wonderful feeling.  The peace in that is truly miraculous.  But that is not the end of your work, because after you have reached all of those conclusions; then you have to remember that it's not about winning.  Then you have detach yourself from the outcome.  You have to walk into that conflict and know that there is no certainty that because you're doing this for the right reasons that things will go your way.  

Conflict is a reality in our lives.  It is an uncomfortable one.  But when we can embrace humility in it and abandon ego then we might have a shot at conflicting in a manner that honors God.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

In the Middle of the Field

I'm experiencing an uncomfortable emotion.  It's one of my least favorite ones.  I'm usually well equipped to experience disappointment or happiness, anger or peace.  But there's one that I'm adept at avoiding and it's vulnerability.

I feel out there.  Exposed.  Open.  I don't have any mounted defenses and my back is not securely against mountain and defensible.  Instead I'm standing in the middle of an open field with nothing.  Who the hell knows what could happen next?  I dislike that feeling STRONGLY.  So much so that I immediately know all of the things (emotionally, physically, mentally, verbally) I should do to run and hide and make it stop.  For the love of God be safe woman!  Vulnerability is dangerous.  Knock it off!  Get out of the middle of the field and find a rock to hide under already.  What the hell are you doing?

After some education about my reaction to this emotion I know that my soul/brain/body whatever is just trying to protect me from perceived danger.  Although if you ask me right now, I'd probably tell you that this danger is the very opposite of perceived it is real!!!!  I could educate you about all of the possible risks inherent in standing in the middle of that field.  Thoroughly.

But the calm part of me that keeps surfacing (victoriously at the moment) keeps reminding me that this feeling of vulnerability comes with living authentically.  To live in real relationship with other people requires risk.  To live out my calling and life as it should be requires risk.  To say no when no is the right thing for me requires risk, people might get mad, for heaven's sake what would happen then?  To say yes, this is really what I'm experiencing to another person is a huge risk.  Risk makes me feel naked and exposed.  And that is not a way I like to feel.  To sit there in that discomfort thinking.... now what?

Now I've just put myself out there.  Now I've just said out loud that I could possibly be a pastor one day and well what if my family judges me?  Now I've just said out loud how I'm feeling and well what if the person I said it to doesn't honor that?  Now I've just spoken my need into the middle of that field and what if no one comes or listens or cares?  Now I've just said no to someone I care about and what if they're angry and hurt?

Now what?

I don't have this down.  I'm an expert hider.  I wear that shit like it's my job.  Hiding.  Yep.  I'm good at that.  But I know what all that hiding has cost me.  The cost has been high.  I have lost relationships that I didn't want to lose.  I've kept relationships far longer than necessary.  I've tolerated being abused and mistreated for fear of speaking up for myself and not having those closest to me believe me.  I have hurt others by not speaking truthfully to them when they needed to know what was going on for me emotionally.  I held that back and hurt them because I was afraid of being hurt myself.  That's some irony for you.  I self protected and hurt others.  I self protected and hurt myself.  I self protected and I'm sure that has cost my children.

This standing in the middle of the field shit and saying, yep this is my truth.  And I'm really afraid you're not going to like it.  Or you're not going to approve.  Or you're going to leave because God knows everyone leaves me.  None of that changes this being my truth.

I'm in seminary.  There's a decent chance at the end of this journey I can end up being one of a few things: a pastor, a professor or continuing on to my doctorate.  I'm terrified you may judge me for doing any of those things.  So I routinely tell people I'm going to be a professor, it seems like the most socially acceptable thing for me to say and people judge me the least.  But that's not the whole truth.  The whole truth is I'd really love to get my doctorate, like really really love.  Life long dream kind of love.  But I fear that I'm not nearly smart enough, and those close to me would scoff if they knew that's what I wanted to do.  But if I could pastor in a non-traditional setting like Ikon I would feel honored and humbled to do something like that with my life.  Would I also love to be a professor one day?  Hells yeah.  Absolutely.  That would be awesome.  But I'm not going to hedge the truth for you anymore.  Even when my family who looks at me like I'm a little crazy for considering any or all of those options.

It's also the truth that I have emotions.  Ones that I'm not so crazy about admitting to other people.  I love people that have a high probability of hurting me.  I love people who continually hurt me but it doesn't stop how I feel about them (some days I really wish it would).  I care about and really wish I knew how some of my friends I lost in the divorce are doing.  I miss them still.  I want deep loving mutual relationships in my life and yet I have very few.  I feel like I have worked hard on maintaining those relationships but often for naught.  The desire on the other side isn't there.  That's hurtful even though I know it likely has little to do with me.  I have a lot of other emotions as well, fear, anxiety, happiness, joy, anticipation, desire.  But those are all easier to admit and make me feel less vulnerable then saying:

"I love you"

"I love you and you left and that doesn't stop me caring about you."

"I love you and I'd love to know how your children are doing, they seem so big and Facebook just doesn't cut it because I remember you carrying every single one of them."

"I love you and the fact that you never initiate a phone call makes me question why I care."

"I love you and you might leave."

"I love you but often times your words are harsh and unkind and I don't know how to talk to you about that."

"I love you but you don't seem to love me in return."

Living in love with other people requires risk.  Jesus talked about it all the time.  Love one another.  My cliff hiding days are probably not over.  I'll probably return to my familiar self protection mode once and a while.  But I know that learning to live in the discomfort of vulnerability, learning to live in the middle of the field and speak my truth, that is worth it.  Because my God lives that way, in the middle of the field, telling me he loves me.  Telling all of us he does.  He is continually being rejected, unloved in return, told he's not enough.

So if my God can experience as much rejection as he has maybe I'm not alone in that field after all.  He's standing there right with me.  Perhaps with him by my side I can stay in the discomfort a little longer.

Monday, June 2, 2014

34 Simply

Yesterday was my birthday,  I'm a whole 34 years old now.  I was really dreading this birthday this year.  Something about it had me anxiety filled and dreading it.  It's not that I'm so old although I'm not particularly fond of this number.  It's probably still some leftover grief for where I thought my life would be.  Coupled with the allergies that constantly are making me feel tired which in turn makes me think I'm depressed when I'm really not.  It would help me a super lot if I'd remember to take allergy medicine every day and if when I did it actually worked.  But alas I haven't found something that worked and I don't remember to take the non-effective crap I already have anyway.  Someone should Gibbs smack me. (If you get the reference you're all awesome) ;-)

This year my birthday was simple.  A thoughtful gift from around the world, books I will devour with every free moment I don't so much have, simple things I need and someone else doing the dishes and making breakfast.  My older sister made a banging cake and Watermelon Rum Punch.  What??? Count on Meredith she always brings it even for a 34 yr old's birthday celebration.  My mom and dad hosted lunch and we had the standard birthday menu: steak, salad and garlic bread.  If you add baked potatoes back into the menu we've had the same birthday menu since the 80s.  It's familiarity brings comfort.  The steaks are always fantastic.

Last year for my birthday I jumped out of an airplane.  The year before I met one of my favorite authors and got a tattoo.  Perhaps my dread of this birthday had more to do with the fact that I simply couldn't come up with anything over the top I wanted to do.  So instead I put on a pretty dress and relished the simplicity.

It's a number, but it's also a life and it's mine.  The one I was given to live and breathe and donate to the world in a way only I can.  What will this year bring me?  I can't know.  What I will bring the world with this year?  I have a lot more say over that.