Archive for the ‘helping’ Category

Life can get heavy — relationally and physically.

“Without further adieu, let’s give it up for some new elements, very heavy, recently discovered and added to the periodic table, numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 — nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson!“

These are — as you can see — mostly named after the places they were discovered, and furthermore and interestingly enough, they are superheavy and super-unstable. They decay almost instantly, like some relationships, and for now anyway, they have absolutely no value.

In the last few weeks, I’ve discovered some more heavy elements, in people’s reactions to me — weighty emotions, unstable relational stuff.

Someone expressed jealousy over my social circle, and then they got snarky with me for having so many friends. Somebody else wanted to team up on a project, then they didn’t, if they couldn’t run it. Somebody wanted me to give them money — after they told me all the crazy things that had just happened to them — but I think most of those things didn’t happen.

Niffle-naffled; I’m baffled. What do you do?

In each of these cases, there was stuff going on that didn’t have anything to do with me.

Funky relational stuff — what do we do with it? What do we do with it if it is rooted in the other person’s past and has absolutely nothing to do with us?

It happens. Unstable responses to what we say, decide and do — it happens. Sometimes we ourselves put our stuff on others. I’ve done this. I’ve made something someone else fault when the problem was really in me. Such things are part of the universal periodic table of emotional and relational heavy elements. We create problems for others that are our own; we try to solve issues that aren’t ours.

If we have been socialized to be overly polite, (many introverted or shy young people suffer from this) we may get triggered and apologize for stirring someone up when we didn’t. If we have been overly and dysfunctionally Christianized we may rush to the moral imperative “love your neighbor as yourself” and get busy loving, in other words owning a problem that isn’t ours.

Ah, so painful!

No dysfunctional, unnecessary apologizing, and no misguided Christianized enabling will help.

Owning other people’s stuff is not good for us or them, not good relationally and not good for maintaining healthy psyches.

People’s reactions, those deeply rooted in the issues that arise from their families of origin, or reactions deeply rooted in their previous hurts, these are not ours to adopt. They are unstable; they complicate our relationships unnecessarily; they decay relationships.

We can’t own what isn’t ours. We can’t fix what isn’t ours. We can be gentle with everyone. We can refuse to judge others; we can overlook their craziness, but we can’t take their issues into our souls. Even if we are therapists or pastors, we aren’t wise to try to own what belongs to someone else.

Those who are painfully triggered by their past can examine their emotions — we may be able to help them do that if they ask — and they may heal from them if they can own them, but as far as us taking responsibility for what isn’t ours — it does no good.

Without further adieu, let’s give it up for the discovery of emotional boundaries. Healthy barriers work really well in avoiding harm from other people’s super-heavy emotional elements!

People keep asking me the same question, “What do you think about …?”

I don’t love these moments. Why? Well, to often the  interlocutors are a bit too tense for my taste. They lean forward, or back. They have anxious hands. The skin above their eyes wrinkles and twitches.

“What do you think about gays? What do you think about marijuana? What do you think about women in church leadership? What do you think about the war? What do you think about politics? What do you think about religion?  What do you think about global warming?”

To me these questions sometimes feel like traps. I am being asked to step on the sticky paper, under the spring-loaded metal, into the cage. I am being trapped into giving the “right” answer, or getting the hammer.

More often than not, these discussions also feel like triangulations. “Let’s whisper together for a moment about “those people — you know —  that monolithic block of people who who don’t think like we do but aren’t present to defend themselves.”

I am not with it. Too many over-generalities, cliches, biases and harsh judgments for my taste.

I  suspect that when we discuss our “positions,”  on people, we are often doing damage to good thinking, to ourselves and to those not present.  It quickly becomes clear that we are bent on testing each other and them. We want to know if they are a common, correctable enemy or if we are like-minded, mental “friends”  who will “like” each other’s posts on Facebook.

The questions we are really asking of each other is, “Are you one of us?” Are you a conservative, are you a liberal, are you Republican, are you a Democrat, are you a Christian, are you a Muslim, are you  responsible, or not, are you in favor of being straight or gay, do you hold to the true faith, are you tolerant, or intolerant, after the fashion that we all “should be”?

The questions are usually about a law in question, a particular moral issue, a person or set of people who we think have broken a law, a view of sexuality, a position on gender, a use of money, a politician who is under scrutiny or a political party’s platform. 

We get quite exercised over such stuff, we tend in our position-making to stop thinking clearly, we too often lose sight of deeper matters that underlie such discussions.

We lose sight of our callings.

I don’t know what other people’s callings are. I am beginning to discover mine.

I am not called to law.  I am not a good law maker, judge, lawyer, police officer, sheriff, soldier, correctional officer or moral sheriff of the world. We need those people. They serve important roles. I’m glad for our protectors, our legal people, our legal teams, when they do what they do well, it’s just that law and enforcement are not my passion, my gifting, my desire, my inclination or most importantly, my calling. 

I’m not so good at making laws, even at making rules. I’m not even good at keeping them. I’m not saying we don’t need them. I just find myself drawn to other ways of approaching life, of other motivations, other passions, other delights.

I met some people recently who it seemed, felt that they were called to be the sex sheriffs of the world. They seemed to know what the sex laws and the sex rules should be. I don’t know too much about this area of specialty. I know that harmful decisions can result from poor sexual choices. It’s just that I really don’t feel called to legislate, monitor and punish other people’s sexual behavior.

I’m no sex sheriff.

My calling is more in the direction of redemption. I know people do wrong things. I know because I’ve done them too. I know people make bad choices. I’ve made them too. What I find myself fascinated by is how we move forward after harmful choices, not how we charge, judge, punish or condemn people for having done wrong things. My experience has educated me in this direction.

I find that my calling is to redemption, to renewal, to recovery, and in this calling I am drawn to understanding individuals, not categories of people,”getting” the person in front of me, not by critiquing groups off to the side of me. When faced with a moral crisis, I like a one-on-one dialogue with the specific brokenness right out there on the table, and the question of the hour right at hand.

“Now, let’s  talk openly about who you are, what’s been going on with you, and where you would do best to go next.  What is the most reasonable, healthy, spiritual option for you now?”

I am not a relativist, but I don’t know all the legal and moral answers concerning right and wrong.

I know this: The older I get the less I have it in me to want to be a legal and moral expert, a judge, and the more I  have it in me to be a physician. I have a passion for an accurate diagnosis. I thrill over understanding each patient. I burn for the exact proscription for the each precious, imperfect one.  I am ramped-up to help people recover and move on, and to use their pain as rocket fuel to empower a new, if yet imperfect future.

For me, too many of the questions, discussions and generalizations about moral or legal failure feel like military ordinance, explosive, and fraught with collateral damage. On the other hand, specific curatives, custom designed remedies, patient-centered therapy  — this is my line of work. I’m not saying we can’t generalize about right and wrong. I am saying I do my best thinking when I am dialoguing with individuals about getting well.  I am better at medicine than law. 

I know now that I am at my best when I’m affirming people, not condemning them. I am a supporter of people; not a opponent of people. I like to talk super-honestly over coffee, not to carry a placard in the street.  I’d rather ask questions than make judgments. I want to make a mark on the world by triumphing what I am for, not what I am against. Others have the calling to bring the judgment; they must do that. I have a calling to bring about compassion. This is my delight.

I am at my best when I am thinking along the lines of forgiveness, when I am bringing mercy, when I am focused on understanding, when I am bringing healing to individuals, not when I’m judging others or sparring with interrogators who want to see if my moral and legal judgments are in alignment with correct doctrine —  as they know it. I am probably not in alignment.

Here is the deal with me, and I am comfortable who I am: I don’t care to think too much about what people have done wrong.

I do care a lot about helping individuals who are open and ready to see what might be wise and healthy for them to do next.

As a therapist, mentor, counselor, doctor, teacher or pastor, one of the most painful things to watch is your clients returning to their own vomit.

“I went back,” she said.

It couldn’t be more anguished.

The return to abuse, addiction, dysfunction, dependency and harm – it is almost too much to take. When the helped ones return to the harm we helped them run away from, it is excruciating for the helper and the helped alike.

“Why did you go back?” we may ask them.

They don’t rightly know. We don’t always either. Sometimes they have lost the power to know, caught as they are in a mindless, addictive cycle and habit of harm, and we ourselves are sometimes shocked beyond the ability to keep reasoning well about the causes of such horrible things.

The worst comes when it comes to the kids.

“The children saw him hit you?”

“Her kids saw her passed out on the floor?”

It’s possible to give a child life and then begin to slowly take that very life by exposing that precious, fragile, developing psyche to what a human being, of any age, should never have to see and hear.”

What to do?

It’s not always clear. We do what should be done: we report abuse, counsel boundaries, protect children, advocate for recovery, make clear the choices and lay out the raw consequences.

But there is a tension present as we do our work — to do too much, to not do enough at all.

Broken people may break even the best of counselors, and we healing helpers, when we try to mend them, risk being just another sunken life boat in their sorry, slouching, smoking, sinking ship wake.

“I’m done with him!” we will be tempted to say.

Should we be? That is for us to carefully decide. But if a damaging cycle is to be broken, then someone must stand in like a champion and help break it. Someone sane must plant themselves at the fulcrum, between the teeter and the totter, between madness and sanity, between rescuing and empowering and tell it like it is.

Someone tough and smart, full of grit and dirt themselves, jammed up with raw, gut wrenching truth must say it like it is, and then say it again, and then have the stomach yet to say it yet again.

We caregivers, to help some of the most broken, must refuse to take an inappropriate responsibility for their irresponsibility, while still standing in and telling them to take a much needed charge of themselves and the ones they say they love.

It is a gift, this thing of standing at the fulcrum between order and chaos and holding forth with sanity and class and love, and it is a privilege to have the chance to do so.

If you’re called to it; then do it.

This matters!

It is life or death for some of them.