awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Feelings aren’t facts…

Maybe not writing for a couple weeks has a direct correlation to the fact that I am struggling. Which came first? Who knows. What exactly am I struggling with? Well, ironically, during this Thanksgiving season-it’s gratitude. At a time of year when even the most curmudgeonly people seem to pull out something to be grateful for, I am just not feeling it.

You have probably heard it said that “feelings aren’t facts”, but even when I make a gratitude list or encounter dear people I know I am thankful for, the facts remain and the feelings ( read: warm, kind, sweet, tender) don’t match.

I figured out that my attitude sort of stinks on this whole”thankfulness” topic while I was doing some reflective reading yesterday. The book has dated entries and this reading started with the same repetitious reminders that the author has addressed for the past 7 days: “be thankful in all circumstances”, “thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity”, “thank God frequently”, “thankfulness is a language of love”, “thanksgiving puts you in a proper relationship with God,” “fill your heart and mind with thankfulness”, “when your mind is occupied with thankfulness, you have no time for worrying or complaining.” Blah, Blah Blah. You get the idea. I was shocked at my response when I realized she was still stuck on this topic; a big eye roll. I mean, Thanksgiving is over lady! Let’s move on already!

I give you permission to pause it here and decide whether you want to continue reading what my bratty-sounding self has to say (maybe ever again!)…

For those of you who are still with me-I just have to say that I am not proud of this posture and it makes me feel like I have no right to write anything at all until I get my junk together. But I have learned a couple of things from writing a few hundred blogs. One, when I stop writing regularly, bad things happen in my soul (since the majority of what I write helps me first and you second. I can’t give away what I don’t possess). And two, when I share the stuff I am most ashamed to share, that’s when people seem to connect the most. I suppose I understand. I feel weird and isolated and crazy most of the time, and I don’t always find hope when I hear motivating talk from someone whose life seems spotless and never appears to struggle with “temporary insanity”-being tempted to live counter to what they know to be true in their heart. I just don’t relate and despair and self-pity take over.

So-what am I gonna do about my lack of “happy” feelings and my pessimistic, prickly emotions? Well, as I have said, awareness is the first step in making some changes. Now that I I am aware, I can make some phone calls and dialogue with people and God. And I can know that “this too shall pass”, because sometimes we just get in a funk for no apparent reason and we don’t have to flog ourselves over it.

Don’t worry about me. I’ll do what I need to do to get “better”. But even though I started this blog to confess my grouchy, juvenile attitude and maybe give some insight into how to “fix” it, I think that God has other intentions for it. What I hope you hear, is that “you’re not alone.” I am still here for you, still as messed up as ever, and I will walk next to you as we “trudge this happy road to destiny” together. Never, ever forget that.

Addiction, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

No more games

I am finally ready to admit it out loud: we are not a game playing family. There. It’s out there. For years we have tried to be game players. When my kids were younger we really tried to make this a fun family activity, even though we knew from the get-go that it would ultimately end in crying and blaming and possibly throwing of tiny little game pieces- and that was just from the parents! 😜 As a whole, none of us Get any enjoyment fromplaying board games. For a few years we humored the grandparents and played games like Uno or Kings in the Corner, but even that has died out recently. I myself don’t really hate cards, but you can only play so many games of solitaire. You really need more than one person to participate for any other type of game to be successful.

So, it’s official. We don’t like games. But I have to tell you that despite my disdain for games, I find myself inadvertently participating in certain games without even realizing I am playing. Usually it is happens when I disagree with someone else’s behavior or ideas or choices. Instead of letting them figure things out for themselves, I roll the dice when I stick my nose in their business and try to control or change the outcome. And even though I claim to be a “non-gamer”, I try to impose my will on them and force them to play my game by my rules. This is received with a resistance that is similar to what happens when I have tried to make my kids play board games when they’d rather be doing anything else.

Then, and this is where the real danger comes in, there are the games I get sucked into playing by those who love to play certain kinds of games.When someone wants to argue with me or provoke me and get a reaction out of me, I often find myself playing with them, even after I have declared myself to be game-free. Here’s what it looks like: Someone tries to engage me in something that really has nothing to do with me. Or they try to provoke me and get a reaction out of me or prove that I am wrong about something. I tell them I don’t want to argue about it, but continue to engage, discuss it or defend myself.

When I do this it’s like telling someone I don’t want to play catch. They ignore me and throw me the ball anyway. I catch it, throw it back, and repeat that I don’t want to play their game. This continues over and over until I realize, I am playing. The only way to let them know I am not playing is to let the ball roll past me the next time they throw it. Just like you can’t play tug-o-war unless you both people pick up the rope, you can’t have an argument unless more than one person is actively engaged in it. If I refuse to play, the game is over quickly.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you never have reasonable conversations or disagreements with people. That’s part of life. I am talking about the times where it is truly not even about you or someone is acting selfish, hateful, irrational, angry, resentful, stubborn, arrogant or affected by substances that might make a mature discussion impossible. You can choose not to play. You can detach with love, separating yourself emotionally and spiritually from the other person. You don’t have to own their emotions or take responsibility for the fact that they have them (even if they insist you are the cause). And most importantly, you don’t have to “win.” Because you can’t.

A helpful response that I have heard suggested is to pleasantly say, “you may be right”, and walk away. That doesn’t mean they are right or that you think they are, but it acknowledges that the feelings and thoughts they are having are real for them. It gives them dignity, and often, that is all they were looking for in the first place. I have also heard it said that “most people don’t necessarily want to have their own way, they just want to have their own way considered.”

You have mostly likely heard the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In this case, the “things” we cannot change are other people and how they think or feel. The “thing” we can change is ourselves and whether or not we get involved in the unhealthy games that others try to rope us in to playing.

God, today, give us the courage to focus on ourselves and make the choice to not catch that ball or pick up that rope.

 

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

“Hypocrisy”. I hate that word.

 

“How you do your life is your real and final truth, not what ideas you believe.”   -Richard Rohr
This sentence has been invading my thoughts since I read it a couple of weeks ago. I can’t shake it, and for good reason. It challenges everything I think and act on every minute of the day and sometimes hours in the middle of the night. What it clarifies for me is the blunt reality that what I say I believe is often very different from how I act. And I am not just referring to the times I say I believe in taking good care of my body and then proceed to eat approximately a half a bag of chips and salsa.  Or how say I believe it’s imperative to start my day on spiritual footing,  but hit the snooze so many times that I bolt awake in a frenzied rush just to make it to my first appointment, without even a flippant prayer or passing thought of God’s plan for my day. These may seem like silly examples. There are many bigger ways that I have not lived out what I believed.

But here’s a question that has been pestering me, or rather, pursuing me, lately: what about the tiny dark places that only God and I know about? My life might look good on the outside, to my readers and friends and most of the time, my family. But if I am honest, there are moments when I am not living what I say I believe. I am living out what I really believe and those two are often quite opposite. There is a strong word for this that is stinging and harsh, but nevertheless, accurate. Hypocrisy. I think its fair to say that we hate hypocrisy. Many people have stumbled in their quest for God because of people who say they are God-followers but live in a way that is unkind, unloving, judgmental, arrogant. I don’t want anything to do with that category of “Christian.”

Hypocrisy means “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which ones own behavior does not conform.” Well, that pretty much sums up what Richard Rohr was saying: “How you do your life is your real and final truth, not what ideas you believe.” Jesus says as much to the people in the Church of Rome, a couple thousand years ago. He says, “you who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?”  You get the gist. Most of us feel pretty safe to answer those questions with self-righteous confidence.

However, lately I have been asking myself questions like, “you who teach others not to worry, do you worry? You who say resentments will kill you, do you hold grudges? You who say you believe God will provide all your needs, do you feel jealous of what your friends have? You who say you trust God to direct your life, do you live in fear of the future? You who say God loves your kids more than you do, do you fret over their safety and life choices? You who say that living in God’s will is the best option for peace and serenity, do you work fervently to manipulate and control the people around you so that your will is done instead?”

The answers are embarrassing. According to Websters Dictionary, I am a hypocrite. That word makes me feel sick. And humbled. And repentant. I do not want to be a hypocrite.

In order to do that, I must must must live “as if” I actually believe what I say I believe. It’s one thing to have occasional temptations to worry. That’s normal. But if I live in worry, that is opposite of what I say I believe to be true about God and His ability and willingness to help me not worry. It’s normal to be tempted by all the questions I posed above, but to live in them and coddle them and make it a habit or lifestyle, is hypocrisy.

I have to pray,  maybe a thousand times a day, prayers like
“God, I feel afraid, I am turning that fear over to you.”
“God, I feel worried about money, I am turning that worry over to you.”
“God, I feel unhappy in my circumstances, I am turning my discontent over to you.”
“God, I feel scared for my kids futures, I am turning them over to you.”

Now you try;
“God, I feel _____________, I am turning __________________ over to you.” AMEN

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

“Goodwill Ranting”

Let’s talk about our feelings. Or, at least my feelings. I really am not good at identifying feelings. I have been through hours of therapy over the years and one of the biggest take-aways has been that I am terrible at addressing, accepting, identifying, acknowledging and sharing my feelings. I am really good at expressing my thoughts and opinions, but apparently, those aren’t the same thing. I am not lying when I tell you that I actually have a list I printed off a website (something like “Feelings for Dummies”) so I could peruse a list of feelings and check them off if I was experiencing them. Like Multiple Choice. So, now that I have laid the foundation for my entry today, let us continue…

Warning: this blog may be a bit “all over the place”, but that seems appropriate since we are talking about Feelings. Let me start by telling you about some of my history of not feeling or at least feeling emotions that are mis-labeled.

I remember having a conversation with my husband years ago about how angry I was at some friends. I was fired up and indignant about being left out of information I felt everyone else knew but me. I was ready to just move on and do life without any friends at all. Who needs em’!? My husband listened patiently for a bit and then said something like,” is it possible that your feelings are just hurt and that makes you sad?” And just like that, I burst into tears. He was right, I was sad and wounded. Anger just felt like a powerful way to express myself. Those other kinds of emotions feel vulnerable and that is extremely hard for me.

Next: When I had Leukemia and didn’t’ know it yet, there were several symptoms that were unexplainable. No one, including me, could put a finger on anything that might lead to a diagnosis or solution. I was tormented with possible scenarios. I was aware of myself enough to know that life had thrown our family some pretty big curve balls over the past couple of years and that I was barely coping with them. One symptom of my stress was that I didn’t feel anything at all. No highs. No lows. No joy, anger, relief, sadness, fear. It was all the same: numbness. I began to believe that maybe the permanent lump in my throat was a cluster of emotions that were “stuck” in me. That my many other symptoms were my bodies way of cluing me in that I had some junk that needed to be brought to the surface. I’d stuffed it down so long, it was logical to me that it would start manifesting itself physically. Unfortunately, it was actually Leukemia, but the other conclusion still makes sense to me.

Though I am getting better at identifying my emotions, mostly due to 12 Step recovery principles, I still struggle identifying, dealing with and accepting my emotions. I was reminded of this in full color when I was in California helping my college student get settled. More specifically, I was kicked in the teeth with the realization that I had been stuffing some significant feelings about him being 21, not needing me, living in an apartment and probably (and hopefully) never living at home again. And here’s the main problem with not dealing with your emotions as they come; they tend to sneak up and surprise you when you are not expecting them. Something cracks the dam and they come gushing out sideways in the middle of Goodwill over a $9.00 lamp and a $3.00 picture frame. You act like a lunatic because you chose to “deal with it later” when you felt that sadness and fear and concern come on you during the summer. But today is the “later” and you have dozens of emotions that are spinning in you like a tornado. And the damage is the same; random and powerful.

While I was in California, when circumstances were threatening to overwhelm me, a wise friend said “sometimes you just have to do your job. You can set your emotions on the shelf for a bit. They can come out later for a visit. But they can’t visit right now.” That was a very helpful perspective that got me through the next few hours of crucial decisions I had to make. But as I thought more about it, I said to her, “the problem for me is that I tend to forget to invite them to come for a visit so they just pop in and surprise me when I least expect it!” Like, in the middle of Goodwill, for pete’s sake.

As I sat to write this morning I prayed and asked God what exactly He wanted me to say. I was floundering a bit between a few struggles I have been having that I wanted to get out of my head. And, as usual, He showed me. I was leaning towards writing about this “Feelings” crap, but wasn’t convinced that’s what He had in mind. I turned to the reading for this date in my Recovery book and I started to cry. Here is what one of the paragraphs said:

“…I have learned that feelings aren’t shortcomings. The true nature of my problem was my stubborn refusal to acknowledge feelings, to accept them, and to let them go. I have very little power over what feelings arise, but what I chaos to do about them is my responsibility. Today I can accept my feelings, share about them with others, recognize that they are feelings, not facts, and then let them go.”

God gave me feelings and the ability, with His help, to handle each of them. Sequestering them on a shelf or shoving them deep down in my soul only leaves me susceptible to surprise visits. It’s ever so much easier to deal with my feelings one at a time. Maybe you struggle with this too. Let me know if you need my list of emotions for dummies and join me in doing the work of identifying, accepting and letting go of your feelings before they do what mine did last week. Trust me, it’s not pretty.

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