Closure Letter to Religion

Dear Religion,

I have but few scattered memories of my life before sensing your presence. And we continued on for nearly half a century – usually hot, sometimes cool, but never before as cold as we are now. Such a relationship is difficult to simply close the door on. It calls out to be celebrated, reckoned with, and grieved.

Religion, I want to start by thanking you for the good years we had. Wherever we moved or traveled to, you provided an instant place of belonging. You gave us a common dialect with our own vocabulary that included Pathfinders, alter-calls, and haystacks. You gave us traditions like vespers, Sabbath School and prayer meeting. You gave us reasons to gather.

You admonished me to be different from the world, while simultaneously giving me a place where I could feel the same as the others gathered. There is comfort in belonging. Thank you for giving me a tight community in which to belong.

Religion, your offer for purpose is appealing. The call to prepare myself and others for the world to come is one that can be used to guide all choices. This provides a cohesive trajectory for life, gives a sense of shared meaning, and encourages focus. Those are powerful tools in a young person’s life.

You also gave us measurable goals to recognize progress. How many days this week did we study our Sabbath School lesson? Did we memorize the Bible verse? Did we tell anyone about Jesus this week? Were we kind to others?

Thanks to you, I avoided a lot of trouble. I never stole, swore or got sent to the principal’s office. While other kids might have been sneaking a sip of alcohol, I was day dreaming about the second coming and what heaven would be like.

You made me feel special, perhaps even elite. I had been privileged to be born into the remnant church, God’s chosen people. We were in a unique time in history, positioned to give the final call. “Now is the day of salvation!” We would be the group translated to heaven without seeing death.

You offered a layer of protection from pain, disappointments and rejection. You offered a present answer for most questions, and the promise of a future answer for all others. I may not understand why bad things happen, but if I hang on to you, I’ll understand it one day and I’ll agree it was the best way. That provides a lot of reassurance and stability in a world that can otherwise be confusing and unsettling. My life seemed to have more than my fair share of trying times. Your certainty gave me strength to carry on. Thank you.

You offered companionship. While I was waiting for the kindergarten bus alone while Dad went about the work of the Lord, I knew you were there. When I walked into a new school where no one knew my name, you knew me. When I left the hospice house alone, you were by my side. Never alone. Never forgotten. Resilience and hope springs up eternal in your fold. Thank you.

There were other helpful things you taught me: thoughtful decision making, patience, financial responsibility, “broad consciousness”/ thinking of the big picture, diminished materialism, hopefulness, sense of the profound, the idea of rebirth/ starting over/ changing, gratitude, self-control, strong sense of ethics, leadership skills, practice teaching others, self reflection, traditions and rituals, belief that I can improve the lives of those around me by my actions, appreciation for nature.

Religion, there were some things you gave that I wish you had given more of. Remember the unconditional love and acceptance lavished upon the wayward sinner? Why couldn’t that have been available to everyone? Why did the ones who already knew better have to do better to maintain your acceptance? Why did your grace run out for those in the fold? Religion, I was born into the fold. Your grace was never for me.

I couldn’t think of any specific sins I’d committed as a youngster, but I knew I had because you said I was a terrible sinner on my insides. So I guessed I must have been so terribly bad that I couldn’t even recognize how terrible I was. But I tried hard to do all the right things and prayed hard that Jesus would make up for the rest. You didn’t offer much assurances in that regard.

Religion, there are lots of things I now recognize that I wish had been different. My memories of us together start around the age of 5. I distinctly remember a time in Sabbath School when the teacher asked why God made fish. I knew a lot about fish. Here was a topic I could contribute to. We had recently moved from Washington where we fished a lot. I liked fishing. It was an activity where the whole family was together, uninterrupted by the needs of the congregation, where we teased each other, and on a good day, where we caught fish. A successful trip meant an extension of the family time with Dad cleaning the fish in the garage, Mom frying fish in the kitchen, and us kids doing the running between. I don’t remember exactly when I cleaned my first fish, but it couldn’t have been much after learning to ride a bike. Fishing was a big deal. Surely God made fish for us. Surely God made fish for that. Full of enthusiasm, I raised my hand. The new kid. The pastor’s kid. “God made fish for us to eat!” In short order I was corrected. Fishing was our thing. But it wasn’t your thing. Because it wasn’t your thing, and because we were your ambassadors within our subculture and outside of it, our biggest thing had to be a secret. It was my first dance with shame.

Why did it need to be that way? Religion, why did you value rules over relationships? And why did the rules need to reach into every corner of my 5 year-old life? Is it necessary for everything to be right or wrong? for every word, every move, every thought to either lead to eternal life or eternal destruction? and not just for me, but for everyone I came in contact with? If I messed something up, missed an opportunity to witness, it could also eternally damn the person next to me. That’s a lot of weight for a kid to carry. Why did you put that on me?

The list of destructive things you taught me is long and hard: Self-loathing, shame for being human, isolation, fear of being found out, fear of the world, fear of being left out, fear of not meeting your expectations, hiding, faking, pride, exclusivity, certainty, exploitation, devaluing and vilifying feelings, distrust of instincts, glorification of enduring persecution/ martyrdom, over-reach of turning the other cheek, lack of boundaries, insecurity, stunted emotional growth, magical thinking while simultaneously squelching creativity, manipulation, codependency, feeling responsible for everyone but myself.

Why did you have to make me feel like I owed you? I owed you money, freedom of choice, my life’s profession. I owed you my life. A debt I could never repay. But why did I owe you anything? Aren’t gifts free?

Instead of rules about living, how about tools for getting along?

Instead of isolated groups, how about inclusion for all?

Instead of perfectionism, how about celebrating the uniqueness of humanity?

Instead of marionette strings, how about principles for self-determination?

Instead of fear and guilt, how about encouragement and empathy?

Instead of worshiping rightness, how about practicing kindness?

Instead of using people as a means for reward in a later life, how about compassionate caring in this life?

Instead of hand-selecting cultural ways from 100 AD to cling to, how about moving forward in the general trajectory given?

But you can’t, Religion, because you’re an organization not an organism. Your concern is not for progress, but for longevity. You are, it seems, most interested in maintaining the very thing you ask your members to be willing to sacrifice: self-preservation.

You were my first heart throb. And I’ve loved you long and hard. I’ve loved you more than all others. We’ve been through a lot together. But I’m tapping out. There are too many ways my soul is unsettled when we’re together. We’re no longer right for each other.

I see a few people who are tight with you and who appear to be settled. I see others who are loose with you and also appear settled. And now I see myself walking away from you, settled. There really are more ways than one to skin a cat. I guess the world isn’t as binary as you wanted me to believe.

Good-bye. Farewell. Hope not to see you again.

Me

(I expect this will be my last post on this blog site. I wish you well on your own personal journey, wherever that may lead you.)

Intimacy Police

I have no recollection about how the conversation got started or where it ended, but I’ll surely never forget where it went in the middle.

Since I’ve stayed married to the same person all my life, I’ll be married in heaven.

“Oh really? So because Jeff died and I remarried (and divorced), I’m screwed (more like – not – actually) for eternity?”

Well, choices have consequences.”

“Again – because of circumstances, some totally beyond my control, I will live forever and ever without an intimate relationship ever again. But, because your life on earth turned out better, you’ll get to have intimacy forever and ever?”

What’s the matter? Don’t you believe God will provide for your needs? Are you afraid you won’t be happy in heaven? Don’t you trust Him?”

“S0… what? God is going to substantially change the mental and physiologic make up of some humans but not others so some humans still desire intimacy and others don’t?”

I don’t know how, but we’re all going to be happy in heaven. And because of choices, I’m going to be married forever and you aren’t.”

“Huh. Interesting. What about Jeff? Did I screw up his eternity, too? That doesn’t really seem fair to him, does it?”

I don’t remember that there was an answer given to that question. No doubt he didn’t intend to be hurtful or to elevate his life experience as being holier or more deserving than mine, but he accomplished both. If I had still been in the frame of mind to believe that I knew everything about all things religious and could prove everything about all things religious, the conversation could potentially have turned nasty. But as it was then and is today, I don’t find things like that worth the time of day to prove or disprove, so the conversation only progressed to heated. I wanted him to realize how judgmental his position was toward others who had already been dealt a sour hand. I don’t think any impact was made.

The commonly held Christian belief is that when the Bible says we’ll be like angles – neither marrying nor giving in marriage in heaven, that it actually means there will be no marriage in heaven. In spite of that, I’ve heard a well-recognized preacher in the SDA world by the name of Doug talk about that very thing. I imagine that’s where our conversation stemmed from. According to Doug, since he’s been faithful all his life, he’ll be married forever. Since other people have more complicated relationship histories, they’ll be alone forever. Interesting. And absurdly egotistical among other things.

Let’s just say two people were monogamous their entire lives. The new rule says they’ll be married for eternity, with access to all the associated marital rights and privileges. Now let’s say the two people didn’t really like each other but remained married out of principle. Rule still apply? And we just hope that since everyone is magically perfect in heaven that they’ll enjoy intimacy with each other for eternity…? Let’s say they remained married, didn’t like each other and they thought about developing relationships with other people once or twice? Rule still apply? Or, maybe they wouldn’t be in heaven? Well, let’s just say they asked for forgiveness so now they’re back in heaven again. Are they married for eternity? Hopefully this discussion is ludicrous to you by now.

Are we really going to stand in judgement of who gets to experience intimacy for eternity and who doesn’t? Maybe that doesn’t sound like such a good idea? Ok, how about standing in judgement about who gets to experience intimacy while on earth? Are we going to do that? In the evangelical Christian world, the answer is a resounding YES!

If you lump the evangelical Christian denominations together and look at their stance on homosexuality, you’ll find they are fairly united. The most common historical view is that homosexuality is a sin on the same level as adultery and pornography, perhaps even murder – and must be condemned. The “sinner” must be chastised and repent (meaning become heterosexual) in order to be in the good graces of the church and God.

Things have progressed slightly over the past 20 years with the official stance shifting in many churches, SDA included, to say that God made you with a same-sex attraction so it’s ok to feel that way, but to act on it is sinful. If you were to interview members of various churches, I would speculate that most church members never got that memo, inadequate as it is, and still would describe homosexuality as a sinful, debased choice.

And I call the memo inadequate because it seems preposterously insufficient at providing love and compassion for those who experience life differently than we do. But the church memo is “Biblical” you say. I don’t think it is.

Oftentimes the “go to” in the anti-homosexual rule books is the story of Lot in Sodom. “See what God did to homosexuals? The men in that city were homosexuals and God destroyed them for it.” Really? Read the story. The men in that city were violent rapists. What they were doing has nothing at all to do with a same-sex committed relationship.

The next item in the rule book is the list of things that God abhors, starting with homosexuality and ending with murder. Again, as I have come to understand the context, this text is about violence and control. This is unrelated to a same-sex committed relationship.

The last thing I’m going to talk about is the question of propagation. If everyone was doing it, humans would cease to exist so it can’t possibly be right. My snarky response is that science has solved this one for us. Humans can now have babies without having opposite-sex intercourse. How amazing is that? But really, the concern seems pretty far-fetched. Roughly 5% of the populations always has been and always will be homosexual by nature. I don’t foresee that the remaining 95% will jump ship and become homosexual if it is determined to be Biblically “legal”. They couldn’t. It’s not possible to decide who you are naturally attracted to. Do you actually think that homosexuals choose to be attracted to the same sex so they can be ostracized by the rest of us?

So to get back to the question…yes, some in Christianity have decided they are in a position to determine who is worthy of intimate connections for eternity. And most in Christianity have decided they are in a position to determine who is worthy of intimate connections for their life time.

Sadly, these are things I once ascribed to. And then life happened. And I realized it’s complicated. And I don’t know everything. And the value of being right is over-rated.

How about we just strive to be kind?

Wouldn’t that be enough?

If you want to read a much more in-depth discussion about how a Christian might be more accepting, and even empathetic and kind, toward homosexuals while still following the Bible, I suggest you read this article.

An Adventist and a Catholic walked into a bar…

Reader, if you think this sounds like the beginning of a joke and are expecting a funny punch line, this post is not for you.

If you are anticipating a regaling tale of intrigue about the bar, this post is not for you.

If, however, your thoughts immediately jumped to either A: “There’s got to be an evangelism story in here somewhere…” or B: “Is that you in the title?? Wow! You’ve really strayed from your beliefs!” This post is for you! Pull up a chair. Let’s talk.

Roughly 15 years ago a small group of us were gathered around a table after potluck on a Sabbath afternoon debating right-living in regards to going into a bar. (Translation: after Saturday morning church and lunch, some dedicated members stuck around to talk about how to live in such a way as to believe we were pleasing to God, and holier than the rest of society, and meeting the approval of other Christians like us. Admittedly some of that wasn’t actually stated in our list of goals, but was definitely implied.) 1 Corinthians 10: 31 instructs us to do “all things” to the glory of God. So we needed to understand if this thing could be done to the glory of God. Note we weren’t actually talking about drinking alcohol. Nope, we spent the afternoon discussing under what circumstances it might be acceptable and pleasing to God for us to enter the building. Because, of course, there are different implications in life – and the afterlife – for different buildings that one might enter. I’m 100% sure that at least 80% of us at the meeting had been in a bar at one time or another for the purpose of getting an alcoholic drink. But no matter. Vulnerability wasn’t a thing. Piety was. We stuck with piety.

Here were our conclusions as I remember them:

  • Maybe it’s ok to go in if your car broke down and you need to make an emergent call to get help and the bar is the only place open.
  • Maybe it’s ok to go in if you are stranded and without water on a hot day and the bar is the only place open to get water.
  • Maybe it’s ok to go in if you are planning to talk to someone about Jesus and the bar is the only place they are willing to meet.
  • Under all circumstances it’s better not to go in – and going in might indicate a lack of faith that God will provide by other means – and might cause someone else to stumble for which you will be held accountable (just FYI – so don’t say you weren’t warned).

One fellow said he’d go in and have a drink in order to evangelize because he loved Jesus that much. Jeff and I speculated on our way home from the meeting that that fellow wasn’t really committed to the faith – he just wanted to drink. (So pro tip on showing commitment – be committed but not too committed or others will doubt your intentions.)

There was and is no printed list of bylaws or church standards that would have these items and protocols spelled out. This was more of a culturally guided discussion. But the culture is indirectly derived from the beliefs and teachings – many of which heavily focus on a binary world view. The general theme is that all choices are either good or bad, leading to eternal life or eternal separation. And by all choices, I mean all. That’s a lot of pressure to get details like these straight.

Those kinds of beliefs used to wreck havoc on my mental health. Fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, self-doubt, insecurity – were at times overwhelming and led to unhealthy behaviors like faking and hiding. It’s hard to be honest if you’re certain that what you have to reveal about yourself is, in fact, a fatal flaw. The culture doesn’t seem to always produce the same result in everyone involved in the denomination, but that was some of the impact it had on me as a 3rd or 4th generation Adventist.

And here’s what has brought me consistent peace of mind… I have decided that if there is a God, and if He is equal parts exacting-micro-manager regarding my behavior and vague in the information He provides, with eternal death to pay if I get it wrong – I’m not interested in spending eternity with Him. I don’t really care what He thinks of me. He sounds psychotic. The further away I am from Him, the better. If, on the other hand, there is a God and He’s not at all like that, then there’s no reason for me to be uptight in the first place. Either way I have peace.

Quite some time back I mentioned that I had found greater peace in my life but that a house of cards fell in the process. There’s a card.

An Adventist and a Catholic walked into a bar, and the topic of Christianity came up – completely by accident. There’s your punch line.

That Mean Girl

Wow! I was not prepared for her to greet me when I woke up this morning. Mean Girl was ON FIRE.

What the hell is the matter with you? Everybody else is doing something to help ease the suffering in this world right now, and here you are sleeping in. And once you get up, no doubt you’ll just play around with your hobbies and keep working on those projects you’ve put off for ages.  You’re lazy and self-serving.  And did you see all those people doing video chats with bunches of friends? What have you been doing holed up in your house? Do you even have friends? Probably not, you loser.

criticalperson

Like I said, she was on fire. And I hadn’t even fully opened my eyes or had a cup of coffee yet. It took me a long minute to figure out who was even talking to me. Oh yeah. Her. Mean Girl.

I used to believe that witchy woman in my head. She squatted in my entry way so everything in my life had to go past her. And I don’t mean she was forever in a crouched position. I mean she pitched her tent and set up residence. She had an opinion about everything – and nothing satisfied her.  I don’t often hear from her anymore so this morning took me by surprise. Of all times to show up, in the middle of a global pandemic isn’t ideal. But, then again, we are talking about a mean girl. They’ll kick you when you’re down.

So, take a deep breath. No, I don’t believe a mean girl actually lives in my head nor do I hear voices. But I imagine a good number of you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that part of your brain that just won’t cut anybody any slack – especially not yourself. Over the years I’ve found it’s important to step back and observe my life and my thoughts instead of accepting everything at face value. And I find it easier to be objective about these thoughts by giving them a name. So, Mean Girl it is.

No doubt I was born with some of these tendencies, and then I took some well-meaning teachings and ran with them so far as to believe it was God who was “correcting” me – minus the minor curse words. And, well, you certainly can’t be mad at God, because He’s God and the Bible says He is love. So I was forced to accept that apparently the slave driver in my head was doing it for my best and for my eternal salvation so I ought to be happy about it. Right? Mmmm… that’s messed up.

Now, I have a super hard time telling my head to simply stop thinking or doing something. It’s like that Bob Newhart routine where he plays a psychiatrist. “Just stop it!” Yeah, it doesn’t work. I have to have a good reason to stop or change and an alternative something to hang on to – otherwise it’s just brain gymnastics.

For me, it was a paradigm shift about God that allowed me to kick Mean Girl into the closet. It was a realization that God isn’t about performance and there is no need to compare myself to other people. God is the weightiest “person” in my life, so no need to worry about what other people think of me. He’s also very gracious, so I don’t have to perform or prove myself to Him. It’s been a very freeing shift. I have a much easier time accepting myself and others for the flailing humans we are, experiencing life together, learning as we go. Mean Girl still pops her head out now and again to stir the pot, but I’ve gotten a lot quicker at recognizing her and shoving her ass back into the closet.

But…. I’ve been checking out Non-Violent Communication the past many months. This past week I’ve been reading about judgment, criticism, and listening for understanding instead of listening to the words. Aaannnd…I got to thinking about Mean Girl. What if I used that process on my own wacky thoughts that blast into my life uninvited? Does Mean Girl have something to … contribute…??  Could she possibly be of value to me?? If so, what was Mean Girl saying? If every communication is either a please or a thank you, I’d have to say Mean Girl was pleading with me this morning. Agreed, she has the communication skills of a five-year old having a temper tantrum, but what did she need?

If I had to guess, which I do when dealing with 5-year old Mean Girl, I’d say she is feeling isolated and missing her friends. I’d say she’d like to feel connected. She’d like affection in the form of a few hugs. She feels helpless and wants to feel like she has something meaningful to contribute to the world right now.

I hear ya, Girl Friend. I hear ya.

I’m right there with ya’.

Of Blessings, Rewards & Just Plain Luck

God has been really good to us this year. Our business has grown 125%. We are so blessed!

If you are a part of the Christian culture, you’ve surely heard, or even said, something in the same vein as this. On the surface it sounds like a very faith-filled, believing, Christian thing to say. But is it really Christ-like? Does the framework of the thing hold water in light of the gospel?

Blessed

Let’s say you’re a farmer, your crops got the ideal amount of rain this year and your coffers are full. What a blessing! On the flip-side of your blessing, the hot shot firefighter has been out of work this summer.

Your snow removal business did very well because of the record snowfall. What a blessing! Just so happens there were also a record number of traffic deaths due to white-out conditions on the roads.

You feel thirsty so turn on the faucet and get yourself a glass of drinkable water. What a blessing! But yet 790 million other people walk to the river 5 miles from their dwelling and fetch a container of contaminated water.

Was the blessing granted to you because God loved you more? Did you serve Him better? Or did you trust Him more? Or did you work hard to create the change that led to the reward you had coming? And if you did work hard, what caused you to do that? Were you brought up in a home that encouraged hard work? Or maybe you were brought up in a much different environment and you overcame. Was your brain wired in such a way as to allow you to overcome from the start? Did God orchestrate your ancestral line for generations past in order to create a mind that works like yours which led you to make those particular choices that brought about your “blessing”? Or were you just damn lucky?

I have a growing distaste for the “blessed” motif in Christianity. I know it’s common in home decorating, clothing, and sermons. But inherent in the “blessed” is some level of “more than others”.  Or “because of who I am or what I’ve done for God”.

This world is not fair. People are not equal. We are for certain of equal value, but we are not equal. As much as we might like to think we all have equal opportunity, we really don’t. The person brought up with abuse does not have equal opportunity as those brought up in a nurturing home. The person with a chemical imbalance does not have an equal likelihood of achieving satisfying relationships as those who have a healthy balance of neurotransmitters and receptors. The person born in an oppressed country does not have the same opportunity as one born in a free country.

Taking these inequalities and saying that the positive things in our lives are the result of our being “blessed” by God puts inequality of all kinds squarely into God’s hands and makes it His doing. I don’t think that’s what He’s about. It’s inconsistent with the basic essence of the gospel message.

I think many of us are just damn lucky ~

for which we can be grateful and from which we can practice generosity.

Can we leave it at that?

I’m a Bad Mom

What had started out as a typical day, was morphing into a crash- and-burn day. One of my kids had shared with me a struggle they were having. And in short order, I was having my own multi-level struggle that was interfering with my ability to empathically be there for my child.

In my spiraling state of mind, I maintained my wits about me enough to send out an SOS to my neighbor friends. “Can I come over later to cry? I’m feeling like an inadequate mom and need to reset with some tears.” I said “inadequate”… but in the constant sorting game that’s been programmed into my brain, “inadequate” falls squarely in the bad camp.

God bless my neighbors! We’ve formed a small sisterhood of support and my life has been bettered by them being in it. One of the “sisters” was available and we had a chat. I explained what was going on and how I’d responded. She failed to see where I was being inadequate or bad.

With more processing, I realized I’d based my opinion of myself not on anything that was going on that evening, but on several broad-based assumptions:

  • If I’ve been an adequate parent, my kids will successfully handle difficult situations and personal challenges without missing a beat.
  • I am responsible for this problem because I raised them.
  • I inadequately prepared them for life.
  • I am supposed to fix this problem.
  • I have failed and am failing.

I had grabbed what was squarely their struggle and made it mine.

Have you been there?

struggle-675x500

What’s interesting about all these assumptions is that they are based on a belief that I have the potential to be, and actually must be, omniscient and omnipresent. I must understand the inner workings of my child’s brain. I must understand how every interaction will impact them now and in the future and selectively control what those interactions are. I must have all the answers. I have the power to determine the outcome of their lives. And really this whole responsibility thing would also require me to be responsible for the chemical make-up and neurological wiring in my child’s brain. Wow! Really? Am I God?

After a visit with my neighbor I was able to return home to be a mom instead of a god, to listen instead of scramble to fix, to share life together instead of control, and to empathize with the situation instead of cast blame.

Breaking the cycle of self-blame and criticism is a long and slow process. But until compassion is found on the inside, for the fallible soul who inhabits the body you see in the mirror, freely giving compassion to others will be unattainable.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” starts with you.

Basics of NVC

I’m definitely a newbie with NonViolent Communication. But my last post sparked some conversation and I decided to share a little more backbone to the process as I currently understand it. This information is primarily coming from a couple of videos linked in my prior post, as well as this website and this book by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD, the developer of the process.

Basic tenets:

There are universal feelings and needs that are common to all of us. By finding those things we share in common, we develop empathy toward ourselves and each other. Once that connection is made, solutions to problems are more easily found. The goal of the process is to come to the place of empathetic connection. Here are the basic steps:

Step 1: Describe the event

What happened? Stick to the facts. What are observable things that you noticed? “You are lazy” is not it. “Over the past two weeks, I never saw you do the dishes” is it. That’s something you could put on a tally sheet and quantify. And notice that it leaves room to be clarified by the other person. Perhaps they did do the dishes but you just didn’t see them. “You never listen to me” is not it. “You have been looking at your phone and not giving eye contact for the past 5 minutes while I’ve been talking” is it.

Step 2: Find the feelings

What are you feeling? This might be tougher than it sounds. “I feel like you…” is not a feeling. It’s an opinion or a thought. “I feel that…” also not a feeling.  “I feel abandoned” is a feeling-ish.  “Feelings” like that are often used in a way that insinuates blame and is likely to trigger defensiveness… such as an implied “You abandoned me”. That kind of statement is an opinion. Instead of “abandoned”, try one or some of these feelings- lonely, sad, afraid, perplexed, livid or resentful.

Step 3: Identify the needs

Take the feelings you found above and try to determine where they’re coming from. “I feel __________ because I need ____________.” These needs are universal. “I feel hungry because I need a French fry” is not universal and “hungry” isn’t a heart feeling.  “I feel edgy because I need food” is universal. “I feel angry because I need you to….” umm, no. Not it. You might have something you’d like someone else to do for you, but that’s actually a request. It doesn’t describe your need. “I feel lonely because I need intimacy” is an expression of a universal need that underlies the feeling. Notice that your feelings are a direct result of your need.

Step 4: Make a request

AFTER mutual connection (which means the above process is explored until both parties are understood), describe what action might meet your needs. Be specific. Be concrete. Be current. What tangible thing could the other person do in the present that would increase your joy factor? Be flexible with the other person and with yourself. The specific strategy used to meet your need can fluctuate without negating your need. What is the other person willing to do?

NVC

What it’s not:

A way to make a demand. If you actually intend to make a demand, you are not practicing NonViolent Communication even if every other step is completed. Sometimes we don’t even recognize a demand in ourselves or someone else until a “no” gets thrown in there. If someone loses their cool or things turn nasty after a “request” is turned down, it was never a request. You can and will have feelings about a “no”. But having feelings and trying to shame, blame or guilt the other person because they gave you a “no” are two different things. NVC is intended to provide a deeper level of connection. Any use of force, coercion or manipulation is opposed to the intent of NVC. Perhaps the other person will do something for you that you request of them, but that’s the icing on the cake if it happens.

A panacea. In my opinion, there will be those with whom you may desire to connect but who don’t have the capacity for empathy or who insist on making demands rather than requests. I would also speculate that a person whose reality is unstable/ substantially shifts – not their interpretation of  or thoughts about prior events but their recollection of actual prior events – will be unable to make it through the process given that the fist step involves agreeing on basic facts. I also struggle to see how NVC applies in legal matters. But, Marshall Rosenberg successfully used NVC as a tool to bring peace in the worst of circumstances, so maybe my mind will shift on this as I learn more.

A cancellation of boundaries. Having empathy for another person does not mean you will or must agree on their requested strategy to meet their need.  Or perhaps you have a competing need that makes it unfeasible for you to meet the other person’s need at all. No still means no.

What it is:

Difficult. It’s a new language for your brain. Learning a new language is difficult. We have been trained to tune out feelings, or react to our feelings without even identifying or owning them. And being in the USA, strength and independence are king. Identifying our feelings and admitting to our needs is tough going. Taking responsibility for our own feelings and needs is perhaps even more foreign. “I feel impatient because you are making us late” is a much more typical way of assigning responsibility as compared to “I feel impatient when you are running late because I need consistency.”

Uncomfortable. I went to a practice session last night. We did a very simple exercise working through the above steps for each one of us. Most of us gave a one sentence observation we had on our hearts and minds. Then we identified a handful of feelings we had in relation to the situation. During the next step we identified a few needs we had that provoked the feeling. Holy Moly! How often have you actually listened to and been with someone else as they shared their heart, their mutual humanity, their life bloodwithout trying to judge, analyze or fix a thing? Most of us have been trained to judge, analyze and fix all within 30 seconds. Simply being with the other person in their discomfort is… uncomfortable.

Powerful! One of the attendees at the practice session I attended expressed surprise by the personal revelation they found while going through the process. “By golly, this thing really does work!” I think we all felt that way to some extent.

I hope you take the opportunity to learn more about NonViolent Communication. I’d love to hear what you think of the process and how it has impacted your life. Many have found peace with this method. And Lord knows this world could use more peace.

Them there are fightin’ words!

Your previously scheduled program is being interrupted to bring you the following special.

Wow! I didn’t know what to say! After practicing podiatry for several years I’d decided that surgery wasn’t my thing. I felt ill-prepared for all parts of the surgical process – the pre-op decision making, the technical components of the surgery, and the post-op management and possible complications. I wasn’t living in an area where support was easily accessible – and I really didn’t know how to ask for what I needed anyway. Add to that my preoccupation with perfection – and I was slowly killing myself with stress. Something had to give, and I decided for the sake of my health and that of my patients, surgery would no longer be in my repertoire. I’d heard of podiatrists who didn’t perform surgery, but they certainly weren’t the norm. My decision left me feeling relieved and isolated all at the same time. I broke the news to my office manager – who also happened to be my husband – with hopes of gaining support in my corner.

Now for those of you who have loved Jeff, stick with me here. I promise I’m not throwing him under the bus. He might look more human to you before this is over, but human is enough. In fact, human was exactly what I was needing!

To think his response would be supportive was a miscalculation. He said some fightin’ words topped with a healthy serving of spite. “How can you even call yourself a doctor if you don’t do surgery?!”

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Wow! My waves crashed! I didn’t know what to say! The options as I knew them to be…

  • Tell him what a jerk he was being. Nah. Two wrongs don’t make a right.  Besides it certainly wouldn’t swing him around my way. I didn’t do that.
  • Smile. Say nothing. Make him a special supper. Lavish kindness on him. Turn the other cheek. Bite a hole in my tongue while disguising the truth of my angst. When I couldn’t take the inner turmoil any longer, complain to my friends about the terrible things he said, driving a wedge of separation between us. I didn’t do that either – at least not the first part.
  • I could tell myself not to take things so personal. I shouldn’t be so easily offended. I should just live my own life and not be so influenced by what he thinks of me. Shame myself out of my feelings. But that would have required a medically-induced coma to achieve. I didn’t do that.
  • Put up a boundary. Something like “It hurts me when you talk that way. If you speak disparagingly to me again, I will have to….blah, blah, blah.”  Have you ever noticed that boundaries ill-played can come out sounding demanding and controlling? What I wanted was someone in my corner. Forcing an external behavior would do nothing to assure me I had someone in my corner. And if I wasn’t successful in forcing the external behavior, would I really follow through on the “consequence” (aka – threat). I didn’t do that either.
  • Explain to him why I could still call myself a doctor so he would apologize for his ignorant, mean words. I would win him over with facts and information while keeping a distance from either one of our hurts and needs. Always the believer in logic, I did that. It had zero impact. He wasn’t interested in a logical explanation as to why I still considered myself a legitimate doctor.

The tools in my “navigating human interactions” tool chest were perhaps typical, but were weighed in the balances and found to be wanting. At the time you can be sure I didn’t see it that way. I only saw that he had been found wanting.

Now, I promised there wasn’t going to be a casualty. Stick with me. We’re about to get to the saving part. Nobody is going under the bus.

Some fifteen years later… I GOT A NEW TOOL! It provides a framework for taking the weight out of the words while hearing, loving, and connecting to the person. It’s a judgment-free zone. No need to concern yourself with who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s the good person and who’s the bad. Those classifications are inconsequential. (IKR…! What is this heresy!) No internal or external brainwashing, tongue biting, or manipulating involved.

And dog-gone-it, what I wouldn’t give for a do-over!

We would have ROCKED this thing!

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What is this magical tool that has brought such hope? It’s called Non-Violent Communication. It’s got simplistic ideas like developing giraffe instead of jackal ears. (Learn more here and here…) But to say it will be simple to adopt as a way of thinking would be highly inaccurate. No new way of thinking is going to be simple after 50 years of paving the neural roads. I mean, really, what about that part where there’s “no need to concern yourself with who’s right and who’s wrong”…?? That alone requires a major detour!

A basic premise of NVC is that all communication can be boiled down to either a please or a thank you. If needs aren’t being met, it will be a please. If needs are being met, it will probably be a thank you. Things that you might have considered fightin’ words, you can now think of as a tragic expression of a please. “Tragic” because the veiled request is unlikely to result in anyone’s needs actually being met. But given compassion, time, and effort, we can get there without inciting World War III or adding a new layer to our Enemy Image portrait (more about that here). And the good news, it only takes one person to change the tide of a conversation.

“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”
― Marshall Rosenberg

So here’s how I imagine the conversation could have gone using my very novice Non-Violent Communication skills…

  • Hubs – “How can you even call yourself a doctor if you don’t do surgery?!” (There’s no way to twist that around to make it thank you. It is most certainly a tragic expression of please help me.)
  • Me – “It sounds like you’ve got strong feelings about this. I want to understand. Are you feeling afraid?” (If one person isn’t equipped to express their feelings and needs, the other person helps them out by guessing and checking.)
  • Hubs – “Yes, I’m afraid. I don’t think you understand what this will do to our future!” (Hubs expressed his feeling – but hasn’t expressed his need that causes the feeling.)
  • Me – “In what way? What do you mean by that?”
  • Hubs – “How can you make a living and support our family not doing surgery?”
  • Me – “Ok, tell me if I am getting this right. You’re afraid for our financial security if I don’t perform surgeries. You need to know that our family will be provided for. You have a need for financial security.”
  • Hubs – “Yes!”
  • Me – “Ok. What can we do that would reassure you? Can we run some reports and review them together? Talk with other podiatrists? Would those things help?”  (And here we jumped straight to strategy to meet the need.)
  • Hubs – “Yeah, ok. That would help.”
  • (Now that his feelings and needs were met, then it would be time to get to my feelings and needs.)

Now – realistically do I think this emotionally charged situation would have been peacefully resolved in six interchanges. Nope. But you get the gist. In my heart, I can now empathize with his feelings and needs. I hear his “please!” on so many levels and in so many ways. The unresolved conflict had nothing to do with anyone being bad or wrong or offensive. It had everything to do with unexpressed feelings and unmet needs – which thankfully can be corrected with a bit of effort.

By connecting on a deeper level to the needs we have in common, compassion is aroused and both parties become more inclined to consider mutually-agreeable strategies to resolve the matter. Being fully, deeply human is exactly what works best to resolve conflict.

I challenge you, if you’re feeling offended by someone in your life, try something different with your conversation next time. It can get better from here.

 

In the Silence

It’s been a while since I’ve written much. Sometimes it takes a good long silence for experiences, thoughts and beliefs to shape into words. It’s been one of those “pauses” for me, and even now I’m not absolutely sure where to start. But I’m just going to begin, realizing I may need to hit “rewind” periodically.

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I’m in a good place right now. I’ve not moved nor made any major changes to my house for at least a year, so the “good place” I’m in has little to do with the physical space I inhabit – but yet something to do with where I live given the positive impact my neighbors have had on my journey. But that’s probably another story.

Speaking of “journey”, I used to think the journey of life was something you did equipped with the right answers – you know, like a trip with a fully developed itinerary. Furthermore, if you were a committed Christian, the journey would all play out in proper order. If it didn’t, the derailment was no doubt due to the choices of lesser Christian people with whom you mistakenly associated.

~But then again, I used to think a lot of things.~

Like many life stories, mine includes a pit. And like many stories, circumstances and choices put me there. But if I try and describe what came before the pit to influence my circumstances and choices, I then also get caught up in describing what came before that, and then before that… and pretty soon it’s all a pile of tangled spaghetti with too many ends to manage. So let’s start the story in my pit – which is a place I used to think was taboo to talk about.

~But then again, I used to think a lot of things.~

While in my pit, a friend of mine threw me a line. She recommended I attend a recovery group. I didn’t have a history of substance abuse – but I had some doozer thought patterns. They were harmful to my well-being but I stuck to them anyway. And in spite of that description matching the definition of an addiction, I was certain I’d have nothing in common with addicts – especially not these addicts. The group was not of my denomination, which meant I believed they were without The Truth, the Whole Truth and nothing but The Truth. And because I knowingly joined such a heretical group for the purpose of gaining something from them and not for the purpose of converting them, I was pretty certain if God was paying any attention at all He would strike me down with lightening. And if He didn’t, I would surely be led astray by their trickery.

~But then again, I used to think a lot of things.~

Right about that same time I met with my pastor to talk some things over. During that conversation it actually came out of my mouth that the majority of my life choices were controlled by guilt and fear. Shocking. Shocking that I had enough self-awareness to recognize it. Shocking that I was brave enough to say it out loud. And equally shocking – and sad- that it was true. To be certain, being controlled by guilt and fear doesn’t result in a perfect life that never causes harm to self or others. It simply means that one is burdened with guilt and fear.

Your most obedient child, BTW, might be the one to especially check on. The “should”, “have to”, “must” burden is a killer of a load. What happened to simply being human? Isn’t that enough? But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Quick on the heals of recovery, was a whole new library of books. Emotional intelligence…? What is that? Isn’t knowing the facts and understanding how to articulate them precisely all that really matters in life?

Boundaries…? Are those authors even Christian?? I mean really, since when do my needs matter? I have needs, but doesn’t Christianity secretly require a manipulative dance to get them met? To directly express my needs and limits sounds, well, selfish. That’s certainly not Christian. I should at least try to be selfless and then hope God will make up the rest.

Gifts of Imperfection…? Gifts?? Now you certainly are not Christian! Imperfections are only gifts after they are ground off with the polishing stone, or burned out with the fire, or made as if they never were by use of some other Biblical purifying method. Aren’t they?

~Ah, yes. I used to think a lot of things. ~

Those beliefs, more often than not, seem like a lifetime ago. But it has been no easy process for me to experience growth from the new concepts. Some foundational cards have had to be pulled from the house. Because unless you get to the thing behind the thing, the thing never really changes. And so my house of cards has come tumbling down. Frightening. But a different kind of fear than what I’ve carried with me all my life.

The Manipulator

The commanding timbre of her voice more than compensates for any lack of logic. “No, you must do it this way.” It’s not that when questioned she doesn’t have her reasons, but the reasons are shallow and antiquated. They were helpful for a time, but that time has passed.  She continues on, not realizing her lack of relevance. And when her caution goes unheeded, her insistence morphs into poorly veiled threats. “You’ll be a bad person if you don’t.” And that, well, that is really what underlies all she has to say.  Fear. Fear of being bad.  For it is in being good, very good, that she finds belonging.

The record has a scratch that causes the lines to repeat in the back of my head. When I internalize the message and believe the fear, I find myself making painful, boundary-less, unhealthy decisions that paradoxically result in the very outcome I was determined to avoid.

Dear Younger Me,

You are of value because you are a human being loved by your Creator. Your value does not stem from your performance. You are finding a way to get your needs met, and that’s OK for now. But realize this is simply the starting place for your journey. It’s not the end-all.  One day you will find more beneficial, healthier ways.

There is a voice more powerful than fear. Listen for it. That voice is not demanding, so its urgency can be easily overlooked when compared to the voice of fear. The voice of fear will tell you that any course other than the way it demands will make you bad. But fear lies.

While it will feel destabilizing to let go of the fear that has controlled you, press on. You will learn to ride the waves and will experience a fuller life than is possible while standing in fear on the shore. You won’t be the first in your circle to step out in the waves, nor will you be the last. Don’t get too caught up in the people still on the shore. It’s OK if you go a different direction. In fact, you were designed to do so.

Be confidently you. The world needs it. And so do you.

Much love, Me

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There is no manipulator stronger than the one that lives in your own head. From it, all others gain their power.