Sunday, December 7, 2014


My one word for 2014 was "ignore." I remember well writing this. I remember the frustration I felt regarding facebook, especially. Many posts in my newsfeed had gotten under my skin: political, religious, and especially those I'd thought judgmental. I'd felt the need, often, to comment—to express my “righteous indignation”—but even when I'd managed to refrain from commenting, I'd found myself arguing in my head with the person whose words had offended me.

Sometimes, after crafting an argument in my head for days, I'd blogged it out. Those argumentative posts, while popular, hadn’t fulfilled my purpose in blogging: to capture my family and myself in words. I hadn’t been writing for my children but, instead, to those with whom I'd disagreed most vehemently.

Over time, I'd damaged relationships—including some that I hold most dearly—with anger, distraction, or both.

I started unfriending and unfollowing people whose words offended me but realized pretty quickly: I wasn't any less angry or angry less often. Facebook felt like a bottomless barrel of offense, and the facebook friends whose words offended me had, in most cases, nothing in common but me. I was the common denominator. I knew my anger was my problem, but I didn't know how to fix my problem! Finally, I deactivated my account.

I was facebook free for four months, and it was a good four months. It was quieter in my head. I thought and wrote happier thoughts, and God seemed nearer. I seemed nearer to myself.

Ultimately, though, I missed my friends...some with whom I retain contact only through facebook. I missed the ease with which I could get in touch with them, ask them questions, and keep up with not only their lives but also local events and opportunities. Facebook is an incredible source of information!

Since reactivating my account, I've handled facebook a bit better. I avoid it when my feed blows up over a particularly divisive issue. In most cases, when someone's words offend me, I choose not to comment, and inasmuch as possible, I choose to think about something else. I still unfriend and unfollow on occasion.

But what I really want to share with you is this: my counselor, in talking with me about my reactionary tendencies, suggested gently that I'm giving most anyone the power to trigger my anger at any moment. I'm like a marionette dangling from thousands of strings. The great irony in this is that--often, when I respond with anger--it's because I feel like someone is attempting to control me: trying to tell me what to think or do, judging me, patronizing me. But only in getting worked up (over what I perceive as someone's attempt to control me) do I lose I, effectively, hand over control.

I shared some of my struggles, recently, with a pastor friend. (I would be remiss if I failed to say: it was incredibly providential that we even had the time and space for the conversation; we were supposed to be meeting with others who were--through no fault of their own--running late.) My friend is a student of Bowen Family Systems Theory, and he offered me a new word: differentiation, which relates to one's ability to separate his or her emotions and thinking from that of others. A person with a high level of differentiation, according to Bowen, will find himself or herself capable of connection (relationships) with others, in general, but disconnection from others' emotions and thinking. 

I realized: I don't want to ignore others. I want to differentiate from others. I want to grow in terms of emotional maturity. I want, in short, to be able to think and convey with calmness and dignity: inasmuch as you are you, I am me, and I will choose how I behave and think. 

So my word for 2015, and the remainder of 2014, is differentiate. I'm tired of being a marionette! And isn't God good for helping us, oftentimes through other people? I'm so thankful.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pain, Rage, and Thoughts on Advent

If you were my therapist--asking what I'm thinking or learning, or how I'm being led--I would tell you I'm thinking about pain and rage. I'm thinking about everyone's pain and rage, but it's easiest (safest) to write about my own, knowing I am--to a certain extent--everyone. I am him, and her, and you.

I'm just figuring out: I know very little about managing my pain. I'm talking about inner, not physical, pain. My parents didn't offer much help in this regard. I know they did the very best they could with what they had. Also, in all fairness, no one else has offered much help, either.

I'm forty years old. I know I'm responsible for my own behavior, that I have choices regarding all of my behavior. I know I'm lacking some tools in my toolbox but that they can be acquired. I didn't know these things for the longest time.

A friend said to me: "You're more than your emotions, you know." His words penetrated my consciousness like an arrow shot out of the dark. I received them immediately and as truth, but with surprise. That was a year ago, maybe: an important moment in this leg of my journey.

I'm more than my emotions. In times of conflict, I don't have to fight. I don't have to flee. I don't have to be anyone's doormat, ever. (I've never chosen that last scenario, anyway, but know how it works.) I have the option to say: "I'm going to take a break from this and come back to it when we're able to have a civilized conversation." As I've written before, that option feels unnatural, even painful, to me. But I'll choose it over and over until I've learned it...because I don't want any of my children, at forty, to have to pay someone to learn something (s)he should be learning from me.

And, now. Advent.

My friend Sharon asked me to go with her to a Blue Christmas service held on the first night of Advent. I took Clementine, my five-year-old daughter, with me. I took her mostly because she had dance class until shortly before the service, but given that her mamaw had flown to heaven at the end of May, I wondered if there would be takeaways for her.

A Blue Christmas service makes space for sadness at Christmastime. It acknowledges that grief is part of the human experience and that Jesus, having suffered Himself, understands. I watched my little daughter write: "I miss Mamaw," on a piece of paper; cry real tears; light one candle; and carry another candle from darkness into light. I hadn't imagined that the service would hold so much meaning for her.

I could use more of this, I thought, in my life. If I have to wait--if I have to, for example, take a step back from conflict--I would prefer to do so in an atmosphere like this. I would like for someone to stand beside me, wordless, in my darkness. I would like for someone to pass me a candle...or the peace. I would like for someone to acknowledge my pain. These things would go a long way, I think, toward diffusing my rage.