Storm

I carry a storm inside me;
I am sorry that it is so.
I cry the rain, thunder the fear —
If I shed these, the storm might not grow.
But I can’t quite seem to cry enough
To let the storm go.

———

Emotional work is a long and messy process. I am doing better than the last two weeks; the waves have been less overwhelming and frequent. (Hours after posting about my intentions for Lent, panic attacks kept me awake all night.) Joe taught me to expect that the pain of old wounds never goes entirely away, but crops up here and there in new situations* or challenges. He and Steve Shelby taught me to expect that the pain of unfulfilled longings likewise never goes entirely away. With practice, with mindfulness, with openness, with radical acceptance, with prayer and faith and trust, with support, one can reduce the power of these things and grow more in grace, freedom, and gratitude.

“I will arise and go to Jesus, he will embrace me in his arms; in the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms.” ~J. Hart

*It is fascinating how a glimpse of kindness can evoke the old wounds and longings. Reminds me of my experiences on a short term mission trip in Africa. A few weeks of great stress in one situation, with few or no tears, and then a new situation with a very kind couple, and the tears come out in a flood.

Hand in Hand Parenting talks about how, when a child feels more safe and secure with her parents through such things as special time and play-listening, she’s MORE likely to erupt in tantrums and big cries and big fears — she feels safe enough to let them surface. The acts of tantrumming, crying, trembling, and so on, shed the feelings and the stress hormones with them. With time, the tantrums and cries and fears are less dramatic and resolved faster. The same is true of adults; crying and so on in the warm presence of a safe friend or partner is healing.

Advertisements

Sin

When I was in therapy with Joe Bauserman, from time to time we would get talking about sin. (Joe was one of the most integrated people I’ve known — not just a psychologist who happened to be a Christian, or vice versa; not just plastering psychology with Christian jargon, nor just applying Bible verses as psychological band-aids.) Sometimes he would tell me I wasn’t yet ready to talk about sin — too many misconceptions and too much baggage getting in the way of understanding. Sometimes he would talk about how, fundamentally, sin is about waywardness — as in Jeremiah 2:

5 Thus says the Lord,

“What injustice did your fathers find in Me,
That they went far from Me
And walked after emptiness and became empty?
6 “They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’…

13 My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

In my parenting journey, I have come to think of sin in children quite differently than I used to, which has led to questioning the doctrine of sin in general. Continue reading

The Book of Joe, part 2

Continued from part 1.

The Problem of Consciousness

Consciousness can be problematic. Joe discusses the importance of being in tune with the signals in our lives — signals not just about what’s going on around us, but what’s going on inside us. Signals of thought, will, and desire. Signals of emotion and spirituality. Some folks are more aware of these signals than others — and some folks are sensitive not just to the occurrence of these signals, but to what they “mean about who we are and how we should be seeing and responding to our lives” (5). The problematic part is remaining fully conscious even when the signals are unpleasant.

In Genesis, we read about Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, realizing and becoming ashamed of their nakedness, and hiding from God. They sewed clothes for themselves from fig leaves: “They hid from their horror by doing something that busied and distracted them and, at least symbolically, seemed to take care of the problem” (5). They weren’t just hiding from God, either; they were hiding from exactly the same things that Joe listed earlier in The Problem of Man and Woman: the truth of being alone, needy, vulnerable, dependent, and longing for God.

Joe closes this section with Kierkegaard’s “five ways we chase after self control and delusion instead of the truth”:

  • Pleasure
  • Power
  • Knowledge (mind knowledge, not heart knowledge)
  • Good human works (instead of love)
  • Religiosity (instead of true spirituality) (6)

For those of us who may not immediately feel convicted in at least one of these areas, Joe prays that we may become more conscious, and seek and desire truth in all things. Though we are distracted like Martha (with things good, bad, and neutral), may we, like Mary, find the one thing that is necessary.

The Book of Joe

I recently got a copy of something my late therapist, Joe Bauserman, wrote — he called it The Book of Joe. I think I’ll read through it and make comments here as I read. One of the problems with being a fast reader is that stuff doesn’t stick as well as I’d like it to. I’ll read a book and tell someone how great it is, but be completely unable to discuss the content articulately.

The Prologue begins: “The great, poetic Book of Job challenges us all to face the tragedies of life and hold onto the love and ultimate purposes of God.” Joe then explains that he’s going to write this book to face his own crisis and try to hold onto those things.

The Crisis

Next, he defines his crisis — just before a family beach vacation, he discovers five tumors — two in the brain, three in the lungs. He says that this crisis is his opportunity to share important things with folks, despite having been a very private person for many years. It was a single draft, written in just a couple of weeks in the summer of 2008.

Considering the allusion to Job, Joe points out that he’s not saying that he’s especially righteous, nor that the cancer asked God’s permission to test him, nor that such calamities are always “just deserts” for particular sin.

“[Calamities] come in a million different forms and degrees, but they usually reveal many similar things about us all, things we need to know to live in this sick and deadly world, and it is these shared revelations that I want to explore in my limited quest to explore what Aquinas called “the truth of things”, the deep knowledge of the heart that keeps us standing when falling makes all of the emotional and intellectual sense in the world, and keeps us looking for the light when the darkness seems endless and impenetrable” (p3).

The next section, The Problem of Man and Woman, gives Joe’s beliefs about the nature of humanity and its shared core issues. He lists five basic problems all people inherently have:

  • We are needy
  • Vulnerable
  • Alone
  • Dependent
  • Longing for satisfaction of these needs — satisfaction Joe believes is ultimately and only found in fellowship with God.

What strikes me, looking at this list, is the juxtaposition of “Alone” and “Dependent.” Yikes. Dependent wouldn’t be so bad in a solid community. And alone wouldn’t be so bad if there were no need of others.

Joe insists that this package of needs is not arbitrary, but designed to foster what we most need: intimacy with and utter reliance upon God. I agree with him that intimacy with God is a great good, and that utter reliance upon him is reality (whether we fight it or not); I think I would cast it less as design and more as redemption, but that may be because my understanding and appreciation of God’s sovereignty is lacking.

This short statement about the good side of these five needs is followed by many more sentences about the painful side.

“Every child needs to be known and loved across time. No child gets what is needed. Most parents love their children, but I will tell you strongly, after more than sixty thousand hours as a psychotherapist, that the vast majority of people have not felt well known even if they give their parents credit for loving them very much. Love that loves but does not know how to love does not accomplish the mission” (p4).

And who knows how to love? How does anyone learn to really know and understand anyone else, navigating through the dark waters of projecting our own experience, internalizing negative voices from our own history, not to mention the myriads of parenting and relationship and other self-help books and articles and videos and lectures, not to mention our work, our time, our energy, the state of our digestion and the weather?

How terrifying to be a parent, a wife, a friend, any relationship. I know for a fact that I daily, hourly, fail to love well enough, fail to know and understand others, even those others I am closest to. Sometimes I’m so afraid of the consequences of such failure that I can hardly continue to try. And how many of these people will my behavior send to therapy?

Next, Joe lists some of the consequences of this “foundational failure of knowing love” (p4).

  • “We don’t know ourselves.”
  • “We don’t know what love should be for us, even if someone wants to love us well.”
  • “We look for counterfeit love in many wrong places.”
  • We live with a deep and chronic fear that we’ll never have what we most need: such a strong relational life that “we can love well because we have been loved well” (p4).

Joe argues that while pride is a big problem, it’s not the core of humanity’s problems. He says it is one of the offspring of the bigger problem of this fear. It is one of the many ways we try to avoid the awareness of those five basic needs listed earlier. We don’t always, or often, fight that awareness consciously. We might not even be consciously aware of that deep fear that drives so much of what we think, feel, and do. Few of us would deliberately choose to shut our eyes on reality, but, consciously or unconsciously, we are often willing to be less conscious, to live under delusion, rather than face those five basic needs and the fear of never finding their satisfaction.

This section ends with Joe’s long-time goal for people — “that they would come to know the truth, in all of its painful, frightening, confusing, exhilarating, and ultimately gratifying faces” (p5).

Faithfulness and Rest

The other night I was thinking about how often Joe, in his cancer blog, talks about rest. He did that in therapy, too.

Most churchy people go in the other direction — we need to serve more, we need to do more, we need to work harder, we need to virtually ignore our own needs and wants, or attend to them only minimally, and only in order to keep serving and doing and working.

It’s not that Joe encourages laziness or morbid wallowing brooding or unlimited selfishness and self-centeredness.

No — but when Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, Joe says loving yourself is implied by the command, and that it’s a high standard, not a low one.

Be still, and know that I am God — or, alternately, cease striving (Psalm 46:10).

It makes sense that the first greatest commandment — to love God with everything we have and are — comes first. The relationship between the individual and God really does precede, inform, feed the relationship between the individual and others. Worship before service. Yes, service can be — is — a form of worship, but in order for that to be so, worship must be considered higher, a greater priority, than service. The lesser is considered a form of the greater.

I think about the part of Jeremiah 2 where God says that we have first abandoned him, the spring of living water, and hewn our own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Hewing speaks of work — and it’s done apart from relationship. God as living water implies relationship — and no work. Lounging by a spring is good rest. Living water nourishes good works better than hewing broken cisterns — thirsty work — does.

I think about Luke 16:10, the verse about being faithful in little things. This verse has usually condemned me and provoked me to more perfectionism — after all, if I skimp on how well I sew on a button or write a post or anything else, doesn’t that betray that at my core I am slovenly and unfaithful?

But what if being faithful in little things is subversive of the work ethic, the performance mentality; what if it’s more like Psalm 46:10 and Jeremiah 2 — what if it’s more like Mary and Martha?

In Luke 10, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, among the men, listening to him. Martha does the culturally expected thing — she works in the kitchen to prepare food for Jesus and the men. Which sister was faithful?

God and earthly things

I have been reading in Joe’s blog again, a few of the posts from early October.

A recurring theme is the desire or the call to wait in silence for God only — in other words, to have all the trust and dependence and hope and desire aimed at God, not at earthly things.

This sounds good and feels right in crisis — when earthly things are failing rapidly and miserably, when disappointment is keen and ever-present. When earthly things are obviously in opposition to trust in God, well, it’s easy to see the opposition. It’s not always easy to choose God, but it’s at least clear that a choice needs making.

On the surface, it sounds like a total rejection of the world and earthly things, as if matter and flesh and bodies and pleasures and pains were evil. As if one should never go to or trust a doctor or any other professional, or a friend or family member. As if the only possible spiritual life is a desert mystic hermit’s life of isolation and separation.*

I don’t think Joe means it quite in that way. I think he’s talking about ultimate trust, ultimate desire, and so on — the creature, created things, are good when they are in their right place in our hearts — not first, as replacing or displacing God, but second, as his good gifts.

At times, there are real goods in earthly things — sometimes friends show real kindness and love, sometimes strawberries taste fantastic, sometimes doctors diagnose correctly and treat effectively and sickness yields to medicine.

At times, earthly things fail or disappoint — all creation is affected by the fall and the subsequent curse.

Somehow, the key seems to be to accept the good and the bad among earthly things as reality, as provided by and presided over by God, whose purposes cannot be thwarted, and whose goodness and love are trustworthy.

That’s not to say that good and bad are meaningless categories. Call the pleasure pleasurable and thoroughly enjoy it (but don’t pin your hopes on it or demand that it last forever or think that it’s the ultimate good or the fountain of life). Call the pain painful and don’t try to escape or transcend or deny the suffering (and don’t pin your despair on it or believe it will last forever or think that it’s your ultimate doom).

Over and over again, God is revealing to me lately how skeptical and afraid I am about him — how much I fear that perhaps he isn’t good and loving after all. I fear that I only believe in his goodness and love because I want to. I fear that the evidence for his goodness and love is not actually there, or is ambiguous, or is contradicted by evidence that seems to suggest his injustice, hatred, or non-existence. Or that his goodness and love are no goodness or love I would recognize as such, but the “goodness” and “love” offered by an abuser.

*Often, when I consider a deeper commitment or surrender or relationship with God, I fear that I’ll become uninteresting to or uninterested in my friends and other earthly things. I think the truth is that I would become more interesting to and more interested in them — provided the commitment, surrender, relationship, was real and not just religiosity. How is it done? Wait in silence for God only, I suppose.

———

I read one more post, and once I finish this comment I’m off to bed.

Joe writes about needing authorization to come through so that he could get his chemo pills, and how he had visions of kicking down doors to demand justice, while his wife was trusting God instead.

How do you know when kicking down a door might not be exactly the provision God is offering? Waiting on the Lord doesn’t always (ever?) mean simply sitting on your hands and doing nothing — when does waiting on and trusting God include action, and when not — and how does one know what action to take — how does one discern whether the urge to act in a certain way is the voice of God, or the voice of a demon, or the internalized voice of a negative relationship, or the internalized voice of a positive one, or the voice of indigestion or hormones or brain chemistry?

I remember asking Joe similar questions in my therapy — and at least on one occasion he pointed out how very often in Acts the apostles said “it seemed good to us” when they made a decision.

Just because I have an impulse doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. The thing to do is pay attention to the impulse, reflect and pray, and then decide as best one can in the circumstances — it’s another occasion to trust God, that he can and will provide even if I decide badly or wrongly.

One of my best antidotes for my fears is to face them squarely — and see that even the worst possible outcome won’t destroy me. This works only when I am trusting God. Otherwise the worst possible outcome might be “God doesn’t exist.” But when I trust God, even death, even life in the psych ward, even losing all my friends and family, even not sleeping tonight, even being afraid, cannot destroy me.

I think that’s what Joe was getting at — his door-kicking urge was born of fear — not just fear that God wouldn’t provide for his chemo pills (death can’t destroy him), but perhaps fear that God isn’t trustworthy even in death.