Request

We all rather desperately need one another.

None of us is entitled to anything from anyone else (with the exception of young children, entitled to appropriate care from the parents that bring them forth).

It is sort of fascinating, that the existence of legitimate needs does not imply any entitlement. How often we explain it away — either it must not be a real need, or else we must have a right to the fulfillment.

Is it the hardest lesson of all to learn? How to ask for what we need without demanding it, even in established and committed relationships, and how to live well when our needs go unmet?

It starts with such little things.

Make eye contact and ask the baby if she wants to be picked up.

Ask before tickling. Stop instantly when asked to stop.

Speak to children not so as to display your wit to the other grown-ups, but to make a real connection.

No one, even a relative, is entitled to hugs or kisses.

This evening someone started teasing my daughter about her dessert. She didn’t catch on right away but was answering him seriously. When she started to seem confused, I mentioned to her that he was teasing. She told him, politely enough, “Besides, I don’t like being teased.” The guy said, “What, don’t you have a sense of humor?” He continued to tease her a while longer, until I repeated, “Amy doesn’t want to be teased right now.” He stopped talking to her altogether.

I get it — the guy wasn’t malicious or creepy or abusive. He was having fun. He wanted to include her in the fun. But no matter how friendly what you’re doing is, if someone asks you to stop, how is it possibly respectful to persist? I wonder if he would have persisted like that if he had been talking to a boy instead of a girl? Or to an adult instead of a child?

The vast majority of people don’t get violent with their sense of entitlement and unmet needs. On the other hand, the equation of unmet needs and entitlement is a pervasive problem — whether you’re a child or a woman or anyone bearing the brunt of someone else’s sense of entitlement, as mild as our dinner partner this evening or as threatening as the fellow in this comic. And it’s a pervasive problem we find in ourselves — and I think we all do, if we’re honest. We have all experienced moments when we felt we didn’t have all that we needed, and that it seemed so perfectly easy and reasonable for someone to provide it, and maybe we asked, or maybe we just expected, and we didn’t get it, and what do we do with that? What kind of friend or spouse or whoever wouldn’t do this thing for us? Is it not a real need? How often do we not even recognize this kind of thing as a sense of entitlement?

Merton reminds me that “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.”

Willard reminds me to ask — to make a request — and not to demand.

Peter reminds me to cast all my cares, including the distress of unmet needs, on Jesus who cares for me.

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Lust

Last week’s sermon addressed sexuality.

People are not souls temporarily embodied. We are unities, body and soul together. One implication is that our gender is an essential part of our permanent identity — which further implies that our sexuality, along with every other aspect of our personality, is present, involved, in nearly everything we do.

Maybe that’s obvious to you. Maybe it should be. In some of the circles I’ve been in, though, it hasn’t been obvious at all. Sexuality is supposed to be virtually non-existent except in marriage. The courtship movement was in vogue when I was in InterVarsity in college — and it sure seemed to me that the basic idea is that you have extremely limited friendships with guys, in groups, in which you somehow get to know one another well enough to figure out you should marry — and then, on marriage day, sexuality is allowed. And it stays nicely put within the confines of marriage and impinges on no other area of life.

My limited experience with this movement and similar ideas was frustratingly not according to the plan.

Junior year of high school, there was A. We very carefully and purposefully did not date — mostly because he was a new believer, and everyone advised me that dating him would make his faith dependent on our romance instead of on God. So we did not date — officially — but we were electrically attracted to one another. Since we were not dating, we could not discuss the nature of our relationship. It was awkward. It was a sort of mutual use. I eventually named it covert dating. What would Elisabeth Elliot have advised us — to cut off the relationship just because we had this strong attraction? Her book talked about avoiding sparking such attractions, but I don’t remember it saying a thing about what to do once you already had one. Her book also included the worst marriage proposal in the universe, in which Jim basically told her he would likely never ever ever marry, but — if he did — it would be her. Yikes!! Continue reading

Canticle

One of the things that has been interesting about doing the Daily Office is this category of canticles, or songs. Some are from Scripture, others from early church writings. The evening prayer includes the song of Mary when she learns she’s going to bear Jesus, and/or the song of Simeon when in the Temple he holds baby Jesus. Others include the song of Moses, the song of Zechariah father of John the Baptist, and various passages from Isaiah, Revelation, and more.

I guess the one I wanted to share here isn’t really a canticle, because it is not read after a Scripture reading (“lesson”), instead taking the position of an invitatory psalm. It’s an early church hymn:

O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

This evening’s psalm was Ps. 22, most famous for lines associated with the cross like the opening sentence, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and “they divide my garments among them” (Ps 22:1, 17b). Two verses that stood out to me were the tenth:

“I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb.”

And the twenty-third:

“For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither does he hide his face from them; but when they cry to him he hears them.”

The first speaks to God as the initiator of our spiritual life and relationship with him; even those of us who have a conversion experience were in his hands before we were born. The second strikes me in how the Bible often conflates material / financial poverty with spiritual poverty — and how neither condition is to be despised, and neither condition puts a person out of God’s reach.

Also? I have a history of fearing being despised — of being so weird, or broken, or intense, or something, that people would be driven to hide from me, or dismiss / patronize me so as to not really listen to what I have to say. (Or to be too worried about me to hear and see me clearly.) This idea of God being one who never turns away, who knows me fully, every word I think or speak, every nonverbal thing in me, who never has too much of me, was a huge part of what drew me in to love Jesus when I was fourteen.

Particular

In today’s Morning Prayer, the commemoration is about a guy who wrote a book arguing that it’s okay for Christians to have particular friendships — to prefer one person over another, to allow and pursue natural affections and affinities.

I think we have to make allowance for our natural affections and particular friendships. Even more — I think we can encourage, foster, protect, invest in, value them.

What’s trickier is to understand our obligation to those we do not feel any affinity for. We are to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” and to “do unto others as we would have others do unto us.” At times I have feared that this combination means I have to make myself available as the intimate friend of anyone who wants me to be. I don’t fall into that trap quite as much anymore. But I still wonder at times what exactly it means to love my neighbor, and, if I were in her shoes, how I would want her to treat me.

One thing is that I don’t think it’s possible or good or obligatory to do charity / pity / project “friendship,” Continue reading

Shine Shine Shine

Last night our book club gathered to discuss Lydia Netzer’s debut novel, Shine Shine Shine. It’s the story of a brilliant robotics engineer somewhere on the autism spectrum and his missionary kid wife, the troubles they grew up among, and the troubles they’re now facing.

Most of all, it’s the story of Sunny and what it means to be a self.

Sunny is the wife, who happens to be bald — not even eyelashes. When she and Maxon became pregnant with their firstborn, Sunny fell into a compulsion to become what she thought a normal mother and wife must be. She bought an assortment of wigs, false brows and lashes, pursued the proper — expected — kind of house and decorating, the proper kind of behavior and friendships, and, as their son grew, the proper ways to deal with his autism. Her attempts to mold herself and her family in this way clash with her own reality and theirs and cause friction — Maxon and the child are not moldable, nor do they really buy into or fully understand the necessity Sunny feels.

It turns out nearly everyone else is in some form of the same trap. Continue reading

Boundaries

At the risk of wearing out my welcome
At the risk of self-discovery
I’ll take every moment
And every minute that you give me
~ from “Every Minute” by Sara Groves

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to me…” (John 20:17 NASB)

Oh Orual,

I think I have largely avoided
Your error with Psyche —
How in delusion about love
You tried to mold her
And weld her to yourself
Or at least I am not too slow
To recognize it when I’m doing it

As for your other anguishes,
Bitter longings, spiritual bewilderments,
They resonate — I understand them well.

But today I am thinking about Bardia.

Captain of the troops, married,
Faithfully serving you, his queen;
He said it were a pity you were not a man.

How hungry and thirsty you were
Not so much for his good advice and service
(Although of course you valued those)
But for the warmth and steadfast attention
Of his solid presence.

Campaign after campaign, or at home with
Kingdom concerns piled one on another,
Late nights, keeping him with you.

Until you visited his widow
And she informed you what a shell
You had made of him — what dregs
You sent home to her each day.
She basically said you’d killed him.

Devoured.

And I wonder whether I, too,
Am in danger of devouring those I love —
Whether my hunger and thirst could be so great,
So criminally insatiable —
Whether, taking every moment, every minute given,
I might wring it raw, bleed it dry, and still
Remain unsatisfied…

Whether I might hear, not
“Nothing you do, say, think, or feel
About me or about anything else
Will change my availability and love for you,”
But “Stop clinging to me.”

—————— Continue reading

Ridiculous

What if you were less quick to think someone is ridiculous, or that something they think, want, do, is ridiculous?

What would it be like to hear someone with respect, paying more attention to what they feel, their intentions and hopes, and less attention to how you judge their idea, choice, action?

Maybe what they’re thinking or doing isn’t as ridiculous as you think it is.

Maybe it is ridiculous — but maybe it doesn’t matter right now. Continue reading