I’ve spent this week separating feelings from truth.
Because, as my counselor pointed out, while feelings can sometimes point us toward the truth of a situation, sometimes they are just feelings. Sometimes they lag behind the truth that we have discovered in a situation, so while our minds understand it, our feelings are still operating under false assumptions.
One thing that helped me this week was to realize that deep pain does not have to be caused by abuse. Sometimes we feel deep pain as a result of an accident. Or as a result of carelessness. If I’m a victim of an auto accident, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a victim of the person driving the other car. It might be that I’m a victim of their carelessness. Or of the sun being in their eyes at the precise moment I crossed in front of them. But that doesn’t mean they were trying to harm me – it’s not personal. That’s why it’s called an accident.
Certainly, a pattern of harmful behavior is more concerning than a momentary lapse in judgment, but either way the pain is the same.
But the depth of my pain does not define the depth of intent on the part of the other person.
And this is where those feelings come in that may or may not have read the latest memo on the truth of the situation, because it still feels like abuse. That doesn’t mean it is.
And it is okay to say I am hurt without having to also accuse the other person of intentionally hurting me.
Another realization I came to this week is that a large part of the reason I was holding on to the abuse angle was that in order to put a stop to the collateral damage, I have had to make a decision that is unpopular in Christian circles. It is offensive to some peoples’ theology.
Heck, it even offends me.
So I was aiming for the angle that would make it more acceptable. I have to accept that it is just not going to be popular and deal with the fall-out.
Because I cannot afford to chose people-pleasing over self-preservation any longer. So I’m just going to have to let people-pleasing go.
And just like that, another idol topples.
First, about four years ago, I let go of the idol of The Romantic Relationship. That had been a driving force in my life since my early teens. “If I could just be loved by someone, really admired, respected and loved for who I am, then I would know that I’m okay.” That was the idol that shaped the way I dealt with every relationship, always looking for Prince Charming, always waiting for him to sweep me off my feet, and getting angry at the Lord when He didn’t produce one.
So angry, in fact, that I took the matter in hand myself and chose a man that fit the basic requirements I had for a husband – leader in the church, gainfully employed, heterosexual, close to my age and laughs at my jokes. I chose to ignore all the warning signs (still lives with his mother, has never dated before, doesn’t really understand what faith is, has never left this area, has multiple phobias, often cannot follow the train of a conversation without getting confused). I had decided, in light of the failure of all the other relationships I had had, that the answer was to simply shift my focus to a less-than-suave kind of guy, based upon the fact that a friend had done that and it had worked out for her. I all but stuck my fingers in my ears and told the Lord to be quiet about it – I had it handled.
So then I accomplished the marriage, and right next to that idol of Romantic Relationships I erected a new one. The idol of The Perfect Christian Marriage. I did whatever it took to make everything look like we were the perfect Christian couple. I never spoke ill of my husband. I submitted to him even when he was clearly following his fears instead of God’s leading. I couldn’t even admit to myself that our relationship was not right, let alone to anyone else. We were that cute couple that cracked a lot of jokes and were always sweet and friendly to people. A little dorky, a little unsuccessful, a little undignified and never able to pay full price, but sweet and friendly nonetheless and heck we LIKE second-hand furniture don’tcha know.
So where the idol of Romantic Relationships toppled a few years ago, the Perfect Christian Marriage idol was knocked off the altar a year or so after that, when I realized my husband really did not want to do what it would take to make it work. I had to let it go, because I realized I could not make it work on my own.
It was at that point that I realized that I had been focusing far too much on my marriage and not enough on my own relationship with the Lord. I shifted focus and started simply leaning in to Him and asking what He wanted of me.
And here I am now, back at that altar, realizing that there are still idols on it. And that I have to either bow down to the idol of People-Pleasing or let it go once and for all.
Because here’s the thing about People-Pleasing. When you do too much of that, you start to swing the pendulum away from it, and the other end of that pendulum swing is criticism. So the back side of that People-Pleasing idol is actually tearing others down in your mind.
It’s a heck of a pendulum swing to get tossed around by. On the surface you’re super-sweet and nice, but at home you’re as critical as all get-out.
I believe this may be one of the areas in which I have caused the most harm to my children, because they have grown up seeing this.
And now I stand at a crossroads where I have to either choose the continue with this crazy pendulum swing, or let it go.
I have a suspicion that the middle position between criticism and people-pleasing is actually love. And since everything God does is rooted in and steeped in love, that is where I want to start building my life.
Instead of alternating between people-pleasing and criticism, perhaps I can simply love.