Time of Reflection: Gentleness

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I need to reflect on “gentleness” today, the next to the last gift of the spirit. I forgot that I hadn’t finished them because I have had too many bad-body-days since I returned to Michigan. I’ve been on edge, and my edges are pretty sharp. If you want the real scoop, just ask JB. I get no awards for gentleness this week.

I think of myself as a gentle person; I abhor war and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a physical fight. A friend told me, just this week, that I give the best hugs. JB likes the way I gently rub his back when we are settling in for a night’s rest. But I can also be so impatient, and my words can cut and sting.

This morning I woke up stiff and achy and tired and very discouraged. I had things I wanted to do, nothing urgent, fun things but my energy level has been very low. I’m also struggling through some grief because my sister and mother won’t be at our 50th anniversary party this summer. JB has been trying to help; he is so sweet about that. But sometimes he can’t help or, like this morning, helping me would take more work on my part. I got snarky, I got mean, he was hurt, his hurt turned to anger, I felt like shit – said I was sorry, he was still angry, I got hurt, I got angry, doors slammed, the silence was deafening, I cried.

I know you understand, you have danced this dance. The song may have been a little different and the steps varied, but the outcome is the same. There were opportunities for gentleness but neither one of us was big enough to stop the dance. I started it, but either of us could have stepped away from our self-righteous strut.

I don’t like the part of me that lashes out and becomes sarcastic. I can explain why and justify my actions, when I get like this, but this isn’t the way I want to be. I would never treat strangers like this. When I have been at my worst, I have felt God’s gentle love. I want to be this same kind of gentle when I am threatened or hurt by those I love; I want to use a gentle tone, gentle words, gentle understanding, gentle listening.

I could bore you with long, theoretical descriptions of the ongoing developmental tensions of forming our sense of self while being in a relationship. I have studied this – a lot. Sometime, however, knowing in our rational part doesn’t help us in our emotional part. Sometimes understanding isn’t enough when what we need to do is practice new behaviors.

As I was lying on the sofa crying tonight, JB sat next to me and very gently wiped away my tears. We talked about what we could do differently, because we know there will be a next time. We have had 50 years of next times. Our episodes have been getting gentler because we dedicated ourselves to loving the other, and love is kind and gentle. Besides, we have to make it work because this morning I mailed the invitations for our party.

Tonight, I wish you gentleness in all your interactions. Thank you, JB, for your gentleness.

Time of Reflection: Faithfulness

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One of the rewards of a long relationship fraught with trials and tribulations, is a quiet, comforting trust – a faithfulness that just is. This is what I want to say, but it is a lie, or more accurately a partial truth. Along with the trials and tribulations, I need to include a willingness to walk back into the war zone with an unshakable desire to make the relationship work. It required that one of us, but over time both of us, be willing to stop spewing hurtful comments, to ask what the other needs, and listen. It required that both of us be willing to say I’m sorry more than we wanted to, and to look directly into frightened eyes to share forgiving grace and peace.

We didn’t enter our relationship knowing how to do this, we were just leaving our teens, we had to learn. We had to learn the kind of faithfulness that is more complex and takes more work than just not having sex with someone else. This is the kind of faithfulness that allows me to trust that J really wants to give me the emotional and physical things I need to grow, develop, and be at my best. It requires that I be diligent about what I say and do, so he will also trust that I want the same for him. This faithfulness is warm and comforting, but continues to take a lot of work – it can feel fragile at times.

The Christian ceremonies of Easter are over and life returns to our normal routines. All faiths and belief systems need ceremonies and rituals to remind us of why we remain faithful; but what does faithfulness look like in the routines of our non-ceremonial days. This is a question I ponder a lot. There is a part of me that feels secure in my faithfulness to the God I believe in; but I also question if I do enough. I have read and listened to many who have more theological knowledge, and my acts of faithfulness don’t align with how they suggest I demonstrate faithfulness. I worry that I don’t do enough.

Hidden Lakes Garden, Spring 2013

Hidden Lakes Garden, Spring 2013

Is it enough for me to move through my days with the calm assurance that all is right within our relationship; God and I, J and I? Do we need to have scheduled meetings to make sure we are hearing each other, or can I trust that we are – until an edginess tells me we aren’t? Can I trust that we love each other until an uneasiness requires I ask? Can I trust that my needs will be met if I am wise enough to recognize the gifts? Do I need to give up the quiet comfort of being together, long times of hearing even when words aren’t spoken?

Hidden Lake Gardens, Spring, 2013

Hidden Lake Gardens, Spring, 2013

My faithfulness to God and my faithfulness to J developed side by side. A crucial element seems to be knowing that the faithfulness of the God I believe in is different, is special. I needed to learn and trust that the faithfulness of God is pure and total and the logical conclusion is that ultimately my learning about faithfulness, about love, has come from my God. Because I know this, J & I can continue to practice this faithfulness together in our relationship. This faithfulness can spread into our world. I experience comfort and confidence in this.

Maybe, just maybe, I can trust that it is working. And if it is working, I don’t need to fix it. When it needs fixing, I will attend to it. Feels like faithfulness to me. And my God smiles.

Thank you to Charlie for planting the seed of inspiration that grew into this reflection. You can read the post that did it by visiting his blog Read Between the Minds. He is a very talented poet who shakes up my mind on a regular basis.


Time of Reflection: Goodness

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Hear no evil; speak no evil; see no evil.

Last week I reflected on kindness, and as I move to my reflection on goodness, I need to identify how they are different. Both are inner qualities, a part of our character and personality; but both are also woven into our relationships. Is kindness balanced more towards the outward relationships and goodness more toward the inner landscape?

Christians are told that when we allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us, we will be filled with goodness. What does it feel like to be filled with goodness? As with many of life’s riddles and complexities, I find if I turn the question around, search for understanding from another perspective, I gain clarity.

I can definitely tell when I’m not filled with goodness. I feel edgy-mean inside, like there are dark grey storm clouds rolling around. This edginess is hard to contain, spilling out in very subtle ways, with a dull sharpness. I can wound people while laughing. My introversion becomes a cold shoulder or neglect or crossing the street to avoid speaking.

As I move around those parts of my mind where goodness is absent, I discover memories of shame. Does the lack of goodness come from shame? In my distant past I carried some heavy burdens of shame, formed when I was too young to realize that acts committed against me didn’t make me ugly. But shame is very controlling and doesn’t like being exposed. It is so much easier to live our controlled, hidden lives that keeps others at a distance than to risk having them see our ugliness, our brokenness, our shame.

Christian doctrine tells me that Jesus died so I don’t have to carry shame. But knowing this in my head doesn’t always help my emotional understanding. The paradox is that it was people who looked into my eyes, who didn’t care what they saw, who only wanted to love me… they were the ones who taught me how to face my shame and love myself. I didn’t want these people to see the damaged me, but they were the ones who taught me that forgiveness is possible, both of self and others. They helped me shed the cloak of shame. It was only as the shame dissipated and I was able to hold my head high that I began to feel goodness warm my soul. Before that I had to pretend goodness, hold a mask of goodness over the cloak of shame. Real goodness is light and almost effortless.

Hear no Evil:

I enjoy this real goodness that resides within me, but I have to guard and protect it so it doesn’t become tainted. I have to be careful of what I listen to. If I listen to hatred I become sour; I begin to hate the spewers of hate; I become like them. Hearing beauty restores my sense of goodness – the sounds of birds and waves, of laughter and truth, of lilting music and prose. I experience goodness when I hear passionate words spoken from truth and with hope, when I hear tears shed as a shared ceremony of healing.

Speak no Evil:

I must also guard against speaking evil. Goodness cannot thrive when I lead others down false paths with words of deception, when my words bring shame or loss of hope. Sometimes we see truth and the truth isn’t pretty, is even ugly, and we have to speak out. Speaking truth can be softened, however, with love and caring, making it easier for others to hear these truths. I spend my time with people who seek goodness and try to speak truths. J is a good man, and he frequently calls me out when my speaking is evil. I trust him, I listen and appreciate his way of hushing my destructive voice and keeping evil from creeping into our lives.

See no Evil:

How can I see no evil when there is evil around me? When do I stick my head in the sand and when do I look into the eyes of evil? Do I need to protect myself from seeing evil so my goodness can flourish? I was a therapist in another lifetime so I saw a lot of evil that resulted in human suffering. I chose to see this, but refuse to see movies that are brutal. I know how to respond to human suffering without letting it pull me down; I don’t know how to watch movie brutality without feeling brutal. I need to see evil that is close to home, but become overwhelmed when I see too much evil that is too far away. When I see too much evil, I begin to shut down to protect myself from the pain of helpless. I am thankful for my capacity to not see more than I am able to cope with, but sometimes not seeing erodes the goodness within me. I need to see and name evil when I have the capacity to speak against it, to heal it. It seems like my criterion for what I allow myself to see is if, through seeing, I find some redemptive goodness and hope.

My wish for you, on this Good Friday, is that you continue on your journey to goodness. It is a personal journey that takes courage, the courage to face your private demons that block the way. It takes time, energy and thought, and a willingness to expose the secrets hidden under layers of false beliefs. It requires a trust in God and a few good people who can hold your hand along the way. And I hope you will take hold of someone else’s hand, someone who needs you, so they can find their own spirit of goodness by experiencing your goodness.


Lent: A Time of Reflection

Reflection of Dark & Light

                                                  Reflection of Dark & Light

During this Christian time of Lent, leading up to one of the two foundational events of our faith, it has been customary to sacrifice something. To give up something for lent – like dessert, or television, or Facebook. I was never able to get into this ritual because — I don’t know, maybe for a lot of reasons.

I saw people do it for the wrong reasons (I need to lose weight so I’ll give up sugar), or because the church said we should (I was never one for blind obedience if it didn’t have personal meaning), or to demonstrate piety (my interpretation of scripture leads me to private piety). Maybe it was because I spent the first half of my life, 50 years, living without because there wasn’t much or because children’s needs came first. I didn’t feel deprived or bitter, it is the way life is. But I sacrificed for 365 days a year, I didn’t see the point of heaping on more self-sacrifice.

There is no longer a need for self-sacrifice in my life, but I still have a hard time getting into the “giving something up for Lent.” This year is different. I have been influenced by several different people, writings from both the living and the dead. A few words here, an idea there. All small, but together they have become a nagging voice I can’t ignore. I usually consider this Divine Intervention. This year I need to do something for Lent.

This chorus of voices has led me to “give up something for Lent;” did you pick up the difference in wording? I am “giving up” that which is most important to my sense of self and my place in the world. I am giving out and raising up my voice, my ability to think and write and photograph the beauty of creation. I am going to speak out as a means of spiritual self-reflection and sharing my thoughts on what makes for spiritual wellness.

If you don’t define yourself as a Christian, don’t hit that unfollow button. My purpose isn’t to bring people to Christianity, especially if your faith is working for you. My purpose is to share with you how my faith informs my living. My purpose is to stimulate your thoughts, spark a little fire in you, so you will join me in posting from your faith perspective. How  wonderful it would be if we all linked together to create greater ideas, deeper faith, more hope, more compassionate living. One person at a time, in unison.

I need structure if I am going to be consistent and follow through so I have chosen the Biblical book of Galatians and the text defining the Fruit of the Spirit. I can’t pick and choose because fruit is singular – a package deal. I will cover all of them, one or two a week. This will take me past Easter but no sweat. My spiritual journey doesn’t end at Easter – it is only the beginning.

My spiritual self-reflections will cover the Fruit of Love Joy Peace Patience Kindness Goodness Faithfulness Gentleness Self-Control. I will write on each one individually, but not separate them because each probably lacks integrity without the others. I hope you will look forward to hearing my thoughts on Love and as you anticipate, I hope you will reflect on what your world view believes about love and how it is reflected in your life. I think I will also need to think about what the lack of love means.

Endnote: My thinking has been influenced by books I have been reading, but the blog that has moved me the most has been the Bardo Group. If you are not already reading their contributions, you might want to check them out.