Posts Tagged ‘denial

11
May
21

Seeking Soulpain Relief

“The reason women have the babies instead of men…” my wife explained, immediately following the birth of our second child, “… is because men couldn’t handle the pain.”

Me… earlier today.

After a short time of harrumphing, sputtering, and expressing considerable masculine indignation, I was forced to pause and process…

… and then admit she was totally right. 

I will confess right up front; I am a complete wimp when it comes to pain. Always have been and likely always will be.

This despite the fact that I grew up in the, “Rub some dirt on it and get back in there” era. 

For me, every experience of pain is like it is happening for the first time EVER. It shocks me. It surprises me. It insults me. It takes my breath away. It deftly penetrates beneath my hard, protective shell and short-circuits my wiring, leaving me whimpering and grimacing like a dewy fawn.

And yes, I know pain is necessary. “Pain is a teacher,” they say. Pain – whether physical, emotional, or spiritual – serves to alert us to situations that demand immediate, therapeutic attention.

Pain also reminds us – in case we forget – about the inescapability of our mortality.

Yes, yes. Sure. I’ve heard all of that and know it is all 100% true.

But still… why does pain have to be so damned… PAINFUL?! So INTRUSIVE?! So RUDE and OBNOXIOUS?!

None of us is immune from pain! It attacks young and old, rich and poor, man and woman, smart and dumb all alike. And because pain is so universal, we have developed an impressive arsenal of tools for dealing with its periodic visits. 

Sometimes we employ the denial tool I mentioned earlier. If that one fails (which it almost always does), we might reach for one of a variety of numbing agents… tools designed to blunt the signals sent to our brain from the site of the primary assault. 

Numbing works for a while but must always be repeated… often with stronger and stronger doses of the number. [NOTE: the “b” there in the word “number” is silent.] Sadly, before people find lasting relief from their pain, they often find life-destroying addiction to those numbing agents.

Finally, when the pain is severe or chronic or long-lasting enough, we decide that the only thing left to do is go to the Source and ask, “Where and why did this pain start in the first place?”

For about the past week I have been dealing with excruciating lower back pain… the kind that makes me walk around the house like a cartoon of a little old man. Today, finally, I decided (with much loving encouragement from Joan) that it was time to try and get to the root of the issue… to stop denying, numbing, and avoiding.

Sadly, before I did, the pain had to get really, really bad.

Isn’t that what happens sometimes in our souls, too? 

Don’t we each have those moments in life that bring us genuine soulpain? And don’t we start out coping with that pain by denying it even exists? And then, when we discover that denial really IS just a river in Egypt instead of an effective coping strategy, don’t we regularly move on to trying to NUMB the pain? 

So, my question is; how bad does the pain have to get? How much agony do we have to endure? How deep does our addiction to numbing agents have to go before we decide it is time to seek out the SOURCE?

For a lot of folks, the source of that soulpain is the lack of a good, solid answer to the question of PURPOSE; Who am I? Why am I here? What is my life supposed to be about? What is LIFE about?

The Teacher, writing in the book of Ecclesiastes, is not exactly the bluebird of happiness on this topic. For those who are tempted to find meaning in their work he (or she) writes, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?  For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, NRSV).

Jesus, on the other hand, offers an alternative. In the 14th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus tells us that he is, “… the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6, NRSV). And on 15 separate later occasions in the New Testament, he then commands his followers to “LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

It seems to me that if you were looking for a good, reliable “soulpain reliever,” those words might be about as close to the Source as you could get. 

Abundant blessings;

06
Apr
20

What would YOU do?

Palm-Sunday-processionalWhat if?

What if you KNEW – with all the confidence you could muster – that things were going to turn out badly?

What if – more specifically – you knew that the path your friend was walking would lead him to a horrible, humiliating death before the week was over?

What if you loved this friend profoundly … in a way that surpassed any love you’ve ever felt before?

And what if you also knew that your friend could easily avoid the horror that waited down his road… that all he needed to do was to just…

… ease up,

… back off,

… dial it down a little?

What would you do?

This is the question I spend every Holy Week trying to avoid. I avoid this question because it frightens me.

It frightens me because I have a pretty good idea what my answer would be.

If I ever had the guts to confront the question, that is.

I suspect that if I had been in the shoes of 11 of the 12 disciples that first Holy Week (all of them except Judas), I would have dealt with the events of that week exactly the same way they did.

In avoidance.

In denial.

In rationalization.

In all likelihood, my self-talk would have gone something like, “Surely it won’t be that bad. Surely, he will work something out. Surely his predictions of his own arrest and torture and death were hyperbole… statements made for dramatic effect.”

I would have been encouraged and excited by the palm processional the day before. “Look how much they love him! Surely, they would not DARE to arrest someone this popular. He was just being a little overly sensitive, wasn’t he?”

No… if I were to own up to my striking resemblance to those first disciples, it would require owning up to something else: a fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission and message.

It would require me to stand up in front of the world and say, “Sorry… I just can’t seem to get ‘on board’ with this whole ‘to die is to live’ platform. It really just seems unnecessarily harsh and painful. Let’s just all try a little harder to be a little better, shall we?”

And then, as that Good Friday morning dawned and that rooster began to crow, I would look over to find myself standing where no one ever wants to be found…

… standing right beside Peter; the one who denied Jesus three times.

 

So, let me ask: what would YOU do?

09
Jan
18

Necktie Truth

Burning bushQ: When is a burning bush NOT a burning bush?

A: When it is a collapsing tie rack.

Ba-dump-bump!

Let me explain: Sunday night when I came home I was tired.

Earlier in the day, I woke up at 5:00 a.m., preached sermons at two different churches, driven an hour back to the city, and then went immediately to speak at my friend’s pre-funeral funeral event. (Which, when you think about it, is a really good idea. I would love the chance to be there in the flesh to listen to all the lovely eulogies and memories people normally don’t speak about you until your actual funeral.)

When I got home I went through the bedroom and into my closet. I was eagerly looking forward to taking off my suit and tie, slipping into a baggy sweatshirt and slippers, putting my feet up and just RELAXING.

And then suddenly – unprovoked by anything but the winds of cosmic mischief – my battery-powered, revolving tie rack crashed to the closet floor… spilling ties EVERYWHERE.

Granted, I’ve had that rack for a long time… probably long enough to explain why two of the five little plastic hooks holding it up were broken off.

But still…

For the next 30 minutes there I was – halfway undressed, trying to put the accursed device back together while digging myself out from under the tie avalanche in the middle of the closet floor.

Somewhere there in the middle of my cursing and scooping and flailing attempts to fix what was broken, a thought entered my mind. And that thought went something like this; “Well, looks like it is time to get a new tie rack. And maybe – JUST MAYBE – it doesn’t need to be a rotating tie rack capable of holding 64 different ties. MAYBE it is time to come to grips with the fact that you are in a different phase of your life where you don’t actually NEED 60-70 different ties to choose from. MAYBE you could take at least half of those and give them away!”

Yes, I had to face a hard truth: I had been hoarding neckties.

Which is a weird thing, actually, since I am not really a big fan of ties in the first place.

I finally realized that right there, in my tired, half-dressed, frustrated state of mind standing there in the closet; I had received an invitation.

I was being invited to face the music.

I was being invited to embrace the reality of the new phase my life had entered… I am not sure exactly what to call this phase, but it is definitely a phase that does not require 64 different tie choices.

Who knows, it might be time to just be totally wild, throw caution to the wind, and face the world with just 30 ties!

In all seriousness, I found that the act of sitting in the middle of that pile of ties, sorting through them and putting some in a “toss or donate” bag was an exercise that was at once sobering and liberating.

Those ties – along with many other material artifacts that populate my home I’m sure – represented a bridge to the past. They helped me say, “See… nothing has changed. I am still the same guy I was 25 years ago when I started buying those ties. I can postpone any effort to recalculate my bearings in life FOREVER! I really don’t have to face the honest-to-gosh facts of who I am and where I am.”

The best burning bushes in our lives are the ones that bring us face to face with the truth. The truth God revealed to Moses in the burning bush there on Mt. Sinai was the truth of his unique call to liberate his people (Exodus 3:7-10).

The truth Jesus revealed to the apostle Simon when he changed his name to Peter (Luke 6:14) was the truth of his rock-solid character… albeit a character buried deeply under some really shaky stuff on the surface.

Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said, “… and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). What he omitted from his statement was that after coming to KNOW the truth, we have to LIVE that truth.

Because sometimes truths are hard to come to grips with… just like my truth about neckties.

And so we avoid them.

Right now we are living in a time when the world is being presented with a whole bunch of truth… truth about the prevalence of sexual violence in the workplace… truth about the epidemic levels of chemical addiction… truth about the importance of character in our political leaders… truth about the alteration of the planet’s climate patterns caused by man-made pollution… and so on and so on.

These truths WILL, in fact, set us free.

But only if we embrace these truths and live them out.

Will you help me?

25
Sep
17

Help Me See

Anthem protest photoI need help.

I need help with a lot of things, actually.

I need help with exercise. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t do it with much regularity. So I exercise in a class with a group of other guys.

I need help with eating. No, not the “lifting the fork and spoon to my mouth part” of eating. More like the “eating stuff that is good for me and avoiding stuff that is bad” part.

I need help packing for trips. Or at least my wife seems to think I do. (Shhhh… I’m going to let her keep thinking that, too.)

I need help dressing. Seriously. I mean, who knew a red polo shirt doesn’t go with brown plaid cargo shorts?

Apparently everyone.

But with all those areas of life where I struggle and need “a little help from my friends,” there is one thing I definitely do not need help with; and that is my ability to live in denial of life’s difficult realities.

Throughout my life, I have had a LOT of practice with this denial skill and – as many who know me will attest. As a result, I believe I have achieved a dubious degree of mastery.

Here are just a few examples of some of life’s hard realities I have been able to deny:

  • Because of my education, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of illiteracy.
  • Because of my income and net worth, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of poverty.
  • Because of my healthy, loving family of origin, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of family dysfunction.
  • Because of my gender (male), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of sexism.
  • Because of my race (white), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of racism.

Mind you; as much as is humanly possible, I try NOT to live in denial of any of these realities of life. They exist. They put a stain on the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters. They systematically undermine the values on which our country was founded.

But then I tune into the debate around national anthem protests… and I notice that some of the voices in that debate seem to be intent on helping me continue to live in a state of denial.

  • Those voices equate taking a knee during the anthem with anti-Americanism and disloyalty to our country.
  • They suggest that professional athletes have no right to express opinions on matters outside the realm of their employment.
  • They further suggest that all of us – including members of the marginalized classes – should place loyalty to country over everything else… including our sense of justice.
  • But mostly those voices seem to be saying that we should all continue to live in denial of some fundamental inequalities in our system of legal justice, particularly as it is applied to African Americans.

Thanks, but no thanks guys. I already have too much denial in my life to atone for. I don’t need help adding more.

The help I really need now is help to open my eyes to life’s hard truths… and keeping them open; even if it stings a little.

05
Sep
17

Caught in the rain

caught in the rainIt happened again.

We got caught in the rain.

For the second time this week, my wife and I decided we would go ahead and take a hike… even though the weather forecast said rain was likely.

And for the second time, the local weather forecasters proved to be annoyingly accurate. (When I want them to be right, they are wrong. And when I want them to be wrong, they are right. What’s up with that??)

In both instances the skies got dark, the temperature dropped dramatically, the winds started whipping the trees around, and the heavens opened up almost EXACTLY halfway through our hike.

Forge ahead? Turn back? Zero difference.

In neither case were we adequately prepared for the rain… despite the forecasts and my trusty weather radar app.

On the first hike we each had hoodies in the backpack; nice, long-sleeved fleece hoodies… with zero water repelling qualities.

The second time we didn’t even have those.

(Isn’t there a saying that begins something like, “Mad dogs and Englishmen…”?)

If something like this has ever happened to you, your reaction might have been similar to ours. We started out by shaking our fists at the storm… exasperated by its mean-spirited decision to ruin our outing.

Because, you know… storms are like that.

Next, we tried to hide from it. On the first hike the woods were pretty thick, so the tall conifers provided a measure of shelter. We hung out for a while under a particularly dense patch but then realized the storm was NOT going to blow over anytime soon.

Our next approach could best be described as “dejected trudging.” It was a kind of, “OK, this thing isn’t going to stop, we need to get back to the car, so let’s just grit our teeth and slog it out.”

Squish… squish… squish we went one unhappy step after the other.

Then it happened.

At some point, on both hikes, in the middle of the dejected trudging, a switch flipped; for both of us. A moment of awareness dawned, right there in the middle of the pelting raindrops. In nearly perfect synchronization, we looked at each other, started to laugh and said something like, “Well this is certainly an adventure, isn’t it?”

Our “moment” certainly didn’t make the rain stop… didn’t make our shoes less squishy, or warm us up at all. But it certainly did impart a different spirit to the remainder of the hike.

It made me wonder if there might be any rich veins of metaphor “ore” to be mined in this experience.

Like, for example, might there be any parallels between our experience of these actual, meteorological storms and other “storms” of life?

Such as; is it ever my tendency to start out denying the possibility of storms… to embark on the journey without paying any attention to the clouds gathering on the horizon?

Maybe.

Or to react initially with anger when the rain actually does arrive… to see it as a very personal, vindictive attack on ME?

Hmmmmm…

And then, is it possible that I might ever try to find some kind of silly, inadequate shelter in which to hide from the storm’s relentless presence? Or that I might then turn from my “hiding strategy” to a grim, teeth-clenched trudging acceptance of it?

Yes… it is entirely possible.

The real question is: do I ever arrive at the last stage – the stage of embracing the rain-soaked moment and seeing it as a kind of adventure? Am I ever able to shift gears and see the new outlooks and skills required of me by this downpour… skills that might have been needed, but were lacking heretofore?

In terms of a goal, “laughing in the rain” might be a little excessively Pollyanna-ish at this point. Some rainstorms (both the literal and metaphorical kind) are truly life threatening and dangerous.

But based on our recent hiking experience, I pray I will be able to spend significantly less time in the denial and angry fist-shaking stages and move more quickly to something hopeful and productive.

 

Abundant blessings…




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