Archive for January, 2011

posted by Amy on Jan 21

I love being a student.  I love reading, writing, thinking, discussing, and learning. I especially love the small seminar classes here at BU, where I can hear directly from brilliant, thoughtful people who have their own ways of looking at the ideas and issues that we’re studying. Not many of my fellow students are of my generation, but my classmates are warm, friendly, and accepting, and they really seem to appreciate what I have to offer. It is a true community of learners and seekers, and I have a real sense that we are peers. What we have in common is much more compelling than the ways in which we differ.

Nevertheless, I have moments of self doubt. Who do I think I am? What gives me the right to take up space in this seminary class? What will I do with this education? Who’s going to hire me? How much time will I have? Why did I leave my family, friends and legal career? Will I ever quit feeling like an oddball? The biggest questions have to do with faith, calling and discernment. Am I right to think I’m doing what God wants me to do? Is it God’s will or self will? Does God need me to do this, or is it just something my ego wants? How can I tell?

I know I don’t have to be a seminary student, or an ordained minister, to serve God. There are any number of things I could be doing right now that wouldn’t require additional credentials. But I think I need them in order to use my skills to greatest advantage. Ministers can lend moral authority and theological grounding to efforts to make the world a better place. The church needs leaders who have real world experience and can bridge the gaps between church and society, between the nonprofit world and the business world, between the “field” and the academy. I can bridge all those gaps.

And maybe I’m meant to be role model for others, especially people in my generation. We’ve been innovators all our lives; there’s no reason to stop now. Many of us are asking questions like, “Now what?’” or, “Is that all there is?” Many of us are done with the hard work of building careers and raising children, but still have a longing to make a difference, to contribute something of value to society. When I first thought of going to seminary I dismissed the idea as absurd. (In my moments of self doubt I still think so.) Other people might be inspired to take other less-traveled paths that are beckoning them.

I don’t need definitive answers. I just keep making the best choices I can with the information I have at any given moment. I am not permanently bound to any of them. If it becomes apparent that I need to change direction, I will. I trust that the right teachers, the right role models, and the right companions will appear when I’m ready. I won’t let doubt stop me. I’ll just acknowledge it and keep moving.

posted by Amy on Jan 14

Yesterday a facebook friend posted a link to a TED talk by Brene Brown about human connection. Dr. Brown describes herself as a “researcher/storyteller.” In a quest to understand human connection, and the things that interfere with it, Dr. Brown discovered something paradoxical and profound about vulnerability. She says it much better than I can (though I watched it twice, and took notes), so I recommend you take 10 minutes and watch the talk. My intent is to confirm that it is possible to move from one side of the vulnerability spectrum to the other; to quit thinking vulnerability is the problem, and start accepting it as the solution to a full, authentic life.

I have experienced the shame and fear that make the quest for belonging and connection so intensely painful as to make it seem impossible. Shame–not feeling worthy, fear of being seen and known–caused me to shut down emotionally and to develop strategies for controlling others and holding them at arms’ length. I learned to do those things so early in life that it seemed normal. I did not know any other way to be. This guarded way of living and loving turns life into a series of transactions. I’ll do this, and this and this for you (or on your behalf, or because I think you want me to, or to impress you), and you will reward me with the things I want from you. I’ll even go first, but then you have to act right in return. You have to pay me back. If it doesn’t work I will blame myself, or you, or both of us. Or I will numb my feelings with addictions, compulsions, or other strategies. Shame-bound people are perfectionists. They are also compulsively self-reliant. You can’t really get close to them, and they won’t let you see them as they really are. Furthermore, they flock together. People who are living behind masks–of ego, of appetite, of compulsion–readily pair up. And they can put on a pretty convincing show.

My whole life strategy was to guard my heart, to be invulnerable. When people betrayed me, abandoned me, rejected me, I just took it, stoically, or so I thought. The damage was hidden inside. I didn’t even see it myself. But over the years the mask began to crack, and slip. My true self craved healing, and wanted out.

Dr. Brown says that one group of people she studied were “whole hearted”–they were fully able to embrace vulnerability as necessary to connection.  She says “whole hearted” is the original meaning of “courage.” People who consider themselves worthy of love have the courage to be imperfect. They have compassion for themselves and for others.They live out of love instead of fear.

I am learning to be vulnerable. I met a man in 2007, and ended up loving him with my whole heart, with nothing held back. For reasons I still can’t explain, I decided from the beginning to bring as much honesty, integrity, intelligence, and compassion as possible to the relationship. I wanted to see if I could be cherished for my true self–as I am, with no pretense or artifice, no subterfuge. I told the truth because I valued myself–and him. (I didn’t mean it as a test, but it would have been a good one. People who can’t tolerate honesty are most likely people who can’t achieve true intimacy.) I did not expect to be completed or transformed. I didn’t ask for any guaranties or promises. I simply wanted to get to know him, as deeply as possible. I showed him he could trust me. I accepted him as he is, without trying to change him, without making any demands. The more we engaged in this dance of intimacy, the more I liked, admired, and respected him. He always showed me unconditional positive regard. And, for the first time in my life, I believed I deserve that.

The kind of self-worth that I’m talking about is nothing like the egotistical “self-esteem” that so many self-help courses promote–the kind exhibited in the tapes that the crazed, ambitious wife in “American Beauty” played over and over to herself. Repeating a mantra about not being a victim is a pretty sure way to straitjacket oneself into limiting and artificial victim/abuser terms. I am talking about getting past ego and moving on to an understanding of life that is hopeful, faithful, grateful, joyous, transcendent. I first read about it in, of all things, a book about parenting. And I first started experiencing it, bit by bit, in my relationships with my children.

The book is Whole Child/Whole Parent. It is one of the most amazing books ever written. I have given away countless copies to new parents. I’m not sure how many of them got past the purely practical advice (and it is also a great source for that) to the spiritual insights, but I hoped they would. Here is a sample:

“It isn’t something we can do, but rather a point we are brought to, a wonder quietly taking place–like flowers blooming on a pond while the traffic is roaring by. Our strategies are exhausted, agendas thinned, and out of desperation, awareness grows and blooms into love. Drifting away is Why should I? After all he. . . , and Why shouldn’t he? After all I. . . Bubbling up is What is there to lose? What better is there for me to do? What is more important anyway than love? . . . .

“It is so very different from what we imagined. There is no thought of trade or gain. We stop gathering ourselves under ourselves and relax in the presence of infinite love-intelligence as if we already knew that it is and always has been.

“And then realization is taking place. Hey, what do you know, it’s true. I really don’t have to struggle to keep from sinking. I don’t have to rely on someone else. I am not my own. God, love, is. In love I live and move and have my being. Love is and lives my being. Loving is it. Now, wantlessly, I can be here for good, can truly love. What quiet, grateful, peaceful pure joy.

In thy presence is fullness of joy, and in thy right hand are pleasures for ever more. Psalm 16:11

“As far as I know it doesn’t happen all at once. Well, maybe all at once, but not once and for all. Over and over we come to it, and it comes over us. But each time we reach this point, it is forever easier. Increasingly we notice the change. Fear and bitterness have somehow shrunk. And as often as they arise, worries subside. Loud accusations drown themselves out in silent never-minds. Less gets our goat. More strikes us as funny. More touches us with beauty.” Polly Berrien Berrends. Whole Child/ Whole Parent. 4th ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 351-352.

We are meant to love ourselves–not selfishly, but in the understanding that we are children of God, a loving father who wants and expects the best for us and from us. We are meant to be expressions of our Creator, and to be bearers of God’s love to one another. With compassion, courage, and connection we become ourselves.

Loss is a part of life. There is no way around it. Every strategy for avoiding it only results in disconnection and deadening. I am more vulnerable than I’ve ever been before. I am more sensitive to suffering and pain. I am more wounded by injustice. But learning not to numb the “bad” things allows us to experience true joy, gratitude, and happiness. There is no love without loss; and there is no way to love while trying to insulate ourselves from loss.

We were put here to love one another; to be present with each other; to give the gift of attention and respect; to learn from one another and to experience life through the eyes of others. In the short time we have, there is nothing more important than that. To do that we must become safe places for another’s secrets and dreams, and be bearers of beauty, kindness, tenderness, and acceptance. It isn’t real if it’s given in trade–conditioned on some expected performance or obeisance. But if the other person also has courage and compassion, then true connection will occur, and that is like nothing else.

Theme by Eric for Amy, who owns the copyright for this site, and has reserved all rights.