Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Bungee Cord Wrap

Out there in the world of adventure are some things I would like to try. I have friends who have taken up kayaking and since I enjoy canoeing, I think I could learn to like kayaking too. Though the turning over and being stuck underwater and drowning does come to mind... Maybe not.... I like to hike, so doing a zip line back down a mountainside or hillside seems like an exhilarating thrill. I'll have to be sure to take some anti-anxiety meds though, because I am deathly afraid of heights. Or, there is always parasailing, I could experience both my fear of heights and my fear of drowning in one fun experience.

I think you get the picture: I am a real chicken when it comes to "adventure." And that is why you will never, ever see me doing something crazy like bungee jumping. No way, never, nunca, forget it.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I have been wrapped to a bungee cord for most of my married life.

It looked something like this: Kevin seems to be happy and doing well, so I am happy and well too. Then, look out! Kevin is falling, failing, faltering, sad, discouraged, angry, etc. and I am pulled over a cliff with him. I am free-falling, spiraling down and trying to catch him to bring him back up. Finally, I stop falling, find a hillside and begin climbing back to level ground. I am not there very long when the bungee cord that I didn't know was wrapped around me yanks me down for another ride of terror.

Replay this scenario about one thousand times and you get the picture what was once my co-dependent (idolatrous) life.

Now, we have been on a road to recovery for about ten years. It has been challenging and slow-going at times, but worth the time and effort. I am better able to separate myself from Kevin's moods. I am not continually pulled in by whatever Kevin is going through. I will be impacted by his choices - there is no getting around that. But I am learning to allow him the freedom to be and feel without my "helpful" advice. I am continually learning to separate what is his responsibility and what is mine. I recognize (most of the time) that I can't fix him. I can't own his struggles. In fact, the more I intervene and the more I take over his problems, the less he can own them himself. I'm standing in the way of his responsibility. I have to step back and give him the space to grow into the man God has called him to be. 

There are times, however, I realize I am not as far down the road as I thought I was. Sometimes, I feel that cord pulling me off the bridge again. The big difference now is that I have a level of self-awareness. 

Here are the warning signs I see when I'm wrapping myself in a bungee cord of co-dependency:
  • I feel serious anxiety around Kevin's choices, behaviors, or feelings.
  • I begin to feel angry and resentful about what he is doing or not doing, because I want my perfect plan to come true and he is messing it up.
  • Most of my prayer life seems to be about disappointment with God. A sense of entitlement comes through as I pray.
  • I begin to only see the bad and negative parts of Kevin and not the good. I tend to forget all the growth and change that has taken place and believe that we are back at square one. Notice the royal "we." Not only have I ditched his progress, but mine as well.
  • I am uncomfortable with feeling or thinking. There is a real sense of unrest in my soul and I may find myself "checking out" through staying super busy or sleeping too much or spending time window shopping online.
  • I pull away from relating to others because I will have to process what is happening within me.
When these red flag thoughts or emotions arise, I can now stop and question what is going on in me. I can ask myself some good questions. I can tell others about my struggle and find support. I can even engage Kevin in a healthy conversation about what I'm experiencing and take responsibility for me.

Life is not perfect, but I'm learning to not get pulled off the cliff quite so often.

Special thanks to Skeet Stokes for his illustrations of the chains, ropes, and bungee cords in his seminars on Family Systems.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Free To Be

Doug Nix, my college pastor, was the first person I heard challenge the idea of finding my value through doing and serving. Doug was pushing me out of my comfort zone when he said to our group one Sunday morning, "What if God didn't ask you to do anything, what if He just wanted you to be? What if just knowing Him and His knowing you is enough?"

What a weird question! Of course, God wanted me to do things! What good would this just "being" be? I was saved to serve, right?

I didn't speak these thoughts aloud, but what my college pastor was proposing to me didn't get very far past my tightly woven spiritual armor. Doug was not telling me not to serve, he was trying to get me to see what God really valued. God valued me, not just what I could do for Him.

I wasn't saved only to serve and fulfill some big plans. But I was offered redemption because the Father loved me. I was important and valuable enough to Him that He would sacrifice His own Son. God wanted me to know Him and that was enough. The cross was enough.

I mattered to God.

The greatest resistance to the idea of being instead of doing comes from fear and misunderstanding. My own misunderstanding of Doug's words revolved around the thought that he might be telling us we were NOT called to serve, do good works, follow Christ in caring for others, telling others, etc. My fear was that Doug might be off base and teaching things that were not in line with the truth of the gospel. I couldn't have been more wrong.

How I wish I had been mature and relational enough to approach Doug and seek his wisdom. I might have learned something. I might have gained a deeper understanding of how much my Father values me.

I was ever so slow to begin to grasp this concept. But God was exceedingly patient and kind in releasing me from the slavery of doing to the freedom of being. It was a long and painful lesson. I was pretty darn good at the doing stuff, thus it took me that much longer to learn to rest fully in His grace.

Accolades and pats on the back are not bad things; unless I am living or dying for them. Living for them looks like I am fulfilled when someone recognizes what I did. Dying for them looks like I am empty and without meaning, if I don't receive that recognition. Usually both are in the mix when we are looking at idols of the heart. And yes, serving and ministry can become an idol in your life. They did in mine.

Rick Warren was another Christian leader that challenged me on the belief that said I was of value to God because of what I did. I remember reading The Purpose Driven Life. I don't remember what day it was, but the devotional said something like, "Good enough is good enough. Things don't have to be the best or perfect. They can just be done."

I reread that devotional page about three or four times, quite certain that Rick Warren had missed the mark. I thought, "You always, always, always give your very best. You always, always, always do all things with excellence. Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Blah, blah, blah. So I can't say Rick got through to me either.

Of course, what it took for me to see things in a new light was watching my beliefs crash and burn. All my doing and serving didn't give me an immunity to pain. That pain coupled with various other forms of pain could suddenly help me to see things I had somehow missed. Pain is God's megaphone, C.S. Lewis once said. The Spirit's still small voice amazingly gets loud and clear when I am hurting.

I have shared how we came to the City of Refuge.  This was the real breakthrough for me. I never thought of myself as seeking acceptance from service. Yet, when I was asked not to serve during our time in COR, I squirmed. It was terribly uncomfortable. I had to learn that my value was not in what I was doing for the kingdom, but in who God says that I am. I am His. I am valuable. I am loved. I am accepted. And I can rest.

As time, grace, and truth brought healing and health, life came full circle. After a season of "making me lie down in green pastures," I was free to serve again. For three years I was in detox from ministry, making things happen, bringing results, serving, leading, controlling.

Now, I am back in ministry, but it's very different. I can breathe, I can relax, I can even do what He has called me to do in this moment. I can rest and not strive.

I'm not all there. The gravitational pull is so very strong and it is easy to move back to thinking I need to prove my worth to God. Except for His grace, I would. The Father keeps me. He reminds me. He speaks words of mercy and healing to my soul. And I lay myself down, open my hand, and surrender in trust that God has this too in His hand.

How about you? Have you ever served out of wrong motives, like seeking to find your value? I'd love to hear how God is weaving your story.