Saturday, May 16, 2015

Transactional Thinking

A couple years ago now I read a book called Prodigal God by Tim Keller and it changed my thinking profoundly.  The premise of the book is that it is God who is the prodigal (recklessly spendthrift) in the story we called The Prodigal Son.  He wants relationship with each of his sons and they both follow their own agendas instead.

He spends much less time on the one we typically focus on - the one who wandered away.  He spends most of his time talking about the elder brother and how he tries to do what the father wants - but only as far as following the rules not having a relationship.  As I read, I realized this is exactly the trap I lived in all my life.

In this journey, though, I’ve come to understand a few things about this phenomenon in my life.  While talking to my friend, the social worker attached to the Oncology unit in Salem, I found myself talking in terms of “if I do X, Y must surely follow.”  So, for instance, “If I do what my nurses and doctors tell me to do, I will surely recover more quickly.”  Or “If I swish my mouth out with saline every 2 hours, I won’t get mouth sores.”  It was present through all my conversation and I finally heard it clearly.

I had entered into a transactional thinking mentality.

You may have heard it in yourself:
“If I obey the speed limit within 5 mph most of the time, I shouldn’t get pulled over when I’m really in a hurry.”
“If I’m kind to this stranger, others will in turn be kind to me.”
“I’ll do this for you, but I expect something in return.”
“If I read my Bible and pray regularly, God will bless me.”

It is the belief that if I am “good” I am also “owed.”  If I follow the rules better than everyone else, then I will be rewarded above everyone else. And I must pursue that at all costs because I want to be blessed.

Even when I am wrong, I have to be wrong in the right way.  If I repent appropriately, apologize sincerely, and change my ways, I am owed good things because I did it right.

But this does not get me to relationship, it gets me to servanthood.  I am trapped by my own ability to be good to get what I want.  I am not fee to be blessed just because I am.  Rules and relationship can both start in the same place, but they end up in very different places because of their focus.  Rules focus on my actions.  Relationship focuses on, well, relationship which takes at least two.

If I focus on the rules and following them, I miss the beauty and possibility of God’s blessing just because I’m His kid and He likes to show up and show off. And the truth of that swept me off my feet.  When I depend on me, I’m limited by me.  When I depend on God, I’m “limited” by Him and He has no limits.

So today, I’ll let go of the rules for a bit and see what God can do.  Want to join me and see what happens?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Pain. Defining it and comparing it.

One of the authors I follow on Facebook recently posted a link to one of her friend’s blog posts.  It caught my attention since she introduced it by saying, “Ever feel like your pain isn't worth mentioning because someone else has it far worse?”  I have experienced that recently far more than I can say so I headed over to read the post (linked here).

The post is about two things - keeping secrets and the damage that does to us (that’s a whole other thing to write about) and feeling unworthy because my pain is less than another’s.

Here’s the heart of my instinctive reaction to the idea of comparing pain that I posted in the comments:

“I’ve had this really miserable cold for 5 weeks,” they say in a mournful tone. Then hastily backing up, “But it’s nothing compared to what you’re going through!”

My response is always that there is no comparison in pain or trauma. My bad is bad to me. Your bad is bad to you. And who’s to say whose bad is worse? Certainly not me! Pain can only be defined by the recipient/experiencer, not by someone on the outside.

If using my cancer helps someone gain perspective on their life, then to God be the glory. But if using my cancer becomes a way for someone to say they aren’t worthy of compassion, then they have bought in to the agenda of the father of lies.

When Vince was growing up, we talked a lot about who got to define pain and why that mattered.  When kids picked on him in school, I reassured him that he got to say how bad that hurt, not them.  If they got to define it, it would have been minimized or dismissed altogether; sane people don’t really like to inflict pain on another person.  However, since he got to define it he could feel the feelings without being hard on himself in the process.  I’m not sure I really got through to him, but I hope so.

Think about that for a minute.  When you are hurt, you get to say how bad it hurts.

If you believe that, how would it change your life?  Would you be easier on yourself?  Would you give yourself the grace to feel as bad as you really feel? Would you allow safe people in on your brokenness so they could help heal you?

Pain is a tricky thing.  It’s slippery and difficult to define.  Even when I’m in physical pain, I rely on the faces on the pain chart to help me figure out how bad something hurts.  I’ve had nurses ask me a couple questions like “Could you get out of bed and walk across the room right now?” and then move my pain up on the scale because I’m clearly underestimating.  

I think I need more practice being realistic about the pain I feel.  And I’m not just talking physical pain.

So, then, we get to comparing pain.  If I, living as I do on the outside of your life, can’t define the pain you feel, how can I ever expect to compare the pain I feel to the pain you feel?

At the Jason Gray/Big Daddy Weave/Citizen Way/Lauren Daigle concert we went to, they asked a question in the prayer time/altar call at the end: Who has experienced loss?  Rick looked down at me and asked if I wanted to stand.  I quipped back, “No. All I’ve lost is my hair.”  What they were clearly asking is for people to stand who were in pain because of a loss.  And I’m not.  I have been given so much, experienced so much love, and been carried by my Father.  I have, of course, experienced physical pain through this process, but that’s transitory and right now I feel pretty good physically. But I am not “in pain” because of cancer right now.

Ananda, on the other hand, has a pretty bad cold and strep throat and was home for three days this week.  If I had spent those three days ignoring her, telling her to take care of herself, and to stop whining about pain all because I have cancer and she’s just got a cold, what kind of mom would I be?  I for sure would have not taken her to the doctor because of her sore throat so not found out she had strep which could then balloon into something more painful and serious. You would rightly say that I was a lousy mom in that case.

But as adults, how often do we do that to ourselves? “Oh it’s nothing,” we say to someone who checks up on us. In the blog post I linked above, she talks about breaking her toe while her husband was dealing with a major illness and not wanting to talk about it. We tell ourselves, “I’ll just suffer in silence because it’s really not that bad and people won’t care anyway,” In each of the instances we are essentially saying “My pain is not worth as much as yours.”

That, my friends, is a lie straight from the father of lies.

It is a lie that I am not worthy of affection and compassion.  It is a lie that my pain is not painful.  It is a lie from the pit of hell that everyone is better or more worthy than me.

Everyone.  Every person on this earth.  We each need compassion, love, and care. When I deliberately cut myself off from that, I become isolated, resentful, and victimized. And when I expect people to read my mind and see that I really do want care even though I’ve told them I don’t, I’ve slipped over into codependency. Expecting people to read my mind and becoming angry when they don’t is just plain crazy.

If, on the other hand, I see someone’s cancer, or the riots in Baltimore, or the earthquake in Nepal, or my good friend’s divorce, or significant pain of any kind and allow that to settle my heart, I am giving glory to God.

When I rightly define myself, put myself in my correct position as a child of God, and don’t set myself as higher or lower than the people around me, I am acknowledging God’s order in the universe. I am giving Him glory for His perfect design.

What are your thoughts on pain, the definition of it, and comparing it?