Friday, November 6, 2015

I Failed at the Golden Rule, and I Bet You Have Too

“Jesus taught us to love one another as ourselves.  When we hear this, we may automatically think Jesus is speaking only about loving others.  
The truth is Jesus asks us to love ourselves first.” --Daily Word

I’ve gotten the golden rule wrong.  I bet you have too.  Because I am much better at self sacrifice (and the rationalization that comes with it), then loving anything about myself first.

We’re taught self-deprecation very young.  To think of, to care for, others; it seems the only true time of selfishness comes in early childhood.  The world revolves around you—and you have no other way to experience it.  Then somehow, in our earnest commitment to first exist peacefully and then parent mindfully, we go over and over and over again the importance of the other person, to put a face and a conscience on the beating heart near us and we avoid our own breaking.  It is a sobering thought.

A bedside table still life.
My bible, an old Covent Garden trivet,
a pencil, my mom in Alaska, lip balm and a wookie.

When I read this in my devotional months ago now, I tore it out.  I laid it to the side, thinking, “This is tremendous.  It is a game changer.  Because I have been thinking this all wrong for a long time.” 

The golden rule applies to you first.  And you are worth the time.

In the long line of loves of yours, your own heart and the shell that carries it, needs to function well and strongly, bravely and fiercely in order to perform service to anyone else.

I cannot tell you how many times a day I tell myself I have it wrong.  And usually these are times in which I am not in communication with my God who can certainly tell me differently.  I think for me, this constancy of self-doubt increased in deep measure to my mother’s absence in 2004.  She is always with me, but not close enough to hold or touch or feel comfort from anymore.  Any doubt I had in my belief of my
ability was assuaged by her utter insistence that I
was absolutely wrong, because I was fantastic.  I cannot say truthfully that I believed her always; in fact, during most of adolescence it was an exercise in constant disbelief with her loving patience in my greatness as I struggled to manage the expectations of magazines and real time high school.  (Dramas that were not exacerbated by the constant presence of media as they are now.)  

But as I have gotten older, the struggle is, in ways worse, because of the dependence of the boys on me and because of the daily cost of negotiating a marriage.  Into the mix are parents—for me the voracious appetite of dementia for my father’s thin myelin.  His presence in my life has always been a fine balance between fear and love.  Now duty and remembrance requires in me moments of sacrifice
that fire, absolutely, messages of self-loathing.  It makes it difficult, if not impossible, to accept the praise of others for this necessary task of caring for him.  I do not think I am wonderful because I am caring for my father; I immediately compare it to the care I gave my mother.  And I wonder what the slippage is, and I fall short of the expectations that they are in earnest.

I could go on at length to you about this, but if I had to break it down to its bare bald pieces, it would be the thoughts that counter any act of self-love:

What I say to you:                              What I say to me:
  • “You look amazing!  Just look at your [skin, hair, outfit, smile].”

  • I look awful today.  My weight!  My skin is sallow, my hair is bad, my teeth are getting yellow.  I look too tired.

  • “That’s so great that you were able to do that, I love the pictures you posted.”

  • I am too lazy to volunteer.  I don’t want anyone to see me look like this.  Why can’t I do more?

  • “Congratulations on the new______!  That took time and effort, you did a wonderful job.”

  • It’s a pipe dream that I’m going to finish my book.  It’s not like anyone will ever read it.

  • “I don’t know how you get everything done that you do in a day.”

  • I accomplish so little.  Where does my time go?  Why can’t I just get something finished?

  • “I’m so glad you had a great time with your family.”

  • I can’t seem to stop the resentment towards these people.  I can’t forgive them.  I know it makes me a bad person.

  • “Oh thanks, but I’ve got this—it’s no big deal really.”

  • I know I need the help—today is a mess!  But I can’t let her know the truth.

  • “No, it’s not that bad.  I don’t mind cooking.”

  • I would love a break, but I can’t justify the expense of eating out.  I am so mad that I can’t be content with what I do have.

  • “Really, you think it’s good?  Thank you!”

  • Is she blind?!  There are so many mistakes!  I make so many mistakes!

  • “I love you more.”

  • I love you more than I could possibly fathom loving me.

This one I did quickly, and maybe if I thought over it more, I could add more columns but I doubt that I would subtract any.  The negative thoughts that I have crush any real attempt at the love I could have for myself.  It’s relationship sabotage of the most perverse kind.

As we were sitting at the table to do homework, I went over Sam’s science quiz.  He had gotten 2 questions wrong and had a B.  He was upset about it.  We went over it, and tried to figure out a strategy that would work for him with these multiple-choice answers that threw him for a loop.  “But,” his lip quivered only a little, Sam is learning to hide these feelings—his mother is fighting him to express them, “I’m bad at science anyway.”  “Huh?”  “Well, you should see my notebook—it’s so messy.”  “Sam—it’s…”  “And! All of my experiments fail!”  Beat. Break. Sadness. Resigned breath.

“Sam, all science is failed experiments, because you have to fail and fail and fail to figure out what works.  You record the combinations, and you pick yourself up and have a go again.  We wouldn’t have so many medicines if scientists quit because they were messy or if their experiments failed.  Okay?”  He nods.  “But more importantly, if you say you are bad at science, you will be.  If you believe that you can’t, you won’t.  So you have to say that YOU ARE GOOD AT SCIENCE because then you will believe it.”  Nods.  “So say it.”  “What, right now?!”  “Yep.”

“iamgoodatscience.”  Louder.  “I am good at science.”  Not convincing.  “I AM GOOD AT SCIENCE!”

“Fine.  Now when you are about to take a quiz or a test, you need to say that three times to yourself, okay?”  “Okay mommy.”

Here is the thing that this means then for us, the first part of the golden rule: you are good.  And not just good, you are great, lovely, smart, talented, beautiful, kind and will get there.  You are the embodiment of God’s love for you.  He has no self-loathing; he sees your perfection and wills you to see it too.

If I gave myself the earnest pep talk that I told Sam to give himself, a form of prayer whether I want to acknowledge it or not, I think I could turn so much around for myself.  The resentment I feel towards my inadequacies as a daughter would dissipate in the knowledge that I do feel love and forgiveness and every moment spent whether with my father or in the care of him is evidence of that.  If I believe that to be true, then the draining exhaustion of that resentment would go, leaving energy to extend towards something else—like loving another.

And that, I believe, is exactly 
how this works.  

When you look in the mirror and find the feature that you like the most instead of the myriad of those that you like the least, you’ll have the energy to extend the love of your friend’s beauty without the side of envy.

When you acknowledge the reason why you don’t wish to be involved with something, whether it’s how you look or what you would rather be doing.  It will allow you the space to discover what you really want to do and begin to pursue it and offer your sincere admiration for your friend’s efforts without any guilt about your own absence.

When you can acknowledge that your project is difficult, you can begin it.  You have been through far more difficult things.  You are going through difficult things; if it is not a project that brings you any joy, if the thought of it makes you wince, abandon it.  It was never meant for you.  Give yourself the space to find the project you want, and then you’ll be able to smile at your friend in shared delight without the doubt of your ability for accomplishment.

You are not a machine.  Neither is your friend.  My boys each have different rhythms, and the difficulty in a fast-paced world is reconciling your own.  Find the things that need to be done.  See when it is best for YOU to do them.  Finish them at the times that are best for you.  Circle in your rest time the way you would make sure your schedule your child’s nap time.  You will accomplish more if you know that your own time, even if it is just 15 minutes to dream, is also on that list.  You will not feel defeated or celebrate another in secret shame of your own lack.

Forgiveness is a process, because we are human and not divine.  There have been more times than I can count that I haven’t felt I could go to God because of the resentment in my heart and my knowledge that I needed to forgive as the Father has forgiven me (Matthew 6:14) kept me from sharing any burden in prayer.  So it kept itself locked fast and deeply troubling in my heart.  The thing I am learning is that forgiveness can be found by thinking it out—with people that you trust, through writing, through reading, through walking.  Pictures sometimes only tell one side of the story—you don’t know what it has cost for its composition.  Be patient and be open.  It will come; you do not have to suffer more.

We are not, any of us, meant to be alone.  If a friend offers her help, accept it with the knowledge that you would do the same and may have done so already.  Knowing this, will keep you from offering, “If there is anything I can do” with anything but sincerity, because I think it is the fear that it is only something people say to be nice that keeps us corralled without accepting that help.  And we all know people who abuse that goodwill and don’t want to be like them—but try.  Just once, try and accept the offer with the knowledge that you can and will do the same when you are able.  Your friendship will develop a deeper shade of truth once it happens.

We have had hard times financially, which have spurred harder times emotionally.  I love to cook, and I like to post pictures of some of the things I’ve made that have worked out better than others, but there are many moments, especially as our days get longer and busier that I wish I didn’t have to.  And this is the problem.  The moment it becomes a burden makes contentment impossible.  If you can afford to make your life easier, right now, with cleaning or cooking or any task that drains you from being able to love, then please take advantage of it.  Yes, it is less in the bank to save, but your quality of life now will improve.  We just don’t know how much time we do have, there’s something to be said for being able to enjoy your family now.  Your ability to love will be increased when you can delegate something that drains you.

an enviable view of my desk

Accepting compliments are not encouraged.  It shows vanity, pride, and is boastful.  How many times have you seen your child’s drawing and been impressed and captivated with its beauty?  Were you lying when you told him it was wonderful?  I doubt it.  Because it was wonderful.  And so are you.  People are far more critical than not.  Because of this, I have been determined to find something nice to say, if I can, whenever I can.  It’s free.  It makes someone feel amazing.  And you know what, it is totally within my right to feel amazing too.  Accept the compliment.  It is sincere.  Allow it to put a spring in your step.  Because it will motivate you to take another one in the same, positive, loving direction.

One of the greatest gifts we have is our ability to love.  It’s one of the things I want most for my children, to be able to love someone and be loved in return.  It’s amazing.  It’s a starting point for everything.  It is the beginning and the end of all things.  Once, when in a fight with John, I motioned to the boys’ bedrooms and recall saying something to the effect of, “they can sleep so soundly in the knowledge that they are loved and cared for.  They can fight and argue and win and love because we love them so well.”   If you love you with the ferocity with which you love those around you, then the same will be true for you.  You will be able to conquer and move mountains; you will be able to accomplish more.  You will be more.  Because you are more

So that’s it.  The golden rule is not enacted because the first part is ignored.  I was living in ignorance of this before.  Now that my eyes have been opened, it’s time to really change the world.  Love is all we need.  And it begins with us. 

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