Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Courage in Relationships

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is the way it brings together friends and family. I’m not great at sending birthday cards or having long phone conversations, so I appreciate cultural norms that bring us face to face. There’s nothing like really connecting with others when you share space.

I also love people-watching. When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I nearly got a minor in sociology – the academic way to say people-watching. And in seminary, I took family system classes – the theological, psychological way to say people-watching.

So I couldn’t help but watch during holiday get-togethers. I noticed how unkind one dear woman was to herself. When something would go awry, she would often preface her aside with “well, that was stupid…” or “I’m so stupid…” I was saddened that a mature, faithful woman would speak so harshly to herself. And you know that there was probably more going on internally.

I noticed the curious way we all fall back on old habits when we are around our family of origin – the family we grew up with. When we’re with our parents, we can’t help but become something like the children we once were, and sometimes that’s not very pretty. We follow long standing patterns of relating with siblings – teasing them about weight, lateness, etc. – no matter how old we are.

Recently I’ve been trying to read my Brene Brown book, The Gifts of Imperfection, again. I can race through novels in under a week, but I’ve been trying to read this book for over a year because it’s like rich fudge – I can only read a little bit before it’s too much. I have to set it down to reflect.

Brown says that the three gifts of imperfection are courage, compassion, and connection. The latter two I get and value already. But she points out that the three are inextricably linked together. So it took me a while to unpack what she had to say about courage. It rang a bell in my mind because “courage” was the word I chose to guide my journey in 2014.

According to Brown, courage is less about heroics and more about the original definition of the word, which meant to share your heart by telling your story. If you think about it, and how all of our stories are complex messes of sweet successes and utter failures, you’ll have a good idea of why this is the definition of courage.

Brown also happens to be a shame researcher and it was through her work that she came to discover these gifts. Because shame can’t stand courage. Shame thrives on secrecy, embarrassment, and fear. When we overcome shame by having the courage to share our story, connecting with another in authentic relationship and receiving compassion, shame is banished!

Watching the dear ones in my life these holidays, I wondered how much of our familiar ruts are based on shame and just how much courage it would take to intentionally speak the truth of our lives to one another. And how much stronger our bonds could ultimately be if we did.

We’re built to live in relationship, with each other and with God. It’s no coincidence that Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:20). It’s also not coincidental that this teaching comes right before the question of how many times we have to forgive one another. To be in relationship, we have to be ready and willing to exercise forgiveness muscles that may be weak from lack of use.

Another point Brown makes in her book that made me stop to reflect was about self-talk. If we are called to forgive our brothers and sisters, we are also called to forgive ourselves. And yet, think about your typical day. If you’re anything like me, you probably find yourself lacking in the mirror, on the scale, on the road, as a parent, and on and on. It’s easy for us to become our harshest critics.

But if we are to be loving and kind toward others, we have to start practicing that with ourselves. So, next time you find yourself slipping into the easy, unredeemed rut of speaking negatively toward yourself, remember the magnificent God who made you and have courage. You are a beloved child of God and nothing can change that. Praise be to God!

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