(Note: This is by far the most personal blog I have ever written. While it is still about thinking differently, it has been one of the most profound experiences of my recent history.)
It rose up inside me like some sort of occasionally hidden roadblock to the needful things inside my soul. I couldn’t explain it, but I certainly couldn’t deny it. And most significant, I couldn’t seem to overcome it. It should have been simple. All I had to do was buy myself something I have wanted for a long time. All I had to do was buy one of the most beautiful guitars I have ever played. But I felt frozen.
This year has been the year that I hosted a battle on my insides. The culmination of years of warfare, many of the battles came to a head in 2014. It sounds as simple as buying a guitar, but this season of war has come with many casualties.
The casualties of this season have been things like my definition of hope, and other such constructs of my mind. Trust is being redefined, and foundational things I once called realities are being leveled. As one whose freedom journey has always first been personal and then been shared in a variety of public venues, no other year has shaken more, revealed more, and ultimately torn down more than this year that just ended. It has been soul-rattling and as such it has taken me a few days to begin this writing. So there I was, unable to buy this thing I have desired. (please don’t buy it for me…it is important that I fight this fight for myself). My daughter Jillian, somewhat kindly, but somewhat perplexed at her dad’s paralysis, suggested that I ask God why I could not commit the simple act of buying myself something. So I asked. The answer shook loose a core lie that I have carried longer than I know.
“God,” I began, “ Why do I struggle so just to buy this guitar for myself? It is not money, or desire that is an obstacle…what is going on?”
The answer might as well have been thunder, or an avalanche, or both. “Bob,” He said kindly, “You have lived with a lie that if you express your feelings, or try to have your needs met, others will suffer” I stopped. My breathing grew shorter. What was heart-stopping about this had nothing to do with being unaware of that belief. What was heart stopping was hearing God call it a lie.
The most difficult lies to unearth, and place in the category of “untrue”, are the lies that have been validated by experience over long periods of time. As ridiculous as it may sound, I have had a variety of powerful, ongoing experiences where the expression of my needs and feelings was followed by others expressing pain, anger, loss, or rage. In some cases those expressions of anger became costly to other people I loved. This did not seem like a lie because it was a real experience. Two things you should know about me. First, my most recent job was gained in an interview process where I was asked, “how would you help thirty thousand people…”. Prior to that, I was a counselor for sixteen years. I am a father of four, and a husband, and as such I have been very successful at taking care of others. I am called to do it, and I do it well.
Second, I am an empath. I feel. I don’t just feel my feelings, I feel the feelings of the world around me. While I believe that to a degree this is an important part of incarnational love, I also know this is a potential set up for other less healthy responses. If you are near me, and you hurt, I feel it. Somewhere along the way, I decided (unconsciously, but nevertheless, an act of my will) it was easier to take care of people so they didn’t hurt, as a way of cushioning my own empathic response. Fast forward, I learned to take care of people but not myself.
It was this set up that thrust me into places where if I ceased to take care of others it became costly. Ironically, it is always true, that if you do not take care of yourself, it too, is costly. Try holding your breath, say…forever. You can build a whole life around this belief, until your own face starts to turn blue. I needed oxygen, but I just knew that if I stopped to inhale, people I loved would pay a price. But somewhere around the end of 2013 I could no longer live on the oxygen stored in my lungs since 1978. I needed to inhale. And the clash between the roadblock to my needs, and my need for oxygen reached a breaking point.
This year I learned that I have needs and they are appropriate and legitimate.
This year I learned that other people have the right to their choices and their pain.
This year I learned that I am not the answer to anyone’s question, and I am not the solution to anyone’s pain.
This year I learned that if I have done what I am responsible for, and others struggle, I did not cause that pain, nor am I responsible for what they do with their pain.
This year I learned that I cannot fix every broken thing, and solve every problem I see.
Did I say I learned that? This year I AM learning that.