Monday, November 19, 2012

Handling Anger

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians Chapter 4: 25-32
      “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
      “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”
-Buddha quotes

I have a new appreciation for what it is to be angry. Last week I went to a marvelous dinner in downtown Minneapolis. I parked in a rush and decided to figure out payment for my car when I got back so as to not be later for my dinner. This rush decision resulted in Blue Belle getting towed to a sketchy wrecker lot- costing me some hassle and worry but mostly a lot of money. Thank goodness my cousin Maggie was willing to come pick me up and help me deal with the hassle of retrieving my car!
First I was stunned by the situation, and then I became very angry. Angry at the expense, angry at the person who decided to tow my car, angry at myself for not paying the 8 dollars right away… I really do not experience anger very often in my life. During the evening I was more angry than I can remember being in a long time- just boiling over in frustration and indignation. The anger spread to other situations in my life, anger at situations, God and just about anything I looked at.
My anger carried through the next day and I decided before I had to deal with it powerfully as it was affecting my happiness and productivity. For me (I think this is a Minnesota tendency) I was dancing between either calling the lot and blowing up at them or just masking my upset and not saying anything about it at all. I googled “how to deal with anger” and discovered a lot of results on ‘don’t act rashly’ and ‘breathe deeply’ and count to 100. These helped to focus me a bit, but ultimately they did not make my anger disappear.
Then I read this article which really helped my process a lot of what I was feeling: Not so ironically the message is written through a Christian lens:
There are several important parts in this article worth highlighting. One phrase I had heard reiterated earlier in the week jumped out at me: “Don’t get Bitter, Get Better.” Bitterness is dangerous, because it poisons everything once you assume it. Focusing on moving past anger to something else- and using the anger energy to improve yourself is a much better outlet.
Also note- the article does not list anger as an evil or bad thing. Rather a natural emotion that arises in tough situations in our lives. Even God is expressed as being angry in the bible. I remember being told by a psychologist once that: “Anger is an important part of healing. Anger symbolizes a certain amount of self-respect and worth. Also, when handled properly anger can lead to freedom from bad situations.”
This article also notes the importance of A) exercising self-control but also B) not just masking your anger and pretending it is not there. Rather, it is essential to actually dealing with the root of your anger.
When I hear dealing with the root of anger, I think of a lesson I learned from Landmark earlier in the week about how to effectively deal with being upset. The claim was that if you wanted to get over something you are upset about, you just needed to A) recognize that you are upset and then B) name and deal with the following three components around what you are upset about:
Thwarted Intention and/or
Unfulfilled Expectation and/or
Undelivered Communication

So to mirror this formula to the above situation, this is how it would shake out.
Step One: I am indignant and angry that the parking lot people towed my car!
Step Two:
Thwarted Intention: Driving home after dinner
 Unfulfilled Expectation: My car being in the lot when I returned. Not paying more than 8 dollars for parking.
Undelivered Communication: The lot manager was inconsiderate when towing my car
I think then there is a third step after all of this for true healing- highlighted in the article above. Here is the quote in mind:
“Overcome evil and anger by praying for those who hurt and abuse you. Forgive them and be a blessing to them. It may not be easy at first, but when you make the decision and stick with it, God will take care of the rest.”
I Believe this prayer part is super important- because it A- first acknowledges rather than ignores the party you are upset with and then B- channels your energy into a constructive response to the other party and C- involves and ultimately turns the entire situation over to God.  So to apply this to my situation:
Final Step: I pray for the parking lot people- that they are filled with compassion for others and are able to provide secure reliable parking spaces for Minneapolis cars in the future.
This whole exercise turned out to be an important one for me- because later in the day after I completed processing my anger- I spilled tomato soup all over my white dress shirt and dress pants at work. If I had any residual anger from the events previous, I think that would have been a breaking point for me (probably would have resulted in something ridiculous like me yelling at the soup can). Luckily, although not thrilled with my new shirt color I was able to peacefully laugh it off, and discount it as a small daily misfortune.
The sun will not go down on my anger today.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Patience in the Face of Uncertainty

"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self."   -Aristotle

"The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” –Marcel Paghol

There are two forces I am very present to this week. Patience and Uncertainty.
On Patience: I am really developing a whole new muscle of patience right now. I am humbled by how impatient I seem to be about everything! The urgency I have to figure out my life and how it aligns with the rest of the world. My typical response to change in my life is this: “Be Proactive and DO SOMETHING! Otherwise, everything is going to turn out all wrong.” This incites a certain panic within me day to day that motivates but also exhausts me. I have discovered true patience however cannot live under that panicked assumption- so I am learning to embrace a new level of accepting the unknown.
Patience is absolutely a skill and a way of thinking. It is a confidence that life will work out for the best if you are not in control of all the moving parts. Patience is the inclusion of a higher power, bigger forces than you at work. Patience opens a person to new discovery. My favorite quote on patience that I discovered on an English professors door at Olaf several years ago follows:
“...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
–Rainer Maria Wilke
So this encapsulates the act of being patient. But there is another half- what am I waiting on? What should I be looking for?  I am left to ask myself what I am being patient for. Herein enters uncertainty.

On Uncertainty: Uncertainty is not knowing or fathoming what is in store for you. It is realizing a week, month, year from now life could look totally different. It is acknowledging the people, situations, hobbies, career, daily habits all could change and are in flux. The people who are dearest to you might disappear. Those who love you might change. You may lose or gain fortunes. You may have failed or succeeded more. You will think differently, notice different things, and maybe even live in a different place.
I think the easiest and maybe the worst thing to do in this situation is to look backwards. To turn around and say: “That is my past and it was good and comfortable. I should put my hope in that reoccuring.” This I have found just sets me up for totally missing the point. I lose my openness to a plan that is not mine, and become disappointed as the present and future hardly ever match up with my fantasies of the past.
When I discover myself doing this- hoping for things to be where they were, I really need to shake myself. To remember I am committed to following God and the future he has in store for me. To be ok and willing to sit in the face of uncertainty. To Admit to myself: “I currently do not know where the future is leading me.” I can pray for and dream of certain outcomes and futures: such as wanting to have a flourishing career, the opportunity to make the difference in the lives of others, an unwavering romance. I can set goals such as prepping to go to grad school and continue to work hard at the things I am committed to now such as World Bridge. But I start to lose myself as soon as I say: “God, I want the future and I want it this specific way.” And ultimately I have to let go of the certainty that just because I dream and plan does not mean I am in control or have any sense of security in the outcome. And in fact I need to be open to my plan shifting, being affected by forces bigger than myself. I can really only trust and have security in the fact that there is a brighter future ahead of me. Here is a quote I have written in the front of my small journal I carry with me everywhere which speaks to the above:
 “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –Joseph Campbell
So here I am left with the questions of how long am I patient and waiting? How do I balance being proactive and receptive to something new? First is admitting I do not have the answers. Then maybe the appropriate response is that of Active Listening and Open-minded searching. My new approach to patience and uncertainty is something akin to the yoga practice I have partaken in recently. In yoga, as I flow from one posture to the other, the instructor shared that it is not about how someone preforms the final stance, but rather how gracefully they transition from one to the next. Therefore, my new mindset is to ‘flow’ through life in partnership with God. Pausing when necessary, transitioning as gracefully as possible- minimizing the struggle and panic.
Another Yoga lesson unlocks how to approach life with flow, faith and patience. The lesson distinguishes the difference between reacting and responding to life and general circumstances.
Reacting involves a mind-heavy and emotional approach. It is an automatic, volatile and ultimately draining way of approaching events. Reacting is impulsive and often defensive. Reactions are dictated and controlled by what you are reacting to.
Responding involves a confident and centered approach to events. It comes from the deeper self in tune with the world. It is meditative, conscientious and ultimately energy giving. Responding is an independent choice of how to powerfully handle a specific set of circumstances.
So in my commitment of patience and gracefully living into the unknown future, I strive to respond rather than react. I strive to breathe and pray rather than panic. I strive to be open to pleasant surprises, turns in the road and strive to assume as little as possible. I strive to be curious. And most importantly, I strive to keep God close through the process. I will close with a enchanting poem from Rainer which captures for me a richness of the human experience in relation to the inexplicable and unknown.

Fear of the Inexplicable

But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished
the existence of the individual; the relationship between
one human being and another has also been cramped by it,
as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of
endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the
bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone
that is responsible for human relationships repeating
themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and
unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable
experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.

But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes
nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation
to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively
from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of
the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident
that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a
place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and
down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous
insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in
Poe's stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons
and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode.

We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about
us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us.
We are set down in life as in the element to which we best
correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of
years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we
hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be
distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to
mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors,
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us;
are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we
arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us
that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now
still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust
and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those
ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into
princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us.
Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Despair and Revelation

"The lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." -Psalm 34:18

"Trust in the lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make streight you paths." -Proverbs 3:5-6

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." -Romans 12:2

In my journal a couple days ago this is what I wrote:

“Breaking up with someone you love deeply is like being severely punished as a child, or being thrown in jail for a crime you didn’t commit, or like being kicked out of your own home with nowhere to go. It feels like an anvil was dropped in your lap, or a sledgehammer taken to your chest. It feels like being stuck in a desert with no water, or in a room in which you just cannot get warm. Hope is pointless, anger is pointless, eating is pointless. I do not yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. I now know afresh what agony and despair are.”

-This one of a couple of dark reflections I conjured over the roller coaster of emotions I have experienced over the last couple days. After breaking up with John, I have found myself in a constant wrestling match with my thoughts.

Thank God for family and friends. While going through this- I have found it most helpful when people are proactive with me. They drag me out to do something or directly initiate some sort of support without me having to ask. So much better than “Let me know if there is anything you need.” At this point in time I don’t know what I need; much less have the motivation to ask. Even though I have been here before, I forgot how tragic a breakup can feel. It truly is similar to experiencing a death. Writing helps, praying helps, talking helps, music helps. Here is one of the many songs that has really resonated with me. Sara Groves-Mystery
The last week feels like an eternity. I have talked with many, thought millions of thoughts, and learned a lot. I really have gone through the ringer, and for awhile I felt like I was in the darkest of holes. This has been and continues to be a real trial- a real test. I often have found myself asking where is God in all of this? Sometimes I have felt very intimately close to him- other times more distant than ever.

As the amount and intensity of Sadness over the last couple days has been great, so has the presence of revelations. I have had three major turning points in this journey so far and they can be summed up in the following:

1-      God is first not other people/your relationships

2-      God comforts you through people/others

3-      I am worthwhile and God loves me

These are all very simple statements- that might not strike any reader as that extraordinary. But their true realization for me has been very miraculous. To learn something as a feeling, beyond words, and then have it become a part of who you are. Or recognize it was a part of who you have been all along. That what it was like to absorb these new truths.

The first one I received when praying with my sister at the St. Olaf Chapel. Really an affirmation of what I wrote about in my last blog post. This was a necessary perspective shift for me, a necessary hard lesson on priorities.

The second one I received through listening to the below sermon sent to me by my good friend Lydia. One of those messages that came at the perfect time- here is the link to the sermon and I think a really important lesson on despair: Sermon: God and Despair

From this I understood that God is working in my life through other people, and I understood how lucky I am to be so supported and loved from several angles. We say often we are grateful for those in our lives- but we learn a new intensity of gratefulness when these people come and help us through times of trial.

The third one I received just yesterday. I think we Christians hear almost every day that God loves us. But to grasp at what that means is a whole different story.  I realized through a conversation with my dad for a long time I have assumed I am not a worthwhile individual- and not enough. Because of this, I walked around assuming this to be true and constantly trying to earn the approval and value of others. Today for the first time I considered myself as truly loved by God and actually a worthwhile human being. What an amazing relief and change. Seeing myself as worthwhile took away much of my sadness, and some of my lack of motivation.

Today I still feel the weight of the world. I still don’t know what the future looks like. But I have survived a true bought of despair, and now am starting to discover the glimmer of light ahead. And most importantly God is with me, now closer than ever. I pray for patience, reassurance, love and truth in the days ahead.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Faith in the Raw

Sometimes faith becomes more than the intellectual. Sometimes it becomes necessary, real and raw. The last several days have turned into that for me.

There is a lot I could say about this experience and what it has been like to be reeling in faith over the last couple of days. I am amazed how easy it is for me to focus on fighting for control in my life- muscling for things to go my way. My current exercise is to just keep handing over my struggle, situation and fears to God. It is hard- I have to do it over and over and over again.

I cannot remember the verse, but I recently heard a verse at a confirmation service for John's niece about remembering not to look for the approval of others, but rather for the approval of God first (galatians maybe?). I realized at the time how much of my fear around faith comes from this. I want so bad to be in community with others, I sometimes put too much at stake- try too hard to be accepted by other Christians and people in my life. Partnering and giving to others is important, but I realized I sometimes go too far- and plague myself with worry about how to solve disagreements with myself and others. It causes me to lack conviction in my faith.

Given a week of upheaval and reshaping, now I am going to take this lesson to a new level. On a long walk today with my dad, he mentioned I sometimes try to give so much, that I actually make a false god out of my relationships. This brought me back to the bible verse above, and reminded me that I cannot put the opinions of others and the love and acceptance of others first. My relationship with God must always come first- then the rest will follow. I need to let God guide me in my relationships- rather than using them as a measure of my self worth.

I feel this will help all sorts of things fall into place. Being open to and prioritizing the love of God leads to acceptance of self. Acceptance and love for self leads to true giving to others (not pretend in which you are always looking for something in return). Reminds me of this quote below:

“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

I do love others so much. But I realize as soon as that becomes my only window to the world, I lose the ability to truly give to them. Something bigger and higher must fulfill me. This is why it is important Jesus was God's son. He was man- but because he was God and had God channeling through him so powerfully- he was able to give at a level that no man or woman on their own can achieve. Makes me realize how much is impossible without God, and possible with him.

I will continue to meditate on this new conviction. Otherwise, I ask for prayers of peace, healing, wisdom. love and wholeness.