Is This You?

When you read any of the following statements, do you see yourself? Do they resonate?

  • You are a parent who listens to everyone else’s life at dinner but no one asks about your day, and you don’t feel free to intrude your emotions into the discussion.
  • You are at a restaurant with a glass of tea.  You like real sugar in your tea, but all that is in the box is artificial sweeteners.  You don’t ask the waitress for a refill on the sugar, even though you know you could.
  • You never ask to borrow a tool from your neighbor, even though you know he is generous in sharing his resources in the neighborhood.
  • Someone asks you what you want for Christmas and you tell them something you think they can afford, not what you really would like.
  • You are in a group discussion about sports, religion or politics.  You have strong opinions but never jump into the conversation, and no one ever asks what you think.
  • Five people are going somewhere in a car, and the other four swiftly decide who sits where, without even consulting you.
  • You think about blogging but conclude no one would want to hear what you think anyway.
  • You read an intense thread on someone else’s Facebook regarding something you have deep feelings about, but you don’t jump in and comment.

In short, you live in a world of feelings, opinions, thoughts and ideas which are not shared voluntarily and which few people seem to seek out!  What is particularly ironic and grating is that you have learned to be exceptionally sensitive to other people and what they are thinking and feeling, but it is not reciprocated. (written by Arthur Burk)

I read the aforementioned quote today, and I was struck by how strongly it resonated.  This may, in fact, describe my life.

Arthur Burk has an “interesting” ministry meaning that there are people who may disagree with his theology and his doctrine.  If you aren’t a Christian, then you may find his blog weird and outlandish.  If you are, then you might still.  In any case, I sort of like him.  He thinks outside the box; he’s a straight shooter, and he isn’t the least bit religious.  I haven’t read his blog in a very, very long time.  Not everything there is helpful to me, but sometimes he nails it.

“Foundational to our personhood is the freedom to make our needs known to others without shame or negative repercussions.”

Yes.  Damn straight, Arthur.  Is that a message you’ve ever been told in church? From parents? Teachers? The wider members of your community or family? More from Arthur:

There are several aberrations to the normal parenting curve:

  • One very simple scenario is parents who are too busy or too self-absorbed to listen with their heart to the heart of their children.  While no overt offense is intended, being too busy with adult stuff to engage in the world of a child’s needs or wonderings, sends a very loud message to the child about how valueless their feelings are.  Only their behavior is considered significant to the adults.
  • In the home of an alcoholic or rage-aholic, children’s needs are often treated as an offense to the family, since the only needs that matter are those of the emotional tyrant in the tribe.
  • In a very poor home, the desires children have for the things that other kids have cause shame and hurt to the parents who can’t provide those things even if they wanted to.  If the parents are not well grounded emotionally, they will tend to react to the kids and make the kids feel guilty for wanting things that the parents can’t give.
  • If the child’s desires are different from that of the family culture, those desires may be highly dishonored.  Imagine the child designed by God to be a violinist, being born into a family of committed farmers, or the doctor whose daughter wants to be an auto mechanic.  In an ideal situation, the parents can embrace God’s design for their kids, but too many parents have some pre-defined limits to what constitutes an acceptable career path for their kids.
  • And in a home where the parents suffer from lack of legitimacy, it is quite common for all of the children’s needs to be subordinated to the central metric of the kids looking good so that the parents look good.
  • Perhaps the most difficult is the child whose feelings are considered to be aberrant by the parents.  Many children have spiritual discernment which the parents don’t have, and when the kids say they are afraid to go somewhere because it is scary, they are apt to be ridiculed or rebuked.

When a child finds that sharing his needs and wants is unsafe, it will dampen his or her sense of personhood.  When another sibling has free rein to share their feelings and to be validated for them, it really slams the first one as being quite flawed, unnatural or defective, further solidifying exclusion from the office of personhood.

There it is.  Arthur calls it “the office of personhood”.  Psychologists might call it “separation, individuation, and, finally, differentiation.”  The point here is that the person is honored along with their thoughts, talents, drives, and emotions.  The whole identity.  The self.  When it isn’t, personhood isn’t fully established.  The process of separation, individuation, and differentiation is not completed.  What do you get? Arrested development.
Mark 12:31 of the New Testament says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is a well-known verse.  It’s often thrown around and fired at people to shame and coerce them in order to produce desirable and compliant behavior.  Here’s the thing–there is an assumption inherent in this command.  The assumption is that you have an established personhood, a self, to love.  You will always treat your neighbor (the person next to you) either how you treat yourself or how you long to be treated particularly if your sense of personhood is fractured.  You can only truly honor your neighbor in earnest if your sense of personhood is anchored and whole–if you love yourself legitimately.
There are church traditions that have not taught men and woman to do this.  What’s worse, the modern American church tends to shun the most broken among us–the abused, the battered, and those with any issue centered around sexuality.  In my limited experience, if you’re a man or woman with sexual abuse issues, people steer clear.  This is not only unfortunate, but it is also wrong.  If Christians, for example, want to know what God is like, then they ought to look at Jesus, their Messiah.  Jesus never pressed the “sex” button.  He sought out the social pariahs, the untouchables, and embraced them.  He spoke to them with kindness, compassion, and pointed to their true identities never condemning or ostracizing.  In short, he loved them.

It is not only good to love ourselves, it is biblical.  We may not have grown up in environments where our personhood was valued, and we may have even been abused.  Perhaps we entered into adulthood with fractured and shattered identities.  Abuse will do that.  We do, however, have opportunities to try again and even to rebuild.  We are beloved people.

It’s true.

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