Monday, February 27, 2012

Control Your Emotional Drawbridge

Being transparent with another human being entails a risk of substantial proportion. Sharing our story with another person automatically involves some degree of emotional peril. I think such a reality is one of the reasons that Henri Nouwen urges us to limit the access to our interior life.  He compares such access to a drawbridge attached to a medieval castle.  He says:  It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. There must be times that you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close.  But when we let that bridge down and allow select people to cross our protective emotional moat, we are taking a calculated risk.

The person whom we perceive to be trustworthy could choose to reject us.  We might discover that they are repelled by our story. Or they could choose to subtly edge away.  And it could be worse.  The person that we allowed inside could violate our confidence with indiscreet conversations.  Is it better to remain secluded in our own little emotional castles equipped with sturdy drawbridges, and alligator filled moats?

I vote no.  The benefits of sharing our story with someone that is trustworthy are untold.  If that person really cares about us, their knowledge of even the darkest aspects of our lives will deepen their level of love and respect for us. They will listen, empathize, and tuck our story back in the part of their brain that is reserved for confidential and private information.  They will also view knowledge of our story as a sign of increasing depth in the friendship.

I recall Alan Loy McGinnis in his classic book entitled The Friendship Factor stating that transparency is one of the signs of deepening friendship. I concur. There is nothing quite like allowing someone to see the interior of our castle, where breathtaking beauty and blemishes known to only a select few co-exist.
Our transparency in turn prompts that trusted friend to share his own story in freedom.

I think it is accurate to say that we can safely allow access to our drawbridge to that trustworthy person again and again… Such an individual is safe. They obviously love and accept us for who we are.  The blemishes that are repulsive to others present no relational hindrance.  And in that person’s eyes, there is not much we can do to destroy that perception.  We don’t have to put on an appearance of any kind.  We don’t have to hide where we have been or what we have done.

Emotional drawbridges foster much needed security.  But when they are lowered, the entrance of a caring and trustworthy friend to our interior castle blesses our lives.  Without the presence of such individuals the castle itself deteriorates from the destructive forces of loneliness and despair.  The alligators in the moat end up taking over, and thus making it impossible for good people to fill our lives with joy and meaning. 

Donuts are Good For Your Health

Donuts have to be among the unhealthiest foods that you can eat.  The combination of sugar and fat and other poisons that we enjoy so much are packed into one little piece of scrumptious pastry with a hole in the middle.
Doctors tell us to avoid excessive white flour, sugar, and bad fats.  The older we get the more important such principles of good dieting come into play.  I saw a notable exception to such guidelines last week.

While I was leaving the produce section at HEB (you notice I said produce section), I observed a very elderly couple choosing several varieties of fresh donuts from the bakery at HEB.  The man was confined to a wheel chair, so his wife was securing his selections for him.  It was a very touching scene.  I had an image of them going back to their home and enjoying their treat together over a cup of coffee.

There is no doubt that both of them have doctors telling them to watch their diet.  At their age, there is a strong probability that one or both of them are taking daily medicines that their physician has prescribed.  But I also noted that neither one of them is overweight.  Could it be that a regiment of donuts occasionally is good for one’s health? 

I would argue that a regiment of donuts is good particularly for relational health.  I am assuming my elderly couple has been married for years. Perhaps one of the keys to their long marriage is enjoying the small bonuses in life like a shared donut.  It is obvious by their physical appearance that they have not made it a daily event!

The truth is: donuts are good for your health.  I would add that finding all kinds of simple pleasures that can be enjoyed with those we love add joy to our lives. Americans have fallen into the trap of thinking that gestures of love must be expensive, complicated, and grand to be meaningful.  That is simply not true.
Simplicity is meaningful.

I did have more thought as I observed the two little love birds at HEB.  I was camped out in the produce section buying grapes and lettuce,and they were choosing donuts! It occurred to me that something was dreadfully wrong with that picture.  Next trip to HEB I am hightailing it to the bakery.  After all donuts are good for your relational health....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I am Trying out for the Major Leagues This Week...

I have always thought I was a good friend.  In fact, I have always thought I had some kind of grasp on what loyalty looks, feels, and smells like.  But during the course of the past 6 months, I have reached the conclusion that I only play in the minor leagues of friendship.  In order to fully explain this startling conclusion, I must go back to Wind Point Elementary School in Racine, Wisconsin.

There were a group of boys that did all of the things that you expect elementary school aged boys to do.  And we did a few things that parents really wished that their elementary aged sons would not do.  Ok…I will be truthful.  We did a lot of things that fell into that second category.

We were in Mrs. Braun’s Cub Scout Den.  She seems to have survived that trauma in her life quite well. . And then Mr. Bosley took us to Boy Scout Camp.  He caught my friend Scott and me smoking one evening at camp.  During that same week in the summer of 1974 we listened to President Nixon resign on the transistor radio.  Scott was a year younger than me, but he often joined Steve, Ray, Bob, and others in our adventures around the neighborhood.  Occasionally we even allowed girls join us.  (They weren’t real girls though, because we considered them to be actual friends.) 

We have all grown up now.  The truth is most of us will turn 50 this year. Thanks to facebook and some networking we have all reconnected.  We are parents and grandparents now.  Two of us are in fulltime ministry.

Unfortunately one of the members of our neighborhood group is suffering from brain cancer.  After getting over the initial shock of one of my own peers facing a life threatening illness I soon made the discovery that I play in the minor leagues when it comes to friendship. I still have so much to learn.

The cigarettes that Scott and I smoked at Boy Scout Camp in 1974 obviously did not have a long term impact on his ability to use his God given brain.  As the cancer ravages Steve’s body, Scott continues to step up to the plate and serve him in untold ways.  Scott took Steve on outings until our mutual friend could no longer get out. He took him out to eat and into his home.  Now that Steve is residing in a nursing home for the purpose of 24/7 care Scott checks on him several times a week, and brings him extra things that make his life more comfortable.

Today I am thankful for my lifelong childhood friends.  Scott’s consistent loyalty has helped me realize how badly I want to try out for the major leagues of friendship.  The days of stealing the Boy Scout Leader’s cigarettes at camp are long over.  The day has dawned for us to take good care of each other. Loyalty now trumps mischief.  I actually think all of us that ran together are eager to join Scott on the major league team of friendship that he is presently playing on. I do believe he should be named most valuable player this year.

 How about you? Are you playing in the little league, minor league, or major league of friendship? I honestly hope it does not take a terminal illness to prompt you to move up to the next league.  I hope you have equally inspiring friends to prompt you to a deeper level of commitment. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Toxic People

I have heard of toxic wastes, and have seen the results of it here on Lake Granbury.  I have also heard of toxins in our body and the potential effects. In fact, I have even heard of toxic people before!  But today it occurred to me that the word can be used in a very different way.

I grew up around toxic influences. I suspect a lot of us did.   My dad had a man working for him that I ended up having to be around some on the job when I was about 13 years old.  He had an extremely degrading mindset toward women.  As a na├»ve 13 year old, I had never been exposed to someone like that before. He opened my eyes to a world that was entirely new to me.  I didn’t know what to call the ideas he was impressing on me at the time.  Today I would call it a toxin of the worst variety.

I went on to graduate from high school and enroll at a large university.  One of the professors I had my sophomore year told the entire class of Accounting Principles that it was intended to be a weed out course.  He proceeded during the course of the semester to purposely make it difficult to excel academically.  He too was a toxic influence, and a not a true educator.

Over the years I have been around people that are consumed in negativity.  They are chronic complainers and perpetual whiners.  They have an uncanny way of spreading their poison with their active mouths.  I wish I could flush my mind of their damaging words and unconstructive attitudes.

And then there are those that cover their toxins with an air of righteousness.  Such seemingly saintly individuals convey a religious fervor that would appear to rival Mother Teresa’s love for the poor.  But underneath the veneer of righteousness is a particularly dark toxin.  In reality, they are anything but Lily White.

And finally there are people that try to make us think we are worthless.  They purposely put us down.  They criticize our choices and make us feel inferior.
They fill us to the brim with the toxin of self doubt.

It occurred to me this week that one of the tasks we face in life is to purify ourselves of toxic influences.  It is important to call it what it is and move on with life.  We can’t allow self righteous people destroy our spiritual growth with the toxicity they spread everywhere they go.  Nor can we allow hypercritical individuals to assault our self worth with the poison they spread.  Part of celebrating the journey is to recognize toxicity and deal with it accordingly.