What’s Love Got to Do with It?

“Do you think you are a people pleaser?” He asks. I hesitate.

“I think abuse… makes you behave in a certain way. You always put your feelings last. It’s taken me a long time to not be like that, but I used to be, definitely.” I say.

Later, the words echo around my head. Do you think you are a people pleaser? Do you think you are a people pleaser?

I am puzzled. Why has this question stuck and no other? I know my motives are not based on approval from others. Not any more. In fact I’m quite indifferent, although I always do try to consider how someone is feeling. I’m hyper-aware of other people’s feelings. I hear a tiny voice in the back of my head, asking the same question over and over. Behind it is another question, but I don’t want to acknowledge it.

All day the question pops into my head. Finally, I talk to God about it, aware that I can’t hide from whatever is lurking behind it. It is as if God now asks me, “Do you think you are a people pleaser, Sandy?”

“Well, no.” I reply in my head, “Doing things because I want the approval of people is not right, not for a follower of Christ.”

Again the same question, “Do you think you are a people pleaser?”

I finally allow myself to look at what’s been hiding behind this repeated phrase, and give answer, “No, but I am a ‘God pleaser’.”

 Drat!

Is being a God pleaser a bad thing? No. Yes. It seems to be the best of motives. It can so easily be mistaken for the best of motives. The trouble is I know full well that nothing I do, and nothing you or I or anyone could ever do, can earn God’s love or even His attention. Not even Jesus earned His Father’s love. God doesn’t want a desperate-to-please puppy dog. That’s not relationship. That’s not love.

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Image from idpinthat.com

 

 

So what does love look like?

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve [got] nowhere. So no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

1 Corinthians 13:3 (The Message)

Great is His Mercy

Each day is full of His mercies, let’s not waste any of them by beating ourselves up.

~ from Having a Martha Home the Mary Way by Sarah Mae

Now there’s a proverbial kick up the backside for those of us who are recovering from co-dependency (you’re welcome)!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

His mercies never end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NRSVA)

Thoughts on Samantha Morton, Childhood Sexual Abuse and Co-dependency

I was pleased (if one can be pleased about such things) to learn of actress Samantha Morton’s interview in which she spoke of the way she was treated when, as a child in care, she was abused by her carers. Actually, ‘pleased’ is not the word. The interview is outstanding, or rather, Samantha is outstanding; she speaks the brutal (painful) truth with courage and dignity. Although her circumstances were very different to my own – I cannot claim to know what it is like to have been in care – the response Samantha received from the police and from those in ‘authority’ sounds suspiciously like the response I received. In essence, they were not interested, and the victim was made to feel as if she was the one at fault by both the abuser and those around her, who colluded by doing nothing about it. My heart goes out to Samantha in this interview, and to all those like her who were removed from abusive families only to be subject to round after round of abuse from countless different people. Samantha’s courage and ability to carve for herself a brilliant career as an actress is nothing but inspirational. In that sense she is like Wess Stafford, former CEO of Compassion International, who also experienced childhood sexual abuse and, despite everything, grew up to be a courageous, compassionate, intelligent adult.

Personally, I have made the decision not to pursue any civil action against the police (after they told me last year that there was ‘not enough evidence’ to take my case to court whereas there would have been plenty had they acted on the information they were given 20 years ago) because a family member said she couldn’t go through it all again. I have to respect that, despite the fact that sometimes I want to shout and scream and show the world how unjust it is while it pretends to be civilized. Jesus’ words to the scribes and Pharisees seem particularly apt for describing those who abuse, and those whose behaviour condones abuse (including those who look the other way):

You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of rottenness. For you appear like good men on the outside—but inside you are a mass of pretence and wickedness.’ 

Matthew 23:27 (JB Phillips)

In addition to watching Samantha’s interview, I have been thinking about the effects of abuse and how victims can lose, or rather, never gain, ‘normal’ boundaries (by which I mean a sense of ‘self’ as separate from others, which is something we usually learn in childhood and it grows stronger as we get older). This lack of ‘self’ leads to co-dependent behaviour. ‘Co-dependency’ is one of those words that are frequently thrown about and oft misunderstood. I remember when I first came across the word I thought it must be to do with being an alcoholic – which it is, but that is just one of a broad range of behaviours that can be associated with being co-dependent. At this point I want to stress that being co-dependent is not just the result of abuse. It can begin in many ways.

Recent events (i.e. something that happened yesterday) have left me considering again the nature of co-dependency. It is a complex issue, but at its heart, in its most simple form, co-dependency consists of two things:

1. The belief that others are responsible for my feelings.

and/or

2. The belief that I am responsible for others’ feelings.

Of course, there are occasions when a person’s actions will deliberately and directly affect my feelings and in that sense the one ‘causing’ the situation can be said to be responsible for my feelings. Also, of course, there are degrees to which I am responsible for the way other people feel. I am responsible in no small way for the feelings of my children, for example. I also choose to interact with people in a kind and sensitive way (for the most part), which is a way of taking a degree of responsibility for others’ wellbeing.

So where does the line lie? When you’re co-dependent, this may seem an impossible question. Or, you may know the answer rationally, but fail to act accordingly (denial being a very prominent feature of co-dependent behaviour). Both of these were true for me, in the past. Childhood sexual abuse can take away your boundaries until you have no sense of ‘self’, and too much sense of ‘others’. This can and does last well into adulthood. Everyone around you may seem as if they have huge, overwhelming emotions; this is scary. Your own emotions were buried somewhere, a long time ago. In order to survive, the sense of ‘self’ became locked in a nuclear bomb-proof vault. I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but it seems to be what happened to me. My instinct, even well into adulthood, was to placate those big, scary emotions. Sometimes the other person doesn’t cause big, scary emotions, but they impose upon you all the same. I have family members who do this and I don’t think they even realise they do it. I believe this more subtle imposition is called passive aggression/manipulation.

Back to my question – where does the line lie? Well, if another person has deliberately set out to hurt me, they share some responsibility for my resultant reaction. But feelings are not behaviour, and the onus is on the individual to take responsibility for their own behaviour. When you begin to take responsibility for your own behaviour, particularly in the way you respond to other people, your feelings change too. First, you take responsibility for your behaviour, and then you take responsibility for your feelings. You learn to separate those things which it is reasonable to be happy/sad/angry/scared about, and those things about which it is not reasonable. You learn that, even if you have some big emotions from your past clouding your judgement in the here and now – you are still responsible for you. For clarity: feelings are not wrong. Anger, sadness, bitterness even, are not wrong; they’re all phases we go through in response to certain situations, e.g. abuse, grief, etc. If you’ve been abused you’re allowed to be angry! Jesus had some very strong words for those who took advantage of those weaker than themselves:

“…if anyone leads astray one of these little children who believe in me he would be better off thrown into the depths of the sea with a mill-stone hung round his neck!”

Matthew 18:6 (JB Phillips)

In conclusion, this is the most important lesson: you can’t change other people. You can only change you. If you’re a follower of Christ, you do this with grace. It is no longer ‘there, but for the grace of God…’ but ‘there, with the grace of God…’ and you begin the first, tentative steps on the most wonderful journey towards healing and peace. God is good. God is always.

Lenten Thoughts: Clutter

‘Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself.’

1 John 2:15-16, JB Phillips

 

I am trying, albeit rather slowly, to maintain ongoing household organising. I figure this will help with easing the pressure on me and my health, which can so easily become a negative loop, e.g. I’m not well so I don’t do what I would otherwise do, when I’m feeling better I get on with it because I hate looking at  it, then I do too much and find myself unwell again (and when I say unwell, I mean more or less bedridden, which in itself is frustrating, as some of my readers who are not in good health will also appreciate). The one thing one cannot help but learn from illness is patience because, like it or not, you’re stuck, and while I am steadily learning how to manage my condition, there are many, many other lessons to learn along the way. After patience comes trust – because when I am laid low who else can I trust but God? When I can hardly move, what have I left except God? This is not complaint. It has helped me to be less distracted, more focused on the things that matter.

 

Jesus had such kind words when he spoke to someone worrying over these same things:

‘As they continued their journey, Jesus came to a village and a woman called Martha welcomed him to her house. She had a sister by the name of Mary who settled down at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said. But Martha was very worried about her elaborate preparations and she burst in, saying, “Lord, don’t you mind that my sister has left me to do everything by myself? Tell her to get up and help me!”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, my dear, you are worried and bothered about providing so many things. Only a few things are really needed, perhaps only one. Mary has chosen the best part and you must not tear it away from her!”’

Luke 10:38-42, JB Phillips

The only person putting so much pressure on poor Martha was Martha herself. Jesus simply wanted to be welcomed. He didn’t care what the house was like, or whether there was fancy food to eat. He just wanted to share himself, to spend time with this family.
Another time Jesus was with his disciples:

‘Then someone out of the crowd said to him, “Master, tell my brother to share his legacy with me.”

 

But Jesus replied, “My dear man, who appointed me a judge or arbitrator in your affairs?”

 

And then, turning to the disciples, he said to them, “Notice that, and be on your guard against covetousness in any shape or form. For a man’s real life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions.”

Luke 12:13-15, JB Phillips

and

“That is why I tell you, don’t worry about life… stop bothering about what clothes you will need. Life is much more important than food, and the body more important than clothes… Can any of you make himself an inch taller however much he worries about it? And if you can’t manage a little thing like this, why do you worry about anything else? …If God so clothes the grass, which flowers in the field today and is burnt in the stove tomorrow, is he not much more likely to clothe you, you little-faiths? You must not set your heart on what you eat or drink, nor must you live in a state of anxiety …set your heart on his kingdom, and your food and drink will come as a matter of course… For wherever your treasure is, you may be certain that your heart will be there too!”

From Luke 12:22-34, JB Phillips

 

In light of Jesus’ teachings, and what I have been learning over the past few years, I have been trying to follow FlyLady’s routines, as best I am able. FlyLady is wonderful if, like me, you have struggled with co-dependency type thinking. What we need more than anything (co-dependent or not) is to just do what we can do and not worry about the rest. I want to streamline my life, to simplify every aspect, so that there is less stuff – physically, emotionally and spiritually. In one of today’s emails, FlyLady writes about decluttering one’s house:

 

‘When you love what you have and use what you love; it is not clutter.

It is the things that we have stashed in drawers that is the waste of money but I don’t want you to beat yourself up over this. The biggest waste of all is guilt!

Declutter your guilt and get on with the living!’

 

I think I hear an ‘Amen’! Christians are so good at getting distracted by ‘clutter’! We worry about whether we believe the ‘right’ thing, say the ‘right’ thing, do the ‘right’ thing. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God is not in the business of making you feel bad.

Jesus did not suffer on the cross so that you could feel guilty and ashamed and beat yourself up over what you have not achieved, or the life you don’t live. Is not his gift worth more than that? Christ’s sacrifice demands our respect: live your life and live it well. Love as he loved; live as he lived.

‘The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).’

John 10:10 (Amplified)

 

So what is the purpose of guilt if not to beat yourself up with? I am convinced that it is there for God, by his Holy Spirit, to instill within me an awareness of my wrongdoing, of my sin. I feel regret, or repentance, but this is not to beat myself up with; it is to warn me and to motivate me both to seek more of Jesus (being sinless), and to desire to change. Anything beyond that is not of God. Guilt and shame are a vicious circle. I am still learning how to say ‘no’ to guilt. It is not easy! Disabling guilt is such a common thing in one’s Christian walk. Guilt about reading the bible, guilt about not doing enough at church/in the home/with my family/at work/in the community… It is not that these things are wrong, but if you do things because you feel guilty, you won’t get very far. God doesn’t want you to do things because you feel you ought to. God wants you to trust and to follow where he leads. You will know what is being asked of you – and you will know, too, that while God expects no less than what he asks of you, he also does not expect more.

 

 ‘This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.’
Romans 5:3-5, JB Phillips

Be blessed, friends 🙂