Saturday, August 30, 2014

How to quiet your harsh inner judge

Criticism from your personal, inner judge can be unrelenting and over-bearing. Your voice recedes as the judge’s voice magnifies: You are not enough. You are incompetent. You have no value.

So it can be your own domineering judge who frightens you into being and behaving as someone else. It’s time to get ruthless with your inner judge who harshly convicts and condemns your irrational inadequacies.

Getting ruthless with that lying judge has to do with getting real. Oddly enough, we challenge those lies by first getting real and ruthless with others. Relationship is often where those judging lies germinate. Therefore, relationship is where we expose the judge. Next we get real and ruthless with ourselves. This is where we look within to confront the judge who has taken up residence. Finally getting ruthless and real with God means we dare to believe His love for us trumps our lying, blaming, critical judge within.

1) Get real and ruthless with others
What we believe about ourselves is not always accurate. The perspective of others who know us, and are for us, can help us refute a harsh inner judge who accuses, You aren’t worthy to belong. When we bring our true self into community, safe people reflect truth back to us.

Recently in a leadership process group, I balked when all eight pairs of eyes were on me. Even though I did not want to be their sole focus, I secretly craved their acceptance. My persistent judge privately condemned, Your childhood left you wounded and weak. You are pitiful. Pity judged me weak, incompetent, voiceless, and therefore having no value.

Emotional trauma specialist, Dr. Sheri Keffer, challenges us to dredge up those wounds and confront them: “Take it out and process within a safe environment so that trauma doesn’t get stored in the unconscious place of your brain, the place that drives your behavior. Storing unhealed wounds in this place causes disharmony, bad habits, poor decision-making, and physically affects the body, brain and immune system….it shrinks our lives.”

In group, I had to be willing to re-open wounds and dig out the gunk. Within the safety of fellow strugglers, I had to get real and ruthlessly expose my weaknesses, my shortcomings and my flaws. One of those strugglers actually described such experience as “enjoyable and needful times together to notice what God is doing and saying in our lives. We acknowledge our forward movements, as well as naming our challenges.” No pity or judge here.

In community, we give and receive, something we cannot possibly achieve in isolation. As cheerleaders and sometimes soldiers, we affirm, listen, and seek to understand one another. We receive validation of our experiences and the truth of our pain, “Julie, mothers should not abandon their children. Young girls need a mom. I’m sorry you did not have a mom who cared more about you.”

2) Get real and ruthless with yourself
I was the one who lugged shame-filled pity into our group and hoisted its bulk right up into my lap. Those weighty, accusing lies attached themselves to my soul long ago: You are not enough for your mother to stay. You don’t matter. My value vanished along with my mother. And the inner judge took up residence in the void.

I had been harboring that no-value thinking and it was oozing out in disingenuous behaviors. Devalued Julie showed up and receded into the background by quieting her voice. At other times, Compensating Julie cheated pity by inventing confidence and competence. First century Paul of Tarsus explained my struggle: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

I stood up and the burden in my lap crashed onto the floor. I shoved the debris aside. In a small clearing, Real Julie confessed to the group: “Now that you know all this about me, do you find me pitiful? Even though I have devalued myself and also over-compensated, can you accept me?”

My group did not reflect my any pity back at me. Their responses pushed the pity bits further away, “I accept you…You belong here...I value your participation in our group…You matter to us.”

3) Get real and ruthless with God
Within a few days of pushing pity out of the way, I received a book, Ruthless Trust. My gift book from a loving daughter-in-law illuminated the new space where I dared to stand: “Self-absorption fades into self-forgetfulness, as we fix our gaze on the brightness of the Lord.” Brennan Manning describes this shift from self-pity to trust: “Many a believer’s perception of God and people often begins with a debased image of ourselves…Our trust in Jesus grows as we shift from making self-conscious efforts to be good to allowing ourselves to be loved as we are (not as we should be)…There is nothing any of us can do to increase His love for us and nothing we can do to diminish it.”

Like the needless binding of feet to keep them small, lies bound my life. You can’t do that; don’t even attempt it. Disparate threads rewind to create a different yarn, one that was first spun long, long ago: His-story is our story. Do I dare trust that God loves me when I have judged and pitied myself for so many years? And others? Is God’s love and acceptance big enough to squelch the judge who limits my value and my life?

Manning’s love of God invites me to risk responding despite the fear: “Yet the mysterious love of God is fierce enough to penetrate even those who think that they cannot receive it.” Trusting in the love of Jesus soothes the accusations of the harsh inner judge. The weft of love weaves over the warp of lies. Real patterns emerge in the design: I am worth loving. I have value. I matter.

Aged lies, distorted thinking, immature ways of being are interrupted and exposed. Nothing is the same. All is laid bare with others, self and God. The judge has been muzzled. I speak up, I am enough.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Unexpected healing for a hurting family

My brother’s stroke set off a tidal wave of panic and chaos back in Florida where he was hospitalized. Yet, the disaster sirens blasted inside me. My family’s tsunami-response has a way of resurrecting and exacerbating hidden, unresolved hurts. 

The powerful swell threatened to overtake me and swallow me up. When considering an emergency visit to Florida, I was more fearful of the force of family frenzy consuming me than about my brother’s recovery. One can manage a recovery process. But how does one navigate a family tidal wave, except to avoid being in its path? I telephoned my brother from afar.

Besides, what good could a visit from me do?

I am not prone to insert myself where I am not invited. A similar tentativeness crosses over into my coaching business as well. I have avoided marketing myself as a personal coach because that seems too pushy. A marketing coach recently reframed self-promotion as, “getting to know me, like me and trust me.” That sounded inviting instead of invasive. In considering going to Florida, I needed an invitation to outweigh this familiar chaos that triggered my anxiety.

Go willingly with the attitude to help bear another’s burden in crisis.

My son and daughter-in-law listened as I shared concern for my brother. “He cannot form his thoughts into comprehensible sentences. His finances are a mess. He is a contentious guest at my sister’s house. My sister almost lost it when she had to send a letter on his behalf because she had no stamps or envelopes,“ I lamented.

Daughter-in-law tentatively spoke up, “When I am overwhelmed,” she said, “sometimes I just want someone to swoop in and take care of it for me, even when it’s hard for me to ask for help.” Hearing that, I had my reason to jump back into the surge. Perhaps, my invitation was that I could be of help.

Working together enhances the healing process.

In Florida, my siblings and I locked arms together on our brother’s behalf. Waters were turbulent but we rode the waves. We searched, sorted, telephoned, documented, prioritized, and filed all the issues into categories. And we rebuked, listened, affirmed, accepted, apologized and laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. Amidst the debris we discovered traces of compassion. I thought it was just my brother who needed healing after his stroke. In the midst of working together, I caught a glimpse of how God was already at work in each one of us.

Willpower exhausts itself but trusting in 
God’s great love for us emboldens us 
to face adversity with sustaining hope and faith.

Occasionally I would be pulled under by the strength of the current but could bob back up to the surface…exhausted.  Overcome by the details of disaster, I doubted family myself, and the power of God. My friends’ invitation to dinner offered welcome respite from swimming against the current. The instant we were seated at the restaurant table my fear and frustration gushed out and onto my friends.  They listened. When my grumbling gush ran out of steam, one friend responded, “I will pray for you.” His words secured the dam and contained the waters.

Words from the biblical apostle James wafted past me, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” My friend had intervened to ask and believe on my behalf. I was grateful.

My thoughts shifted direction like a repentant thief caught red-handed. Clarifying words from Dr. Henry Cloud challenged me, “Repentance,” writes Cloud, “is the change involved when we face the truth about ourselves.” Maybe this journey was not about willful and defensive maneuvers against tidal waves but about engaging trust when disaster strikes.

In Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning writes, “In the midst of tragic events that leave us bereft of understanding, trust does not demand explanations but turns to the One who promised, ‘I will not leave you orphans.’ (John 14:18)  Manning’s simple prayer appeals to my lack of trust, “Jesus, by your grace I grow still for a moment and I hear you say, ‘Courage? It’s me! Don’t be afraid’. I place my trust in your presence and your love. Thank you.”

The more we are healed, the more we can be 
genuinely generous with others.

My family has known me to insulate myself with distance and resistance. Fear and self-protection wanted to hold me back. But my call to grow was for the real me—the swimmer—to show up…with family. God has honored my yielding to this intentional process of healing over the past couple of years. As my swimming has grown stronger, I can jump into an ocean of conflict and not sink. So now my sister calls more often; she trusts that I won’t judge her. And my brother acknowledged my apology. He expressed his response with thoughtful acceptance, “I...I know…I have another…uh…a second chance.”

What a tsunami threatened to destroy, God intended to heal. He loves me and my family that much. When I was hell-bent on dodging any family business, God tossed me right into the middle of it. After all, my family business IS God’s business. And I’m absolutely blown out of the water that He would entrust me with His business…to turn around and help others grow.

Am I the only one with family tidal waves?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Things change

A few days ago, the storm that brought much needed water to Southern California also swept away the beach sand where I often wogged.  (That’s walking with an occasional jog.) Left exposed were jagged bedrock monoliths wedged upon one another. No more space to wog easily and sadly, no more glass bits to be discovered; it was all swept out to sea.

The next day I donned my wog shoes deciding to brave slippery, sharp rocks, tangly kelp and dead sea slugs. With ear buds in and audio TED Talks loaded to synch to the rhythm of the waves, I walked…then jogged…then walked, then…found a piece of sea glass. They had not all been swept away after all.
My afternoon’s collection was overwhelming.
Oftentimes, sea glass signifies so much more than broken bits and fragments to me.

They benefit from the riches of the sea
and the hidden treasures in the sand. Deut 33:19b

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pursuing or Pursued?

Pacific Coast Highway curved in and out of road cuts through steep cliff walls and back into expansive views of uncontrollable ocean beyond. Having passed the slower drivers, I was in the lead as I glanced behind and then refocused forward. Open space ahead and behind. The convergence of space, movement, view, and direction rested on me and in me like moist ocean air.

However, much needed rain had seeped into the hardened cliff facades and loosened rubble. I rounded a curve and had to break for rock debris littering both directions of travel. Navigating fallen impediments in the road was strangely familiar. During much of last year, I encountered lots of broken-off bits and pieces from weakening walls within myself.

Looking back, I could see that my journey with my word for the year, pursue, was necessary…to get through such troublesome stretches.

In 2013, what I really desired was smooth, straight roads without obstacles. Post-hormonal, empty-nester, easy street meant no schedule to limit me, no goals to pressure me, no structure to confine me, and no conflict to stress me. If I could just make certain that all my no’s insulated me, then I would be free to pursue relational and missional goals. But insisting on all those no’s was far from freeing; pursue had become more about resisting and avoiding than developing.

Gripping onto no’s at every curve or bump in the road was exhausting. Resisting schedule, goals, structure and conflict resulted in getting nowhere…and often left me stalled at the bottom of a climb. Running on empty and unable to make the grade, I allowed a couple of hitchhikers…just for the company. I did not realize how loud they would be. Overwhelmed and overpowered, I was displaced to the back seat. To avoid further confrontation, I sunk low into the well-worn leather of the back seat. Even though I was reasonably comfortable, I had no idea of where these hijackers were taking me.

Relaxing into back seat bondage is not without personal loss. Staci Eldredge describes the costs of avoiding and hiding in her book, Captivating:

We hide our truest selves and offer only what we believe is wanted, what is safe. We act in self-protective ways and refuse to offer what we truly see, believe and know. We will not risk rejection or looking like a fool. We have spoken in the past and were met with blank stares and mocking. We will not do it again and will hide because we are afraid…To hide is to remain safe, to hurt less. And so by hiding we take matters into our own hands. We don’t return to our God with our broken and desperate hearts. And it never occurred to us that in all our hiding, something precious is also lost—something the world needs from us very, very much.

The hijacked journey of pursuit took a turn for the worse as I realized I had been moving away from all that was important to me…God, relationships and the real me. Henry Cloud put words to this distance in Changes that Heal, “And when we are hiding, [our true selves] are not in relationship with God and others….and without relationship, without attachment to God and others, we can’t be our true selves. We can’t be truly human.” Yes, something precious was getting lost.

One day in mid-November pursue showed up in a radically different context. Pursue appeared on one slide among many from the workshop presenter. And that one slide was like my own burning bush miraculously speaking directly to me, “You are worth being pursued by God.”

God seized pursue away from my hijackers and then presented it back to me. Pursue was not about me defending my space, my desires, my self… triggered avoiding and hiding. Nor was it just about pursuing goals, freedom and a life all about me. Those were diversionary pursuits compared to my being worth being pursued…by God.

Pursue was about relationship after all…God unconditional love for me. And pursue was about mission too…God’s mission to draw me out of hiding and into the world where I have something precious to offer.

What can be different knowing that you too are worth being pursued by God?

If God is leading you, don’t hesitate to share with the rest of us below. You never know how God will use your story to bless someone else. If we do not speak up, something the world needs from us very, very much could remain hidden. No more hiding, eh?