Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Transformation of Anger

This week I have been contemplating the transformational power of anger. I have never thought of anger as a positive force for change before. My current devotional study, "The Way of Forgiveness" by Companions in Christ is guiding me through shame, guilt, anger, and forgiveness in a gentle, but thought-provoking way. On page 49 of my book I read, "we are not so much called to rid ourselves of anger as to allow it to become, in some sense, a spiritual guide." Imagine me telling that to my parents as a teen! Mom and Dad, I'm not angry, I'm following a spiritual guidance of total frustration! On a more serious note, I have tried to sit with my frustrations and disappointments and annoyances this week to see if I could get to the heart of the matter. On at least one occasion I was successful. Progress, however incremental is still progress.

I have also tried to pray for my enemies this week. I don't have true enemies I guess, but I have tried hard to pray for people who have disappointed me, or hurt my feelings. I have even spent a little time pondering attitudes I don't understand. I didn't get very far, but I'm trying. Time is a gift and helper in this exercise. I have a two-fold perspective of time. One, I don't have time to spend energy on this so I'm moving on. And two, the more days that pass, the less anger I seem to generate about what happened. Using these two opposite thoughts, I am inching slowly down the path of forgiveness.

The take away message for me this week is the following: "To practice gratitude, praise, and blessing in the midst of annoyance, difficulty, and suffering is one of the great spiritual disciplines....Learning to cope constructively with hurt and anger lays the groundwork for what is perhaps the most challenging spiritual practice in human life: forgiveness." (Page 53 of my study, lest you think I wrote those words myself.)

One of the tenets of today's sermon spoke to me as it dovetails nicely with this journey of forgiveness I am on. He said he believes that "our capacity to love one another is directly proportional with our capacity to forgive one another." I think this is true of all the emotions that operate in tension with one another. They are two sides of the same coin---love/hate, laughter/tears, hope/despair, joy/grief, faith/doubt. Our capacity for one broadens the space for the other. How can we know one without knowing at least a little bit of the other? Joys are always sweeter when we've been denied access to joy. Love is always stronger when it has been challenged by a force against love. Hope is born of despair, and sometimes we laugh so hard we cry.

It amazes me how after two weeks of sitting and facing anger it seems a little easier to deal with. Anger becomes another process. I don't mean to diminish its existence or lessen its power, but the focal point of anger has changed for me. After my initial reaction (still working on that part), I ask: What am I trying to tell myself? Why am I having such a gut-reaction? What is it in me that causes such a surge of emotion? Why do I reject something so strongly? Has this been building? Where did it start? And most importantly, where do I go now?

Hopefully more and more often we will choose to go directly to the Father and lay it all out for Him. Without His guidance through the Holy Spirit and Jesus' example, we could wallow in anger for a long long long time. But I think Jesus might think that a waste of our time. We were meant for something greater. If we allow that wallowing to be meaningless, then it has served no purpose. It's just negative energy. Another quote from my study guide, "The value of [praying directly to God about anger] is that it faces us squarely with ourselves as we are now, [which is] a critical understanding....'God cannot find you where you think you ought to be; God can only find you where you actually are.' If we do not recognize where we are, we cannot fully offer ourselves to God for healing." (page 50-51)

As I continue on this journey--which I know will be a lifelong one, I hope that I can find a way to love more deeply (forgive), live more fully (forgive), and react more positively (forgive) to people, events, and challenges in my life. I believe if I do so, my time here on earth will be well spent.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To Work Away from Home or Not?

I think this is a very delicate question and the answer is different every single time it's asked. I happen to be a fortunate woman who can work while practicing her vocation. I also happen to be doubly fortunate because I work by choice. But I have always worked. I worked in the summers. I worked right after college. I worked while I was engaged, married, and I work now part-time while raising two kids. I don't know how to not work outside my home.

There was a time in my life when I was a better mommy when I was working. My first son and I are natured so alike temperament wise that we need a break from each other almost every day. We've been like this from the cradle. It is neither good or bad, it just is. He enjoyed school right away and other than some tearful mornings from time to time, adjusted well. I did not. I cried every morning. The guilt weighed on me like an albatross. However, I was trying so hard to establish myself as a professional and I was up against a deadline for certification in my field. I pushed forward and eventually created a routine that worked well and we could all live with.

The second time I became pregnant, I worked up until about 5 weeks before the baby. Then I took a year off, just like I did with my first. Taking a year off with two children is much different. I was climbing the walls by Christmas, but I was also so tired from chasing two, that I was somewhat ambivalent about going back. Then summer came, and the baby was almost no longer a baby. I was ready and excited to return to work.

Now I'm three months into and I have to tell you, I'm ambivalent about it. My first son has turned into an interesting little boy who likes to spend time with me and my baby and I have not yet begun to push each other's buttons in a way that makes long breaks from each other necessary. I truly love what I do. It's my vocation. It's where I belong. But I'm also a mother and it's my vocation, my priority, and my God-given job. Going back to work again has not made me the better mommy that I was the first time. You know when you're a mom of two, you are a different mommy. Your body is different. Your energy level is different. Your time management is different. Things that were once important, aren't as important as they were.

I say all this to say that trying to balance life is not as difficult as I thought, but trying to balance how I feel about it is. We get up, I get everyone ready, I pack lunches, I drop everyone off (no tears from anyone most mornings--not even me), I go to work for a couple of hours, I pick everyone up at 2, we go home and play/nap/watch movies and eat snacks, I attempt to make dinner or plan to go out, we eat, we bathe, we read, we go to bed. It's a juggling game, but it's not rocket science.

Alas, I am no pioneer woman, nor am I a crusader with infinite strength and drive. My health is suffering some from all this busy-ness, my mental clarity is suffering, and I miss my kids. I haven't always missed my kids (holy horrors Batman, a mom who will admit that must be certifiable!). But I miss them now. I enjoy getting away for the morning, or the afternoon, or the evening. I can work and do nothing else, or I can not work and be the grade mom, the park mom, the book club/ night out mom, and the happy healthy wife my husband married. There is unfortunately not much middle ground for me. I'm disappointed, because I would like to say I can be all things to all people.

However, I am much reminded by those who have gone before me and give me sage advice I would do well to heed. This time in my life is a season. It is short and will pass. There will be time to practice my vocation later. There will be time to spend with my children in different ways later. There will be time to spend with my husband in a different way (besides sitting on the couch staring at each other with nary the energy for much beyond a lecherous grin).

So it is time to let go, to say no, and to enjoy my life. I cannot enjoy my family if my health is suffering. I cannot take care of my family if I cannot be present in mind and body. I am more than fortunate that I even have a choice to stay home. My husband and I are on the same page about my choice. He wants my happiness and our family's health preserved. If that means I go in and out of the work force many times over time, he is on board. It took us a while to get there, but we have come to an understanding about it. We have also made the decision that our standard of living will not be affected by whatever income I bring home. This was very important to us both. It doesn't take much to get to a point where two incomes are necessary in this world of uncertain times, so if we don't start there already, in the event of a life event that would make it so, we could make adjustments for me to go to work.

So I suppose it is time I changed my perspective and my feelings about motherhood. I hate those terms--stay at home mom, full-time mom, part-time career. Who has a career that is really part-time? The hours on the books may be part-time, but I think about my patients all the time. And I have yet to meet a mom that wasn't a full-time mom. To think of it any other way is just silly. And what mom stays at home? Aren't we constantly running? To the store, to the dry cleaners, to school, to the doctor, to the drug store, to the post office, this errand for husband, this errand for mother, this errand for self. Honestly.

Perhaps I will re-title myself--when I can find one that works. I'll let you know. Until then, I will continue to try to find that elusive balance of home and world.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Well, I've embarked on a new journey that has taken up my blog time. My Bible study --for lack of a better description--has begun again for the fall, and I use my extra time to do my homework instead of blog--except for right now because I am busy writing run on sentences here on my blog.

This semester we are wrestling with forgiveness. Not my strong suit. It's not that I necessarily hold grudges, although I've been known to do that. I have a very long memory. I imagine God's memory could be longer than mine, but I'm told time and again in what I read and what I study that it isn't so. If he can forgive me, why can't I forgive myself? I think of the mammoth amount of pain he could hold on to if he chose to and he doesn't. The heartache we must cause him as fallible human beings is mind boggling, and yet we're created in his image. It certainly makes one pause to rethink what perfection is. Is it really not making mistakes? Is it really always doing the right thing? Is it really never making a misstep? Or is it something bigger than that? Is it more of a state of being than a measurable concept? If your state of being with God is perfect--in that you are his child and you are his beloved and you are his blessed one, the rest of it falls into place?

I've been learning to think about forgiveness in a different way. Forgiveness is free. Forgiveness already exists. You don't create it, you enter into it. It's already there happening all around you, you just put yourself in the middle of it--like standing in a stream or waterfall. You don't have to wait for someone to ask for it, or think they need it. You can offer it to them without ever even telling them.

Then there is forgiving yourself. This is perhaps the greatest hurdle of all. If God forgives us and even forgets what we have done than why can't we? Time is precious and short. We don't have the time to dwell on mistakes and harp on ourselves for not quite measuring up. Forgive yourself, right the wrong if you can, acknowledge it if you can't, and move on.

There is so much more to do in the world than wallowing in one's own self-doubt and lack of perfection. If we didn't put so much pressure on ourselves to measure up to something so unattainable, then maybe we would see our sins for what they are, human. I'm certainly not absolving truly evil acts, nor am I saying we that we shouldn't feel ashamed of our behavior from time to time. Sometimes we do terrible things in anger or out of hate or ignorance or desperation. And there are some acts of evil we can't explain or begin to understand. But I do know this, every single human breath drawn on this earth is drawn by God's child. Every single person. And if his grace and mercy and forgiveness are all around us waiting for us to accept and move on, then it's time to accept and move on.

This is my new favorite quote. Every time I read it, I start to cry--and I've read it many times in the last week. It was written by Charles Williams. I don't have the bibliography information, but I'm not taking credit for the words, they're his, so read on:

"If you want to disobey and refuse the laws that are common to us all, if you want to live in pride and division and anger, you can. But if you will be part of the best of us, and live and laugh and be ashamed with us, then you must be content to be helped. You must give your burden up to someone else, and you must carry someone else's burden. I haven't made the universe and it isn't my fault. But I'm sure that this is a law of the universe, and not to give up your parcel is as much to rebel as not to carry another's. You'll find it quite easy if you let yourself do it."