Standing for the Relationship

I am used to conflict both in myself and with those that mean the most to me. I read somewhere (a Family Systems Theory book) that conflict is most likely a result of too much closeness (as in smothering) or too much distance (as in cutoff). Either way, people then often blame, attack or hide and get all emotionally flooded. We stop thinking. Emotional ruminating is not thinking.

Even when we hide from the other who we feel has hurt us, we probably fight with them in our heads. We imagine beating them into powerlessness with our wonderfully practiced attacks. Our opponent is probably doing the same thing right when we are.

It seems to me that when we attack and defend, we ignore our relationship. How we are covenanted suffers in the elusive benefit of beating the other.

Who stands for the relationship?

I visited with a couple in noisy conflict yesterday. Like pugilists whacking and hacking, they listened only to their “inner dialogue” not each other and thus projecting rage and hurt to their partner.

I asked them “how is your hatred working for each other?“ The husband complained that he didn’t hate his wife but she didn’t seem to disagree with the word “hatred.” I said, “how is your hatred towards your marriage working for each other.“


When couples bicker they bleed the goodness of what is between them. The couple may harangue each other thinking that it is just about them. But it is the marriage — a distinct entity — that looses most.

Grief: Part 2 – Grief is Another Way of Remembering

“Grief is another way of remembering,” said my pastor friend who died too young (see previous blog). She said this at my father’s memorial. He died from drinking. For many years all I could remember was the slovenliness of drunkenness. Grieving, like remembering, takes time. It is a process, never fully accomplished.

But slowly I remembered finer memories. Looking at photos helped me to discover what was also there. I see sober Christmases and I can hear telephone conversations when I worked in a mining camp and I had something to say that impressed him. He would call me “son.” I remembered him putting together my green CCM bike with ribbons falling from the handgrips.

I was afraid of my father and I felt hurt and anger much of my life. That was the core of my grief. Grief is often a mush of fear and hurt and anger – all primitive emotions. When I experienced some of this over time, I discovered the tenderness just below. Sorrow needs to be wept out or sobbed out – it can hardly be thought out. Tears help us drain the pain.

If my unconscious carries an unexpressed wound from my past, I will always be black and blue inside. I will not be able to approach life with my eyes looking forward for fear they will trigger the repressed pain. Have you met people who cannot look into your eyes for fear that you will look into theirs?

People have said to me, “It was the way you looked at me. You didn’t take your eyes from mine.” I have learned to see grief and the emotional mush that is behind it.

The grief that I carry stowed away has great power over me. More than ruminating, I become a rumination. Until I feel my grief and allow myself to know it, I will not be free of its grip.

You may know the song, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton as he grieved the accidental death of his young son. He sings, “I must be strong and carry on, ‘Cuz I know I don’t belong, here in heaven.” This grief connects him to the child he loves.

Until I know how to grieve with my heart and my soul, with my voice and my time, I will never know how to love with all my heart either. Jesus gives us a model to follow. And his words are true: “Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

Grief: Part 1 — Lying to Ourselves

I have led three memorial services in the past couple of months.

One was a young and once vibrant woman who had a near-fatal car accident that left her with a serious brain injury and personality change. She spent her insurance money on “sex, drugs and rock and roll,” eventually killing herself.

The second was a municipal councilor who invested his life in making his community better, advocating for the ordinary, and insisting on budgetary prudence. He was a champion of autism and died far too young with brain cancer.

The third was a woman who was a covenant friend of mine. She was a pastor, a counsellor, a teacher and a loving mother, wife and grandmother and she was funny too. Her middle name could have been integrity or compassion.

They left people behind.

Jesus said an odd thing to those that these people left: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4). How weird is that?

I led my mother’s memorial service years back. It was over a year before I could visualize her or smell her perfume. Sure I cried, in fact I wailed – but I couldn’t connect. She was dead to me.

When Jesus’ best friend Lazarus died, Jesus wailed too. And when we experience loss and are anxious and grieved, we do the same – loud and often in public. But when we say we are “just fine, thanks,” we lie to ourselves and the friends that ask.

Someone said, “Every unshed tear is a prism through which all of life’s hurts are distorted.”

Distorted emotions make us do distorted things. We don’t feel, we don’t think, we don’t talk. That’s distorted. And we ruminate. Our brooding circles our brain, repeating untruths, causing more distortion, aching our stomachs, taking away our energy and delight.

In a strange way, like the person who has died, we stop living. Not feeling, not thinking, and not talking sounds like death to me.

(More when I get to it.)


Questions for Living

Many of you know that I like questions more than answers. And when I come across a good question, I almost always write it down. Imagine my delight in finding a bunch of questions written by Ellie Harris entitled “Questions for Living.” We learn by asking questions when we have the patience to grow into our answers. So here they are from the beautiful magazine “Bella Grace” (Spring, 2016). (I’ve italicised the ones I love.)

  • What do you want to be and who are you now?
  • What do you unequivocally believe in?
  • What was the last time you were your own best friend?
  • Have you found that something you are looking for? Do you even know what it is?
  • Do you welcome things you don’t understand and give room for clarity to grow?
  • Who or what do you wake up for?
  • What makes you feel like a child?
  • When are you in your past self? When are you in your best self?
  • Can you truly forgive others? Can you forgive yourself?
  • Whose voice brings you peace?
  • Have you decided what to be when you grow up?
  • Do you like what you’ve become?
  • What are you holding onto? Is it time to let it go?
  • What memory do you hold the tightest?
  • When is enough truly enough?
  • Why do you fear what you fear?
  • Why do you believe what you believe?
  • What makes you feel important?
  • What are you sorry for?
  • What is your most secret wish?
  • When is the last time you have a real conversation with God?
  • Do you wish you had a do-over?
  • How can you make this day not ordinary?
  • What you love about yourself?
  • What is the dictionary definition of you?
  • Are you living out of desire or circumstance?
  • Do you wake up thankful?
  • What are you waiting for?
  • Who do you love? Do they know?
  • If you could have a conversation with anyone, who would you want to talk to?
  • What is the last time you took yourself out for a date?

Here is something interesting – people with social anxiety can often “solve” it by digging a bit deeper and getting out of the superficiality of superficial conversation. I ask my anxious clients to pick 3 questions to ask a friend or a stranger and watch what happens.

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