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I Second That EmotionUntangling Our Zany Feelings
By Patsy Clairmont
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Patsy Clairmont
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePierced Years
In the midst of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer. Albert Camus
If there's a season within me, as Albert Camus's quote suggests, I know my season would have to be a blustery one. It is my way to do too much and say too much. Quite honestly it's more natural for me to bluster about in a flurry of activity or talk up a full-fledged whirlwind than to "Be still and know ..." I think that's because if I'm quiet too long and listen carefully to the still small voice within I will have to own my behavior and I will "know" I need to change. Change requires much, is scary, and is about as appealing to me as sushi. Trust me, I don't do raw. Yet I long to be ... sweeter, deeper, kinder, and less aware of my deficiencies. Don't you?
It's not a mystery that we all at sometime or other feel like our hearts have a hole in them where our confidence regularly seeps out. Because of sin, no one escapes the "woe is me" syndrome. Gratefully in this chapter Good News is ahead.
We all are born kicking and screaming, demanding to be cuddled, comforted, and convinced that we are safe, that we are secure. Come to think of it, some grown-ups are still doing that. As little ones we go through predictable childish phases: we hold our breath, refuse to potty train, and demand constant attention. Yet even with society's latest child-rearing guides and our family's heroic efforts, we still grow up with fractures in our self-esteem. Our sense of self is pierced.
These insecurities are aggravated throughout our lives by events, people, words, misunderstandings, betrayals, losses, and our own frailties. Did I mention people? Let me say it again: people. Ah, that felt good. I mean, really, don't some folks just jitterbug all over your last nerve? They're so good at it that it makes one wonder if it's their gift.
Insecurity is in everyone's DNA ever since the apple scandal in Genesis that resulted in the garden's gates swinging closed tight. There went paradise ... for now.
Speaking of paradise lost, where is your "garden" today? Not the one with silver bells and little maids all in a row, but the place, room, corner of your universe where you feel safe and secure ... or at least a little more secure? I need spaces where I can read, pray, and write. Even if it's a designated chair or a porch swing, I need somewhere to go again and again to become still. Quiet reflection gives me a place to untie some of the knots, not only in my wad of rubber bands but also in my neck, back, and shoulders. And it gives me some time to recover from life's demands.
Today I have a couple of "hiding places." Oh, they're visible, but I've designated them in my own mind as my places of refuge with the Lord. One is a cozy reading chair with chubby arms (the chair's, not mine), poochie pillows (the chair's, not mine), and a reading lamp. Other times I convince Les he needs to go to Home Depot (a suggestion he relishes), and then I make the first floor of our home my walking, talking sanctuary. I pace from room to room talking aloud to the Lord. It's very helpful.
Besides having physical spots that I burrow into, I also have a place in my mind I can scamper to when the need arises. Years ago I was challenged to close my eyes and imagine a mental space where I could sit and talk to Jesus. I was told I could make it a garden, a seaside, a mountaintop, or anywhere that felt safe and private. I chose a living room with high-backed, overstuffed chairs in front of a fireplace, and nearby were open French doors that emptied onto a terrace filled with flowers. When I felt insecure, even if I wasn't home, I could close my eyes and go to that place to gain my bearings.
Okay, now you try it. Close your eyes and create a space, and then the next time you're trapped in, say, a checkout line, have a little mental tea with the Savior.
I confess, though, that I often sabotage my best intentions to be still and take care of my emotional self. Quite frankly, sometimes I'm the snake in my own garden. You wouldn't believe all the excuses I can hiss when I have a book deadline. Instead of writing, I feel compelled to single-handedly construct an addition onto my home, shingle my roof, or join a traveling clogging troop. Then, added to the urge to do something radical like dust, I feel my insecurities rise up within me.
I believe we can add to or subtract from our sense of worth by the choices we make. Isn't our insecurity all about a leak in the dam of our self-worth? Pause and think about it.
It's downright scary to be handed an accurate picture of ourselves, physical or verbal, yet those moments reveal who we are and how we feel about ourselves. And the revelations can help us finally nestle into Christ's acceptance.
I recently went to a doctor who specialized in skin. The darling, young, unwrinkled aesthetician looked at me and said, "Let's just be honest: have you considered a face lift?" I told her she would need to do a body lift if she wanted to straighten my many folds. Actually, I went in hoping for a good face cream that wouldn't cause my skin to break out, but she wanted to raze the building and start over. Bless her unblemished heart; she was fearless in her willingness to tackle any size project. We settled on a sun-blocking face cream.
Here's what's truly amazing: Christ loves us, double chins, smudged hearts, blemished minds, and all.
Have you ever looked at a photograph of yourself and asked someone, in an incredulous tone, "Do I really look like this?" Additionally stunning is the answer, as one such soul replied recently to me, "Pretty much."
It's not the way we had thought we looked or even wanted to because we're certain we appear, well, you know, cuter, thinner, and younger. Why, I've seen photos that made me look exceedingly, uh, antique. Imagine that! I'd like to think of that as trick photography, but as a friend quipped recently, "Yeah, the trick's on us."
Gloria, a friend of mine, attended her school reunion. A former classmate approached her and said, "Boy, you sure let yourself go." How rude was that? The caustic remark robbed Gloria of the event's joy, but it also lit a fire under her motivation. Somewhere deep inside her, instead of unraveling, she committed to losing the weight that gradually had increased over the years. Within seven months of hard work and discipline, she was the smallest she had been since her school days. Gloria looked smashing.
I don't applaud the rude former classmate, but I do celebrate my friend, who had the maturity and courage not to make that exchange about someone else's bad manners. Instead she looked at what was true, and then did something about it. It's easy, when we feel insulted, to indulge our insecurities by making comments about the other person's poor social skills.
See if you've ever said these things to yourself about a person who has been critical of you:
"She is just insensitive."
"He is so judgmental."
"She doesn't understand how hard I've tried."
"Besides, who is he to talk?"
While all that deflection may be accurate about our accusers, the important question is, "Is what they said true?" If it is, what are we willing to do to change?
Let's say we truly have tried to change. Then the question becomes, "Are we willing to try again?"
The dictionary defines insecurity three ways: 1. subject to fears and doubts; 2. not safe; 3. not firmly placed or fastened.
Being a former agoraphobic, I should have earned a degree in fear, because by the time I became housebound during my twenties, I had stockpiled an eighteen-wheeler full of knotted rubber bands. I could have started my own elastic company.
I worked hard to step into the freedom I experience today, but that doesn't mean I don't have moments when I am "subject to fears and doubts." For instance, my heart always beats faster before I step onto the stage in an arena in front of thousands of people. I think, What if I fall? What if I forget what I wanted to say? What if the audience doesn't like me?
What if ... What if ... What if ...
We can drive ourselves bonkers with that kind of "insecurity kindling," which only keeps our insecurity sparking.
The truth be told, I've fallen onstage more than once (the last time it was in front of sixteen thousand people, I might add), and do you know what happened? I got up again.
My young friend Lori, new to speaking from a platform, recently fell on her way onto the stage, bounced back onto her feet, made the announcements, and sat down. After a moment she leaned over to the stage manager and asked, "Did I dream it, or did I just fall in front of an arena full of people?"
"Sorry, it wasn't a dream," the messenger whispered. And you know what Lori did? She marched back up on the stage over and over again all weekend and did so with dignity, grace, and humor.
I'm sorry to confess that I've forgotten what I wanted to say onstage more times than I want to admit. Do you know what happened? I just said something anyway.
And there have been times I've bombed, and do you know what happened? I forgave myself and tried again.
We are far more resilient than we realize. That's part of Albert Camus's "invincible summer" when he says, "In the midst of winter, I finally learned there was in me, an invincible summer."
We shouldn't be jarred during an emotional blast of winter to find that, when we experience an emotion, it's tied to other emotions. For instance, insecurity can be directly affected by shivering shame, which we will chat about in another chapter. So don't be surprised if you get two for the price of one during hard times. I've found that, when insecurity tugs on my shirttail, shame is close by.
At first glance shy people seem to have cornered the market on insecurity, but it just isn't so. Their reticent manner may give them away more quickly, but we all have a dandy case of insecurity.
I think the hardest people to help with insecurity are those who appear headstrong and capable. You can be highly visible, quite capable, even impressively successful, and yet feel deeply insecure.
Sometimes old messages die hard, and if you came out of, say, verbal abuse, working harder and achieving more aren't going to silence the voices. Nor is withholding yourself from public scrutiny. Because we are human, we usually go to extremes to shake off background chatter from our past, but that seldom brings resolution.
Verbal abuse has a long shelf life. I think we have all heard the worst forms of word slinging-perhaps in a grocery store, a relative's home, or even from a friend. But less obvious forms of verbal abuse can affect the hearer as well.
Twelve days after I turned twenty years old, I delivered my first child. As thrilling as that was, I was neither emotionally healthy nor mature enough to handle motherhood. I was full of fears, anger, shame, and insecurities.
Even though our desire is to give our children a rich heritage, we give them what we have and what we have known. They become the recipients of our best, though faulty, efforts.
After my firstborn became an adult, he confronted me about some hurtful words I had spoken to him as a child. He told me that I had often called him "stupid." I was stunned. No way! I wouldn't do that. I don't talk that way, especially to a child.
My husband jumped in to protect me, saying he never remembered my speaking that way. But our son wasn't being cruel, just honest. Honesty can feel crushing, but when faced, it can bring about emotional resolution. Hours later, as I thought back, I remembered that at times I did react inappropriately. When my son was doing something silly, I might say in frustration, "Don't be stupid," "Now that was stupid," or "What a stupid thing that was."
We talked about those old exchanges, and I pointed out that I never said my son was stupid but that what he was doing was troublesome to an inexperienced mommy. He agreed and then added, "All I heard was 'stupid.'" And that, my friend, is what matters-what he heard. Words cut deep trenches into young hearts.
I was so sad to think that I had hurt him and marred his self-esteem. I'm the mom, and I was supposed to protect my boy from others who might say mean things. My son forgave me, but forgiving myself took much longer.
My reactionary words to my dear son were about me, not him. Words are powerful and can feel indelible. And because we have so many words, before our days are done we will hurt others. I promise you that none of us, regardless of our desire or our discipline, will slip through this life without word regrets-what we shouldn't have said and what was never said that should have been spoken.
I encourage you to ask forgiveness of those you have slung words at, possibly bruising their sense of value. You can't erase what you said, but you can clear the static in your relationship. And if you've held back something that you know you should have uttered, run to them and say it.
Then you'll need to visit your "garden" for a talk with Jesus about the difficult task of forgiving yourself. If you're like me, you'll have to make repeated visits because I keep forgetting that forgiveness is a done deal.
We have every reason to be insecure, except that Jesus gave his life for us emotional ragamuffins. He came to give us a new self-concept based on his acceptance, which is vast. Christ sees us, knows us, and-get this-loves us.
So I invite Christ into my sitting room near the fireplace. The smell of lilacs wafts in from the terrace, and I see the last sparks playing in the fire that took the chill off the morning air. I tell Jesus of my failure, but he already knows. Before I can finish asking him to forgive me, I can tell he already has. I feel the dark smudges on my heart disappear.
Find your summer place. Talk to Jesus. He is the only invincible one who can rescue us from ourselves and heal us of our insecurities.
Excerpted from I Second That Emotion by Patsy Clairmont Copyright © 2008 by Patsy Clairmont. Excerpted by permission.
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