Tag Archives: self

95. Analytical (Empathy, Lent 36)

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I am terribly logical and analytical. One of my best subjects at uni was key criticism. I can pick a hole in an argument from a hundred yards away. I played Mr Spock in our sixth form review. But I know that it can seem annoyingly pedantic to others. I sometimes catch myself correcting people (this often annoys me more than it annoys them – I cringe). Or I explain why what they are saying is based on a false premise, and get that look, or that Facebook response. You know. I can be the class boffin. And yes, this is related to the intelligence I bared my soul to you about yesterday. But maybe my self-compassion here is warranted too, because there is a lot of ragged, lazy thinking out there, and so I hope these skills are useful, especially in Christian circles, where proof-texting and shoddy logic is rife. Fortunately, my logic is not cold, and sits very happily with my figurative, story-telling side. I love using both in my reading of Scripture. Realising how well those two parts of myself team up, I’m really pleased I decided to have empathy with myself on this character trait now. I had started to wonder, in this opinion-driven age, if it were an anachronism. I feel better now. Thanks.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

94. Intelligence (Empathy, Lent 35)

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I’ve always been very bright. It has, at times, been a quality that has made me feel very visible, or even odd, and certainly frustrated. I struggled to understand why other people couldn’t grasp what I was saying, was horribly bored at school, and found myself trying to think of shorter words for things (especially with boyfriends, who did not seem to like my brains very much).

Although it is a wonderful thing to have, it also made me seem older than I was and people would assume I was emotionally mature as well as intellectually clever, when actually this was not the case. And just because I was clever didn’t mean I was practical. I could write a great essay on physics, but fail to get the back off a plug.* Perhaps the worst thing of all was that cleverness became the one thing I could rely on, my one gift, the source of any and all pride. So when after university I got terribly ill and succumbed to brain fog, barely able to put two words together, unable to read or decipher signs, I struggled with my identity. Who was this daft, slow, mixed up aphasic? Well, she was me too.

And when I began to recover my clarity for short periods, and then God presented me with the task of writing, what should I begin to lean on again but my intelligence? It was bound to happen, and having had to live without it for so long I wasn’t going to give it up very easily. And yet, that is exactly what God asked me to do. I had to give him my one specialty. He didn’t want, it seemed, for me to write plots with more smarts than Billy, or to dream of the Booker Prize. He wanted me to write from the heart. I remember a prayer time vividly, where I had to hand my brains over. I metaphorically watched them crack off from me, the way ice falls from a glacier, and saw them drift off on a flow of water.

And because I did that, because I gave them up and let them go like he’d asked me too, he returned them to me. But just as it is when we give him our hearts, and they return renewed, so my intelligence seemed changed. It had an entirely new focus and character. It was like my cleverness was not about me anymore. Not about making me look good, or feel superior, or special, nor any of the things it had, perhaps understandably, meant to me before. Now it was like my mind was living for God as well as my heart. I feel much happier, more integrated about this. When I use my intelligence now, it is to aid my readers understand my meaning. If I use a big word, it’s because (and only because) it is the right word to use.

I look compassionately on my school girl self, desperate for praise and trying to scramble to stay at the top of the heap in something (Lord knows it was never going to be P.E.) with her big brains that didn’t know what to do with her or where to take her. She was only doing what the world told her she should. And the me of now can have compassion on my current self as well, especially when I am misunderstood, or folk think I am being wordy or precious. It’s okay to use my God-given brain, and it’s especially okay to use that God-given, given-back-to-God, God-re-given brain, for the things he had planned all along.

* This endearing (to others) and infuriating (to me) trait continues. I just had to ask my (also very bright) husband to help me take a new camera case off its cardboard mount. Failure took me ten minutes, success for him, five seconds.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 temporary photo copyright Oliver Postgate/BBC

50: Idolising

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King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,a and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” Daniel 3:1 NIV

The culture of celebrity is a huge deal these days, but at least none of the walking egos that deign to grace our tv screens and magazines have gone to quite the lengths of King Nebuchadnezzar to persuade people to worship him. I’m sure there are some celebrity “personalities” who would like to have a 90-foot statue of themselves built out of pure gold, but fortunately none of them have gone that far just yet. Give it time and one of them will.

The scripture itself doesn’t specify that the statue is of the King himself, only that he sets it up and requires its worship, so it may in actual fact have been a statue of one of the Babylonian gods. But for our purposes let’s imagine it was of Nebuchadnezzar. Was this pure ego, or was it a canny way to discover those amongst his people who would not fall down and worship at his say so? Was it a way of controlling the populace? State religions have always had that dubious honour.

What might that do to a person’s spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health, to be literally idolized in this fashion? I truly dread to think. And yet, we all do this to some extent. I mock the famous people I think are egotistical above, knowing full well I am no better than they. What right do I have to set myself up as judge over their behaviour? All measuring and judging comes from a place of smugness, or self-righteousness, or of a desperation to imagine ourselves better than someone else so that we can proclaim ourselves worthy or entitled. This is how the ego defends itself. And if the world tells you that you are right, by making you a king or an heiress or a billionaire, if the world watches your every move and records your image constantly, then this may well feed your grasping ego to the point where it nears bursting with pride, and where it feels completely natural and right to feel superior.

Religion can have similar effects. We only have to look at the Pharisees to see that. And there is an ugly kind of salvation smugness that believes itself now so incapable of sinning that it happily looks down its long nose at everyone else’s moral behaviour, and usually through a microscope. Let us never forget then, not even long enough to write a scathing opening paragraph, that we are each a child of God, beloved beyond ideas of merit, and that each life and path is so different that it is impossible and ill-advised to fall into any comparison. As soon as we do that, we start building that golden statue in the coldness of our hearts.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay of a golden statue of Buddha in Urumqi, China, not disparaging Buddhism, just wanted a picture that shows the scale of a large gold statue and surprisingly there aren’t that many about. J

21: Woe is Me!

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Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.” Micah 7:1 ESV

Are you waiting for something, searching for something, unable to find it? Have you been praying for relief and none comes, that elusive hope dulled and despair taking its place? What a perfect description of such despair this verse in Micah is! All the good grapes are gone and the poor have been in to take the leavings, so that as you arrive there is not one left. As you come along hunting for that one good thing, there is nothing. Everyone else, it seems, has had what you wanted and there is none left for you.

This is how we feel when we are poor, and those around us are buying new things and having holidays. This is how we feel when everyone else has a job and we have been unemployed for a long time; unwanted and marked out for misery. This is how we feel when all our college friends seem to have their next steps and careers all worked out and we are drifting in a fog of unknowing. This is how we feel when a friend is having her fourth child and none came along for us, and we feel this despite our joy for them. It is not jealousy, but it is like we are the opposite of special. Like we and all our hopes have been cast off into the dust, and not one of the things we were hoping for have shown up.

Unkind people will call such feelings a “pity party”, and tell us to “pull our socks up” and that we have “first world problems”, or that there are “plenty of people worse off” than we are. Oh, how I loathe those phrases! Sometimes, especially with good reason or when we are low or suffering from depression, it is good and healthy and okay to say, “Woe is me!” The Psalms are absolutely full of such honesty. God values it and hears us and he does not tell us to shut up and count our blessings or pull ourselves together. He is all compassion and understanding. At such times I am sure he longs to gather us to himself “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,” (Matthew 23:37 partial, NIV).

Here’s a little thing I have learned over some difficult decades: suffering is personal. It is not relative. It cannot be compared. My pain is my pain and yours is yours. There is no measuring stick. You feel what you feel. And today the love of my life is incredibly down and he is hurting, and nothing I can do can make it better, and our finances just got dealt another unkind blow, and so I say, “Woe is me!” and it’s okay. Such outbursts need to be short-lived of course, else they can fester and lead to self-pity, with manifestations across the spectrum of pride, from entitlement to self-loathing.   But self-compassion, cried out and genuine, can be related to as good emotional sense and spiritual honesty, leading us back to our own helplessness and to the feet of the source of all true help. And God hears, and he hurts with us, and his company is good to have at such a time.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com