I have said many times that when a person loves another, especially spouses and children, that person has signed a contract of pain. Even the overwhelming joy of love has the sorrow of wistfulness in it. Just remember that fabulous day at the beach years ago, for example. Love has so many ups and downs, insides and outsides, warps and woofs, that one can hardly tolerate its power in us. We are powerless over love. Certainly, no one can control it; anyone who attempts to control it, loses it. For sure, anyone who attempts to control love will limit its wild beauty and potentially destroy its habitat. It is too immense to be controlled and too simple to be improved upon. Love stretches to the stars and opens like a wild bloom of a flower no one planted.
We all wish to have an abundance of gladness in our lives, and we can. We can if we are willing to pay the price of letting go of happiness. Happiness and gladness are not the same things. Happiness depends upon our circumstances, happenstances and happenings of things turning out the way we wish they would. When happenstance differs from what we wish, we have unhappiness. Happiness is controlled by our external circumstances. Gladness, on the other hand, is guided by our hearts, and has in it room for circumstances that don’t turn out painlessly. Gladness has in it room for pain; gladness even comes as a result of our willingness to feel pain.
As an example, when your child grows up and leaves home, if you have relational connection to them, you will feel great sadness about their departure. The days of seeing them daily, talking with them easily, or getting to participate in their lives closely ends. You will have loneliness related to what is gone, and even fear about them going out into the world. You will wonder if you taught them enough, and regret the things you had planned to do that didn’t get done before they left. You may even miss the noise.
You will have a heightened sense of memories that you didn’t notice until they left, and your heart will ache in ways it didn’t the days before they left. And while you will have the great relief of certain chores of relationship ending, you will wish to have some of them back, just to do something so simple one more time. You will miss your child, especially if you got to know them well, no matter how clumsy your efforts in relationship. You will miss your child, while you will also have the great gladness that this growing person is able to leave, can step into the world to walk their path without you.
You will have deep gladness, the kind that has room for tears and fears. You will have the gladness that leaves you grateful to get to watch them be able to walk away, while, at the same time, you might wish to hold them like a child one more time.
Happiness has no room for depths of the heart or being fully alive in a relationship. It turns its face away from gladness because with gladness comes a price of feeling all the other feelings, too. People who have a lot of gladness in their lives are willing to pay the price of what it takes to have it. And people around them are blessed by their willingness. Just ask the child if it is so.
So many of us who are helpful, trustworthy, good citizens, caring friends, spouses, and parents shirk responsibility for ourselves by being expert at minimizing our own internal experience. Minimization of pain is often an expression of pride that grows out of our fear/contempt of needing—whether it comes from the belief that I am weak (I will be rejected for needing), others cannot handle my pain (they are too weak), or they will show no sensitivity to my pain (they don’t really care).
When we minimize our internal experience, we dissociate (“reject association”) from our own true feelings and the care that we need and could have. That dissociation can be “rejection” of celebration or grief. It is not relegated to the “bad” internal experiences. When we “reject association” with our own hearts, we abandon the heart of who we really are and how God created us; we are humans in need of being cared about. And when we hide our hearts, we also express judgment towards the person who would know us; we tell ourselves that they do not really care.
How do we know if we minimize ourselves? How do we know that we deny our human experience as a way to keep a distance from our own true feelings, and the fear of others’ judgment, inadequacy, or apathy?
Below is something to consider: What do you say when someone tells you they are sorry or sad about your condition? Or, for that matter, thrilled about something wonderful in your life? The three reactions below can indicate how we minimize our need to feel the truth about our life’s experiences, and how we minimize our need of others’ care.
Minimization: “It could be worse.”
Truth: Of course, it could be worse, and yet what is the truth about your own heart in your own skin in the only life you are going to live? You are talking about your life, not your life compared to someone else’s life. It is okay to care about your self.
Minimization: “It’s a lot harder on others.”
Truth: You can always find someone who has it harder than you do, and yet that is not your permission to avoid facing and owning your own feelings about what is going on in your own life, in your own skin. It is really okay to know how hard your own life is, and to have help.
Minimization: “It is what it is.”
Truth: An observational statement of obvious reality to avoid the experience of reality is strange—like seeing a jet crash in front of you and saying, “that jet crashed.” The experience of realty—the feelings, needs, desire, longings, hope, imaginings, dreams, plans, values, mistakes, response ability, and courage are some of the characteristics that make up living life in reality. A rock is; a person is alive. Out of having life, we live, and love, and lead lives that can be full of being alive. It is our response ability to care about our selves and others beyond obvious existence.
Pain is pain. You and I live in our own skin. No one can live our lives for us. We take responsibility for our own lives by taking ownership of our own emotional experience of living. We do so by letting ourselves be cared about by people who can speak of their own internal lives. I go to people who know what hurt is when I’m hurt, not to people who avoid the experience of the reality of living.
We take responsibility by being “response-able.” Response-able means being able to speak the truth of human experience. Response ability occurs when we use our brains to articulate the truths of the human heart. We need to communicate to people who have the response ability to wait patiently and step courageously into our lives with us, as someone has done with them. We need to associate fully with our own lives, and join with others who live response ably in their own.
Be brave; catch minimization. Be brave; reject not living. Be brave; have a life of full-hearted participation. Be brave; live fully in your own skin—where your grief will be, as well as your celebration.