Friday, May 29, 2009

Earning My Stripes

Sometimes loving someone does not take much effort, it simply flows from the deepest place in our soul, effortlessly enfolding it's object with tenderness, good will, and joy. When my wife is smiling, talking, and marveling at my insights and sense of humor (not to mention my strength), all the while watching Star Trek TNG with me, it is no heroic task to "love" her.
When she reminds me I havn't fixed the bathroom, the trash is piling up in the laundry room, and that I'm wasting too much time on video games...that's when I earn my stripes in this love battle.
The same is true for my daughter -- though I have only begun to appreciate this reality. My love for her is so complete at times, it causes my heart to swell. At others, I suddenly find myself wondering just what I've done wrong -- as if I have somehow broken her and created a difficult to like monster.

When she is stubborn, I find myself frustrated with her willfulness.
When she is sullen, I find myself angry with her selfishness.
When she complains, I want to tell her what she is taking for granted.
When she pouts, I want to withdraw (and I do), but it claws at me.

It is during those times and others that this Daddy earns his stripes. It is then that I have opportunity to really understand who she is, the chance to teach and mold her, the responsibility to correct her.

This weekend at Scarborough Faire was one example -- we arrived and were all ready to start the day when our little princess became little gloomy Gretchen (Guss's sister). Immediately I was ticked! Here we were, spending all this money, traveling all this way, ready to have fun, yadda yadda yadda, and she's going to start complaining and stop smiling?!

I exercised supreme patience for some time and finally pulled her aside and sounded REALLY intelligent..."Dora, we can leave here right now if you don't change your attitude." She looked at me with honest eyes and said something truly intelligent and insightful:
"Daddy, I'm okay, I promise...I'm just not used to all these people."

And that's when Mr. Psychology realized what I should have realized before it started, she was nervous, just like her Daddy gets when he is around large groups, or even small groups of people. Her behavior was symptomatic, not characterological. What a joy and priviledge to gain that insight in that moment. I immediately understood her mood change -- and could be who she needed me to be for her.

I recognize my difficulty to "love" those I LOVE spawns from my taking their "misbehavior" personally. My wife comments on the bathroom being unfinished and I experience an unintentional blow to the gut which says "Can't you do anything around here?" My daughter pouts and whines when I think she should be happy and I experinece an unintentional slap to the face which says "You failed to make me a happy, optimistic child."

It's hard to love someone while you feel the need to defend yourself from them. But it's all an illusion. Social psychologists call it the Fundamental Attribution Error: When someone is rude to us, we tend to attribute it to a character flaw rather than a passing situational circumstance. Thinking "He's a real ....jerk..." when someone cuts us off rather than, "Wonder why he's in such a hurry." for example.

I know my wife's character. I know my daughter's heart and soul. Why does my brain so easily assume these qualities that are imbedded within them are transient when I know full well that, when I'm having a bad day, I'm going to get over it and go back to being my lovable old self? I afford myself unconditional love and acceptance, why is it so difficult to offer it to those I love?

Selfish, self-serving interest...imagining my stake in their behavior and feeling the need to change it for myself leads to anger and resentment and thus, defensive posturing on my part.

Loving concern for their own wellbeing leads to something else however. When I see my daughter misbehaving and can remove thoughts of it being a reflection on me, then I remain open to her. I have no resentment, only compassionate concern for her current and future wellbeing.

Again and again and again life hands me my hat and reminds me that it's NOT about me. God help me to take myself out of the equation and be there to serve, and not be served.

And thank you God for not taking my sins personally.

Unconditional love - awesome. How freeing to know that when God looks at me, he sees me as I see my daughter: full of potential, a jewel, an "Heir to the throne." In my finer moments as a father, I look at my daughter when she stumbles into a whine or a pout and think (or say) "Honey, you don't need to ruin your time with that...let's think about something happy and good."

I want her to find peace. I want her to soar and experience all that her life has to offer. I want to give her everything I can to make that happen...and I hurt for her when, because of inexperience or lack of understanding, she falters...and I hold on tighter, letting her know I'm there, and I love her, and I believe in her.

In those moments, I get a glimps into where God's mind is all the time. If THAT's how He sees us - If that's how He loves us, what else do we want? What else do we need? The God of the universe doesn't take our sins personally...He knows where they come from, and He knows what we need to correct them, and He died to free us from the ultimate consequences. He suffered the true stripes, so I wouldn't have to.


  1. Even though you know I always glaze over when the G-word comes up, you are one insightful mutha, you know that? Smart too.

    Well, at least I got the looks. :P

  2. Too true, too true, you bald beauty you.

    Thanks for the feedback! I know we view this world through different lenses...maybe together we manage 3D.