As I approach my 42nd birthday in a couple of weeks, I realize that I have been living a lie about relationships for most of those years. No, it isn’t the lie that I need anyone to feel fulfilled. In fact, I’m no longer convinced that IS a lie, actually. Hear me out, please.
Before I dive head-first into this topic, a quick disclaimer: I wrote about codependency in a previous column which, without a careful reading of that column, may seem to the casual reader like I am about to contradict what I said there. However, I was careful to point out in that piece that I am not an advocate of necessarily ending relationships just to cure codependency. My contention was that an ADDICTION to particular relationships is unhealthy, not the relationships themselves. Got it? Ok. Let’s get cracking.
I have been shamed for many years for feeling like I need someone in my life in order to feel complete. Most of this shaming, by the way, has come from counselors and “relationship professionals” (including ministers) who believe that we should only need ourselves and/or God to feel complete. That made so much sense to me for so long that I began preaching that message myself, but I have to tell you that it dawned on me recently that I was missing something in that narrative that I couldn’t quite identify.
Yes, we should learn to love ourselves and accept ourselves and forgive ourselves for the mistakes we have made. I won’t argue that point, but I will argue that we should not do all of that to the complete exclusion of others. After really thinking through this, I don’t believe that only needing yourself and God is even Biblical.
The Bible records that Adam was the only human on earth at the point of Genesis 2:18. No other human had ever existed, so Adam presumably wasn’t even aware that he had need of someone else to share his life with. God saw the need, however, and decided to address it. If you accept the Biblical account of creation, then you have to assume that God created man to be a relational creature. If you accept that God created us to be relational creatures, how does it then follow that we should NEVER need someone else to make us feel complete? How can we be complete without the full realization of God’s design for our lives — for our very existence?
Point number one of this column is that I will never be shamed or ASHAMED again for desiring relationships with other human beings. For feeling fulfilled with good ones and unfulfilled by bad ones.
I am miserable at this point in my life, and that’s something I refuse to lie about or gloss over or outright hide anymore, ok? I am NOT miserable, however, because I’ve sought relationships with people when I should have been only finding myself and living one-on-one with God and no one else. I am miserable because my need for relationships was so overwhelming that it crowded out my better judgment about WHICH relationships to accept.
Simply put, God created me with a need for relationships and that is not something I can merely train myself to ignore or shame myself out of seeking because Pop Psychology says I shouldn’t. What I must do, however, is recognize that this need can drag me into some really bad decisions (and most certainly has). Our inner hungers need to be fed, but in a healthy way — not from the scraps that someone decides to toss our way just to amuse themselves.
As I fully recognize that I need others in my life — and to be accepted in their lives as well — I need to lay a few ground rules for myself that hopefully will change the way I go about this and make for a more fulfilling second half of my existence.
- Set boundaries to protect myself. ME TIME is important too, and I have lost sight of that along the way. If I ever want to be a good friend and be able to accept good friendship from others, I really do have to have a pretty good grip on myself and my life.
- Be available for others in a truly GIVING way. It is so easy to seek out friendships that only meet our needs. I must recognize the ways in which I can enhance the lives of others and not be afraid to invest in them.
- Refuse to accept less than I am giving. I must stop accepting people who only take and have little or no regard for returning the friendship they have received from me. No more one-way streets. No more being used and discarded.
Point number two: I believe it is important to relate to others and allow them to relate to you, and I don’t believe it’s wrong to expect any relationship to be a two-way street.
Don’t allow anyone to dictate all the terms of your relationship with them. You will only experience a relational deficit that defeats the purpose of inner harmony. It is okay to expect friendship to be reciprocal, and it is okay to do something about it if it isn’t.
Bottom line? I need people in my life. I need to be in theirs. What I do NOT need is anyone who is willing to accept all I have to offer, yet marginalize me and then shame me for being disappointed in them.
I need relationships. What I don’t need is dictatorships.
“Hey Uncle. Can I ask you for some advice?”
The Facebook instant message popped on my phone and when I saw that it was my nephew, I was surprised. We don’t really talk that often outside of one or two annual family things, and by “that often” I basically mean never. I quickly answered — I always do anytime someone messages me — and though I was being sought for advice, I came away from this conversation having learned something myself.
He wanted to know how to become a professional musician. He is quite good at several instruments and has developed a real passion for music, so he has decided he wants to pursue it as a career. I am, uh, NOT a musician, so I wondered why he would reach out to me.
“I know you are a writer and I was wondering if you could tell me how to get started,” he began. “This is really what I want to do with my life.”
I was just about to type out a brief note to him about how this isn’t my area of expertise when it hit me. OK, so I don’t know anything about music, right? I mean, the only instrument I have ever played was the radio. But I *do* know something about chasing dreams. As I began typing, I was surprised at how easily the advice came.
The first thing I told him is that no one will likely pay much for a vague idea or for talent at playing something that they’ve already heard.
“Michael, I know you play in a band outside of school and that you have caught a passion for that,” I said. “But there are thousands of cover bands all over the place, all trying to get noticed for playing something they heard on the radio. If you want to get noticed, you need to write your own music. Have you done that?”
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he has been writing songs for a while and had as much of a passion for that as he did for playing. He understands that he has to grind and put in the work if he wants to chase his dream. Putting in the work is a good way to succeed, but it can also be a good way to learn from failure.
I wanted to be a professional basketball player when I was growing up, and I put in hours and hours and hours of work to achieve that goal…only to top out at high school junior varsity before my career was over. I learned from grinding and putting in work that even though it was my dream, it was not my future. Which led to lesson number two for my young Padawan.
“I also advise you to have a backup plan,” I continued. “Dreams don’t pay the bills — especially while you’re chasing them. If you make it, then you have a character-building experience of having to really push to support yourself while also learning your musical craft. If you don’t, then you at least have a skill or trade that you can fall back on.”
Again, I expected him to balk — teenager, remember? — but he didn’t. He understands that chasing a dream doesn’t guarantee you’ll catch it, and that he has to balance his life between that pursuit and common-sense living.
The last piece of advice that I had for him really hit home for both of us. I told him that no matter what he does, he needs to do it for the right reasons.
“Michael, don’t chase music, don’t write music, don’t play music just to get paid or become famous,” I said. “Do it because you love it and because you have something to say. If you have pure motives in chasing this dream, the rewards will come. Those rewards may not be money, airplay or girls, but they might just be a sense of pride that you created something that speaks to who you truly are. If you really consider yourself an artist, then create art.”
May we all chase our dreams because we love what we do. What can be more fulfilling than that?
Frank Vaughn is a regional Emmy Award- and Associated Press Media Editors Award-winning journalist. His first book, “0.4 to Graduation: How to Finish College in 17 Years or Less” is slated for release in Spring 2018. You can connect with Frank at his Facebook page and on Twitter.
I have served in the U.S. Army for the past 22 years, and in that time I have deployed to Iraq twice and mobilized to Louisiana in support of relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I am used to saying goodbye to loved ones and getting on a plane to go do stuff for my country. I am saying goodbye again this week, only this time I’m not the one leaving.
We are still at war. We have soldiers deployed all over the world for various reasons, the most auspicious of which is the ongoing effort to defeat global terror. Our troops have been in Afghanistan for the last 15-plus years. We were in Iraq from 2003-11, but then left, only to return. There are many other places in this world our troops continue to serve in, including the place my wife is leaving for as you read this.
We attended a Yellow Ribbon Program event this past weekend, which provides soldiers and family members all the information needed to cope with difficulties of extended separation and deployment. The Army hosted the event at a hotel in our region, and all of the deploying soldiers wore their Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs) while being accompanied by their spouses and children during the weekend of briefings. For the first time in my career, I was sitting in a room full of soldiers who were preparing to go do their thing in an operational environment, yet I was wearing khakis and a polo shirt.
I know the operational side of these things. You show up when you’re supposed to show up, you make sure you’re in the right uniform and that you have all of your gear ready to go, and you train for the environment and the mission that you are moving to. As a senior noncommissioned officer, I usually have the added responsibility of making sure the soldiers in my charge do all of the above and that they don’t get into trouble. I try to foster an environment that makes me accessible to them when they have emotional reactions to the separation from family and the fears about the job ahead. Yes, even the world’s most well-trained and battle-hardened warriors experience these emotions.
This time I could only sit helplessly and watch the range of emotions scroll across my wife’s face as each briefing passed this weekend and the seconds ticked away until she says goodbye to me and our children. I was sad, fearful and, honestly, a little mad even though I’ve done the same thing several times.
Mostly, though, I was proud of the strength and dignity that she has shown through this whole process. How hard she has worked to take care of her troops and get them prepared for what lies ahead. How they come to her with respect and depend on her to lead them.
When I returned home from the initial combat phase of Iraq in spring 2004, I was overwhelmed with expressions of gratitude for my service. My uncle gave me this huge speech about how he was treated when he returned from Vietnam and how he was actually grateful that we were being treated very differently.
I will admit that at times it got a little embarrassing, but after a while (and that stern speech from Uncle George) it became easier to appreciate the Thank Yous and Atta Boys that never seemed to stop.
Our troops certainly deserve our appreciation for all they do to serve our country and defend both it and our way of life. I have that perspective locked in firmly after all the trips I have had to take in this uniform.
However, this time I am gaining a whole new perspective on the sacrifice our nation calls on its citizens to make, because this time I am experiencing what this means to the families of the service members who have to go away to do their jobs.
If you make a point of thanking our troops for all that they do, please also remember the spouses and children who are sacrificing during that same time. If you see a service member out with his or her spouse, please remember to thank both of them for all they do.
It is easy to identify the heroes who wear combat boots. Please don’t forget the ones who don’t.
I served in various churches as a youth minister for a number of years before surrendering to full-time ministry in the military. I learned many lessons through that journey — probably more than I ever taught to the scores of teenagers who passed through my doors. Of all the lessons I learned, though, one of the most vital was eating.
I cut my teeth in youth ministry at a smallish church in my hometown. We had around 15 kids in the youth group when I arrived, but they were committed and came to church with their families. Because the church was so family-connected, they held monthly potluck meals after Sunday service. It wasn’t a ministry gimmick, either. These people really loved and desired each other’s company and this seemed like the best way to facilitate that. Also, the food was good. Just … SO good.
Because I was a staff minister there, I took the attitude that all of the members should eat first. I would alternate between working in the kitchen — whether preparing food or washing dishes — and helping to serve the food. When everyone was seated, I worked the room, greeting people, making sure they had everything they needed, sharing a joke or a smile. You know … ministry.
These potluck lunches would last for at least a couple of hours, as people would eat, laugh, socialize and just generally enjoy the experience together. The pastor would share a brief word of encouragement to make it an official church gathering, and the kids would play outside while the grownups sipped coffee with their desserts. Once the program wrapped up and all the food was eaten, the cleanup phase began.
Our church was in a tiny Quonset hut on the modest church property. The church broke ground on a new worship center adjacent to the hut shortly after I got there, but a year later the ground was still broken and no nails had been driven. Since it was one of only three structures our church owned back then—the other two being a parsonage that sat empty and an office space up the road — we had to both worship there and hold the potluck socials. We turned the worship center into a fellowship hall, ate an expansive meal, then turned it back into a worship center for the evening service before going home for a couple of hours to sleep off the meats, veggies and desserts.
One Sunday, after a very well-stocked potluck meal that took hours to set up, feast on and recover from, I stumbled in the front door of my house, which sat around the corner from the church. I fell into my recliner, looked up at the ceiling, and immediately heard a strange noise. This low rumble started inconspicuously, but very quickly grew to a loud roar in my ears. It wasn’t thunder outside — it was my stomach.
My wife walked in the room from somewhere in the back of the house and saw the look on my face and asked what was wrong. I sat up, cleared my throat and asked her what we had in the refrigerator to eat.
“You have to be kidding me,” she said. “Dude. We just came from the biggest potluck I have ever seen in my life. How is it even possible that you’re hungry right now?!”
I realized something that day that has impacted me ever since. I was so busy taking care of everyone’s needs and making sure everyone was enjoying themselves and each other that I just plain forgot to eat. At a potluck lunch. A very large potluck lunch, at that.
I learned that day that we can spend every ounce of energy we have taking care of other people, whether it be family, friends, co-workers, strangers, or whatever, but we must invest in ourselves too if we want to be effective.
I encourage you to think about what it is that gives you the drive to be successful in your life. Think about what gives you peace. Think about the things you can do for yourself that will give you the energy and the internal ability to impact the world around you. Do those things.
It is important to invest in those around us — feed them, if you will. Just remember that you must feed yourself as well.
“Your love is yours to give, not mine to demand.”—Anonymous
Human relationships are a tricky — and sometimes dangerous — thing. What we know about them at any point is the result of a journey that started with the earliest relationships of our lives: the ones with our parents.
We all have a life story about growing up in our families: some of us with one parent, some with two, some with more than two. Some grew up with none of the parents that were responsible for their very existence, but we all have had relationships of some sort to this point in our lives.
For me, it has become so easy to develop expectations in relationships after a 41-year résumé of dealing with others in various capacities. The question, though, is whether expectation is fair to the other person and, if so, to what extent? I suppose the answer for me lies in those earliest examples in my life.
I didn’t have a mother for the first nearly eight years of my life. The one I was assigned to at birth exited stage-left very early and our family was reduced to me and my dad. Being an only child in a single-parent household where I was definitely not the only thing my father had to worry about was admittedly a lonely experience. I didn’t know this until later, but not having a female perspective and motherly guidance in the difficulties of the first eight years of my life left a gaping hole in my emotional development that has plagued me ever since.
In later years, I came to realize that I developed expectations in relationships that were designed to fill that hole left by a parent who wasn’t there. I passed on those expectations to unsuspecting visitors who dared orbit around my soul. I was not aware of it at the time, but I now know that that was a hole that could not be filled by anyone else.
Demanding constant attention, companionship, presence and communication took their toll on many people in my life. Friendships were lost, other relationships became total-loss collisions, and even some family sought distance when I was at my worst. Something had to change.
I was at my lowest in 1999 when I finally realized that I did not possess the ability to heal myself. A friend who still loved me not-so-gently suggested I seek counseling for some lingering scar tissue that crippled my soul. I resisted at first, but I came to realize that he was the last remaining ally I had at that point in my life and that my biggest fear of being completely isolated was about to come true if I didn’t do something radical.
The quote above came out of a process of realizing that no one on this earth can make any of us whole. The demands we place on other people to fill the emptiness left in our lives by others do not translate to fulfilling relationships.
In the motion picture “Jerry Maguire,” Tom Cruise famously said to Renee Zellwegger, “You complete me!” This apparently came after a process of realizing that he really did need her in order to feel like he was a worthy human being. This concept makes for a great Hollywood moment, but I submit that it is preposterous and unsustainable in real life.
Think of it like a math problem: relationships are not addition; they are multiplication — 1×1=1, right? But, 0.5×0.5=0.25. When you multiply fractions the resulting answer is actually smaller than the individual parts. In relationships, anyone who shows up as a fraction of an emotionally whole human being and expects someone else to make them whole will only discover that this is impossible.
Quite simply, one-half of a human being, whether they encounter another fractional one or a whole person, can still never be whole. A truly successful relationship must be the product of two whole, stable, adjusted people coming together, not to complete each other, but to complement each other.
I won’t lie; being a whole person just might take a whole lot of work. A ton of soul searching. Baring your soul to a trustworthy person whose role in your life is to help you heal, repent, whatever it takes for you to make it to that place. Just remember, though, that the actual work of healing and becoming whole is yours and yours alone no matter who may be there to support and advise you.
If you are not whole and you are expecting someone else to be what you need, please realize that is likely never going to happen — especially if they are not whole either. Seek the help you need, do the work, and remember: the love and acceptance of others is theirs to give, not yours to demand.