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.
The little boy puffed his chest out and drew up to his full 49 inches in stature. Today was the day. Nothing would stop him from conquering The Beast. He considered the idea of climbing this 30-foot wall before, but passed on it. He kept promising himself he would do it someday. At last, someday had arrived.
He strapped into his safety harness and tugged on the attached emergency line to test its strength. Before he began, I warned him not to look up or down as he climbed, but to stare straight ahead at the next hand hold on his path of progress. He nodded his head, slapped me a high-five, and fixed his icy blue eyes on the coarse, abstractly-shaped wall. With no hesitation, he began his attack.
He shot up that wall so fast I couldn’t get a good photograph of him. Notch after notch, handle after handle he climbed, never pausing to consider how high in the air he was or what it would take to get down. He was about a foot from the very top when I made a serious mistake. I began cheering for him, which caused him to break eye contact with the wall. As he swung his head around to look at me, his eyes dipped straight to the ground as though an irresistible magnet were pulling them down. The moment he saw how high he was, he panicked.
“Come on, Zach, you’re almost there!” I shouted. “You can do it, buddy!”
From 25 feet beneath the soles of his shoes, I could see his thin body tense and begin to tremble. He had two handholds clutched in a white-knuckle grip, and one slipped as his palms filled with sweat. He cried out to me in a shrill panic that turned my blood cold. I knew he was safe in his harness, but he didn’t know that and he began to cry.
“Let go and slide down, Zach!” I encouraged. “Nothing will happen to you, son. Your harness will keep you safe!”
He began to cry louder. He was completely frozen with fear and unable to move. I knew he wasn’t coming down with me standing there telling him to. I had to take action.
I was wearing flip-flops that day, but I knew I had to get up there somehow to bring him down. I kicked them off, strapped to a second safety harness, and began climbing that wall barefooted. I ignored the pain in my feet and scampered up that wall as fast as my limbs would carry me. My child was in trouble. All I cared about in that moment was getting to him.
I pulled up next to him on the wall and when he saw my face, he began crying harder. I tried to soothe him and reason with him, but he was too far into his own head to hear me from where I was. I began shimmying sideways to draw closer to him.
“Son, I cannot take you down this thing myself,” I said. “You have to let go and slide down.”
“I can’t!” he wailed through his loud sobs. “I can’t let go! It’ll hurt me if I do!”
I realized in that moment that he was holding on to that wall because he believed he had no other option. He was afraid of letting go because he thought it would be the end of him.
I put my arm around him, leaned in to his ear, and whispered, “My son, I would never do anything to hurt you. You are safe with me here and the equipment I gave you for this experience. Please trust me and just let go. I promise you with all that I am that you will not die. This experience will only make you stronger.”
His crying subsided at these words. He fixed his eyes on mine, relaxed his body, and pushed off the wall. My beloved son trusted my words and let go. He slid harmlessly to the ground, unsnapped his harness and stepped out, and threw his arms around me.
“Thank you for trusting me,” I said.
“Thank you for being there to protect me, Daddy.”
Sometimes, letting go is all you can do.
Frank Vaughn is a regional Emmy Award- and AP Media Editors Award-winning writer and columnist who loves to describe his view of the world from the cheap seats. A 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Frank has traveled the world and experienced many different cultures. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. and the Defense Information School at Fort George G. Meade, Md., where he received training in journalism and public relations.