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.
It was 28-3 midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI and the Falcons were feelin’ fine. For some reason, 28 points must have felt like enough to prevent Tom Brady from cashing in his fifth Super Bowl ring and making history. It wasn’t.
The Patriots, long accused of taking shortcuts and skirting rules on the way to success, had something that night that no one — myself included — thought they had. After looking flat and confused for 3½ quarters, they suddenly came alive and caught the Falcons flatfooted. Twenty-five points and the game’s first-ever overtime period later, the Patriots not only had a record fifth Super Bowl title for one quarterback and one coach, they also owned the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. How — why — did this happen?
Put simply, they refused to give up. They refused to roll over and accept the odds that were stacked against them. I read on a very well-reputed sports website that at 20 different points in the game, the Falcons had a 99 percent chance of winning. If my math is correct that means the Patriots had a 1 percent chance of turning that game around and rewriting history.
Sometimes, if you refuse to give up, you may only have a 1 percent chance of succeeding. That alone is enough to make most people give up before they even try. Let me hit you with another statistic though. If you do give up, you now have a 0 percent chance of succeeding. There is no guarantee of success in anything, but the best way to guarantee failure is to not even try. It is easier to put something down than to pick it up — gravity, you know — but sometimes it’s better to hold on to something rather than give up on it.
The Patriots also had the tools to win that game from the start. Whether it was a halftime speech that fired them up or in-game situations that gave them hope, they remembered that they were good enough to do it and they got to work.
There is an old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” They couldn’t score 25 points on one play, so they focused on getting a first down. Then another. Then a touchdown. Their defense focused on one tackle at a time, one play at a time, and the end result was Atlanta scoring no more points that night. As each play unfolded and New England slowly began to arise, the odds began moving in the right direction.
Is your house completely wrecked to the point it seems impossible to clean? Start with something small. Wash a dish. Do a load of laundry. Pick something up and put it where it belongs. Make even the smallest effort to get started and watch the successes add up — however slowly — over time. It may seem impossible, but once you start and you see even the slightest progress, the odds begin to slowly move in the right direction in your mind.
Maybe you are in a difficult relationship that seems impossible to fix. If it is safe to be in it and you know you love that person, then start with something small. Do something nice for them that they were not expecting. Talk to a minister — either together or alone. Go to one counseling session. Apologize if you know you were wrong. Do something to stop the cycle of hurt and disappointment and see if it creates any hope. If it does, then do another. A series of small successes over a period of time can eventually add up to a huge miracle.
Just remember this: 1 percent is something. As long as there is something, you have work to do. Giving up when there is work to be done is the easiest thing anyone can ever do, but it always leads to regret.
If you truly want to turn things around and enjoy the feeling of fulfillment and success, then do the work. Don’t let seemingly impossible odds talk you out of it. Don’t let fear of failure talk you out of it. Just do it. If you do fail, then figure out what you can learn from it, and use that to fight again the next time. Just don’t fail because you didn’t try.
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.