The Unnecessary Burden of Manufacturing Our Own Worth

We feel, in our society, a very strong pressure to prove ourselves. To show we are successful. Worth knowing. Accomplished. We define ourselves by our external achievements, and are in turn crushed by our external failures. Is this necessary?

Does our value indeed come solely from what we do? I don’t think so!

But before I explain, let’s consider what kind of world we create when we do think this way. When we determine human worth based on externals, we claim the right to judge others. What’s in their soul doesn’t matter, because it’s all about results. Did they succeed in this job interview? Did they obtain this degree? How much is their salary? Is it more than mine….because if so they must be better than me. 

See the trap we set for ourselves? Not only do we judge others harshly, which is a terrible thing, but we also do the same to ourselves, and risk falling into depression and despair. We feel we are not good enough–that we are failures. Well, you can’t be a failure, you can only be a person, a human being…perhaps one in challenging circumstances, but a human all the same. No one is a failure.

We are not defined by what we do, but who we are

So who are we anyway? We are children of God, called out of all eternity to love and be loved. Each one of us is precious and utterly irreplaceable. We all have unique talents we are called to generously share with the world…and this despite all our weaknesses and mistakes. God made us as we are, fragile and beautiful, so that when we are humble enough to acknowledge the cracks in our hearts, His light can shine through us. 

So when the sirens of the world lure you to the rocky reefs of self-doubt, remember He who made you is perfect, and has a plan for your life more beautiful that you can imagine. It is cooperating with this plan, with all its challenges and opportunities for interior growth, that makes everything worthwhile. 

At the end of our lives, we will be judged on love. St. John of the Cross

Upstairs, Downstairs

This poem was written for my former downstairs neighbour and dear friend who has now returned home to Egypt with her husband and children. It was an honour and a joy to share our lives with them, and to find a warm connection that overcame any differences.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!! Peace be with you. May you always be supported, embraced and encouraged by your fellow moms all over the world! Go team! 🙂

 

Upstairs: a crazy crew of kids

six littles bouncing, dancing, singing, banging.

Downstairs: two small sweeties,

running, shouting, playing, laughing.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers scold, cook, cuddle and caress.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the mothers mother

day and night.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women sing

in Arabic and English,

songs of faith and lullabies

unique yet universal,

of one heart.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women weep,

mourn lost babies–

precious ones snatched away too soon–

in each other’s arms

these mothers find warm comfort.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women pray,

observe Lent and Ramadan,

break their fasts and rejoice together

over homemade sweets.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

the women hope,

cherishing the new lives

nestled in their wombs…

little tiny babies

due at the same time.

May they be best friends!!

 

In the world there is hatred

but not in our house.

Upstairs, downstairs

there is love.

 

The Importance of Emotional Connection in Marriage

I started reading a fascinating new book called Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples, which explains the importance of authentic emotional connection in marriage. Maybe this sounds obvious, but what makes it interesting is the application of ideas from attachment parenting to attachment in marriage. Studies found that orphans and widows after World War Two both exemplified similar symptoms of trauma, and had similar needs. Things like emotional connection, stability, warmth, and affection. They needed a reliable, emotionally accessible person to attach to in order to feel safe and able to flourish. Come to think of it, don’t we all?

Absolutely, yes! We were indeed created for connection. We are social beings–made in, for, and to love. We aren’t solitary snow tigers who are happiest prowling the mountain tops alone, glorious in our defiant independence. While we all have a strong need to be ourselves, few of us are called to be ourselves, by ourselves alone…as hermits for example. So while we may value independence and self-reliance as signs of maturity or being “grown-up,” we should question whether they are the sole indicators of true maturity. Well-developed emotional intelligence should reflect our true nature as communal beings, and value connection, empathy and understanding as equally valid signs of maturity. In this view, “to turn to others for emotional support is a sign and source of strength.”

So how does this apply to marriage? The writers of the book, psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson and Emotionally Focussed Therapy trainer Kenneth Sanderfer, who both work as marriage counselors, say that their clients often get trapped in negative cycles of communication…attack and withdraw, verbal dumping and retreating into silence, etc. They call these negative speech patterns the “Demon Dialogues.” Conventional therapy tends to focus on clearing up communication issues and resolving conflict. Although valuable, this approach is actually dealing with the symptoms of marriage crisis (nagging, fighting, withdrawal into silence), rather than the source (lack of emotional connection and fear of abandonment). The authors found that the key to real progress in therapy was getting the spouses to stop accusing and attacking, and open up emotionally to explain how they really felt and what they needed. In short, letting their guard down and being vulnerable.

So instead of a woman accusing:

John always ignores me and goes to his office when he comes home! That’s why I have to nag him…or he won’t do anything to help. I have to do it all.

She could express her fragility:

I am lonely after a long day alone with the kids. What I really need when John comes home is a big hug. I want to feel we are a team and that I am not alone.

And instead of a man complaining:

It’s so stressful coming home. The second I get in the door I am barraged with demands. She does nothing but yell at me. No wonder I try to  escape.

He could admit:

I am tired after work and don’t want to lose my temper and get into a fight. I feel like I can’t do anything right, so I just try to get out of the way. I feel useless and unloved.

This vulnerability allows the other spouse to approach without fear of being pushed away. They are moved to mercy. Once they have the opportunity to comfort and reassure their spouse, they can begin reconnecting emotionally. Spouses who are able to be vulnerable with each other can start strengthening their marriages, and healing their wounds to work towards “emotional and spiritual wholeness.” They can work as friends and not as competitors in a contest of ‘who is the worst spouse.’

Even if you’re not in a marriage crisis, a greater awareness of emotional needs and insecurities underlying common marital tensions can help you draw closer to your spouse. How many times have we projected negative thoughts on our spouse when asking for a favour? How easy is it to not ask for help and then be resentful, or to be afraid to help out in case we do it ‘wrong’? How much drama do we live out in our heads, not realizing that so many negative interactions are the result of misunderstandings? Keeping silent is not always the best way to keep the peace…rather finding good moments to gently and honestly share how we feel or what we need can help us deepen our relationships and give our spouse a better chance to respond to those authentic needs.

I think it’s useful to use the tools from attachment parenting in marriage. When a child is acting up, you assess circumstances (tiredness, overstimulation, hunger, need for reassurance, etc) before responding. We can do the same for our spouse who is grumpy…look at the facts of the situation: “Are they tired or hungry? Are they stressed after a long day of meetings at the office? Or of caring for sick kids? Are they suffering from illness, or grieving a loss of a loved one?” Keeping these things in mind can hopefully help us respond in a way that will help us reassure and reconnect. Perhaps a snack, hug or friendly joke will do more to improve things than entering into their grumpiness or punishing them with silence.

When we feel supported and understood, we are better able to cope with difficult circumstances. Created For Connection mentions studies which find spouses who are well-connected emotionally can cope better with stress and even physical pain. Happy marriages also effect our health by lowering our blood pressure and making us more resilient in recovering from serious health crises like heart attacks. On the flip side, blood tests reveal that the stress of fighting with our spouse has been found to lower our immune system for up to a whole day! So it’s worth it to work on our marriages in little ways every day, and to offer our spouse the same grace and understanding we offer our kids. Instead of wanting our spouse to “grow up and get over it” when they are struggling, we can honour their need for connection and try to provide emotional closeness and affection. We will all be happier for it!

Sisters of the World

How beautiful it is to be here with so many sisters

Of ages 18 to 80
From many countries

And many different pasts
Learning together, growing together,

Dancing through the differences to find

Our common heart

Our shared desire for

A life with deeper meaning

A world with brighter hope

And warmer love

Embracing everyone
With our prayer and affection

Those confiding smiles

That sincere understanding

And  many little acts of kindness

May this better world

Where each person is sacred

Begin with us

Children of Peace or Prosperity?

Last night I read a moving address given by Pope Francis to the people of the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, where immigrants fleeing from the coast of Africa had come to seek refuge. He came there to visit them and express his solidarity and sorrow for the suffering of those families who died on ships on the way, having been repelled before they could apply for asylum. He called their plight a thorn in his heart.

Pope Francis spoke passionately of the “globalization of indifference,” a phrase which caught my attention. While we have so much awareness of world events because of the media, we often lack the very human ability to weep for our brothers and sisters around the world, who find themselves in tragic circumstances. We are satisfied to say, “Oh, too bad!” and turn off the news. If we can’t weep with the suffering, and mourn the dead, how can we work up the energy to assist those in need?

But how? Many of us feel a world away and very small, incapable of changing anything. But is it true? We are actually all members of the same human family, and sharers of the same world, with all its diversity. In the movie version of “The Hobbit” Gandalf says he thinks that the wizard Sauroman is mistaken in his belief that only force and might can overcome great evil. Gandalf proposes instead that many small and simple acts of goodness and love are what hold evil at bay.

As a mother, I of course think about how this applies to my children. Am I teaching them to be people of peace, who care about the needs of others, who know how to sacrifice for love, who stand up for the oppressed? Or am I allowing them to stay in a bubble of prosperity, satisfied with satisfying themselves, enclosed in material goods and unable to empathize with those unluckier? I hope and pray that I can help them grow into people who find joy in serving others, who know how to weep with the suffering, and rejoice with the rejoicing.

I think this all starts at home, in a very simple way, by teaching children to love their siblings. Sometimes kids can sound like a den of wildcats preparing for battle, but you have to keep encouraging them to think of others and appreciate the moments when that inner goodness shines through. I remember being very impressed once when my oldest daughter, then almost three, thought of her baby sister before herself. They were in the double stroller on the bus when the bus lurched and sent the stroller smashing sideways into the bus wall. My toddler’s finger was caught between and hurt, but her first words were, “Is my sister ok?” I knew then that something was going right.

I’m sure many of my fellow moms have great practical suggestions on how to teach children to be people of peace, and I encourage you to share them. I would like to share more of them as well, but that will have to wait for another post, as my delicious mommy time will likely soon expire. I’ll finish up with one last thought: the peace of the world is not merely in the hands of the rich and powerful, but in the hands and hearts of everyone. It has been said that charity consists more in understanding than in giving, so it is something possible for people of every economic backround. If we teach kids to be understanding and compassionate to others, even those very different from themselves, we can hope that when in positions of influence as adults, they will make decisions not merely based on self-interest. Since every person influences those around them for better or worse, raising every child well matters. If we mothers and fathers succeed, we will have greatly enriched the world, and given peace a fighting chance.