Monday, July 20, 2015

The Ledger Sheet

(See also Pesky Emotions).

It would be great if the language of gratitude were my native language; it isn't. I still increase my own suffering by interpreting situations with an invisible ledger sheet in hand to record the pain, loss, or disappointment. At times I just count up my losses while overlooking or discounting gains and take the whole thing very much to heart. To change this approach takes a conscious decision rather than doing what comes "naturally" and getting upset.

I'm keenly aware that we moved out of our house five weeks ago and I still don't get to go home, not for another two weeks. We're staying with people when we're not in hotels, and moving from one set of circumstances and relationships to another, without the chance to go "home" to some more comfortable way of life in between. This vulnerable season has brought lot of my insecurities to the surface.

The first morning we were staying in the place where we're currently laying our heads was a rough one. I was the first one up and in my pre-coffee stupor got confused about how things were supposed to be done in this house and ruined the coffee maker. I filled the entire house with smoke, woke the household, and added to that ledger sheet of mine the humiliation of being laughed at by my husband and the folks we're staying with  (who were glad the smoke wasn't from something worse and happy to laugh it off, though of course we speedily replaced the damaged items).

I hate being discovered making foolish mistakes and being laughed at, though. So I took the whole thing very hard and just wanted to run out of the house and never return. Yeah, not really an option. And certainly an overreaction to the event.

Then over the next few days things like that happened again. Not so dramatic, just little situations such as often come when you are staying in another person's home and reminded that they want you to do things the way they would do them. My cross-cultural experience seems to make it worse rather than better as previous parallels come to mind, situations I navigated either poorly or well but where the same emotions surfaced.

So I wondered if there was anything constructive I could do with that. As I reflected on the strength of my own emotional response to these incidents I remembered occasions from when I was as young as five or six and received correction for things I often didn't know were seen by others as wrong or inappropriate. You know, "getting in trouble." At what point did my little brain decide that "getting in trouble" was the worse thing that could happen? How much as this affected the way I see myself, others, and God or how I navigate life even now (at least at times)? And what can be done, even without professional help, to heal the ancient wounds and improve my responses to these "trigger" events?

Deep questions. But probably good ones to unpack if I want to conquer my fears, stop taking myself too seriously, and grow in resilience.

 It's OK, Marti, said the gentler voices I'm trying to listen to more often: your pain and suffering are real and valid and it's OK to be stressed and worn out by all this transition. But are you willing to consider that there might be another way? Yes, I know there is another way, and I'm willing to lay this way down and consider other ways to look at things and other ways to respond.

One of the strategies that seems to work the best is to start a fresh ledger sheet: a list of blessings, gifts, benefits, and wonders. It doesn't take much more than just a choice to shift my gaze to see how this season of transition has been one with blessing after blessing, troubles averted, and unexpected gifts. I'm grateful for so many signs of God's hand on us and ways he's using this season for our good and to bring good things to others as well.

Just writing or talking it out helps put my melodrama into perspective and provides the objectivity I need to carry on. If I don't want to take all this out on others, it helps to keep a journal handy. If I use it to record troubles, it lightens them. If I use it to record blessings, it gives them extra weight.

See also: Counseling (2010 post)

No comments: