March 29, 2010

Taking Responsibility

Oh, I am so tired this morning. As I sat in my comfy chair, sipping my coffee (thank you, Jesus, for more coffee!), I asked the Lord, "Why am I so tired this morning?" I mean, TIRED, not just tired. I am literally worn out, feeling as though I have not had a decent nights sleep in weeks or months. I know the answer: stress. I just wanted to know why, after all these months of resting, and I still feeling so much "unrest". His answer to me: stress.

I decided that it was time to get to the bottom of this stress issue. I know where it stems from; I have lived this way so long, stress and I are very good friends. I wanted to get down to brass tacks, so to speak, to finally accept and do whatever was necessary to elevate the AMOUNT of stress in my life. As I have blogged before, stress is a normal part of our 21st century life. It will always be with us, in one form or another, but not always in control of us. Our attitude and willingness to submit to stress is key, at the least, it is for me.

I pondered this thought and the reality of what is what came clear. I am suffering from internalized stress simply because I am failing to take responsibility for it. I cannot completely remove stress from my life, but I can diminish it's effect upon me. I mean, if I know where the stress comes from, then I should know how to turn it off (or at least close the valve down to a trickle). In my case, I know exactly what causes me stress. I have for years, I just wasn't willing to accept the responsibility for it's growth in my life.

Some stress is brought about by other people; some stress is internal and comes from worry or doubt. Some stress in unavoidable; but some stress (in fact, a lot of stress) can be avoided, if we understand where it comes from and how it affects us personally. This is me to a tee. I know my STRESSORS, and I know how to avoid them. The BIG QUESTION is why haven't I done so in the past? Why have I waited to now, to the point when I am at the breaking, to finally address and take responsibility for the stress in my life?

Oh, what good questions! Glad you asked them!!

I believe the reason or answers are quite simple. I wasn't ready to accept them because I was of the mindset that my stress was the direct result of another person in my life. I believed, erroneously, that I was unable and without the power to affect the change needed to stop the stress. In short, I felt powerless to do anything about the stress, and so I set about to "manage" it. I will admit that I am not a good stress manager. Well, that is probably not true, since I am here still and still able to talk about managing stress! LOL! I just am pretty banged up, pretty worn out, and pretty done in by it (grade me if you want...I would say I am pretty much a failure at this stress-game.) I liken it to the movie, "War Games," where the computer says that the FINAL ANSWER IS NOT TO PLAY THE GAME. This is probably the most accurate answer to many of the world's toughest questions. If we choose not to play the game of stress, we will not suffer from it's control. If we choose not to engage in arguments, then we will not suffer the anger or other emotional upset that comes along with arguing. It is pretty simple when you think about it: just don't do it (the opposite of the Nike slogan, "Just Do It.") Sometimes it is better for us to NOT ENGAGE THE ENEMY. Sometimes it is better to turn the cheek. Sometimes we must engage, and sometimes we must fight back (or fight for what is right). We must pick our battles and then act appropriately to ensure our safety and success.

My two greatest fears (which I now know are the top fears of almost all people) are a lack of safety (security) and food. My need to be protected (sheltered) and fed are natural instinctive desires, given to us by a loving God, who is the PROTECTOR AND PROVIDER for all creation (His Name is Jehovah-Jireh). My desire, therefore, is normal and natural. Everyone, you included, are concerned at some level about the very same thing. How you or I deal with this concern really is the driving point in the matter. Do we take responsibility for ourselves and do whatever is necessary to ensure we are protected and fed? I think we do (well, most of us will do this; some rely on the provision by others -- some because they cannot help it; others because they choose to do so, but I digress).

I have blamed my poor home situation on several people, none of whom has looked and acted like ME. While it is true that my DH is to be the God-given provider of my family; ultimately God is the PROVIDER. Ultimately, God provides and He uses husbands and wives to do so. He gives us good and profitable work to do (honest work) so that we can keep a roof over our head and food on the table. God does this, and He uses us as an instrument of His Divine Grace. There are times when the work is not enough. There are times when the economy is rough. Nonetheless, God still provides for us. He always cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

My problem I think is that I never learned how to depend on myself. I went from living under the shelter and protection of my earthly father (who was and is a good provider) to living under my husband's shelter. My husband was young, as I was, and struggled to be a good provider for himself. He was older than I was, and had lived on his own for a while. He had a good job and made good money, but didn't always use his money wisely (as so many young people do these days). I came from a situation whereby I was always given everything I needed. I never experienced not having something. I simply asked my father and if he agreed (which most of the time he did), I got what I wanted. I didn't take my father's generosity for granted, and I rarely asked for big things or things that I knew he wouldn't agree with. My Dad was old-fashioned so if you wanted something out of the ordinary, you had to prove to him that you really needed it.

This was how I learned to get what I wanted (my needs were always met). I learned that I had to justify each expense. I had to think clearly and then present a logical argument to my Dad. If he agreed to my reasoning, my rationale, he would support me. I learned that with my Dad, logical approaches and cautious analysis worked!

This wasn't the case with my husband at all. His family didn't work that way. They were missionaries and full-time ministers so money was never available. They often had little, yet the Lord provided for them. My husband learned early on that if he wanted something, he had to go get it himself. He worked hard, worked a lot of part-time jobs, and made his own way. His parents never gave him anything. This created a strong and disciplined work ethic in him and his sister. His sister has raised her children the exact same way (my nieces and nephews all work and go to school). They were taught to be self-reliant because Mom and Dad simply couldn't afford to provide anything but the base necessities.

You can see where I am going with this, can't you? I went into marriage thinking that my husband would be just like my Dad, that if I wanted something all I had to do was justify the expense. I found out that was not the case. My husband made his money and it was his money. He didn't want to share it with me because in his eyes, I didn't earn it. I assumed that it was my husband's responsibility to provide it to me, free, simply because I was his wife. Biblically, this is truth, however, in practical application it doesn't always play out that way.

I had many friends whose husbands were raised to provide for their wives and children. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying it is to be one way or the other (I used to believe this was so). I also had friends whose wives worked and they shared everything (which is also Biblical). They simply split it down the middle, with the husband providing for some and the wife some other. It all worked out in the end, the family was provided for and so be it.

In my life, however, it never worked out that way. I have spent the past 26 years believing that my husband was responsible for providing for me and my children (finite -- finis -- finished!) Although I have worked many years, and contributed to the welfare of my family, I never once saw any of the money I made. I gave it to my DH, who then took responsibility to manage our finances. The problem, like most money-management problems, is that our money was not managed wisely. There were times when we had more money that we needed. There were also times when we had not enough (like now). They money never seemed to take care of the needs. It was used for fun things, trips, gifts, and other niceties, but not to take care of the IMPORTANT THINGS.

I never said anything contrary because I really didn't have a good grasp of what was what. I saw the money being spent incorrectly, and often expressed concern, but I never stood up and said, "Hey, wait a minute, this is not right." I didn't think it was my place to do so.

I know, I am sounding like this is not my fault, that I am some innocent victim here. No, not really. I am just telling it like it was, but with the understanding that it was my lack of judgment and my unwillingness to take responsibility that landed us where we are today. It was my fault simply because I saw it happening and chose to do nothing about it. I get it. I totally get it. And, even more, I see how I have to change my ways, pronto!

Now, that I am faced with a life alone, I have to learn to take responsibility for myself. Yes, I am still trusting the Lord as PROVIDER AND PROTECTOR, but I am also acknowledging my part in His Provision. I have to do the work. I cannot wait for a knight in shining armour to come to my rescue and give me the money I need to pay my bills. I have to be willing to let the Lord direct me to some work, some good work, and then do it. I have to be willing to stand up and say, "Yes, Lord...I will do whatever work you have for me. I am ready to be responsible."

It has been a long time for me to come to terms with our financial situation, and in just writing this out, I realize some truth. I have blamed my husband for all his failures to provide, when in reality, he was doing what his parents trained him to do: to be self-sufficient. I am sure they expected him to take care of his wife and child; but they also have expected me to help out. I have done this, but not to the extent they expect (and it has caused great tension between us). I have always felt criticized by them for not working enough or hard enough. I, in turn, blamed my DH all the more because he didn't seem to be working hard enough. It is a cycle of blame, something that should never started, nor been allowed to continue.

In my own defense, I acted just the way my parents raised me to act. I expected my husband to be like my Dad and to care for me just the way he has cared for my mother (and still does). My expectations were formed based on experience, just like my husbands. I have learned that it is time to be realistic and rational and to face the truth: expectations often are unmet. How we deal with them determines how well we function within relationships. Poor relationships often are the direct result of an error in expectancy. If you expect a certain outcome from a person, and that person doesn't meet it -- you begin to doubt their ability to meet any expectation.

The Biblical approach is this: GRACE. God's Grace is sufficient to cover all our unmet expectations. We are to approach relationships from a null position. This means that we don't walk into them with expectations. There should be no expectations at all. This is how God enters into relationship with us. He already knows we don't deserve His Grace. He simply meets us where we are and we go from there with Him. We are to do the same thing with others. If we enter into fellowship expecting anything in return, we will be sorely disappointed. Nothing can prepare us for relationship, but walking around expecting others to do for us, will simply end up causing us to be frustrated and disappointed in them.

My lesson for today is this: God's Grace is perfectly suited to our needs. His Grace covers an abundance of missed expectations and opportunities. We, in turn, need to be Gracious to others in our midst, realizing that often they way they were raised will determine certain behaviors and attitudes. These behaviors and attitudes may not be our cup of tea, and in some cases, may actually be detrimental to their well-being or the families; however, they are simply actions and thoughts and internalized needs that are being lived out. They need Grace. They need God's Grace and they need to see His Grace living out through us.

I am now convinced more completely that Grace is what is needed in every single relationship. It is the thing that determines how well we will get along with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we go into relationship attempting to set everything right (as we see or as we were raised to see it), then all we will find is failure to measure up. If we go into relationships with the understanding that none of us measure up (to His Standard), then we can set aside our own measuring stick and simply learn to live with His Beautiful and Bountiful Grace.

May God's Grace and Peace fall fresh upon you this day. In His Name.

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