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dissonance |ˈdisənəns|: a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.That's it really. It's what I do. I create it on purpose as a clinician--a counselor. It is what makes people wake to reality and see how they contribute to their own chaos. It becomes a cathartic and challenging experience well suited for change. I create it accidentally as a husband, friend, son, brother, and believer. I AM: 32 years old; a counselor; a husband to a beautiful woman; a believer in The Way; and most of the time clueless to my own dissonance that I create.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Confirmation and Calling

I have been at my new job for a little over two weeks. It was an incredible blessing to have the job prior to finishing my degree or acquiring my associate’s license. It seems that I either made an impression on the staff at my summer practicum or I have them fooled as to my competence. It made me feel good that my passion for helping children did not go unnoticed; however, I’ve been plagued as to whether or not I can do the job. The problem with being built up or having such high expectations placed on you is that it is more than humbling. The reality is; I feel clueless. Asbury has more than spent time and effort to prepare me, but when it comes down to intervening for someone’s life (because that’s what I have sitting in front of me in session), I feel empty—nothing to offer.

For the most part, I am in training or contacting school principals, special ed teachers, or school counselors to introduce myself and talk over potential needs that I could meet. I have not done much by way of actual therapy, which has been a bit of a relief. Whew! Dissappointment deferred. In reality, this is the way I have always handled expectations. Get in for a little bit, make a quick positive impression, and then get out of there before my lack of skill surfaces. That, or complete avoidance. I often sit back and watch others compete using the excuse that I don’t feel like playing ball, debating, or speaking up in class. Its fear that when the refiner’s fire dies down there won’t be anything left with which he can work. It is this deep seeded fear that, really, I am all chaff and stubble.

There are times though, moments, when one surprises oneself and exceeds his own expectation. In my first three days, when I was not supposed to see anyone, an emergency walked into the office. My boss was absent and could not defend me from this responsibility by taking over or assuring me that I was not expected to do anything or see this person. Instead, as I was striding up to the front office, I had a few thousand papers shoved at me and told that he/she would be back in 5 minutes. Empty. Nothing. The next 3 minutes was spent debating whether or not I should run out the door. “Lord, help me.” The panic dissolved. I found myself staring back at this individual with some resolve, somehow, with a lack of anxiety. Something kicked in—empathy for this brokenness in front of me. They lacked any hope. Emptiness met brokenness. It was a beautiful moment for me. It offered confirmation that somehow my emptiness is what makes me competent. I can only offer limited help. I can only offer what I am.

This encounter ended with hospitalization. Without it, it would have ended with the loss of life in despair. I don’t know that it won’t end that way, but I was able to be a short means of grace. I was able to be a support while their world of pain left them shaken. In the end, they got help and I felt a sense of confirmation. Confirmation that, perhaps, there is some skill and confidence that undermines this latent fear of failure. Well, that, and the reality that emptiness is really the very quality that makes for good counseling. It is awareness that empathy, compassion, and openness reaches out and supports the other sitting in front of me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Slow Death…

Opposing Culture

I know that most of you will squirm at this representation of marriage. The fact is that we romanticize the marital relationship to such an extent that most Americans actually believe in the fatalistic belief that we were created for one other person out there. Marriage is a culmination and expression of our true self—the other fulfills my needs and “You complete me” (Jerry Macguire). To think of marriage as a death of our individuality is an offensive thought. Perhaps it is not our fault. Our culture foundationally depicts marriage as a contract…IF you meet all my wants and needs, then this marriage is ok…IF NOT then divorce is never out of the question. Sounds reminiscent of the “double minded person” that the Book of James depicts. We have been inundated with messages and social scripts to that end. Most romantic movies convey that very point (e.g. You’ve Got Mail, Maid of Manhattan, etc.). Marriage is viewed as a fulfillment of our self—an expression of our individuality. Weddings (often, not always, an expression of narcissism) become the focal point of marriage. Our girls begin to plan their wedding before they are old enough to date. Is this the message we should be feeding to our children?

Trinity

Nope! I would agree that we were created to be in relationship. In relationship, we mirror the image of the Godhead—the imago Dei. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is most definitely a relationship. The Godhead, the Trinity, most perfectly represents relationship. It is a perfect mutuality, deference, and love. Equal personhood: each equally loving, each equally powerful, each equally graceful. Our created purpose was to image God, and in relationship we find not only our purpose but also the breath of God. Marriage is best understood as a covenantal commitment to image God. This is no stretch. The scripture is full of metaphors for our relationship with Christ as a marriage. Why would God use marriage as the closest example of our relationship with himself? The answer is that, like marriage, relationship with Christ is a call to the cross—a death of self.

Mutuality

It is defined as “mutual character, quality, or activity.God is one. This idea is most assured in scripture. What does this oneness actually portray? It is not the loss of personhood. Christ remains Christ; Father remains Father; and Holy Spirit remains Holy Spirit. Yet they share a character, quality, and activity. Marriage also shares this mystery. In psychological terms, this idea is called differentiation of self. The term may seem individualistic; however, it is actually more akin to mutuality. It is how to maintain our self; while also joining our character, quality, and activity with another. It enables us to be, while also being open to the other, without trying to control, manipulate (by false deference or coercion), or lose our personhood.

Deference in Love

This is where we meet the cross. Death is our calling as believers. Death is our calling in our marriages. In marriage, we find our very tangible guide for our Christian practice. I am terrible at this. I came to marriage for what I am “entitled to” or at least that’s what I thought. Marriage was a way to complete me. What a shock I had! Marriage is nothing if not a call to death of entitlement and the self. Notice I said a death of self not a loss of self. Loss of self is characterized by the “false deference” I mentioned above. It entails those manipulations we use to gain what we want. It is made up of those “if you love me…” statements; or our attempts to convey our victim-ness to gain sympathy. Loss of self is a defense of entitlement. Conversely, death of self is a giving up of our beliefs of entitlement. Christ on the cross opposes these beliefs. Love expressed through sacrifice is our goal for marriage.

Experience

My first four years of marriage was learning this very idea. I anticipate that the next fifty years will be putting the lesson to practice. I still feel entitled. I want my marriage to complete me. I want to believe that my wife was created for me. I am a narcissist. Life is about me. Christ is calling me to the cross in my marriage. My self must die. I have to defer to my wife. I want mutuality, deference, and love in my marriage to better reflect Christ in my life. Lord, let me image you in my life and marriage.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

No pressure. No problem.

That's what some of the folks in St. Lucia say. Rather, that is what folks that work at the Sandals resort my wife and I stayed at during our honeymoon said. I think that's going to be my montra for this blog. No pressure to write everyday; no problem if no one comes along with me on it. I don't want to be stressed about it, and I don't want you to be either. I am going to use this avenue as a form of therapeutic vent. When I don't feel like my voice is heard, I'm going use self-denial that someone is reading my posts and using some unconditional positive regard for me.

As I read through the above, I am realizing how jaded I sound. I think it is my projection of previously failed attempts at journaling that is driving that tone. The reality is I am very happy. I recently accepted a position at a non-profit organization counseling marginalized children and adults who need someone to come beside them. I am excited about my marriage and how far we've come and grown. My wife is so creative and hardworking. We have changed a lot in the past fours years that we've been married. It is really good. I am loving my friendships and connection with genuine people who have challenged me and continue to cause me to grow in my relationship with Christ. So...I guess things are going really well.

I don't know what this blog will become or how I'll treat it. It will be a little directionless until I find a purpose for it. Here it goes...