Seeing Myself and God More Clearly
Guest post by Sarah Hwang
During quarantine, I've been practicing a difficult new skill. This ability comes naturally to my husband, Joe (the super ripped guy I hug a lot at church), and my best friend Andrea (the one with the curly hair and bright lipstick who talks with me through the whole sermon). I see this skill in Andrea at work, in her friendship with me, and in her conflict resolution. In Joe, I see it in our marriage, in his work ethic, and in his decision making.
I guess it's not really a skill they have, but a significant letting go of one - one that I seriously need to release like a balloon to the sky.
So we'll look at it like this: I think I have this brilliant ability, and I'm obsessed with it. And I believe I'm so talented that even when evidence contradicts what this skill tells me, I don't listen. I trust my ability until my body becomes overwhelmed with waves of anxiety attacks.
This perceived skill of mine fills me with hubris, turning my eyes from the truth. For years it's nurtured a panicked fear of criticism, convincing me that it's possible to avoid all conflict and social vulnerability. It's told me I shouldn't get too close to people in case my skill slips up and I suffer the consequences. It forces pride and fear together in my heart, creating a tornado of anxiety.
So here it is: I believe I can accurately determine what people are feeling about me and why they are feeling it, and that I have the power to change their thoughts.
Ridiculous, right? It causes so much pain. I assume people are displeased with me when likely, I am rarely on their minds at all.
So why do I continue in this? Mainly for self-protection and self-preservation. If I can catch people at the beginning of their displeasure and change their course, I keep myself from being confronted and hurt. In the name of accomplishing these goals, I convince myself that I can force everyone to be happy with me by being an emotional mind reader.
If someone is in a bad mood, my mind races with all logical and illogical possibilities of how I could have caused their misery. I'm terrified of being at fault, so I do what I can to make the person happy as quickly as possible. It's cowardice wrapped up in kindness. And I'm good at it. I aim to protect myself with a wall of thoughtfulness, likableness, and straight-up charm.
Don't get me wrong, it's a great idea to check in on people who seem sad or frustrated. But it's a bad idea to decide why they are upset using anything besides that person's own communication. (For me at least. I don't know your life.)
So during quarantine, Jesus and Joe are helping me look this lie straight in the eyes for the first time. I'm acknowledging that I have believed I can alter other people's emotions at will for my own advantage. I'm starting to believe, now, that I can't know what someone is thinking unless they tell me. I'm admitting that I've been manipulative and cowardly in relationships and that I have a lifetime of content to learn about healthy conflict.
As I've been spending time in Andrew Murray's Abiding in Christ and Jen Wilkin's None Like Him, the Lord has graciously focused my gaze on his face - on his incommunicable qualities that I'm never meant to have, two of which are his all-knowingness and his power.
Accepting that those qualities are not and never will be mine - that I can't know people's thoughts, and that I don't have the power to change them - I must decide to trust God to protect my heart. I must choose to trust people to tell me when I do something wrong; when I offend them; when I annoy them; when I take up too much of their time and space. Remember, criticism terrifies me, so this is gut-wrenching work.
Watching Joe and Andrea live freely, unencumbered by the potential thoughts of others is medicine to my soul. They show me that it's possible to be a considerate, loving person without being obsessive. They respect people enough to expect honest communication. I'm terrified and thrilled that so much of my mental energy is both harmful and unnecessary. I'm daunted and inspired.
I'm Eve in the garden, grasping for the fruit that's not meant for me. I'm Lot's wife, looking back on things that bring death. I'm Saul, fighting for destruction in the name of righteousness.
I'm Sarah, the unknowing; Sarah the unpowerful. I'm Sarah, a branch on the mighty, life-giving Vine who needs to accept her position of "Loved One." I'm Sarah, who is united with the Only One who has these qualities I long for. And I'm learning to believe that they rightly belong only with him.
I'm Sarah. Who are you?
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