Freedom & Floatation v. Fear
One of the great revelatory periods in my life occurred in the late 90s and early aughts. I progressed through 8 undergraduate majors before setting with history and political science with a view towards law school; I found myself in a phase where I almost exclusively listened to country music (I’m still dealing with the shame associated with this); I learned how many bottles of Bud Light I could consume at one sitting (I suspect this is somewhat related to the country music); I met and married my wife; and I taught private swimming lessons in the comfort of my parents’ backyard.
When it comes to great summer jobs, there’s little better than waking up, throwing on some trunks, walking 15 yards to the pool and spending 6 hours, 4 days a week teaching kids to swim. I learned so many things in that job that have really served me well.
1. Shaved heads are SO easy to live with. Spending 5 minutes with the clippers, 3x per week is my kind of maintenance. Exposed scalp is also quite easy to care for: sunscreen in the summer and no chance of stocking cap mussed hair in the winter.
2. Being analytical doesn’t mean you have to be critical. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to understand this, but it’s true. Had I been critical of those kids, they’d have never learned anything. Yet somehow, I refused to apply this principle to the other areas of my life. I have no way of knowing how many relationships my critical heart destroyed. I imagine that those of you who have known me for more than a decade are nodding their heads so violently at this point that they risk brain injury.
3. Your intentions change the way you challenge others. I love to challenge people. I love to ask people to exceed their comfort levels. Unfortunately, my heart has often been self-focused during these times – I wanted to show someone that they wouldn’t be willing to do what I was willing to do. Yet, in the pool, I found that I challenged kids all day for their benefit. Obviously, I’d be a douche of the highest rank if I enjoyed teasing kids that I wasn’t afraid of the deep end while they were. No, in the pool I was not threatened, and the result was that I could just focus on developing the kids entrusted to me rather than being self-aware. I could challenge them where they needed challenging rather than where I wanted to challenge them to show my perceived superiority.
4. I had my first experiences with true joy. There’s nothing quite like helping a child recognize their fear and giving them the tools and the confidence to overcome that fear. We are slaves to our fears when we help another overcome a fear, we’ve introduced them to freedom. So when the 5 year old that started a session hiding behind their mom’s leg, deathly afraid of the pool, shows up 2 weeks later running at mach 12 towards the pool, ready to jump in to the deep end fully clothed…it elevates one’s heart to know you’ve been a part of that liberation.
Over the last year, with the help of some very wise fellows, I’ve been able to see how much fear dominated my life. So many of my actions were designed to prove myself worthy; so many of my destructive actions were designed to prevent the world from recognizing that I wasn’t worthy – that I wasn’t good enough. I took criticism to heart and believed the lie that I wasn’t good enough – then engaged in a life of actions taken to deceive the world into thinking I was good enough. I became a slave to trying to control perception, yet my self-perception was so skewed that I couldn’t see the actual effect of my attempts at control. Fear and love are mortal enemies. Where one exists, the other cannot. In desperation, and without realizing it at the time, I traded my old paradigm of fear for a new paradigm of love.
The movement in my life lately has been a focused attempt to create an honor of culture and respect with whomever I come in contact with. I’ve expressed it before that every individual is designed in God’s image, and that alone is worthy of my honor to their life. Our desire to love and be loved is a lasting imprint He’s left on us. But lately, I’ve been very focused on making sure that I make it known to people that I see their worthiness, let them know that they’re good enough. It’s not that I’m trying to make up for the destruction I caused before, but it’s because I know that destruction was caused by me focusing on my unworthiness, which led me to see the same in my fellows. Now, I see the abundance of love that God and my brothers and sisters have showered me with, and I’m compelled by my heart to do the same. I want my whole life to reflect how that time was in the pool with those kids. I want to be a part of setting people free from their fears, from the lies that enslave them. I still have much to learn, of course, but there is joy in sharing in another’s freedom.
Right when I felt that I had this all ready to blog about today (and I know the blogs have been few and far between – my work load has spiked substantially), I got an email notification this morning that Greg had a new post at his Realtime Recovery blog (If you don’t receive email notification of blog entries, now’s the time. Start with mine). It’s been on my mind all morning, and I think I know why. It’s extraordinarily easy for me to create relationships of honor and respect with the people that I’ve known for the shortest amount of time. But for those relationships that are rooted deeply in the old paradigm of my life, the temptation is powerful to return to my old ways. To return to a “fight or flight” pattern of behavior. The structure of those old relationships was built on the foundation of me being a fearful horse’s ass. And for many of those relationships, people still look and react to me that way. Those behaviors act like triggers and the lies start swirling (“show ‘em you’re good enough” and “don’t take that from them, look at their life!”). It’s in that time that I remind myself that the old man is dead and a new creation stands in his stead. Discerning the truth in that place is fundamental to me being able to reveal myself fully and to be in a place where I can honor a person who has been made in the same image that I’ve been made in. It’s in that place where I get to abide in my freedom – when I see someone as God sees them: His child. Until I get back to that perspective, there’s a lot of confusion and uncertainty — a struggle.
If you want to find flaws in someone, you will. We all have them. And if you want to find mine — and you’d have to be blind to miss them — ask me, I’ll tell you. It’s not that I don’t recognize flaws in others, but it’s that they aren’t my focus. I don’t define people by their struggles, nor do I define myself by mine. So my challenge to each of you is this: recognize in each person those traits that are worthy of your respect. And if you can’t recognize those traits, respect that individual anyway. It will absolutely change the dynamics of your relationship. Love not only gives the loved an opportunity for liberation, it gives the lover an opportunity to be liberated.
The thing I saw then, but didn’t understand until now, is that helping someone be liberated from fear is incredible. But watching someone you care about live in that freedom is even better. So what are you contributing to the lives of your family and friends? Fear or love?