by Jonathan Hart, LPC
SPOILER ALERT: for those who haven’t read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series, there may be plot spoilers in the following paragraphs, though I will try hard not to reveal too much.
My wife and I were discussing some of our thoughts about how the books The Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay ended, and how they served to wrap up their respective series. We were thoroughly disappointed in each and for similar reasons. The core of our disappointment was the principle of “putting a bow on ugly”.
The Harry Potter series ended with an epilogue titled “19 years later”, that (we felt) too neatly and agreeably attempted to wrap up all the threads from the series. The fact that Harry named a child after the person who most utterly despised him and treated him viciously even behind closed doors was just too much. I can see coming to respect him, but one simply does not name a child after an abuser of this magnitude. All the ugliness seemed to have inexplicably vanished.
The Hunger Games series tried to do the same thing, though the attempt at closure was somewhat better. The author at least attempted to acknowledge that ugly existed in the post-story world, but it was still resolved too simplistically and without the flesh to make it believable for me.
Hollywood and fiction train us to expect that all the loose ends can be resolved, that resolution equals “happily ever after” or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. They train us to need things to work out that way. This is most plainly true in the (despicable and utterly useless) genre known as “Romantic Comedy”. I cannot say more without using profanity.
Think of the sense of disappointment or unease when you watch a movie in which resolution is not clean or neat. We recently watched the movie Moneyball, which does not conclude with a “Hollywood Ending”. I can only say that the events depicted happened within the recent lifetimes of many, and as such could not be modified to fit the pattern described above. I feel that if they were more ancient history they would likely have been changed into something completely victorious.
This is fine, and even necessary (to a degree) for celluloid. The unfortunate side effect is that because reality is very much different, many people are left with a sense of disappointment and even despair when real life does not work that way. The truth is that human beings are generally a broken, selfish lot that is capable of both great goodness and great evil, often within a single breath.
The fact is that intimacy, real relationship, and engaging responsibly with another human being is often like a wrestling match. The very best relationship in the world experiences conflict and disagreement, hurt and offense, misunderstanding and tension on an ongoing basis. The couple who tells you that “never a harsh word is spoken” is either whitewashing, outright lying, or they are not experiencing real, deep intimacy.
If you are going to really do deep, intimate relationship with another person, you’d better know how to fight. I don’t mean knowing how to eviscerate your opponent in the shortest period of time. I mean knowing how to hold in tension the following two truths: 1. This other person and I are on the same side, and 2. There is pain and friction between us.
When I talk about knowing how to fight, I mean knowing how to understand and express my own feelings and thoughts in a way that does not accuse or attack the other, even when it is plainly and wholly their fault. I mean learning how to uphold their honor and dignity while feeling the painfully powerful desire to rip their eyes out. I mean knowing how to view conflict as a necessary part of doing relationship, and not as a threat to relationship.
It is often one of the hardest lessons to learn in relationship that resolution is not about coming to agreement, but rather it is about coming to a deeper understanding of the other person, and thereby learning how to craft a unique relationship between the two of you. No part of that process is clean, neat, or simple. It is ugly, and to expect or demand otherwise only leads to disappointment. You can put a bow on it if you like, but that doesn’t make it easier to look at. It takes patience, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. When you’ve come to the other side of it, it will still be ugly, but there is a beauty in what has been created by moving through it that will last a lifetime.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
I’m not really sure you’re even listening right now. It certainly doesn’t seem like it. I’m done. I can’t do this any more. If you want it done, you have to do it. Whatever you are doing with me, get it over with because this hurts too much.
I’m angry, and I’m pretty sure I’m angry with you. I don’t understand. I feel like you’ve turned your head and you don’t see me anymore, you’re not listening, and you don’t care. Everything I’ve ever learned about you says you are kind and loving and you want the best for me, and I’d like to believe that, but I can’t seem to bring myself to risk it. If I believe that, then it means that the hell I am living through right now is somehow for my good. I want something else. Not this.
So if you are who and what you say you are, and if you really do care about me and you really do hear me, then … I don’t know … do something. Show up. Give me something to work with. I’m tired of hurting, and I am utterly helpless. You’re all I really have, and I’m scared you’re not there. Amen.
I know a lot of people who would be scared to pray a prayer like this. It doesn’t feel respectful. It feels like asking for a lightning strike. “I can’t be angry with God! I can’t tell him I’m hopeless… Faith is always trusting him, and this isn’t trusting at all!” Yet I think there is more faith in a prayer like this than in many that are said on Sunday morning.
The thing that makes a prayer like this a prayer of faith is the fact that it is a prayer: it is addressed to God. It may be said through clenched teeth, but it is a prayer, and prayer is an act of faith, especially when it expresses doubt, fear, and pain.
God is big enough and real enough to handle our doubts. He can handle our anger and fearful lashing out. He is the kind father who absorbs the tearful, angry pummeling of his small child, lovingly contains the flailing fists, and soaks up the tears with his shirt. He is still present, he is still mindful, and he still loves his child.
So when you feel your darkest hours upon you, turn to him. Shout at the heavens if need be. He loves you as you are, especially when you are angry and doubtful. He desires relationship with you: he wants to hear your heart in whatever state it happens to be at the moment.
Do not be afraid.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
My wife and I were watching a recent episode of Burn Notice (#502: “Bloodlines”, if you’re interested), where the character of Fiona tries to keep a philandering scientist out of trouble.
**While I am trying not to give too much away, there may be spoilers in the next sentence.**
The two of them ended up in a fast car on the highway, with Fiona driving 130 mph with her eyes closed, while the panicking scientist shouted at her when she needed to turn.
I have, in my reckless youth, driven almost that fast, and I can tell you with all sincerity, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. When you’re driving 25 or 30 miles an hour, you can look around and enjoy the surroundings a bit. At 130 miles an hour, you must keep your eyes glued intently on the road in front of you, or you will die. You don’t really even have time to check the next lane before you have to move into it because what is coming at you is coming hard and fast. (Did I mention it yet? Do NOT try this at home!)
I am realizing that in a lot of ways, the difficulties and challenges that arise in life are a lot like traveling at excessive speed on the highway. Trouble is not an enjoyable thing. It can be draining and often fearful to look at the road that life has you taking, and it seems like trouble loves to stomp on the gas. The feeling and fear of losing control, spinning, and flipping end-over-end is *not* exhilarating when it comes in the form of a crashing relationship or the brick wall of a crushing diagnosis.
When our lives are relatively trouble-free, we can look around and enjoy the scenery. We can get distracted by things that are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. How green (or brown) the lawn is, what critters are eating the veggies in the garden, that Tommy got a “C” in algebra, who said what and what did they mean by it, all become larger issues and demand more attention than they really deserve.
But trouble demands more of our resources in order to cope. When the doctor says, “Cancer”, the lawn doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore. The word “Divorce” tends to reduce the importance of how many tomatoes we are going to have this year. We need more of our energy to pay attention to the things that matter. Communication, study, emotional and mental effort are put toward dealing with the crisis, and the less important things fall by the wayside in a blur. Trouble has a way of re-setting our priorities, and this can be a good thing.
Another effect of trouble is to force us to realize that, no matter what we have come to believe, we are not in control of our lives. Oh, we can choose our socks and our favorite potato chips and a few other things, but circumstances change regardless of our precautions. Losing a job or a home or a loved one to disease is not something we generally have a say in. Our scientist friend in the story above was not driving, he was along for the ride, and the ride was terrifying. He could shout directions all he wanted, but he was utterly dependent on the skills of the driver.
The wonderful part is that for the believer in Jesus, losing control (or recognizing that control was not ours to begin with) can actually be *comforting*. We can find comfort when we learn that Trouble is not driving, God is. Paul writes in Philippians that he has learned that the secret to contentment lies in dependence on Jesus: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
No matter what it feels like, God is not a reckless driver who closes his eyes and waits for us to shout directions. He is, and has been, in charge of our lives and direction from the beginning, and (to push the illustration to its breaking point) he is the best driver there is.
Nothing makes the grinding trouble of this life less terrifying for us, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: most often, you are perfectly normal when you are afraid of the unknown future. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow precisely because he knew we would be worried about it. Knowing that God is driving and that he knows what he is doing gives us a place to go in our fear, a place to be afraid and most importantly, a place to find comfort.
Lest this entire post come off sounding fluffy and trite, please know that dealing with crises in life is not simple, straightforward or easy. There is no one “answer” or belief that will “fix” the problem or make the hurt and fear go away for good. This is one piece of what can often be a complex puzzle. When life accelerates and you feel it in the seat of your pants, find a friend or a counselor who can come along side you, who can help you make sense of your fear, and who can walk with you into the arms of Jesus. The fear will come and go. When it comes, keep on taking it to Jesus. He knows what to do with it.
- Easy frustration or quick temper
- Jealousy or possessiveness (indicates a sense of ownership rather than partnership)
- Getting “carried away”, even in little or positive things (lack of control over impulses)
- Lies, excuses, cover-ups: “I didn’t mean it! I was drunk: it wasn’t me! It was the alcohol.”
- What happens when you say “No.”? If it is disregarded or discounted, take warning!
- Parent/Child relationship (you have rules and consequences for breaking them)
- History: Has he abused before? Does he use force to solve his problems?
- Pushing blame/lack of responsibility: “I wouldn’t have had to do that if you hadn’t…” “You brought this on yourself. You made me mad.”
- Giving orders/making demands versus making requests or seeking your opinion.
- “I’m sorry, but…” The “but” undoes whatever came before it!
- Church/Faith/Religion: how is the language of “headship & submission” used? If being the “head” means “I get my way over yours” there is a potential problem!
- Family Patterns: What is his parents’ relationship like? How do his siblings relate to their significant others and children? How does he treat his mother?
- F.O.G.: Does he use Fear, Obligation, or Guilt to get his way? (‘You owe me! Look at all I do/provide for you!”)
- H.A.L.T.: Who is he when he is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? These are not valid excuses for lashing out!
Two Laws of Relationship:
- You ALWAYS have the right to say what happens to your body. Nobody can tell you that “You have to take it”.
- You are ALWAYS responsible for how you use your body. “You made me do it” is a lie.