Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday thoughts

Today my Sunday thoughts come not from anything that happened in our church meetings today, but rather from a book I read for book club entitled Kitchen Table Wisdom. I read it at the beginning of the month, but there is a passage that has really stayed with me -- in fact, I find I can't escape it.

It concerns love vs. approval (italics are mine):

The life in us is diminished by judgment far more frequently than by disease. Our own self-judgment or the judgment of other people can stifle our life force, its spontaneity and natural expression. Unfortunately, judgment is commonplace. It is as rare to find someone who loves us as we are as it is to find someone who loves themselves whole.

Judgment does not only take the form of criticism. Approval is also a form of judgment. When we approve of people, we sit in judgment of them as surely as when we criticize them. Positive judgment hurts less acutely than criticism, but it is judgment all the same and we are harmed by it in far more subtle ways. To seek approval is to have no resting place, no sanctuary. Like all judgment, approval encourages a constant striving. It makes us uncertain of who we are and of our true value. This is as true of the approval we give ourselves as it is of the approval we offer others. Approval can't be trusted. It can be withdrawn at any time no matter what our track record has been. It is as nourishing of real growth as cotton candy. Yet many of us spend our lives pursuing it.

A great deal of energy goes into this process of editing ourselves. We may have come to admire in ourselves what is admired, expect what is expected, and value what is valued by others. We have changed ourselves into someone that the people who matter to us can love. Sometimes we no longer know what is true for us, in which direction our own integrity lies.

When times are harsh, and what is needed to bloom cannot be found, certain plants become spores. These plants dampen down and wall off their life force in order to survive. When no one listens, children form spores. In an environment hostile to their uniqueness, when they are judged, criticized, and reshaped through approval into what is wanted rather than supported and allowed to develop naturally into who they are, children wall the unloved parts of themselves away. People may become spores young and stay that way throughout most of their lives. But a spore is a survival strategy, not a way of life. What you needed to do to survive may be very different from what you need to do to live. The saddest part is that we may have forgotten what it is like to be whole.

Reclaiming ourselves usually means coming to recognize and accept that we have in us both sides of everything. We are capable of fear and courage, generosity and selfishness, vulnerability and strength. These things do not cancel each other out but offer us a full range of power and response to life. Sometimes our vulnerability is our strength, our fear develops our courage.

This passage just struck me to the core. I had never considered approval to be a form of judgment before, but now I see that it can be. I am realizing that this affects me most particularly as a mother -- I surely do dispense or withhold my approval from my children depending on their behavior.

Somehow I must instill in them the knowledge that they are important, valuable people -- and that I love them -- no matter what behavior they choose. I am reminded of something my grandmother tells me frequently, that mothers are more concerned with behavior, and grandmothers more concerned with feelings. Mothers are necessarily more concerned with behavior, as it is our duty to teach and model good behavior. But I think I need to be a little more aware of and concerned about their feelings as well.

Today in sacrament meeting, our choir sang Dearest Children, God Is Near You. We have a small group of Primary-age girls who sing with our choir, and they were particularly angelic today. I am grateful that I know with absolute certainty that God's love is not dependent upon His approval of us, although our obedience to his precepts surely brings Him great happiness. I hope I will be able to love them as He does.

11 comments:

Barb said...

I really enjoyed this book, especially this portion that you highlighted: the difference between surviving and living, spores and blooming.

Shauna said...

Love these thoughts!!!! Sounds like a book that needs to be on my "to-read" list.

Ciria said...

That is an awesome Sunday thought and after the Sunday I have had much needed. Thank you!

Jen said...

michelle, i had to read this 3 times. the first time i stopped and just about bawled. i am printing this out. i need to read it again.

this really cuts to the chase, doesn't it? i needed to read this today. i think i'm becoming a spore lately. and in turn, turning my little one into a spore. this has to stop!


wow- is the whole book like this? i can see how this could be useful with my clients.

thank you michelle. i really needed to see this. especially the part of how what you do to survive is different than what you do to live. i think i've been in survival mode a little too long lately...

i may actually post again today- because you've given me something to think about. i wish i could give you a hug for this.

crystal said...

Wow, Michelle. I'm going to pick this book up as soon as possible. I was thinking as I read this about parenting and how the thoughts on approval relate to being a mother, how "approval can be withdrawn at any time." Interesting. I'll be mulling this over...approval vs simple love.

DEFINITELY thought-provoking. Thanks.

There is too much here to even ingest. I want to read it slowly--which is rare for me. Usually I eat up the page. I found myself stopping after every few sentencing to reflect. Thank you so much!

Hannah said...

I love this book and am re-reading it right now. This is a good passage. The imagery of spores stops me every time.

I so want to unconditionally love my children as I have been loved by my mom. I love your grandma's thoughts on behavior/feelings and find it to be oh so true.

Jill said...

I loved this passage from the book as well and felt rocked to my core too. I am oh so guilty of this kind of judgment with my kids (and everyone really) and feel like I need to be reprogrammed or something. Seriously, I don't know how to go about life differently.

Kelly said...

I loved this. We had stake conference this weekend, and at the adult session on Saturday night a man in our stake spoke about losing his 23-year-old son to a heroin overdose after years of addiction/rehab cycles. It was a heartbreaking story (crushing, really), but I really think this father had the love vs. approval thing figured out. I love it when two different aspects of life coincide to create a greater epiphany than they each would have been separately -- so thanks for this.

charlotte said...

What incredible insights! I love it that God's love is not approval, and knowledge of that love definitely puts my own thoughts about myself into perspective. I had never thought about approval as judgment before--with that perspective, I definitely need to be more careful about how I view others and myself. Thanks for sharing these insights.

Susan said...

Very good food for thought. I started to read it the other night, but was too tired to really take in all in and digest it.

I'm glad I waited, as I really can relate. Grandma is such a wise woman, and I love her comments and teaching. We talked about this again while I was with her this time.

I think you do very well in this area already! Improvement is always a good goal, so carry on.

I can grasp the idea that approval is judgement, and it does give one pause for concern.

Amy said...

I have such a hard time with judgment at all. I don't think that I'm a cruelly judgmental person, but I do know that I, like probably everybody, make judgments about people. This passage really struck me, too, from the book. Dr. Remen seems so enlightened-it's difficult to incorporate all of the wisdom that she has to impart into my life. Her books are ones that deserve to be read again and again.

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