Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why I Follow (Even Stupid) Rules

(August 20-31 I'll be blogging my way through I Blame Eve: Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes by Susanna Foth Aughtmon and giving away a copy each week!  You can enter the drawing via the Rafflecopter at the end of each blog post or right here.)

"We think we can be good if we try hard enough….The snake loves this thinking because it is delusional in two ways: 
(1) we think we have the ability to tally up goody points to get Jesus to love us, and (2) we think we have the right to judge others who don’t follow the rules. We get two sins for the price of one: pride and judging. 

And, of course, we are missing the point completely. God is not impressed when we follow the rules. The way we act needs to flow out of our love for him, not out of our desire to appear holy….He does not call us to a life of good behavior. He calls us to a life filled with him….."

Susanna Foth AughtmonI Blame Eve: Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes

* * * * * * * * * * 

From yesterday’s comments and e-mails, I learned (to my great relief!) that I'm not the only one who regularly wipes down public bathroom counters, drives 44 in the 45 zone, and counts what’s in my cart before going into the 15 items or less lane!

But lest you worry that I’m throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, let me be clear:  

I am still a rule-follower. 

I’ve watched the lives of plenty of rebels--teenage and middle age--up close and personal. 

Not pretty. Absolutely no allure.


Why I Choose to Follow Rules

This summer, I listened to the audio book of Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and then bought the paperback and read much of it aloud to Daniel. 

We were struck by a simple truth:  in a movie, the choices a character makes determines the plot. The plot then changes the character. 

Ultimately, choices make a character.

Miller suggests applying this principle to everyday life. If I make a different choice today, my life will be different today. If I make a different choice every day, my life trajectory will alter. As my life changes, I will become a different kind of person. 

Ultimately, my choices create my character.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea. But somehow the movie analogy made it seem so real, especially since Daniel and I were collaborating on a workshop called “Heroes, Villains, and the Universal Epic.” 

We started wondering aloud, throughout each day, which of the choices available to us would be the “heroic” choice and which would be the “villainous” choice. Sure, these are just slightly different terms for “good” and “bad.” But for some reason, thinking within the paradigm of a grand story, the choices felt like they mattered more.

Ultimately, this is why my rule-following choices matter: they change my story and create my character. 


Same Rule, Actual Choice

So, revisiting yesterday’s Starbucks-mochas-and-the-movie-theater incident:  

My knee-jerk reaction to the sign disturbs me not because I think we should have blown off the rule and taken the drinks inside the theater. 

My automatic fear reaction to the rule disturbs me because my behavior was a perfect example of what Aughtmon calls “Pharisee-like piety: prettied up on the outside and dead on the inside.” 

It was all rule, zero relationship. I was not listening to the Holy Spirit, nor was I seeking to show a Christ-like example to my brother.

A more thought-full, conscientious response might have been to read the sign and simply tell my brother, “I’ll meet you in there” as I stayed behind to finish my mocha. 

I would still choose not to take my drink in. 

The key is choice.


“So That” vs. “Because”

I know I keep circling back to these two ideas. They’re helping me clarify so much about what hasn’t worked in the past and choose that which is working better now.

My fear with following rules “so that” is that I focus so much on the rules, and the outcome that I need, that I forget about relationships.

And my hope with following rules “because” is that I will focus so much on my relationships with God and others that I will forget all about the rules.

Not because I’ve stopped following them.

But because I’ve stopped noticing that I’m following the rules in the joy of following Him.



Your Turn:
  • In what areas are you a rule-follower? 
  • How have you followed rules stupid?
  • Anything else on your heart!


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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I Follow Rules Stupid


(August 20-31 I'll be blogging my way through I Blame Eve: Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes by Susanna Foth Aughtmon and giving away a copy each week!  You can enter the drawing via the Rafflecopter at the end of each blog post or right here.)

"I like pretending I am good. I have trouble looking past people’s sins and caring for them in spite of themselves. It is easier for me to judge than to love. And it is easier to follow my own rules than to listen for God’s direction in my life."

Susanna Foth AughtmonI Blame Eve:Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes

* * * * * * * * * * 

Rule Follower

I’ve never been a rebel.

The closest I came to teenage rebellion was cutting my hair short, buying a bright yellow dress, and wearing clip-on ear rings...all in the same month. 

Nope, rebellion just wasn’t my style. 

I’ve always been a rule-follower: I hate conflict and thrive on community. And community requires rules. 

So...

  • I show up early for meetings...and cringe for those who walk in late.
  • I toss my own trash...and pick up bottles, wrappers, and bags that litterbugs have dropped on the ground. 
  • I drive under the speed limit...and try not to feel too smug when the law-breaker who blew past me five minutes ago gets pulled over by a CHP.

For most of my life, I’ve thought that my careful rule-following has protected me from untold dangers. Provided me with the best life available. 

But the further I’ve ventured from the grip of Perfectionism, the more I see that I’ve followed many rules stupid.

I don’t mean I’ve followed many stupid rules (although I certainly have!)

I mean that far too often, rule-following has been so automatic that I’ve not bothered to think.


Sign Follower

My brother and I had picked up Starbucks on our way to the movie theater where our spouses were saving seats. We were running a bit late, so we parked and run-walked inside. 

As we handed our tickets to the ushers, I noticed a sign that said, in big bold letters, “NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR BEVERAGES ALLOWED.”

“Oh no!” I said, pointing to the sign. “We have to drink these fast or throw them away!

My brother gave me an I’d Like To Throw You Away look and said, 

“We ‘have to’ now because you opened your big mouth. They were going to let us walk right on in with them!”

Duh.

I’d had no prick of conscience; I been in no moral quandary. I’d simply found a rule to mindlessly follow, costing us two perfectly lovely mochas. (And earning me the wrath–okay, the endless teasing–of my brother!)

That’s following rules stupid.


Recipe Follower

For Father’s Day several years ago, I was beyond excited to try a copycat recipe for The Cheesecake Factory’s Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes, one of Daniel’s favorite food. 

I followed the instructions for the Salsa Verde, the Pico De Gallo, and the Southwestern Sauce with ease. 

But the Tamale Cakes?  Nothing but trouble! 

The recipe called for 1½ cups of frozen sweet corn.  The instructions said (and I quote) to “coarsely puree 1 cup of the frozen corn in a food processor.”  

So, I dutifully pulled the bag of corn from the freezer, measured 1 cup, dumped it in the blender, and hit “on.”  It made an awful racket, and the puree was really hard to scrape out.

The instructions then said (and I continue to quote) to “combine pureed corn with softened butter, sugar, and salt.”

I used my electric hand mixer, and within seconds, the beaters were clogged with corn puree and hardened butter.

I wrestled with this mixture for the better part of an hour before I got it all blended, pattied, and baked into little cakes.

What went wrong?  I followed the rules...er...recipe!  Why had it been so hard?

Hard...as in softened butter meeting frozen corn puree. 

Duh.

I’d followed the instructions exactly as written, not bothering think through the logistics of (a) trying to puree frozen corn or (b) softened butter reacting to frozen corn puree. 

If I’d thought for even half a second, I would have thawed the corn before pureeing it, saving myself a bunch of time and frustration. But I didn’t think. I just followed.

That’s following rules stupid.


Do/Don’t Follower

I won’t tell you stories of all the churchy “do”s I’ve been sure to do and all the churchy “don’t”s I’ve been careful not to do.

I will tell you that all my do-and-don’t following brought me to my 40s joyless, bitter, and resentful.

That’s following rules stupid.

(Worse, that’s Phariseeism, and Christ has things to say about Pharisees that make my brother’s annoyance seem like glee!)


Jesus Follower

Jesus says, "Follow me." 

Two simple words.
  • Not about “do”s and “don’t”s.
  • Not about a recipe.
  • Not about a sign.
  • Not about rules.
All about a relationship.




Your Turn:

  • In what areas are you a rule-follower? 
  • How have you followed rules stupid?
  • Anything else on your heart!

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Truth I Can't Handle

(August 20-31 I'll be blogging my way through I Blame Eve: Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes by Susanna Foth Aughtmon and giving away a copy each week!  You can enter the drawing via the Rafflecopter at the end of each blog post or right here.)

"The chasm between the life I expected to be mine and my real life threw me like a pro wrestler performing a body slam. I was down for the count and at a loss as to what to do.

[My counselor suggested that I was] dealing with some very unrealistic expectations.

I was holding so tightly to my expectations, I couldn't embrace the joy found in the life I'd been given."

Susanna Foth AughtmonI Blame Eve:Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes

* * * * * * * * * * 

I read a blog post today that made me want to curl up and cry.

It wasn’t the writer’s fault. She honestly shared her story. She told her truth. 

I couldn’t handle the truth. 

The truth about 
  • how unintentional my parenting has been compared to hers.
  • how messed up my marriage has been compared to hers. 
  • how much “nothing” my life has contained compared to hers.

So much of the pain and regret in my life has been my fault, no two ways about it. I’m learning to take responsibility for my choices and their long-term consequences. I try hard not to think “if only” too often. 


Truth I Can’t Handle

But I still can’t handle the truth.

Not when it’s always 
  • the best-possible-outcome truth.
  • the we’re-always-smiling-with-whitened-teeth truth.
  • the if-you-just-do-it-this-way truth.

This kind of truth makes me feel that if I ever met this writer in real life, I’d have to paste on a plastic smile and talk about the weather, ‘cause we’d have so little in common.

My truth is so disappointing compared to hers. 

In fact, my quarter-of-a-century of marriage and parenting can be easily summed up in two words:

I stayed.


Truth I Can Handle

I can handle truth about 2-year-old tantrums and post-partum depression and going crazy with color-coded organizational systems in an attempt to gain some form of control.

I can handle truth about kids who ditch & fail classes and rushing to the ER only to learn that an “anxiety attack” feels a lot like a heart attack and making To Do lists that rarely result in “Ta Da!” lists.

I can handle truth about doing the best I can at the time, knowing it’s not nearly good enough, and having the proof paraded for the neighbors to gossip about.


The Real Truth

But today, jumping head-first into the compare-and-cry game, I forgot the real truth.

It’s is never about 
  • what I have (or have not) done…
  • what you have (or have not) done…
  • what any blog writer has (or has not) done.

It’s only about what Jesus has done.

Always has been, always will be.

Embrace this truth and embrace the joy found in the life you've been given.

I am the way and the truth and the life.” 
(John 14:6)



Your Turn:

  • When do you find yourself playing the "compare-and-cry" game? 
  • How do you handle the regretful truths of your life?
  • Anything else on your heart!

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    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Trying to Bring Back Eden

    (August 20-31 I'll be blogging my way through I Blame Eve: Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes by Susanna Foth Aughtmon and giving away a copy each week!  You can enter the drawing via the Rafflecopter at the end of each blog post or right here.)

    "The end of time seems so distant. Couldn’t we have just a little perfect here on earth? ...

    In the deepest corners of our souls dwells a desire that compels us to do what we have to do to get the results we want."

    Susanna Foth AughtmonI Blame Eve:Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues, & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes


    Whatever It Takes

    I know a thing or two about doing whatever it takes to get the results I want.


    Have I gotten the results?

    Er…

    Well…

    Um... 

    For the most part…

    Okay, not really. 

    In fact, no.

    But I never let that little detail stop me from trying over and over to do whatever it takes.

    For the past quarter-of-a-century, my primary efforts have been focused on my marriage. To changing Daniel. To getting him to recreate Eden with me.


    What I Want


    I have this list in my head of all the things that need to get done before I can consider my day to be a good day….And you know what? It never happens all in the same day. So when do I get to have a good day? What am I waiting for?

    I have lists (and not just in my head!) of all the things Daniel needs to do before I can consider him a good husband.

    And you know what?  He never does them all at the same time! So when do I get to have a good marriage?  What am I waiting for?

    This last week, an older lady in line ahead of me at Safeway had an entire cart full of rose bouquets and gladiolus stems. 

    "For something special?"  I asked.

    "My husband," she replied.

    How wonderful...for her. 

    Oh, I wish I had a marriage worth celebrating with $200 worth of flowers!

    After the woman left, the cashier explained that the flowers were for a memorial shrine in memory of the her deceased husband. 

    “She's been buying flowers every month for 7 years and 6 months. It gives her something to live for. They were married over 50 years."



    No Heaven on Earth


    I left Safeway in tears. Tears of sorrow. Guilt. Gratitude. 

    I texted Daniel about what I’d just seen, adding:

    “Oh, to celebrate with such extravagance while we’re alive! And NO, this isn’t a hint that I want flowers. I’m just very, very glad to have you still with me.”

    Then, I asked myself some hard questions:

    How much am I investing in Daniel’s life each month?  $200 worth of love and devotion, by any chance?

    Or am I just making demands, trying to “perfect” him so I can live that little bit of Eden I so desperately crave?

    That hankering for a perfect life can unleash all manner of unholiness within us as we try to make our own garden-worthy patch here on earth.” 

    I’ve been keeping "Where I Belong" on autoplay all weekend. 

    It's a great a reminder that no, I can’t have "just a little perfect here on earth." 

    That I really do “unleash all manner of unholiness” when I try to turn this world back into Eden. 

    That there is One who can and will. And I need to do whatever it takes to keep my focus on Him.



    (Can’t see embedded video?  Click here to listen to Where I Belong!)


    Your Turn:

    • When have you looked back in dismay at "whatever it took" to get results you didn't even end up getting?
    • What's on your list of things that have to happen before you consider your day (or marriage or parenting or friendships or ___) "good"?
    • What songs help you re-gain an eternal perspective when you start trying to recreate Eden?
    • Anything else on your heart!

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