Right Side Up Living - Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC
Updated: Aug 27, 2018
“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus, Matt 16:25 “The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering.” C.S. Lewis “How can a man born upside down know when he is right side up?” G. K. Chesterton
“Perfect love casts out fear.” I John 4:18. We don’t often consider that in our daily lives, but it comes into play every time we interact with others. If someone loves me unconditionally without passing judgment, I’m free to be me, and I don’t have to hide behind a façade I create for safety. One of the greatest longings of our heart is value, acceptance, and at our core, feeling worthy. We seek this from our earliest moments of awareness. As children we learn that relational pain will occur, resulting in discomfort and we hide. We learn to hide behind a mask, missing the reality of who God created us to be. We reason: no vulnerability, no pain. As relational, volitional beings, we choose our primary goal of acceptance and a preferred strategy to avoid the shame of exposure. Imperfect love breeds fear.
Completely unaware of our deepest longing, we search to fill our hunger with idols to bring us peace, comfort, and happiness. These are second order desires. Protection comes in many different forms. We develop unconscious patterns and habits of protection that we unknowingly believe will keep us emotionally safe. We attempt to protect or “save” our life, by being overly rigid, or overly flexible, by managing everything, or managing nothing, by staying busy, or checking out, by acquiescing in hopes to avoid conflict in response to someone else’s attempt to control, by talking, talking, talking, or saying nothing. This is upside down living.
G. K. Chesterton asks, “How can a man born upside down know when he is right side up?” We fear rejection and we scramble to keep our false self-image intact. Adam and Eve’s failure to take responsibility for their choice, led to hiding. Shame always makes us feel naked and exposed. Like them, we hide. This protection is what Jesus called “saving your life.” We employ these strategies to protect ourselves. However, as the veneer of our self-protection wears thin, emotional, psychological and spiritual discomfort rises, and we encounter a deep loneliness. This awareness of something missing aches in our soul, and brings us to our knees. This forces us to stop, take a deeper look, and ask questions to address the painful sorrow we experience in these broken and shattered dreams.
C.S. Lewis lost his mother at nine years old, and his father was angry, distant, demanding, and eccentric. He states he learned an early distrust of emotions deeming them uncomfortable, embarrassing, and dangerous. He unconsciously chose to protect himself as a child and hide his heart from these dangerous feelings, turning to atheism. When you cannot make sense of the painful parts of life, it is easier to dismiss God than to grapple with the answers to painfully hard questions. God created us with deep longings in our hearts for connection, to live in community, to love and to be loved. We long to know and to be known, not realizing our deepest longing is a search to fill our empty heart with only what God can give. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” St. Augustine.
Lewis’ relationship with his wife, Joy, brought him to open his heart and truly love, something unfamiliar to him. He exposed his heart to experience love. And, it came with a price. True love always does. Her death forced him to look at his own “well put together life.” He realized the pain of losing his wife stripped him of that protection, and he found himself open and vulnerable, stating, “Pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” After Joy’s death, Lewis had to admit he did not have all of the answers. In this journey of sorrow, he wrote A Grief Observed (also made into the movie “Shadowlands”), Douglas, his wife’s son, was about the same age as Lewis when he lost his mother. This event forced him to face the old wound from losing his own mother, and he and Douglas forged a new relationship.
Lewis stated, “The boy chose safety, the man now chooses suffering.”
This is the question for you. What will you choose; safety or the suffering that may come as you begin to love others differently? This is what Christ calls losing your life. Embrace this or you lose the power to tell the larger story. Christ is our example. For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2) and while there, he reached toward others seeking the best for them and us, paying the ultimate price. He loved differently, “not returning evil for evil, but giving a blessing instead.” I Peter 3:8.
First, Jesus asked His Father’s forgiveness for those who mocked, stripped, beat, and nailed Him to the cross.
Then he offered forgiveness to the thief hanging next to him.
Then He charged His disciple, John, with the care of His mother.
And finally, He committed Himself to the Father to pay for our ultimate freedom.
Perhaps you hurt over shattered dreams? Life has not turned out as you envisioned or hoped? Broken relationships— family-of-origin, marriage, friendships—causing deep agonizing, unrelenting pain? Have you vowed that no one will ever hurt you again? Perhaps an addiction has taken over your life, or a loss of interest in things you used to care about, along with fear, anxiety, bitterness or anger? Although surrounded by people, you find your heart screaming to connect, and longing to be loved in the depths of your being? And God? Yes, what about God? Do you have glimpses, of how life could be different and you are ready for a change and a different answer to the emotional pain you carry?
Alternately, are you living your life taking risks, taking the chance to be open and vulnerable, with those you are in relationship? Are you committed to the well-being of another at any cost to yourself? Have you considered the possibility of stepping out of the cocoon you put around your heart, becoming vulnerable to learn to live and love differently? The Abundant Life that Jesus talked about is being able to love ourselves, love God, and love others as the Father and Son love one another. It is reaching deeper to find what is alive in the deepest recesses of your heart, then reaching out to another hurting soul to touch what is alive in them. This is right side up living and losing your life to find life.
If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, give me a call. Let’s see how you may be hiding your heart in a protective bubble in an attempt to keep up the façade you created long ago. Call me, and let’s explore other options.
Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC firstname.lastname@example.org 512-914-7927