Taking relation out of relationships
Last night, we talked about being in right relationship with others. As alcoholics, we struggle with relationships perhaps a little more than your average bear. In our black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, we either become dominant or dependent in relationships and must learn how to develop the healthy give-and-take which allows us to be on equal footing with friends and family. Oftentimes, judgement of ourselves against others has caused a social hierarchy to become so ingrained in us that we cannot view our selves or others outside of their relationship to us in our personally fabricated pecking order. We cannot delight in the blessings of others because this disrupts our manufactured hierarchy and causes us to doubt our own worth. Nor can we handle disappointment in the lives of those we admire – “If he cannot bear this, what chance do I have?”
In developing this hierarchy, we have set up all others as extensions of ourselves. We are unable to view others as they truly are, with their individual strengths and weaknesses. They cease to be three-dimensional, living beings. They are now paper dolls with which we play house. The closer the relationship to us, the less individual the person becomes. In the closest relationships, we will sometimes see the person as a part of ourselves. As such, these individuals must behave according to even our unspoken desires. A spouse is chosen to walk through life with us as a partner – the two become one. A child is the product of our bodies and souls and as such is an extension of us. In turn, we are products of our parents, so their actions are a direct reflection of who we are.
When people in such close relationship to us act in ways outside of our prescribed behavior for them, it thus speaks to our self-worth. We internalize the actions of others. A child’s failing grades will cause us to doubt our competence as a parent. A cheating spouse will cause us to question our ability to be loved. A parent’s ineptitude in any certain area can cause us to believe we are genetically predisposed to a similar ineptitude.
And this is when things get really dicey for us. Because there is a certain weight to the argument that these things are true. Genetics do play a large role in our lives – parents who are not athletically exceptional are not likely to produce offspring who are able to compete in professional sports. If we took a more active role in our kids’ lives, we could help them pass the classes they are failing. And many times when a spouse cheats, they will say it is at least partly due to an alienation of affection at home. This is certainly no excuse for bad behavior. The point is that, to a certain extent, the traits or behaviors of those closest to us do actually reflect who we are and how we view ourselves.
God does not view us the way we view ourselves, though. Even those who believe in a judgmental God do not believe that we are judged in relation to each other. God hasn’t drawn an arbitrary line at John Doe saying, “Okay, everyone better than this guy goes to Heaven and everyone worse than him are going to burn in Hell for all eternity.” Even if He did do that, what is the arbitrary value by which we are judged as better or worse? “Well, Jane goes to church on Sundays, so she’s more observant of the faith, but Bill prays more, so he’s more spiritual.” No, God sees us each as we are, whole and individual and loves us each as our own entity.
We are called to love one another as God loves us. In our imperfect, human form it is difficult for us to understand, let alone practice something as awesome as God’s perfect love. As alcoholics (I often refer to us as “more human than human”), it’s damned near impossible. Still, we are called to do so. For alcoholics, we have the added benefit of the fear of relapse and death if we don’t make right our personal relationships. So, yeah, no pressure here.
But how do we go about this? How do we generate give-and-take relationships into our all-or-nothing lives? First off, God must be our Director. Yeah, yeah, well that concept is a little abstract for me. How do I know the will of an omnipotent, omniscient, unknowable Holy Being? Okay, well, let’s just for a moment pretend that God is human just like everybody else. We’ll call him Steve.
So Steve is our director in this drama of life now. And we want to know how Steve will help us to develop a healthy relationship with… let’s say Joe. Merriam-Webster defines relationship as “the way in which two or more people or things are connected.” So, by definition, the relationship between Joe and I has as much to do with me as it has to do with Joe. If that relationship goes south, I have every reason to believe that there is something wrong with me. But Steve (God) is my director now, so what is his take on the situation?Well, my connection to Joe is between me and Joe – it’s got nothing to do with Steve. Steve has a relationship with me and he’s also got one with Joe. Steve can be sad that Joe and I aren’t getting along right now, but it doesn’t affect his relationship with either of us, individually.
If I’m to look at myself and others the way Steve does, then my relationship to Joe doesn’t change his value in Steve’s eyes no matter how good or bad things get between Joe and I. Conversely, Steve isn’t going to think any less of me, no matter what Joe says or does, so my worth in Steve’s eyes remains the same regardless of anyone else’s thoughts or behaviors. In Steve’s eyes, my own personal worth is not dependent upon any relationship in my life other than that with Steve.
So, even if God were human instead of the all-powerful, omniscient , perfect Holy Being that He is, the result is the same. My personal worth is not affected by anyone else in my life, no matter how close their relationship to me is. Likewise, even if I’m on the outs with someone, they are no less loved by God. It’s got nothing at all to do with me. In order to mend broken relationships, I have to stop looking at them as condemnations. Even though I am connected through blood or marriage or friendship to others, these connections are strictly worldly and matter not in a spiritual world unless God is a part of that relationship. Even then, with God as the Director, only His relationship with us matters.
This is a long, roundabout way to state a very simple idea. I am a very complicated person, though, and I often have a hard time with simple ideas. Simply put, it’s not all about me. It’s truly amazing the number of times I’ve had to remind myself of this. Once I take myself out of the equation; once I stop allowing relationships to dictate my worth, then I can view individuals for who they are instead of what they are to me. In this way, I can view them as God does and love them no matter how they may have hurt me. This does not excuse their bad behavior, nor should I set myself up for future hurt. All this does is put the onus for my emotional stability back on God where it belongs and releases me from damaging resentment.