Sitting in the Tension of the Unknown Unanswered emails, fractured selves, and learning to tolerate our inability to control what others are thinking of us.

I started a 21-day prayer devotional on anxiety this week.

My friend Travis recently launched a pretty cool guided-prayer devo tool and I thought why the heck not? I’m tired of feeling anxious all the time. Maybe this will help.

Today is Day 4, and I’m still feeling anxious. But I’m also being intentional about journaling each day, which is helping me work through the feelings swirling in my mind and body.

Progress…

2007

The photo at the top of this post is what I journaled this morning.

I feel a little awkward and vulnerable to share in this public forum. But then, if you read it, you’ll see that’s exactly what I’ve been wrestling with anyway. And so I figured why not open the window to you, dear reader, and see if you can relate to some of the tension I’m speaking of?

The tension I feel when an email goes unanswered, and I find myself continually re-editing it in my mind, thinking of all the ways I’d word things differently because surely I must have said something wrong…

The tension between trying to be authentic as a communicator and yet unable to avoid being influenced by a desire to please those listening…

The tension of shifting between the internal and external projections of who I am (the fearful inner child, the authoritative leader, the compassionate friend, the protective ‘manager’)…

I’ve been fascinated by all of this lately. This question of how to even figure out who we are, dependent as we are on others to fill in the blanks for us. Without feedback, we find ourselves questioning our intentions, our value, and even our future. SO much hinges on how others may respond to us that we can find ourselves backed into an eternal corner, waiting for someone to give us permission to leave the tiny space we try to inhabit so as not to upset the tottering apple cart of our desperate need for approval.

“SO much hinges on how others may respond to us that we can find ourselves backed into an eternal corner, waiting for someone to give us permission to leave the tiny space we try to inhabit so as not to upset the tottering apple cart of our desperate need for approval.” constancerhodes.com

This is not how God calls us to live.

It’s not who he made us to be.

2007

The first time I was introduced to the concept of shifting between different aspects of my fractured self was in my former therapist’s office in 2010.

It was our first visit and in my typical, smooth-talking way I had spent about fifteen minutes giving him a quick rundown of life as I saw it, and the problems I hoped to fix through counseling. I thought things were going great. I felt competent as I shared and was completely unemotional as I laid out the facts of my story.

Which apparently gave him a lot to work with.

“You’ve just done a great job of letting your ‘managerial self’ report about your life,” he said.

I was taken aback.

And curious…

Over the next year I learned a lot about inner-family systems, and how the ‘little girl’ (or boy) that each of us once was never leaves us entirely. It’s who we are when we laugh and play and get silly with ‘safe’ people. Which, unfortunately, most of us don’t do often enough. And it’s who our ‘managerial’ selves (i.e. our inner grown-up personas) try to protect from the pain of rejection by working tirelessly to project the image we think is most appealing to others.

If you struggle to accept this concept, just consider how your personality changes when you coo at a baby, or baby-talk to your pet; that’s your inner-child speaking. Or how you behave when meeting someone for the first time, especially someone you want to impress. A different side of you is probably at play. The question is not IF there are parts of us which are distinct from each other, but rather how to take steps toward integrating these parts, so that we can operate in the fullness of who God made us to be, boldly and without reverting to fearful, protective movements whenever we feel the threat of abandonment.

“The question is not IF there are parts of us which are distinct from each other, but rather how to take steps toward INTEGRATING these parts, so that we can operate in the fullness of who God made us to be, boldly and without reverting to fearful, protective movements whenever we feel the threat of abandonment.” constancerhodes.com

Which brings me back to the challenge of sitting in the tension of the unknown…

2007

Twelve years ago I was in a mess of a situation.

I had volunteered to help a local organization produce an amazing event to raise funds for their work. In retrospect, I had no business investing as much time as I did in this, since I had my own nonprofit to run. But at the time I believed that helping this other org would in some way benefit the work God had called me to do, and it also scratched my itch to be creative on a grand scale, and so I jumped in with all I had.

The messy part was that a key individual at this other org disliked me. A lot. And so while I was slaving away to create something special to benefit her org, she was slandering me in board meetings with false accusations about my intentions and my character.

When I heard about this through a friend close to the situation, I was devastated. Fear and anger swirled. I lost my appetite. I couldn’t sleep. I entered a full-blown depression, finding it hard to even get out of bed in the morning.

One day I told my friend how I longed for the opportunity to stand up for myself to the ones who were hearing these awful, untrue things about me. I wanted the chance to re-frame their perception of me to be more in line with who I knew myself to be. Because then, maybe, I could stop feeling so anxious and depressed. And I could actually enjoy the remaining days leading up to the big event.

My friend’s response was less compassionate than I had hoped.

“You can’t always fix what people may think about you,” she said to me, almost exasperatedly. “Sometimes you just have to learn to sit in the tension.”

“You can’t always fix what people may think about you,” she said to me, almost exasperatedly.
“Sometimes you just have to learn to sit in the tension.”
constancerhodes.com

I didn’t like her answer. I wanted vindication, and she was advocating tolerance. Tolerance I still struggle to practice when I suspect someone may think something negative about me. Tolerance that can only be built on a strong foundation of faith in Christ. Faith that must be practiced in order to stand the test of unanswered emails and a million other challenges to our security that we face every day.

Which brings me back to today…

2007

“It is in Christ that we find out who we are, and what we are living for,” writes the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1.

The people in our lives matter, but they aren’t who we should look to for our sense of self. If you think about it, they’re on their own personal journey toward resolving questions of value and purpose too. Which means your feelings are likely not their priority most of the time. And the fact that they haven’t responded to your email, text, or social media post is probably more about them than you.

Looking to people for our measure of who we are will only cause us to shift and change according to our assumption of their whims. This reinforces a perpetual state of dis-integration of the many facets of our God-designed selves, and keeps our tenderest, most creative, and most playful selves in hiding. Choosing to resist the urge to protect ourselves by hiding is risky. We may indeed be hurt in the ways we fear most. But the greater risk is that, through hiding, we might lose touch with the fullness of who God made us to be. It is our variety of facets that shape the diamond he’s created us to be, so that we might reflect the light of his glory from a variety of angles, weak, strong, and everything in-between.

“Choosing to resist the urge to protect ourselves by hiding is risky. We may indeed be hurt in the ways we fear most. But the greater risk is that, through hiding, we might lose touch with the fullness of who God made us to be. It is our variety of facets that shape the diamond he's created us to be, so that we might reflect the light of his glory from a variety of angles, weak, strong, and everything in-between.” constancerhodes.com

So this week I have turned to Christ first each morning, faithful to begin my day with Travis’ little 8-minute devotional. I’m choosing to sit in the tension of the unknown and seek God’s face in the midst of my little-girl fear. I’m looking for him to move in ways only he can, and to accept that his strength is made perfect in my weakness.

If nothing else, I am practicing obedience. And I am choosing to trust Someone greater than myself. Or anyone else.

2007

Remember the lady who disliked me and said bad things about my character?

We never ended up working things out, but God did allow some vindication in the situation.

The fundraising event I had spearheaded for her org was as amazing as I had hoped. The nearly thousand hours our team had put into producing it culminated in about ninety minutes of magical song, dance and story-telling that even the toughest critic had to admit was pretty danged great.

The next morning I received a phone call from the co-founder of the org. She was a woman I had huge respect for, and I nervously waited for her estimation of the previous evening’s performance.

“I’m a Constance fan,” she declared. Tears came to my eyes as she congratulated me on all we had done and expressed her sincere thanks for the effort. She even acknowledged some of the ‘bumpy road’ she knew had been involved, which meant the world to me, because I knew that I had her support in spite of the unkind things that had been said about me.

I’m still not sure whether I was in God’s will or not in getting involved in the first place.

But I love how he showed up at the end to remind me of what was True.

###

This is my friend Travis, who founded the guided-prayer tool I talk about in this post. I’m on Day 4 of the “Overcoming Anxiety” track. There are also tracks for those in recovery from eating disorders, working on purity issues, and more. You can try a free sample, and if you like it, enter code “ClientDiscount” to save 20%. (I don’t get anything if you sign up. Just a smile from Travis. Which is totally worth it. Cause he’s a pretty awesome friend.)

Travis Stewart, LPC

www.reflectiveprayer.com

About constance

One thought on “Sitting in the Tension of the Unknown Unanswered emails, fractured selves, and learning to tolerate our inability to control what others are thinking of us.

  1. Constance,
    Thank you so much for sharing and letting us “see” you. “Sitting in the tension” –such a real familiar place to me on many levels. This brings back to my mind something I once read about a natural phenomena called an “ecotone” –ecotones occur at edges and physical boundaries, where fresh water meets salt water and water meets land, where tides roll up and down coasts, where the fir trees of taiga forests give way to the lichen and grass of tundra and woodlands become pastures. It is an inbetween undefined place.
    The term refers to the transition from one ecosystem to another, as well the stress inherent in a population at the limit of its tolerance for specific environmental conditions.

    In the natural, these uncertain places create a phenomenon of growth. This is called the “edge effect”. the cool thing is, there is growth in these areas that will not exist anywhere else. Vegetation grows here unlike any other. There is a certain kind of life that seems to seek out these ecotones to exist. The neighboring communities influence this area but they do not define it.
    Why do I strive so hard for definition, constantly looking for meaning and approval I can fit into the lines that form the pictures in my mind?
    What if we are meant to live in ecotones…sitting in the tension? What if the reality of is that we ARE an ecotone suspended between this earthly realm and our Heavenly origin? What if it really is okay to “not know what to do” what if that “knowing” we want so desperately is rooted in the same knowledge Adam and Eve gave up Life to get?
    For me sitting in the tension is waiting between the now and the not yet. It is surrendering my pictures and abandoning my attempts to provide for my own safety. It is trust It is faith It is uncomfortable–but I am confident there is growth that seems to seek out this ecotone tension—if I will but sit a while.

    Your friend
    debbie west

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