Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
So says a famous passage of Scripture. We often take this to mean that we should be careful about becoming too attached to objects or money. We recognize that objects and money can be fleeting, and if we're too attached to them, and they disappear through natural calamity or perhaps even our own recklessness, we're in for a world of hurt.
But, what if we've become too attached to our own story. What if we have unwittingly allowed ourselves to become welded to a particular view of ourselves—our story—so that we become immobilized? Let me explain.
Pamela has been obese her entire life. For over thirty years she has known obesity. She has always struggled with her eating disorder, obsessing about her "comfort foods," ways to rid herself of her excess weight, and even ways to pretend she doesn't have the disorder. She secretly eats the wrong foods, laughs uncomfortably when caught, buys clothes so that her weight issue isn't so apparent, and wraps her life around her disorder. Not surprisingly, she has never sought treatment for her disorder.
Pamela has sadly begun defining herself by her obesity. She is overweight and that is the central aspect of how she thinks of herself. No matter that she is also an accomplished pianist, or an excellent hostess for gatherings in her home—she still thinks of herself primarily as a woman with an eating disorder. She rarely allows herself to think about a life without her obesity.
Jim defines himself narrowly as well. Listen to his story:
Dear Dr. David. I have been divorced for five years and can't seem to find anyone interested in me to date. I was hurt very badly by the divorce and think of myself as a loser. I don't think any worthwhile woman would want to date me. I felt abandoned by my ex-wife, and now feel abandoned again and again when I become too frightened to even ask a woman out on a date. When I look in the mirror all I see is someone who is divorced and who will never have another significant relationship. What can I do to change the way I look at myself so I can have success in dating? Please help.
While Jim and Pamela's stories are quite different, you can see they both wrap their lives around a particular theme: Pamela is an obese woman who can't seem to live beyond her eating disorder. She doesn't seek treatment for her disorder, which suggests she obtains secondary gain out of her story.
Jim obsesses about being divorced, and his divorce, while an incredibly painful event, seems to define him. He rehearses being single, rejected and alone. He rarely takes chances to move out of these painful circumstances. Both live out their story again and again despite the pain, slipping into an excruciating rut.
To rehearse our life patterns is a common phenomenon. We often define ourselves by the "stories" we repeat again and again. Consider the story of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus encounters at the well. She immediately recognizes that as a Samaritan woman she should not be talking to a Jew, moreover giving Jesus a drink. But Jesus knew what he was doing. He entered her life at a point when she was living out a pattern of behavior—five husbands and counting---and offered her not only water, "living water"— but a chance to live beyond her painful story.
Jesus goes on to share some new opportunities with the woman:
"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13)
You can be sure that this encounter is an opportunity for this woman to redefine her life. Through her encounter with Jesus she will have the chance to review her life. She may well ask herself some new questions, perhaps the same questions we might ask:
- What is the story of my life?
- What are the patterns I repeat over and over again?
- How am I attached to these patterns?
- What would my life be like if I didn't define myself so narrowly?
- How would I like to define my life?
- How might God define my life?
Living beyond our "stories" can be incredibly refreshing and even life-giving. God wants to offer us a new life, and even declares that through His Spirit is always ready to do a fresh work in our lives. The life of Christ dwelling in us shakes up our old ways of doing things and provides the impetus for shattering crusty self-images, self-destructive patterns, and stories that too narrowly define us. Consider taking a few small steps to crack the mold on your self-defeating life patterns.
First, recognize the stories you tell yourself, and others, again and again. Have you begun to define yourself by some tragedy that occurred in your life years ago? Do you keep doing the same things, expecting different results? Or do you do the same things and give up on expecting new results? Consider rewriting your script, updating it with current information. How would others describe you? How do you want to be seen? Become familiar with your "story."
Second, imagine a new life. Who could you be if you weren't packing around old baggage? Who would you like to become? Become familiar with the dreams you secretly hold and ask yourself how you and God might begin to make them a reality. Let your imagination run free, making notes about your images and ideas.
Third, what patterns of behavior will you have to give up to embrace this new identity? As you allow yourself to dream you will have to crack the mold on old behaviors. You may have to make new friends, risk taking classes at college or pick up that musical instrument again. You may join a writer's group, sing in the church choir or take painting classes.
Fourth, find an encouraging audience. Seek out people who see you in new ways. Find those people who dare to embrace your dreams with you, championing the fledgling beginner. Stay away from naysayers who want to view you in your old, soon-to-be-outdated story.
Finally, rehearse your new story. In present tense, practice saying "I'm taking piano lessons again." "I'm excited about the support group on Tuesday nights." "I can't wait to find the girl of my dreams." "I'm starting that business I've been thinking about for years." Then, rehearse those thoughts. Allow the Spirit of God to be like a spring of living water welling up inside that feeds the dreams He has for you.
Please share your "new" stories with me. I'd love to hear "stories" I can pass along to our readers for encouragement. Please also feel free to contact me for further advice on this issue, or for information on Marriage Intensives at The Marriage Recovery Center.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
November 24, 2009
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