Self-Deception and Self-Protection
The littlest and I had a rough night last night. She was restless and uncomfortable in body and I was restless and uncomfortable in spirit. I ended up getting up with her so that her whimpers and cries wouldn't wake everyone. We moved out to the living room and I quietly turned on Star Trek on Netflix. I paced the floor, rocking Sage gently in my arms, as we watched an episode.
For me Star Trek is filled with nostalgia. It reminds me of my dad and makes me feel like any challenge can be overcome. It feeds both my nomadic nature and my desire for deep community. It captivates the adventurous in me and even episodes that are decades old can still suck me in.
With Sage still awake and fussy I started a second episode and tried to settle her to nurse on the couch while I watched.
Not even half way through the episode the tears began. This particular story was about death, specifically the death of a parent. If you are familiar with the show it dealt a lot with the death of Wesley Crusher's father when he was quiet young.
Too close. Tears streamed down my face as I finished the episode. I couldn't watch anymore after that and brought sage back to bed.
As I struggled to get her to sleep I began to pray and ponder. In the darkness I thought about self-protection and self-deception.
In the episode a young boy lost his mother. His father already dead, he was left an orphan. An alien being feeling the boys grief made itself to appear as the boys mother and tried to take the boy to live with it. The boy wanted to go. He would rather believe the lie than accept the painful truth. In the end Wesley convinced him to stay, sharing his own pain from the loss of his father as a means to do so.
I will never be faced with such a fanciful way of deceiving myself. But, how often do I do just that? Choose to believe a lie rather than come face to face with something painful?
I know that in my own ways I have done this. And yet as I lay in bed thinking about it I realized that perhaps I have a different problem. My problem is not self-deception, but self-protection.
It is not necessarily a bad thing for us to try to protect ourselves. It can be necessary for our survival. But, in my life my self-protecting has at times caused more harm than good.
I tend to anticipant and foresee pain in my life and when I begin to do that I also begin to carefully and systematically raise walls against it. This has always been most evident in relationships.
I evaluate a threat and I retreat.
Somehow I haven't done this with Bryan. With Bryan I dropped every wall; I was all in from the very beginning.
It's happened slowly. I've noticed it now and then and tried to fight it back, but it's still there - my need to protect myself. And with every new progression of his cancer I have felt it harder and harder to keep myself from withdrawing. My actions have not changed at all, but something in my heart is more guarded. There is a part of me that is already grieving, already pulling away. A part that is trying to protect me from the pain that it foresees ahead.
I am sure that this is very human of me, very natural, very understandable. But, I really do desire to fight against it. Because it isn't reality. That Protector side of me says that it knows the future and tells me I must guard myself and seal myself against the inevitable. But, it is a deception. Just as I could deceive myself into thinking that everything is fine and that there is no grief to face (as the boy in the Star Trek episode tried to do) it would also be deceiving for me to completely give into the Protector that says, "there is only pain, there is only grief ahead. Protect yourself now before it's too late."
There may be some truth in the story the Protector weaves, but it is not the whole truth.
To live in reality, to live honestly, is to live in balance. To live fully in the present, open to the here and now. Not denying the reality of present pain, but also not jumping ahead and prematurely feeling or protecting against possible future pain.
It strikes me now that my attempts at protecting myself from future pain, and the boy in the episodes attempt at denying present pain, are both an attempt to avoid pain. But, is pain really something we should be avoiding? Isn't it our pain that drives us to our knees and forces us to rely on a power bigger than ourselves? Isn't it our pain that teaches us empathy for one another and compassion for others who grieve and hurt? Isn't it our pain that has the potential to make us even more thankful in our moments of joy? Isn't it our pain that makes us more human and yet also leads us out of our humanness and into our spirituality?
Perhaps pain is not something to be avoided at all.
When I think back, it seems that the times I have most tried to protect myself from pain, the times when I have built the most walls and withdrawn the most, have in fact been the times when I have in the end felt the most pain. I am not a very good protector of my own heart. Perhaps that was not intended to be my job.
Lord, I don't want my fear of Bryan's cancer to lead me to withdraw, to lead me to grieve prematurely, to lead me to built a wall between us. I don't want to protect myself from whatever future pain may (or may not) await me. I want to live in the here and now. Live honestly in reality. I want to continue to give myself and my heart completely to my husband right up until the last, whether the last comes tomorrow or 60 years from now. Teach me what it is to have an open heart. Teach me to trust you with my pain and my protection. In the name of the eternal three in one; Father, son, and holy spirit. Amen.
Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman