I’m learning to live without defenses. I’ll probably still be learning this when I’m 80, or 100, or 53…doesn’t matter the age I ultimately achieve, the lesson will be ongoing, I’m sure of that. I’ve touched on this before, one of my recurring themes. It is recurring because the lessons are never-ending, and just when I think I’ve rounded a corner, there’s another opportunity to learn all over again.
And what does it mean, to live without defenses? It does NOT mean to live weak. It does NOT mean to be a door-mat, or a “yes” person, or to avoid all conflict. It DOES mean that I choose to offer grace and understanding when someone differs with me. I choose to give the benefit of doubt to intention, even to action. I choose to live strong, and to live with expectation.
Expectation is tricky. Sometimes my expectations have created disappointment: in myself, in others, in circumstances. But when the expectation is adjusted…now lowered, but adjusted…to seeing the potential that is unleashed by my actions…the real joy begins. What circumstances can I change, or impact, or better, or encourage, or simply comfort, if I act out of strength rather than defensiveness?
It’s a life-posture that’s deliberate choice, throughout my day, weaving through my interactions and thoughts.
It helps me to consider: what am I feeding myself? what am I showing those around me? how do I handle hurt, disappointment, sadness?
The only way I can make sense of life is to believe that we each have purpose, and we find the purpose and our gifts by sharing and giving with abandon. It is growth of faith. For me, the faith is in God, in the perfect grace I can only imperfectly copy, and the spark of miracle in everyday life.
The goal, the aspiration, doesn’t make me saintly, or superior…it keeps me grounded in gratitude, and challenges me to adopt an attitude of graciousness.
“Hurt people hurt people. That’s how pain patterns get passed on, generation after generation after generation. Break the chain today. Meet anger with sympathy, contempt with compassion, cruelty with kindness. Greet grimaces with smiles. Forgive and forget about finding fault. Love is the weapon of the future.” Yehuda Berg
I’ve been fortunate, and have experienced a lot more love in my life than hurt. But the lesson still applies. I can’t pretend to know how people who have suffered great injury and loss at the hands of others can adopt this stance. But I know that this is one of the secrets of the universe, and healing, paying forward, and joy, stem from this choice.
Another rabbi once said:
If you forgive other people…your Father will also forgive you ~ The Great Physician
Forgiving, living without defenses, showing grace and patience…these words come across as passive. The behavior is anything but. I find I need much more strength to bite my tongue, to show kindness when I’m struggling, to assume the best when I suspect the worst. Am I living authentically? Absolutely not! The authentic me is not the nicest person I know. The authentic me is often grouchy, rude, intolerant, impatient, selfish…pretty, huh?
Am I living intentionally? Yes. What I choose to show the world is the person I want to be, and am trying to become. Always, always, the first thing to recognize is that this is not about perfection…I’ll never be that. I have to forgive myself as often as I forgive those around me. I don’t have life all sorted out and neatly packaged. This is about the trying, the choosing, and the goal. And that’s all it can be about. Because this is no magic formula to get what I want out of people or my circumstances. Simply put, living without defenses is the formula for changing myself.
I love this post and your message and yes my authentic self is way less than perfect–I love how you say that we have the choice to live intentionally.
Thank you! I wanted to make the point that being authentic, or true to myself, is not always a positive thing…I know people often use the idea of living authentically to mean that they live honestly, and I like the best meaning of that…but sometimes honesty is used as a weapon, and an excuse to be blunt to the point of unkindness. I also think that being “true to myself” can be code for being selfish. If I am true to myself, I would likely not do many things for my husband or family, or even at work, because a lot of what I do is definitely more work for me, harder on me, etc.; but in the end, giving of myself is more nurturing than the concept of being true to myself…am I twisting that? Overall, just trying to be both healthy and giving, not selfish. ~ Sheila
I do not think you are twisting it — in fact it resonated deeply with me
Reblogged this on On the Homefront and commented:
I found this truly inspirational–choosing to be intentional and adjusting expectations really made me think…….
Thank you so much for reblogging! I hope it is helpful…I’ve had to practice a lot to do this with any regularity…it’s so easy to defend, but so freeing once you learn that you don’t have to! ~ Sheila
Very well said, Sheila. MJ
Thank you MJ, that means a lot coming from you! Mostly this is something I need to hear, again! ~ Sheila
You are so far ahead of many of us. Love this piece.
Hmmm…kind of you to say I’m far ahead! Most often I feel far behind! But at least I’m getting there. Like most efforts at self improvement, some days are better than others. But it is the trying that counts! Happy Monday! ~ Sheila
I’ve copied this Sheila… So wonderfully put!…I have a family member struggling with this…and we are at a loss as to how to help…Sometimes others words can be inspirational…
True insight for sure…
Marilyn, I hope it will be helpful! I often say I’m a slow learner…but maybe my path of learning can help someone else along the way. That’s at least some of the point of the blogging experience I think. A lot of what I read is funny and informative…but the posts that challenge me to be a better me…those are the ones I most connect with. Thanks for the note of encouragement, and blessings to your family! ~ Sheila
Beautifully stated. I lived a defensive life for many years until I read The Four Agreements. I learned to not take life and other’s statements personally. Another aspect that has evolved for me is the realization that I don’t have to own everyone’s issues. The words “That’s not my issue” have been so freeing for me!
Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to comment! I’m not familiar with The Four Agreements…is that a book? Sounds like it would be good reading for everyone! Like you, I found a phrase that I often use as a filter for myself. I ask myself, (when I begin to feel defensive and am about to say something I might regret) “how does this help?” If I can’t answer in a positive way, I find a way to redirect. Sounds complicated, but actually just takes a few seconds to have that mental check. Saved myself a lot of distress! ~ Sheila
It is very true what you have wrote here. Even the words of the rabbi Yehuda Berg..which I have to question..”Meet anger with sympathy, contempt with compassion, cruelty with kindness…” his words a Jewish rabbi. Why didn’t the Jews do that with their Savor Christ? But instead showed him Anger and Contempt..because he would not rule over them then and deliver them from the Roman rule. Cruelty…because they yelled out Impale him, Impale him..even after Rome Governor Pilot said, “Look, the Man your King.” They said we have no ruler but Cesar. Even after Christ still died for them..God gave them 70 years more to repent and they failed to and did not want to and Jerusalem the head of the Jewish Religious faith lead by Almighty God destroyed it (the city Jerusalem) at Roman hands.
No Jew to this day knows what tribe they are from or who the high priests are to be able to offer their animal sacrifices on the alter in the temple that was in Jerusalem. That all went up in flames in 70 C.E. when God laid it bare by the hands of the Romans.
Before you can even speak the words Yehuda Berg spoke you have to seek forgiveness and repent of what you have done. Since the nation won’t do it as a whole, then it must be done on a individual bases. Like my grandmother did. Who was born and raised in the Jewish faith. She repented, excepted Christ as her savor, feeling bad for what her ancestor’s did in 33 C.E.
Before Yehuda can speak his words, he must admit what he has done. He may have not personal impaled Christ…but by his rejection of Christ being his Savior..he is an accomplis to the crime..even more than 2000 years later.
So with that said..I agree with his words…but I question he should be the one to say them.
I understand your point of view and your concerns, and as a believing Christian, I believe all people need a relationship with Christ. But I appreciate this quote because I think it illustrates that regardless of personal belief, we can treat others with love, respect and generosity. I do not have to agree with someone in a religious sense to be kind or fair or honest, or to turn the other cheek. In fact, that is exactly the point Jesus made.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments! I hope you’ll stop by again. ~ Sheila
yes, this is SO very inspirational. I’d never heard the quote “hurt people hurt people” before. That’s something to keep in mind… we never know what personal struggles those around us may have.
PS I would love to get together while you’re in Williamsburg! Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I like what you wrote about choosing grace. I often get caught up in wanting to prove I’m right, when what I really want to be is a kind, graceful person. I’m going to work harder at this. Thanks for the reminder!
You’re welcome! And I need this every day…I was really just writing what I need to read myself. Easy to say, hard to practice! But when I do, so worth it! Thanks for your comment! ~ Sheila