How flexible are your boundaries? Coronavirus thoughts.

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Bargaining has always been a tougher phase of grief for me to recognize in my own life. When people think about bargaining in the context of grief, people oftentimes think of the “what if’s” “What if I had just gotten there sooner?” “What if I had gone to the doctor earlier?” The hard thing about that in our current context, is that outside of stocking up on toilet paper sooner, there is nothing that we personally could have done differently. Everyone I know, including myself, had no idea the upheaval that Covid-19 would cause.

But I think if we pause and look a little closer we can see how much bargaining is playing out in our daily lives. Think of bargaining as the subtle slope that starts to bring us back to reality. Denial and anger keep us outside of reality. When we are in denial we don’t believe anything has changed. Anger is just chaotic. We lash out and we don’t really even know why. All we know is we are angry and anyone who gets in our way is going to be the object of our wrath. Bargaining starts to bring us down to reality. We start to realize that yes, things have changed. We start to get small glimpses of our new reality. But as we enter back in, we try to enter back in on our own terms. We cling to the illusion that we still have a sense of control. We bargain. We make trade offs. We create boundaries.

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As I’ve slowly started to move out of anger, these are a few ways I’ve seen bargaining play out. Here are some of the bargains I’ve made.

-Even though I’m autoimmune, I won’t get Covid-19. I take really good care of myself. I will wear a mask, but only if I go to the store.

-I can’t totally isolate, so I decided to go on walks with someone outside of my immediate family each day.

-I have made a schedule that I stick to each day (I’m not working).

-I have a list of projects to finish.

These ideas and practices are not wrong within themselves. In fact they have served as helpful coping mechanisms for me over the last several weeks.

The question then is, where is the line between healthy coping mechanisms and unresolved grief that I need to process through?

For me, I’m starting to recognize the difference between the two by noting how I respond when I’m asked to step out of the boundaries I have created. Are my boundaries rigid or flexible?

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Let me give you a few examples.

As I mentioned earlier, I am autoimmune and therefore more susceptible to getting Covid-19. I may not be as cautious as some would like me to be, but I’ve created boundaries that are working for me. I still go on walks with people that are outside of my immediate family. I need the social outlet. Some people may not think that is wise and some people have told me so. How I react to people’s comments is telling. Do I respond with listening ears and a receptive heart? Or do I get defensive and angry when people question my boundaries? My response will speak volumes of the state of my grief.

If I respond from a place of anger or defensiveness, there is a good chance I feel like someone is threatening my boundaries. We cling to and defend those rigid boundaries because they have created for us a sense of control.
If I respond with grace and humility there is a good chance that I have flexibility around my boundaries. I take time to consider if I need to adjust my current boundaries (which might mean less physical flexibility) and make changes as necessary.

What about how you use your time? What if you are confronted about that? I feel like people are living in two extremes: they are so overwhelmed by everything they become paralyzed and therefore can’t do anything. Or, people are so disoriented, they can’t stop doing things. The hustle keeps them from dealing with their current reality. I tend to do the latter. I figure if I keep on moving, I don’t have to deal with the deep despair I am afraid I would experience if I slowed down. How do I respond when that is questioned?

Do I get angry and explode and say things like “at least I’m doing something?” Or do I respond and say “Yes, you are probably right, I need to take a break. I need to adjust my boundaries.”

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I would love to spare you some pain. Control is an illusion. I’ve wasted years of my life to try to prove otherwise. For a long time after my liver transplant I thought I had accepted my new reality. I hadn’t. What I had done was create a reality with boundaries that worked for me, a reality that felt safe and secure. But it was all an illusion. It was incredibly beautiful, disorienting and painful when that world crumbled. But I’m so glad it did, because I finally got to see what I had been missing all along.

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The same thing is true in our current context. As we continue on our grief journey and start to get glimpses of our new reality, it will be tempting to try to enter in on our own terms. Our natural instinct will be to create our own world that feels safe and secure, a reality that gives us the sense of being in control. That world cannot sustain us and will crumble under pressure. That world may feel safe, but don’t stay there. You will miss out. Because on the other side of grief, there is a big world waiting. It is a world that God created with all of time in his sight. It is a world full of adventure, sorrow, joy and pain. But we can have peace as we experience all those things, because we know we live in a world that God created and holds in the palms of his hands.

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Because there is more,

Lisa

Bargaining

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Bargaining is a time of grasping. You are grasping for things to be what they once were. You reach for any sense of control you can find. You are no longer blinded by your anger and reality begins to surface.  Being in the present is too hard. You fruitlessly reach into the past and beg to change things, “If I had just done this..” “If we had not gone on that walk..” Or people look to the future, “If you just make my mother better, I will be a good person for the rest of my life.” The present reality is too hard, so we either reach forward or send our gaze backwards.

As I have read about grief, people say that often times bargaining is the shortest phase in the grief cycle. Some people don’t even include bargaining in the grieving process. When I started looking at my own grief journey I thought for a moment that I had bypassed that phase.

I was very wrong.

My bargaining was not the shortest phase in my grief cycle and I certainly did not bypass it.  No, I bargained hard. I dove in deep and stuck in it for the long haul.

The problem was that the one that I was bargaining with was the creator of the earth and sky. My odds were stacked against me from the beginning. Even knowing that, my hardened heart approached the throne of grace.

I had demands.

It sounded like a lot like this. “If you love me, you will not let things like this happen again (reaching forward). I am a faithful follower. I have always done what you asked, crazy things even (reaching into the past). I will continue to follow you on my terms. You must protect me in the way that I feel protected. I will take care of myself and you can fill my life up with blessings. I have done my share of suffering. Take it or leave it. That is my deal.”

Let me spare you of YEARS and YEARS of heartache.

We don’t get to bargain with God. At certain places in my faith journey, hearing that would make me mad. If you are there, know that I have been there. I’m with you. I get it. Please continue to read and learn from my mistakes.

I spent 16 years bargaining with God (in fact, I’m still pretty good at it).  Bargaining with God became a key pillar of the foundation of my newly rebuilt faith.

In Words, I talk about a conversation I had with a friend. The condition of my heart and the innocent question he asked turned into a perfect storm that shattered the faith I had built my life upon. I was grieving, bargaining with God, and rebuilding my faith at the same time. It was not a good combination.

Let me explain.

My faith crumbled within the first year of my transplant. I couldn’t handle it all. The God I knew was good and safe. He loved me and I loved him. That had all suddenly changed, yet the depth of faith that I had wouldn’t let me walk away from God. I’ll tell you one thing for sure, things were different. I had come to the bargaining table and freely shared my demands.

My demands became the foundation on which I rebuilt my faith on. IF you protect and bless me-the way that I want you to, then I will follow you.

Matthew 7:24-27 says “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In that season of rebuilding, I read the bible. I read these particular verses many times. In fact I got a double major in bible and ministry. I had read the words, I knew God that never promised that we would be without struggle. I knew that I should expect suffering. I knew that in my mind, but not my heart. And whether we realize it or not, the foundation upon which we build our faith is based on the condition of our heart, not the words we speak.

 Needless to say, my house crashed a lot.

I have had some really hard things happen to me since. And because I built my faith on the idea that if I took care of myself and continued to follow Jesus, he would protect me in the ways I wanted and bless me in the ways I wanted. But then something bad would happen that was out of my control and my faith would crumble. I couldn’t accept the reality that bad things would happen, so I would reach into the past. I would remind God of all the things I had been through and how faithful I was. Instead of sitting in acceptance, I would reach into the future and think,  “Okay God, lets try this again. This is the last time. Next time I’m serious, I’m walking away.”

Unfortunately, God doesn’t work like that. When it comes to bargaining with God, we don’t get to set the terms.

Isn’t that truth so unsettling?

That is the thing that I hate the most and love the most about God – he’s in charge.

Like I mentioned earlier in my post, I bargained with God for 16 years. I built my faith upon the truth I was willing to accept, even though it never worked. Trusting God fully again felt too scary. I didn’t care that my house continued to fall, at least I felt in control as I built it back up again.

About two years ago a few things happened (which I’m sure I’ll share about soon) and my heart began to melt. My bargaining chips had never really worked and I was exhausted by continuing to build my house back up. I gave in and approached the throne of Grace. I did not come with terms or stipulations for my faith. I came broken and humbled. I accepted the truth.

God may never protect me the way I want him to. Really hard things are probably going to happen to me. God never promised that I would be safe.

But when I met him there he reminded me of his truth.

He reminded me that he is on my team. He reminded me that he will make good where there is bad. He promised that he will carry me when things are hard. And that he will protect me, but not necessarily in the way I want.

I began to rebuild my foundation. Not on my terms, but on the truth. I take one step forward and two steps back. But I know from years of experience that if I don’t build my house on the truth of God’s word, I will continue the cycle of crumbling and rebuilding. It’s exhausting.

Let me encourage you. Since I have accepted these truths, my faith has accelerated. I have had more breakthroughs in my faith in the last year then I have had in 20. The lies that I had believed created a barrier between me and God. I am truly becoming a new person.

I encourage you to take note. Take note of when your faith begins to crumble. What truths have you built your house upon? If they are not from God, I promise-your house will crumble.

The good news today is that God’s not leaving his throne of grace. In fact, he is graciously waiting for you there. He is there waiting to remind you of the truth. The truth that life is going to be hard and that a lot of times there is nothing you can do about it. The truth that protection will look different than you want. His purpose is not to make you feel safe. But he will also remind you that makes good in the midst of the bad. And even in the midst of your pain, he will remind you that his is on your team. And then he will help you start to rebuild. And together as you walk in the truth, you can rebuild your foundation.

Because there is more,

Lisa