Guest Post + Book Giveaway: Bearing One Another’s Burdens Doesn’t Mean Living All Of Their Emotions

{I’m delighted to welcome Sarah Cunningham to the blog today. Sarah has a new book out, and her publisher is generously giving away THREE copies of her book, The Well-Balanced World Changer. Read and comment by November 7 for your chance to win.}

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I learned just about everything you could possibly learn in church growing up. I learned about God and Jesus and, of course, the Holy Spirit, who I envisioned appeared kind of like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Only holier.

I learned to spell the word Christianity. And to spell it with superhero speed, thanks to that I-am-a-C, I-am-a-Ch song.

I learned how to lead a Sunday School class and how to facilitate a small group (which turned out to be suspiciously similar).

But there was one thing I didn’t learn in church. One incredibly significant thing that had huge implications on how I internalized and lived out my faith. How to manage my own emotions.

And the older I got, the more important this question seemed to be: If Christ was abiding in a person, what would their emotional rhythms look like? How would they show anger? How would they commit to making peace? How would they show emotional generosity? Authenticity? Restraint?

Since crossing from childhood to adulthood, my life has of course provided many, often messy opportunities to fill in those spiritual emotional blanks from my childhood.

Often, even though I learned the hard way, finding good emotional health just required a bit of fairly simple re-framing.

For example, along the way, I picked up this mantra: Insist on taking responsibility for yourself and insist on not taking responsibility for others.

I know. I know. It doesn’t sound incredibly profound, but the way it plays out can gift your life with so much freedom.

TAKING ON OTHER PEOPLE’S BURDENS

Perhaps, for example, you are a wife or a husband, a boyfriend or a girlfriend. And perhaps your life is hooked to a partner or even a friend who experiences a wide range of emotion. Who is even a little bit, dare I say it, moody.

At first you may take each of this person’s bad moods on with genuine seriousness. You might talk to them about it, you might make them dinner, you might encourage them to rest. You might feel so sincerely plagued by their state of be- ing that you carry their unhappiness around with you all day.

You might stay up late thinking about it, lose sleep and appetite over it, even cry tears over it!

But the older you get, the more you realize that choosing to do this is insane. Yes, encourage them. Send them cards. Make their favorite dessert. Wish them well! Laugh when they laugh, mourn when they mourn, and help them bear their burdens.

DON’T TRADE YOUR EMOTIONS FOR THEIRS

But for goodness’ sake, don’t replace your own identity or emotional state with theirs. What good does it do the world if you ship out your steadiness, your good feeling, your sanity in exchange for someone else’s rockiness, their bad feeling, their ill state of mind? Is the planet better off after you’ve added yet another unhappy person to it?

And how unfair and disproportionate is this! Is this really what God wants? That you must not only deal with your own bad days, but that you must also take on someone else’s? So you must have twice as many bad days as the next guy? If this is the case, I hope you don’t make too many close friends or your family doesn’t ever grow too large. You could get so busy living other people’s bad days that you would never have any unoccupied days left to be good!

Really? Is this what God wants? Instead of just mom being burdened by frustration or overcome with grief, now it is mom and dad struggling under the weight of it? Two parents out of commission? Is this what is best for your children?

Don’t mishear me. I am not saying don’t help others bear their burdens. I’m saying don’t give up your right to manage their burdens differently than they choose to! No rule says that when you bear their burdens you can’t be smarter or wiser about how you hold them. No rule says you have to mourn as they do, that you must let their grief consume your life. Bearing someone else’s burden does not mean handling your

emotions just like they do. It does not cancel out your charge to employ what you know.

You are not responsible for how they manage your emotions, but you are still responsible for how you manage yours. You have been called to rejoice—to set your mind on whatever is noble. To trust that God will work out with them what is between him and them and that the one mediator needed in this scenario is not you.

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This excerpt was taken from Sarah Cunningham’s most recent book, The Well Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide To Staying Sane While Doing Good, which is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. Sarah is an author, idea junkie and Chief Servant to a four year old Emperor and his one year old Chief of Staff. She does freelance work organizing conferences and supporting publishers while drinking chai in Michigan.  You can also find great shareable content at her book’s Pinterest page or contribute your own life lessons on social media using the hashtag #worldchangerbook.
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What do Foodies Have to do With Faith & Feminism?

I have a new post up at Christianity Today on Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation:

“Lord, bless this food, and bless the hands that prepared it…

As far back as I can remember, whenever I heard this particular cliché in a mealtime prayer, I’d involuntarily picture a pair of magically disembodied hands, white and fluffy like Mickey and Minnie’s gloves, hovering over the kitchen counter, chopping carrots, lifting pot covers, and sweeping minced onions into pans of sizzling oil. “Why are we blessing the hands?” I’d think. “Why not the rest of the person?” It seemed a strange way to bless someone, especially at church dinners, where we all knew the women whose hands had prepared the food, and who, quite often, did the serving and cleaning up as well. Even so, this blessing did evoke the hidden nature of so much domestic work. It still does

Emily Matchar recently took author Michael Pollan to task for blaming women for the decline of home cooking. She notes that in his popular book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan insists that appreciating cooking “was a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.” His take resembles Barbara Kingsolver’s, who in her memoir of local eating claims that the food industry essentially encouraged women to devalue home cooking as they sought equality in the workplace.

Pollan’s newest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, consciously takes a few steps back from that harsh assessment of feminism’s impact on home cooking, noting that while women’s liberation is sometimes blamed for the decline in home cooking, the actual situation is more complicated.”

{continue reading}

Sometimes In Spite of Your Best Preparations, The Thing You Hope Doesn’t Happen Happens.

We have the best sort of bed nets, treated with insecticide that’s harmful to bugs but not humans.

We have the best sort of malaria-prevention drugs, the kind with few side effects, and we take it every day.

We have treated our clothing with the spray that’s harmful to bugs but not humans (see above.)

{You could say that, like my father before me, my motto is “trust God and be as prepared as humanly possible.”}

Even so, our son Graeme (age 4.5) came down with a mild case of malaria this past week, along with some sort of infection that sent his white blood cell count a-soaring and gave him a fever.

There’s nothing like your children getting ill to make you feel powerless. Oh, you take them to the clinic or the doctor’s office or the hospital, or some combination thereof, you fill prescriptions, and you Google various treatment options.

(I used my husband’s computer for a moment, and when he came back to it, he remarked, “you know it’s a hard day when your most recent Google search is “oral rehydration solution recipe.” True enough.)

But even with all our efforts at healing and comfort, we are not fully in control. We can’t filter out the p. falciparum or the streptoccocus or whatever strain of influenza is making the rounds. We can’t wave a magic wand and make it all better now!

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I hate this so much, because I like to believe that all my good preparations (see above) and even, to some degree, my worrying, will keep bad things at bay. When the lab test came back showing that Graeme had malaria in his blood, well, it was as if the universe was laughing at those plans. I do not like this one bit.

Of course, we were able to make sure that Graeme was getting the best possible treatment, and to monitor him carefully and offer him lollipops in a variety of flavors to take away the bitterness of the quinine syrup and so forth. We are the lucky ones, the unimaginably blessed ones, at least materially speaking.

He is already feeling much better, but I can’t stop thinking of those mothers and fathers who don’t have the luxury of phoning tropical disease experts and consulting with different doctors to optimize treatment plans. I can’t stop thinking of how grateful I am not to be in that position, but also, of how, even with all these advantages, there’s very little I can control, and I find myself still just begging God to be merciful, and to give me the grace to extend that mercy to those who don’t have those luxuries.

There Are Good Reasons We Love Pinterest

(and Etsy, and crafty blogs, and…)

Three years ago, I came upon a popular blog that kind of changed my life. It seemed to have it all–sustainable living, peaceful, joyful family life, relaxed homeschooling, great food, plenty of outdoor time, lots of good books, and abundant handmade crafty goodness–captured in friendly, relaxed prose and appealing, soft-focus photographs.

I bought this blogger’s book. I waited impatiently for every new post. I took up knitting again, this time with a vengeance. I learned to sew (finally, for real this time.) I broke out my sketchbooks and pencils once again. I made my own yogurt and cheese and bread. I set up lovely, natural, seasonal crafty projects for my kids.

Now, I was kind-of sort-of doing all (or at least most) of those things already, or had done them in childhood. But this blogger reminded me of things I’d forgotten I loved; things that, when I took them up again, changed my life because they helped me keep myself much, much better company–knitting and sewing and baking and gardening got me out of my head and into my body and my surroundings somehow, in a way that was really, really good.

Making things feeds something in us. I do think we humans are made to make things. There is a satisfaction that comes from completing a project–however mundane or marvelous–that is about more than just survival; more than just ‘getting by’ and passing along our genes or whatever. The impulse to make beauty and order–whether we’re simply talking about transforming dirty clothes to fresh, folded ones, raw ingredients like flour and butter and salt into puff pastry, or cast-away junk into something usable and pretty–is God-given.

There’s a story about the early years of ‘ready-mix’ type foods that tells about a ‘complete’ cake mix that flopped with consumers: it contained everything–powdered eggs, milk, and fat–and so required only the addition of water. There wasn’t enough creative work to do, so the mixes were re-engineered to require the addition of oil, eggs, and water–simple enough to offer convenience worth paying for, but involved enough to allow the consumer to feel that she was still being creative. Commercial recipes–like the ‘classic’ green bean casserole–involved mixing together convenience foods into novel creations.

Artifacts that seem funny now–like elaborately molded Jell-O salads (“if you made a Jell-O mold, you had made a meal!” a lady who’d been a 50s housewife once told me) and like the Bedazzler speak to the unease with which we’ve entered a world where it’s possible to do very little for our own sustenance. How many of us farm, or make our own clothes, or even our own music and drama and entertainment, as most people have done most places throughout most of history?

If you don’t make your own clothes, Bedazzle them. If you make a dessert from a mix, then put it in a fancy mold with nuts and marshmallows and whatever else. And if you don’t have time to do whatever crafty-foodie-artsy thing you wish you had time/money/energy to do…you could always just hang around Pinterest, or SouleMama, or Martha Stewart.com, or whatever. Even the dream of creating is powerful.

Photo Credit Here.

So, anyway, when I rediscovered making things–something I’d loved as a child–it felt like part of me was awakened. It felt weirdly powerful to have knitting needles and know how to use them. I have to credit rediscovering craftiness with the re-discovery of my love for writing. Making things–from paper and pencil, fabric and fiber, flour and fat–felt powerful. If I could make something worth wearing/seeing/eating, maybe I could write something worth reading/hearing/pondering.

Here’s where it got tricky for me, though: online, the line between what’s inspiring and what’s discouraging can be blurry, and I can only think it’s because of the careful edits. Ann Voskamp surely gets mosquito bites out there in God’s gorgeous creation. The most peaceful, attachment-parenting crunchy mamas get angry, pop in a DVD, and call for take-out, they just don’t write/photograph/blog those stories.

There’s a reason blogs like CakeWrecks and Awkward Family Photos (the anti-Pinterest and anti-Instagram!) are also popular: they bless us with the truth that everyone and everything is sometimes–even often–as messed up as we (and our families, and the stuff we try to make) are. They offer us the promise that even the screwiest of screw-ups can be redeemed into something, even if it’s just the sacrament of laughter.

We love Pinterest and the like because we’re creatures created to create, and creating feeds something in us that demands to be fed. But not all creations–certainly not the most important ones–can be photographed, pinned, blogged, or otherwise ‘sold.’ They are the ones that open us to ourselves, to each other, to God, and to the world, in thousands of visible and invisible ways: the tears dried with a gentle touch, the I’m sorry whispered with sincerity, the love that covers every flaw even if only for a few fleeting seconds.

At the end of it, all of our making strives toward this. Command + C those moments, and pin them in your heart.

The Newest Fad Diet VS. The Vegetable Volunteers

Well, WOW. I would not have guessed that yesterday’s post about a wacky fad diet would’ve garnered so many page views. But it did, and I can’t help but wonder why. I rather hope it is because people are looking for a reason not to follow the latest “should & ought” from the newest guru. Nearly every day, it seems, someone tells me of some new approach to eating or not-eating or exercising or not-exercising and all I can say is this:

If I were still in the grip of disordered thinking and behavior surrounding food and body, the Internet would be a living hell. HCG diet! “The Plan”! “Paleo”! The Primal Urge Diet! HELP!

And yet? And yet–there is this:

My compost pile. An occasionally smelly, sometimes-ugly, always buggy home to the biggest, juiciest worms on the North Fork. The place where the scraps from our table become the food for next year’s food. Nothing goes to waste here. It takes care of two big problems:

What to do with trash?

and

How to fertilize the garden?

in one easy move. In this pile go the eggshells, coffee grounds, burned slices of toast, and forgotten leftovers. Here’s where I put the custard that didn’t come together quite right, the bread that went stale, and the yogurt that got moldy.

Here, everything, even the most putrid, vile stuff, is reborn into something new: dark, rich soil that feeds the garden and brings forth new life. And so it goes on.

And sometimes, there are unexpected graces:

This pretty little butternut squash grew from a forgotten seed discarded in the compost pile last autumn. There that little seed rested all winter until, come spring, it grew into a plant that bore another beautiful fruit.

In this ugly, forgotten corner of the garden (where the compost pile was located previously) a number of vegetables “volunteered”–they sprang forth from scattered seeds and persevered to bring something beautiful and edible and life-giving.

Oh, these little events–“random” butternut squashes, potatoes, and tomatoes growing from compost piles–don’t get much press, I know. But to me, they point beyond themselves to a story that’s much, much greater: it’s the story of beauty from ashes, a promise that somehow, the crazy, smelly, wasted and mixed-up bits and pieces of this world can be transformed, redeemed, into something that’s at once totally different from and organically connected to what’s come before.

Yes, indeed. There are glimpses of grace within and among and emerging from the confusing bits and pieces of this life, and they are worth holding onto.