by Rand Seay

Month: January 2019

Calculation and Codependency

This separation has been a ripe time for me to explore myself and has pulled back the curtain on many things in my heart. I’m starting to build a more lasting type of strength, and catch glimpses of God’s mercy in this time. On the better days, I feel closer to being able to say that this has been a good thing, crucial for my growth. On harder days, making it through the day feels like a victory.

There is a little plant that ended up at the house at the beginning of this separation. It might have been an extra one that Jess didn’t have a place for, I’m not sure. It sat on the table looking ok if not a little puny. But within a day or two, it had absolutely no leaves. Every single one lay on the table. Whether they fell off because of the change in environment or because our two year old ripped them off I can’t be sure. Either way, the plant was just a bleak and pitiful stem. I considered throwing it out, but instead, I tried watering it. I continued to water it and care for it in the days and weeks that followed. I made sure to keep the soil moist, and somewhere along the line it sprouted tiny leaves. It now sits in a sunnier spot, receives the water it needs, and continues to grow. Hopefully, that continues. I identify with this plant. I’ve felt like my leaves were stripped away and that I have been parched. Only with water and sun have I been able to see new growth. I am clinging to God’s word daily, supported by strength no my own, and with so much help am digging into what he has to show me about myself.

This little guy is looking like he’s going to make it after all!

I am seeing more clearly a deep-seated pattern in myself. I desperately want to feel put together and make sure my needs are met. I become deeply uncomfortable if I cannot see where something leads, doing my best to avoid pain and keep the boat from rocking. I calculate. I use all the tools at my disposal to build for myself a crutch of control to help me feel ok through life. I choose to trust my strategies instead of turning to God and sitting in my fear of what will happen. I have many opportunities to grapple with that daily and see that it stirs up anxiety, grief, frustration, hopelessness. A good way to talk myself down from it is to remember that I am only called to take the step right in front of me and that I haven’t been given grace and strength for tomorrow yet. It takes nearly all my energy to turn off that noise and get in touch with where I am and what I need. It’s also hard to then move out of that.

A relational way I calculate is through people-pleasing, or codependency. I try to control my world by manipulating the way people feel. I say people, but I am uncovering how my main victim was and continues to be Jess. In my marriage, I ran everything through a Jess-ometer. The Jess-ometer is a name I made up for the thing that tells me how I think she will respond to the things I do, the things I say, and the mood I create. She receives no invitations from me when the Jess-ometer is running. Instead, I choose to try to read her mind, to make decisions for her, and manipulate her. I try to inspire respect and manage her mood. I’m starting to sit with the damage that has caused. There is no room for her to be a normal human who grows, changes, and needs things. How could I actually love her when I am so busy trying to keep her happy?

As my chief idol, I was so focused on the Jess-ometer that I failed to love my wife. That played itself out in a few ways. I subtly manipulate with my words, actions, and tone. I was and still am constantly tempted to try to win her through softness, large gestures, or movement toward her. Even if I can’t win her I may try to cover lost ground after I feel like I’ve pushed her away. In this separation, I have had to learn to slow down when I feel softness towards her because I often betray myself and see that softness as a chance to prove myself to her. This way of thinking is so ingrained in my manner of relating to her that it often comes out without me noticing it. I’ve struggled with that deeply in recent days and weeks. It comes out in the motive behind a text message or in the mood I create when we interact. I’m grateful for the physical space to be able to slow myself down, question my motives, and grieve my pattern. Again, this still happens daily.

I have also missed opportunities to offer another kind of love to Jess. Not necessarily the fuzzy, feel-good love of me doing things for her. Or of me cherishing her thoughts, ideas, and perspective (none of which I did well). Or creating for her. Those are beautiful expressions of love (when not manipulative), but love isn’t that black-and-white. The love I consistently failed to give to Jess (and still fail at) was asking for my needs to be met. Inviting her to partner with me in hard things. Persistently asking for my longings to be acknowledged. Guarding boundaries. Speaking truth in love. In other words, things that I thought would have made the Jess-ometer low but were actually good things for both of us.

This pattern is even harder for me to fight than manipulating Jess through movement toward her. I am petrified of saying or doing anything that I think will push Jess further away. In a world where I set her up as an idol, I would choose anything over pushing her further away. I would much rather swallow my pain and truth. But when I do it builds resentment and feeds my victim mentality. I’ve built up such a victim mindset that it leaks out all the time. It pervades my relationship with Jess, who to her credit has seen it and called me out on it over the years. I never owned that and even blamed her in it.

The thing that I am seeing is that in being a victim and failing to love her in this way for long enough, many other things suffered. The warm, outward movement of love became more manipulative, less free-flowing, stopped progressing, or even ceased altogether. What a terribly dark pattern. I became a victim and a martyr because in that posture I could try to heap conviction on her. That’s an ugly thing to write and face. But it’s dead true. Oh, how deeply I embraced and still embrace a victim mentality. It’s so hard to shake, but I am trying to shake it.

As much as I want to focus on everything but myself, pray for me as I sit in this bare spot. God means to deal with my sinful heart, and I have been in a perilous place where I can easily play a victim and attempt to manipulate. Before publishing this post, I found that I wanted to confess what I saw to Jess in person, because of how my patterns have damaged her. That felt like an important thing and I’m glad I had the chance to do it. I know of no context other than a separation that I could face the unhealthy ways I held my marriage, which is a mercy. My daily struggle is to sit in my fear and circumstances without trying to control outcomes, to recalibrate the Jess-ometer to a healthy place, and allow for compassion without betraying myself. I am called to work up the courage to do scary things when God asks me to and focus on walking with Him into my sinful heart.

Savoring Hard Truths and Working with My Hands

As my separation with Jess continues, I have noticed myself seeking solitude more than I would have expected. I need to talk sometimes, but there has been something savory about being alone lately. I have more room to think, feel, and just be. It may look like a personal solitude or a type of solitude that includes the kids. There may be lots of help available with them, but as their father, I want to strengthen the muscle of caring for them. That is my sacred task, and I want to enter it as consistently as I can. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve sought respite, but there is something in me that wants to be able to walk my own path without shying away from the hard parts of it.

I seem to think more clearly when I am doing something with my hands. A perfect match for me in my desire for space in this time has been to take on a serious woodworking project. It’s something I can do while the kids are sleeping. I can think, feel, expend restless energy, and learn. The end result will be a butcher-block style desk with many species of hardwoods, the most difficult project I’ve taken on. I’m excited about it. Parts of the process have been tedious and time-consuming, but it’s also been rewarding. Many of the steps were done in my garage, with the tools I have. In order to achieve the final result I envision, I sought out the expertise and machinery of a very experienced woodworker to help me finish the project out. What a joy it has been to spend time in his immaculate shop and learn from his many years of experience! He’s so gracious.

My desktop was in two 12-inch wide slabs and very uneven. This is the last glue joint being clamped after the faces were trued up. This thing is HEAVY, and now super flat.

I’ve been re-reading “The Highlander’s Last Song” by George MacDonald, and am once again deeply impacted by it. For those that don’t know him, MacDonald was an inspiration to many great thinkers and has been looked upon as the father of the Inklings, an informal literary group at Oxford in the 1930s and 1940s. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were the core organizers of the group, and it included others like Owen Barfield and Charles Williams. Lewis went so far as to call MacDonald his spiritual “master”. In this novel, MacDonald created two characters, Alister and his brother Ian, who have truly shaped my view of masculinity. How timely it was for me to pick up this book again! The things in it press hard on uncomfortable places. These are some of the things I’m chewing on lately.

  • That I am not a free man as long as my world can be shattered by a change in circumstance. God can and does shatter us in order to free us. My world has been and continues to feel like it is crumbling. How joyous it would be to be free of that!
  • That having is an illusion in regard to material things. With the possibility of divorce at hand, it shakes me to the core to think about losing the financial stability I have been fighting for. God gave me all the money and possessions I have and may see it fit to take any part of that away. It is a mistake to think that money is a force and not a mere tool.
  • That in all of this there is a gift for me to find that I could not have received otherwise. Through being physically separated from Jess, there has been an opportunity for my unhealthy relational patterns to begin to loosen their hold on me. What a severe gift.
  • That I need not spend my strength on imagined outcomes or scenarios. The strength I have is for taking the step that is right in front of me. What a humbling thing it is to notice how often I try to look ahead and influence what I see there!
  • That in many things God is asking me not to know and to be content with that.
  • That I owe my pride nothing. Even if I am in the right, I have a right to yield it to Christ. It has felt like things have only gotten harder, and that God is demanding more and more of me. It has made me all the more aware of my shortcomings and dependent on Him.

My heart can swing dark some days, but I am starting to see more clearly that I need not be afraid of any path forward so long as I cling to trying to do right. If you are a praying person, please pray that I might let go of my anger so that it doesn’t rule me! And that my grief pours out of me as sorrow rather than rage! Maybe even that I might wholeheartedly and joyously say, “Thy Will be done!”