I’ve found out a bit of my story this year, and have seen in my personal relationships that I seem want to share it. It’s the kind of story that will be at the root of my future stories, a story whose discovery thrust a marker into my life and clearly defines a “before” and “after”. The ripples will spread from here on.
I grew up in a wonderfully loving home, with tender parents who owned their shortcomings and gave unconditionally. They loved with their actions and modeled humility. This jumps out to me because as a parent I know how hard it is to do. Oftentimes the last thing I want to do is confess my sin to my children. Kids can be demanding, so I feel justified in my actions.
“Eloise, it was wrong of me to make you feel bad about being late for dance. Will you forgive me?”
“Reid, I was wrong to yell at you for accidentally spilling your milk. Spills happen. Will you forgive me?”
Even when their sin is mixed up in it, I feel it is important to separate out my part and own it in front of them. I hope it models for them how to do that in their own relationships. I received this as a child and was treated gently. What a mercy.
I was a quiet kid who was very introspective. I took the longest time picking out a toy at the toy store, not wanting to make the wrong choice. I loved to tinker, build, create, and get lost in things. I could spend hours with legos or some old electric motors and tape. I read books, played sports, and competed with my siblings in the safety of our home environment. My twin brother Bryn was my most consistent companion (and adversary at times). We played and fought and did nearly everything together. He was naturally more outgoing, leading with his face and moving toward what he wanted. And I was right there to join in.
Looking back I see that my journey has its origins here. I was naturally sensitive and remember feeling fearful socially. I was seen as smart and nice but was ultimately insecure about my ability to move powerfully, charm others, and stand my ground. Even though I was physically a late bloomer (still working on facial hair at 28), I was probably the most confident with basketball and soccer. Because of my length, I remember knowing that I could jump high and hit three-pointers. I also remember knowing that I was fast enough or in the right position to take the soccer ball away from someone. I had one relationship in high school, but am embarrassed about how badly I lacked confidence in it. It was a short one. I emerged out of childhood with a friendly smile, an agreeable personality, but also with deep insecurities.
Seeing these photos can bring me to tears because of these things. I see a little boy struggling with confidence and unsure whether or not he could actually move in the world. He was smart, creative, and happy. He won “Most Outstanding Senior Boy”. He had academic scholarships. He felt loved and safe but also harbored fear.
In college, I branched out a little but was never very far out of my comfort zone. My brother and I were roommates, but I remember deviating from my him for one of the first times in my life. I planned to spend the summer after our freshman year in a different place than he did. I was going to go to San Diego for a mission trip. I was excited but also nervous. I didn’t have that relational safety that I was used to. But it went well. I made some deep relationships and had a dark-horse run to come out as the “Most-Eligible Bachelor”, which was a semi-joking, jocular discussion amongst the guys all summer. It definitely boosted my confidence, and I came back riding that high.
I even moved towards a girl I had a crush on. I saw her as exciting, interesting, and comfortable with herself. I was so drawn to her and loved being around her. I had the feeling that anything could happen because she loved spontaneity and made things happen. She was deeply compassionate, and I could see that she was going to mark the world. I fell in love. This girl was curious about me and thought I was “mysterious”. I don’t know how but she fell in love with me too.
Jess and I were married before our senior year, and a whole new journey began. It’s a disservice to summarize it, but hopefully, I can draw out some patterns. I had so much growing up to do. We immediately felt our differences and the pain that came with that. We sat down with our counselor to try to make sense of it. I saw anything new or exciting as requiring monumental effort because I lacked the confidence to rock the boat. Anything new was inherently scary. I was fearful that I would utterly fail at providing financially. My focus was to avoid getting chewed up and spit out by life. These things were painful for Jess and she would lash out at me. I felt unseen in my fear and exposed in my weaknesses. The pain was blinding and confusing.
I longed for emotional safety, feeling sure that if I felt loved by Jess I could start to grow in confidence and move more powerfully. I longed for security but defended myself with arrogance. My wife was trying to tell me what she needed but I was unwilling to hear because of the way it was delivered, in an angry and vindictive way. I knew what healthy looked like and she wasn’t loving me. I had the moral high ground and wasn’t open to listening unless something was seriously falling apart.
To this day we are still working to untie this knot, but I deeply wounded my wife. I struggled to move and create on her behalf. She was forced to make change without a strong person by her side, and also against all odds. I was hurt by her, yes, but I wouldn’t own how I was damaging her. She started walking her own journey, which she shares a lot about.
I also need to come to terms that my own wounds started here. I felt assaulted and hated for my weaknesses, where I longed to feel compassion. It was a huge effort for me to move in the world, but I was trying. I needed to be seen in that and loved in the midst of it. Instead, I felt exposed, exploited, and kicked.
It complicated things that we started having children, too. Jess assumed the role of stay-at-home mom, a painful role that did not match her. I was agonizingly slow to listen to her pleas for change and fell into the pattern of resisting movement until it couldn’t be avoided anymore. She was pursuing higher levels of education, discovering her story, and trying to honor who she was. Finally, after our third child, we made a change and found childcare. Working with nannies was scary and hard, and I wish I would have seen that God was inviting me to rise up to that for our marriage. But I was learning to fix these things not out of a place of confident compassion for Jess. My real motivation was to continue to feel secure in my marriage. It was survival. That little boy who lacked confidence and was fearful of what others might do to him was figuring out how to stay safe.
Being introspective, it came naturally to me to develop strategies to find security in my marriage. I tried to hide behind certain strengths. It took me a while to build confidence with parenting in the first place, but after facing it for long enough I found that I felt equipped to provide emotional security for the kids. Spontaneity was still hard and scary for me, but it was worth it to fight to be present in our day to day grind.
That movement continued for me, and I started to come into the role that I saw modeled to me as a child. I wanted to provide a safe environment for the kids to prosper in. I was also building confidence in my career and saw some success made through dogged determination and an eagerness to learn. It felt rewarding, and my old fear of the world quieted a little bit. That was a huge movement of growth for me, though I didn’t see it at the time. I also see those successes now as a gracious mercy. It was deeply encouraging to take a swing at life and make solid contact. I have a place in this world! Home life was a little different. Jess was pursuing things that had been shut down in her life for so long. She was coming alive, and I was trying to support her through shouldering more at home. She was trying different fitness classes, pursuing becoming a Yoga instructor, and carving out her place in the mental health field. I took on more responsibility with the kids, but it was exhausting work and I also started building resentment. I longed for a teammate but felt like I needed to become a solid rock for my family.
By this point, I had the victim role down pretty well. I felt used and stepped on in my marriage, which was made even more painful when I reflected on the security I had felt at home growing up. I still longed for that and tried to communicate that something was amiss. Unfortunately, the main tool I tried to communicate with was shame. Jess could walk in the door and sense my frustration. She could hear it in my voice when she called me to tell me she had made plans and that I needed to watch the kids. My mood didn’t always line up with my words. I can see now that I was performing to maintain peace.
This part of the journey isn’t completely black and white, and that’s a beautiful thing. I can sense that a deep love moved inside of me towards my wife at times, too. My motives fluctuated quite a bit and yet my capacity for love grew. The Lord used this time to teach me confidence even without emotional security. I saw I had more patience with the kids, with myself, with Jess. I tried to consistently enter hard things with parenting, with household chores, with cooking. Venturing out of my comfort zone enough times was paying off. Three kids at the doctor’s office? I’ll try it. Swimming lessons, dance practice, and laundry today? We’ll take it moment by moment. Family wedding in California? I’ll plan it, save for it, and we’ll bring three kids five and under on the plane. We’ve moved five times in the seven years and have had half a dozen nannies. There’s been career transitions, mental health challenges, family loss, new vehicles, spontaneous trips, and professional trainings. We’ve been through a lot and pushed our boundaries.
These last two years or so I thought I saw my role in our family more clearly. I was the anchor who endured all emotional jabs and was the king of “Go ahead, I’ve got it covered”. I thought my role was to stretch and grow outside of my comfort zone, to always own how I was wrong and try to fix it. If Jess and I were disconnected or in conflict, I would cover that ground to try to hear her pain, ignoring mine. For me having my pain heard wasn’t as important as being connected again. It wasn’t worth the effort to be heard. All of this made me feel more unseen and fortified my role as a victim in our marriage. I didn’t ask for help and wanted to be able to handle everything the kids needed by myself. I didn’t have very good boundaries and was resentful that I still wasn’t loved or treated very well. I noticed that curiosity towards Jess wasn’t very genuine, which is wounding and has caused her immense pain.
So this summer I started on my journey with a counselor to see these things. One day in the counseling office it became crystal clear that I was ultimately performing in life and in my marriage, and that it was killing me. I was seeking security and trying to control how Jess felt about me, all in an effort to feel loved, respected, and safe. It resonated so strongly because I was so completely terrified to lay down those strategies and release my perceived control. To trust the work God has done Jess’s life and let her move toward me. Absolutely terrifying.
Up until that point, I hadn’t seen any sign that my needs would be met in my marriage without me orchestrating it. Coming out of that place has been really hard. I still struggle with that. How do I break deep-seated patterns that were put there subconsciously to get my longings met? The answer is very slowly and painfully. I soon found that it was easier to use my resentment to defend my fledgling self. It wasn’t as hard to say “no, that doesn’t work for me” when I’m seething inside. This was some sort of movement, but still destructive. And that’s where I’m at now. Trying to get to know myself, keep in touch with what I need, and work up the courage to ask for it. Harder still is trying to stop being a victim. I’m good at being flexible but need to find the line where I am betraying myself.
All I can do is share what I’m trying to move toward, and own it when I lash out.
- I want to offer my pain in an open-handed way, gently and without shaming those around me. My wife, my kids.
- I want to trust how God is working in my wife’s life and stay on my own yoga mat.
- I want to be in touch with my needs and ask for space to meet them.
- I want to ask for help and be more inconvenient.
- I want to align with my wife and follow the Spirit’s promptings towards her.
- I want to move powerfully for my family if it matches me. But be gentle if it doesn’t.
- I want to be vulnerable and lay down my pride. I need support.
I’ll keep you updated.