(Part 2) The Line in the Sand - Chapter 9g. - Exclusion
Have you ever been excluded or left out of something in your life? There are so many times in my life when I was excluded. I wanted to be with my dad, or go somewhere with my brother, or even hear what my sister was saying.
"I'm sorry you can't come." "I don't want you here." "Go away!" These words have resonated inside my heart for years. I have even allowed them to help me define who I am. Before realizing these words and actions are lies, used by the evil one to take hold of my heart and to keep me from rising up to my full potential, I allowed them to hold me down.
There are three key elements to our makeup as humans: physical, emotional and spiritual. Let me explain how relational exclusion might affect us in each of these categories.
Spiritual exclusion might look like a complete turning away from God and His Word. It could be that your relationship includes no relationship with God, and there is no conversation about any kind of higher power. It could be that the other person in your relationship goes to church and doesn't invite you or you simply choose not to go. It could be a religion that is based upon a specific set of rules and because of what you believe you can't be a part of "them." It could be that you feel so badly about yourself and your sin that you believe even God can't help you. In this case it might seem like God is excluding you. In any case, the canyon grows wider because of a lack of regularly connecting with God and others in spiritual pursuits.
Emotional exclusion could be represented by my lack of response to your emotional situation or condition. I am guilty of shutting down emotionally throughout my life. Through the process of counseling, searching my heart and writing about it, I have learned that I don't typically understand what you are feeling or why you are crying. Because I don't understand, I don't know how to respond. If I act strong when you are weak, I won't have to feel any pain. If I don't feel any pain everything will be OK. If I don't show you that I feel pain, you won't think I'm weak. If I show you that I'm weak, you won't like me. If you don't like me, you will leave me. Alone.
Enter my father, who was emotionally unavailable. I don't remember a time growing up when my father displayed fear. There were times when he would appear happy, never sad. Even when his dad died, he seemed to be strong. He was good at showing anger because he seemed to be angry a lot. I don't think I ever saw him excited about anything except going hunting and fishing, maybe when he got a new boat. He received a "Top Pop" award and yet I don't recall him being deeply involved in my life or showing a deep interest in me. I recall several situations when I was growing up where emotion would be ready to surface and instead of experiencing the emotion, sharing the experience and talking about it, the situation would be swept under the rug. I learned to be an actor. I learned to avoid. I learned to hide. I learned to run away, carrying the pain with me as I hurt in my heart. I even contemplated suicide to escape the pain, but I was too scared to carry it out. So, to avoid the pain, I became like a rock, or a lump.
Later, in my marriage, my precious bride could not get beside or close to my heart. I was closed up, protected by many years of placing concrete around my bunker. There was no way she was going to hurt me in the ways I had been hurt in the past. I have heard many times throughout the 18 years (20 now, praise God!) we have been married that she wished I were more "sensitive." I used to translate "sensitive" to mean weak, and to show weakness would mean that I would be a loser and therefore unlikable.
I was emotionally unavailable except for anger and a fake happiness that I projected outward to create the appearance that "everything was OK." Because I excluded my wife, children, family members, co-workers and everyone else from knowing the true nature of who I was and what I was feeling, I created a canyon in ALL of my relationships. I effectively shut out everyone from my innermost thoughts and feelings in an effort to intentionally create a canyon simply for protection from a perceived threat.
I had bought-in to a lie that the evil one had whispered into my heart from the time I was a little boy. The lie contained several truths to make it more believable. One truth was that there was no one who deeply cared about little Scotty. Another truth was that dad will leave me unprotected because he isn't there. Another truth was that I was small and vulnerable. I was an easy target to take advantage of and to hurt. Another truth was that I had to "go it alone." All of these things sounded like, "You are not worth caring about and you are weak. No one will like you if they find out who you really are."
Emotional validation is very important during the life of a child. They need to hear, "I understand you are afraid (frustrated, lonely, hurting, or feeling unimportant, etc.). It's OK to be afraid. Because I am concerned about you and love you, I desire to hear what you are going through. I'll listen and we can get through this together." Emotional connection is more than listening to someone else's hurts or problems. This connection requires true empathy, the understanding that you also feel some of what they are feeling. When it happens, the hurting person instinctively knows. They feel it and they feel validated.
Physically unavailable could be a complete absence. I am physically not there at all. I am gone, or dead. I could be golfing with the guys or you could be out with the gals. I could be working in the garage or you could be busy with the housekeeping. I could be focusing on a project or you could be watching television. The line starts to waver when we are physically nearby and yet not "there" for each other. I could just tell you that I don't want to listen to you, or you could tell me that you don't want to talk to me. Any way you look at it, you will be disconnected.
Traveling for work is a common situation that creates physical exclusion. I traveled for work for two-thirds of the first two years of my third child's life. I know this impacted his development, not to mention the affect it had on the two older children. During this time of physical exclusion, I was emotionally and spiritually unavailable as well. What was the impact on the line in the sand? Boom! Boom! Boom!
I look back on that time and see it for what it truly is, just plain wrong. If you are reading this, and you travel for your work, please consider the devastation you are causing by this choice. This brings us right back to the principle of work and the wedge we can drive into our closest relationships. The more time I spend at work, the less time I will have to know you intimately.
Compare, for a moment, gold and time. Gold is very valuable. Time is very valuable. You desire more gold. You desire more time. You spend gold. You spend time. You make people happy when you give them gold. You make people happy when you give them time. A half-pound of 90% pure gold holds more value than one ounce of 99% pure gold. Likewise, eight hours of time spent together in relationship is far more valuable than one hour of quality time. Just keep in mind this little fact: It doesn't take money to make time, but it does take time to make money!
Be there for them. Are you?