July 30, 2012

The Murky Waters of Emotional Purity


Allow me to divulge a little fact about myself and a story. Definitely not my most embarrassing moment, but it's a tad bit humiliating. See, my family likes to do river sports. We lived in Colorado for a while and travel there consistently so it feels like a second home of sorts. We enjoy a good white water raft trip, tubing, canoeing, etc. My family has a sort of rule to measure how good these trips float turn out: "It's not a float trip until Natalie manages to get out of the raft/boat and into the river." My parents like to proceed by telling every story of me landing in the river on all our various trips. See, the point is actually to stay out of the river and in the raft... not the opposite. But I seem to have missed that memo early on. Most of the time it's by accident that I find myself soaked and floating downstream, but there was one time that that wasn't the case. 

For this particular trip we were canoeing. Can I just be honest here and say canoeing can be rather boring. If you go canoeing take interesting people along with you who you can talk to for hours, because canoeing can be slow. I prefer rapids, but for this trip there were none to be had. So I'm stuck in a canoe with my mother for three hours. Now, my mom is interesting, but you should also know that my mom is 100% not an active outdoors person. Birdwatching and rocking chairs with coffee... yes. But canoeing... not so much. Halfway through the afternoon, a couple of directional arguments, and getting our canoe stuck I was frustrated. I had to figure out a way to get us unstuck and going in the right direction. Our canoe was up against this sand/mud bank, and my "clever" idea to get us out of there was to get out of the canoe and push it really hard and out of the the rocks. Sounds simple enough. This river water though was murky... and deceitful, because when I got out of the boat and stepped onto what I thought was solid mud... I plummeted about four feet into the river. I'm covered in disgusting river water and mud up to my waist, I loose a shoe, and now I'm slightly embarrassed that that my so called clever plan was in fact a stupid one. And the other group of people floating down this river are getting a huge laugh out of this scene I might add.

I haven't gone canoeing since.

But, despite getting mud-drenched and loosing footwear, I did get the canoe unstuck and we were back to floating down the river... which was the goal.

Here's the truth about me as a woman: I'm going to become emotionally attached. It's inevitable. Women get attached to their husband/boyfriends, their families, their friends, their work (if they love it that is), their church, their surroundings... we'll do it with almost anything. Women are wired to be more in touch with their emotions than guys and have a greater ability to emotionally attach, which I think is a great blessing. But there's also downsides to this as well if we're not seeking or practicing godly wisdom in connection to our emotions.

"Emotional purity" (which I prefer to call emotional intimacy/boundaries, because I don't think purity is really a fair word in talking about this... physical purity and "emotional purity" shouldn't be equated as the same thing... because they're not, and I'm not totally convinced "emotional purity" is even possible) is a confusing thing at best. It's a lot like navigating your way in muddy, murky river water. What appears like solid footing could actually be a deep mud bank. But what does it actually look like when it comes to navigating emotional boundaries? Here are a few of the thoughts I had...

We Invite the God's Spirit to Lead Us. In any relationship it's important to be seeking the Lord and growing in our faith personally, as well as prayerfully asking for His guidance in a relationship.

We Guard Our Hearts. I feel like Proverbs 4:23 has kinda been tossed around inappropriately by some when it's brought up in relationship conversations. That verse wasn't meant as a promise that if one guards their heart they'll avoid pain or heartache, rather it's talking about getting as much wisdom as possible. When we read the entire chapter (Proverbs 4) the overarching theme is get wisdom... and get more wisdom, and oh, by the way, get more wisdom. In order to make the best possible decisions in life we need wisdom, which you and I get from three different places:
  1. The Bible. God's Word has ultimate presidency over everything. We stand under it's authority, not over it. Now, scripture isn't going to tell us a whole lot about how a person should go about going from single (point A) to married (point B). We have examples of couples in the Bible and their stories (Adam & Eve, Issac & Rebekah, Ruth & Boaz, etc.), specific commands (an example being no sexual contact prior to marriage), and then we have the attitudes/positions/mindset all Christians are called to "put on"... things such as love, humility, compassion, kindness, gentleness in all that we do, which will carry into how we do relationships.
  2. Your personal experiences. We do get wisdom from our own trials, life circumstances, and the various incidents we find ourselves in individually, but this is limited due to age, type of experience, and "there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Proverbs 14:12). Our experience does gain us wisdom, but that wisdom is not ultimate, only scripture has ultimate wisdom. So if I think I gain wisdom but it proves to be contrary to scripture, than my so called "wisdom" is void and lacks authority or weight.
  3. Other people's experiences. We can glean from the wisdom that other people gained in their experiences as well, but again this is not ultimate either. This is where mentors come into play. I highly recommend finding yourself mentors; godly people who can speak into your life and help you, especially if you're the type of person who just tends to emotionally vomit your heart onto anyone and you don't know how to establish good boundaries.
We don't fear risk, but we don't just dive off the deep end in relationships. One cannot go through life unscathed or unbroken. Pain is a respecter of no one and eventually comes to visit us all in some form. It's one of the consequences of living in a world that's fractured by sin and evil. And there can be heartache when it comes to dating. It sorta comes with the territory. A lot of us don't like that. We're a formula society. We like to take risks only if we know the outcome is in our favor. But, that attitude in many ways counteracts what taking a risk really is: You don't know the outcome. We shouldn't allow fear to cripple us in taking some risks, because you know what? Every relationship comes with it's share of risks. We can't approach relationships with a formula mentality... and if we do, we'll be sorely disappointed. With risk there's also a sense of adventure to it too, so it's not necessarily something dreadful. Out of wisdom we need to go out on a limb, because love is risky and it isn't 100% safe proof.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. ~C. S. Lewis
So, let's fill our hearts with wisdom, allowing wisdom will flow out, bleeding into the choices, decisions and risks we take.

We Consistently Check Our Hearts. In any relationship we enter into, I think it's important that we're consistently checking the posture of our heart and our motives. This includes asking questions like... What's my purpose in entering into this relationship? What's my motive in pursuing this person, and is it pure? Depending on the answers, they can be useful in helping us navigate our relationships. If your answer is something along the lines of using the other person as an emotional crutch because you went through a really bad breakup or manipulating a person in order to get something from them that you have no right to be asking of them, then those are really poor excuses to be dating or pursuing a relationship, and they can inflict pain on the other person. But, if the answer is something along the lines of being genuinely interested in this person and there's the potential that they could be your future spouse, then that's a good motive. 

A side note to the guys here though. You should be a bit more aware and considerate when it comes to the conversations you may be leading a girl into. I know I'm being stereotypical here, but because girls are more emotional, conversations over intense subjects (i.e. baggage, past relationships, father wounds, etc.) rank really high on the emotional/connectedness scale. Just try to be a bit more cognisant that what you might think is like a three or a four is more than likely a eight or nine on her emotional scale. So take that into account and be more purposeful/prayerful in having those kind of discussions.

We're Covered By Grace. If a relationship does come to an end and it's painful, don't be so hard on yourself every time about how you were too emotionally attached, because the truth is, you may have genuinely loved or cared for that person, and that's why it's painful. Don't apologize for that. Those whom we love tend to be the ones with the most potential to wound us. But that doesn't necessarily mean we weren't walking in wisdom in that relationship. You can still do a really good job of guarding your heart and experience pain or heartache. Broken hearts can always be healed and made new by God, THE great physician. To think otherwise is to hold to a rather shallow view of God.

At the end of the day here's what I know to be true:  God redeems all your past relationships and uses them for good. In the thick of heartache you and I can't always see it. But what I do know is that over time I've gained a different perspective on past relationships. God used them to help me grow and to draw me closer to Him in some ways that I'm not sure would've happened otherwise, and so in that regard I don't regret them. He used them (and continues to do so) for good... for teaching me things about Him that I hadn't known prior. Sometimes I glance back on past situations and I know that if I ever do get married my husband is getting a heart of far greater value now. Yes, it's a heart with a few scars, but it's a heart marked with a greater capacity and understanding of the gospel and Christ's redeeming grace, which He thinks is of great value because He gets the glory and praise as it's Healer.

5 comments :

  1. oh man, I can totally resonate with canoeing! i'm horrible at it! one time in france, my whole family went canoeing, and my poor dad got stuck with me, who is a pretty lame canoe-er. We seriously could not make it down the river without going every which way! haha! thanks for sharing this girl:)

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  2. Oh lol, I'm not an outdoors kind of gal because that incident sounds a lot like me. Let's just say nature tends to "own" me in outdoor activities.

    However. I am glad you're writing about this. Proverbs 4:23 is tossed around a lot these days. It means for us to desire wisdom above what our hearts says but people get it confused and out of context. If we have wisdom, we understand love. And if we understand love (which is more about giving & serving than receiving) we can have long lasting relationships. I don't say this lightly because I've gone through it and hey, being in a relationship testifies to this. Relationships are messy, painful & unpredictable, especially when you're following the Lord. We must keep our eyes on the source of wisdom: God.

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  3. @Pretty Lady: Love your insight and what you always bring to the "conversation" =D

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  4. That was really good. I love the quote from Lewis, and the side note to guys under the 'Constantly check our hearts' section is helpful - as a guy I'm relatively clueless about the how much what I do/say can effect a girl's emotion - especially when us guys have no intention of doing that.

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  5. How do you keep reading my mind, Natalie? This is spot on and awesome as usual.

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