Nobody’s Doormat

I have been pondering ‘authority’ in relationships and the need to set healthy boundaries. Specifically when the person with whom we need to establish those boundaries is someone who has authority over us, or is in a co-leadership position with us. It is a sensitive thing at the best of times, and more so when someone in authority over us violates us and boundaries need defining.

We all have the ‘right’ to be respected. It is not just a human rights issue—it is a right that God has given us. He made us in His image, to reflect His heart and His likeness. Each of us, in our individuality, is made to uniquely represent Him, here on earth. This is true whether we are Christians or not.  The effectiveness and impact of that, whether we allow that God-likeness to flow through us or not, is to an extent dependent on our faith in Him, but regardless of our beliefs, God’s likeness is in us.

When we function under leadership and authority, whether that person is a boss, a father or mother, a husband or any other leader, we should expect to be treated with dignity and respect. When that doesn’t happen, we have a choice; we choose silence and allow victimization—usually ending up feeling sorry for ourselves, or we confront (hopefully gently so that we are heard), or sometimes we may need to first reach out for help. We may not initially have the strength to confront, or, alternatively, we may come off too strong because of personal defences.

Years ago, as a young woman working as a secretary, someone in leadership asked me to do something illegal—I was to ‘fudge the books’ to make things look differently than they really are.  I was the person that signed off on documents for the government reports and to do so would have not only risked the company being slapped with a huge fine, but I would have been responsible.  In submitting documentation I always signed the typical ‘I confirm that the information contained in the report is true…’ and to sign that, knowing I was intentionally doctoring reports, was not something I could do.

However, because it was a leader who asked me to do this, I was in a conundrum. Should I defy my leader and not say anything? Should I do what I was asked? Should I confront?

Me, being me, I opted for confrontation. It’s not that I like confrontation, but silence, either way, would have made me feel victimized and I don’t tend towards accepting that role.

I walked into my boss’s office, defences high, and asked him to explain exactly what it is he wants me to do. Again, he outlined the exact steps I was to take in reporting.

“But that’s illegal,” I said.

He mumbled something that didn’t support me doing the right thing and, without a further thought, I leaned over his desk, handed him the reports and told him, quite boldly, “It’s illegal, and if you want it done that way, you will have to go do it yourself!”

Stunned, he looked at me without a word. After the pause, he told me to go do the right thing.

Back at my desk, my heart was still beating like a drum in my chest. Had I really just done that? My head was spinning. I was proud of myself for taking a stand but felt bad… almost sick, over how I had done it. And yet, it had been the truth.

Maximizing Impact

My boss’s son, having heard the exchange, walked over to my desk. A quiet gentleman, only a few years older than me, he spoke with great wisdom a lesson I have taken with me for life, “Trudy, what you have to say is often bang on. If you would learn to say it differently, it would be easier to receive and would have more impact.”

I don’t remember if those were his exact words, but they were pretty close. That advice has changed the way I address leadership. The Bible says in 1 Timothy 5:1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren..”

In my pursuit of healthy boundaries I made some pretty big mistakes. And that’s okay. I was learning a new and better way. It is better to make mistakes on the journey, than to choose apathetic disinterest in growth. It is in making mistakes that we learn to do it right.

The next time my boss asked me to do something sketchy, I calmly rose from my chair at my desk, looked him in the eye, ushered him to sit down and calmly said, “If you want that done, you will need to do it yourself. I find it offensive.”

Again my boss looked surprised, but this time was different. With a new respect he said not to worry about doing it. He never again put me in that kind of a position.

When it comes to family, especially a father, mother or spouse, the familiarity can cause us instinctively to do one of two things. It can make us defensive, angry and disrespectful, or cause us to completely withdraw in fear or anxiety.  Like their wives, this can be a very real part of a husband’s journey. If we overcome these tendencies and learn to calmly speak the truth—that we have value and are not willing to be a doormat—we will have much more impact.

Recently, watching a video series on working through various issues, the one example jumped out at me, illustrating how to do this well. The speaker guided her audience on a gentle approach to establishing a strong boundary. In her example she was addressing a father, and the words were something to this effect: “Dad, I have worth. God sees value in me. I am His daughter and He treats me with respect. You need to treat me with respect and talk to me with respect. Until you can do that, I am not willing to subject myself to abuse.”

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” More is said in the tone of voice than in the words we speak. The truth, when spoken with calmness, has authority. The same truth, when spoken in loud or angry tone, loses impact.

The key to ending the doormat lifestyle is to first see that we have worth and value, and then to live a life that commands respect, in word and in deed.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

To be a Friend of God

It all started with a random thought about my brother-in-law, Leonard Hursh, who is in ministry with the Eastern Mennonite church in Pennsylvania. That thought took me back to my own days in the Mennonite culture and I started recalling the preachers of my childhood. Some were dynamic speakers with passion for truth, regardless what their perception of truth was, and these men inspired me even where I did not agree with them. Some were very on target in their teachings, almost charismatic. Others were dryer than dinosaur bones. Yet others manipulated the mind out of a need for control and power. We saw it all, as most denominations and cultures do—the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

This thought led me to asking the question, Where was God? In a culture that had so much good in it, how was it that the true God seemed to have slipped into the shadows for many? Hidden at times, angry and in your face at other times. In a culture that prided itself in two main things—peace and humility—how did God become so violent and angry for some, or even for many?

This was not true in every conservative Mennonite denomination, or in every preacher, but my experience from age nine to fifteen often felt like a ‘graceless’ existence. Because of the hard-handed distant leadership of some key preachers and authority figures, I became disillusioned with God, faith, religion and, particularly, my denomination—the Conservative Mennonites. I have since learned to know many kind and caring individuals there, who are Born Again believers. Even in my childhood memories I can now find the good in those years of anxiety and fear, but at the time I was a lost child who mostly felt the anger, fear and shame.

Today, as my brain stumbled through the past, one memory overtook the others. It was not a one-time thing. It happened repeatedly, starting at age ten until I was about fourteen, in the days before my heart was completely hardened.

The song leader would get up, go to the front of the church, perch his Hymnal on the music stand, clear his throat, and announce the song number. As we began to sing, tears started to pour down my face and I could not stop them. There were a few songs that did this to me, but two especially disarmed me. I didn’t understand why then. I felt ashamed. Angry.

I presumed anyone within earshot of my sniffles or sobs, or anyone who saw the tears fall, silently prayed that I would repent, assuming I was feeling convicted of some great and horrible hidden sin. That was the only time we really saw tears in church. And that is why the tears made me angry, because I wasn’t convicted of sin.

Hidden behind that surface anger were feelings I couldn’t identify.

I recall one morning when the song leader chose both of the songs that so deeply touched me. Today, as the memories returned, I revisited the words of the songs and I started to let myself feel all of those things again. As I did, I allowed myself to explore those feelings and discovered a deep heart cry that I believe most of us have, if not all of us.

The first song, Precious Memories, tore at my heart. The only ‘memories’ I carried were of pain and trauma. I wondered what it would be like to sing that song and burst with joy, to know that the memories of family, love and closeness would go with you for life. Depressed and sad, tears spilled down my face. I wanted desperately to know love.

The second song, had I understood it all back then, was the definition of true love.

“I come to the Garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” (Couldn’t resist sharing…. As I wrote this I listened to Elvis Presley’s version of In The Garden on Youtube.)

A prayer I have prayed for years, and continue to pray, is that people will know me as someone who loves God and considers God to be my best friend, through Jesus. I want to be a friend of God. More importantly, I want God to know me as His friend—someone who is not afraid to identify with Him, even when it’s not popular.

James 2:23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.

Like Abraham, who made some pretty messed up decisions, and was still called God’s friend, I want that to be my story.  Though I’d be happy to do without the messed up decisions, it’s too late to avoid that part… I’ve already made those.

As I travelled down memory lane and felt the same emotions in these words, I realized that the tears were the tenderness in my heart for God, as my Friend, in the midst of the chaos and hell of the abuse and violence in my childhood. Reliving the memory, I see myself sitting in the Lakeview Conservative Mennonite church as an eleven year old girl, crying. I see Him walking beside me in a cool and quiet place—the garden of my heart—reminding me that I am His, engaging in conversation, listening to my pain, and telling me that I will not walk the path alone.

The song ends with needing to go, bringing with it a sense of sadness at needing to part and reminding us that our ‘this world life’ awaits, drawing us away from that sweet connection with God.

Thirty-two years have come and gone, since that beautiful spring morning when my heart cried out to know God that way, to be close, to be confident that I am His friend, that He values me and delights in me. Thirty-two years… and many, many rough waters later I see that I have what my heart cried for that day.

Life isn’t perfect. Heck, I’m not perfect so how could life be? I mess up. I sin. I fail. But always, always He is there, my ‘walking buddy’ ready to lift me up and encourage me to keep walking when I fall.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

I Am Loved, Accepted

(How Should We Receive One Another? Faults and all!)

Romans 15:7

Receive one another as Christ received you. This will honor God…

(How Does Christ Receive Us? Broken and Imperfect)

Titus 3:5-6

not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

Today I thought a lot about what makes us accepted. It all started with breakfast in bed. Well, sort of in bed. I came downstairs to find my two youngest sons already awake.

Todd, who is almost 13, was a bit disappointed to see me, but not because he doesn’t love me. “Aw… I was hoping Daddy would come down first,” he said. “I wanted to make you breakfast in bed.”

I told him I would quickly finish what I was doing and then go back to bed. This pleased him and immediately he set out to make my breakfast. He scrambled several eggs with cayenne pepper in—he knows I love spicy food so decided to be creative—and neatly arranged grapes, cheese and half of a pear on a plate.

I was just wrapping up what I was doing, and was ready to run back to bed when he decided to make a cup of coffee for me. I didn’t realize he has never used our Tassimo with the new disc holder so I didn’t offer any assistance. Almost instantly I heard a hiss and a sizzling sound.

Fortunately I was still downstairs and immediately I ran to the Tassimo to find coffee grinds everywhere and a mess on the counter. I cleaned it up, showed Todd how to use it and then went upstairs and pretended to sleep.

Minutes later Todd appeared in our bedroom, gently ‘woke me up’ and told me breakfast was ready.

Much picture taking and fussing later, I enjoyed a lovely meal.

Kordan, who is ten, walked into our room and disappeared into our closet. Moving a stool along the closet so that he could see the top level, he carefully studied my clothes. At length he arranged a selection of four tops that I could choose from to wear for Mother’s day. And in his favourite colours—three had predominant colours in various shades of blue, and one in red and black. I tried them on, one at a time, posing for Kordan so he could pick his favourite.

When all was said and done, his favourite one was a bit too snug and we had to go with his second favourite…. a top I don’t wear often. It’s one of those tops that I loved at the store and then it never quite made it to my favourite list. But Kordan gave it a ‘thumbs up’, so I wore it.

It occurred to me, as I thought about these special Mother’s Day moments, that sometimes our love for God is like that. We offer Him our service, broken by humanity, tainted at times by selfish motives. Our imperfect love is more about us than about Him. It’s like we serve Him coffee with grounds spilled everywhere, even in His cup. And the outfit we dress Him in is more to make us feel good, than to represent Him.

As a mom I was delighted with breakfast, even though it left a mess. I loved my outfit, even though it wasn’t my favourite top. I loved both of these gifts because I saw the love my sons poured into the offering. It wasn’t their perfect presentation that made their gift acceptable.

Only two things made these gifts so special this morning. They are my sons. That alone is enough. And their hearts desire was to bless and honour me. That was the true gift.

We struggle sometimes to see that God accepts us and loves us because we are His children. We fail and fall short and then fear rejection. We doubt His love and acceptance based on our shortcomings. When I lived my Christian life that way, it was all about me, and I missed the blessing of the unconditional love He offers His children. In my lack, I also placed these expectations on my children.

They say we live out in our lives what we believe about God, and there is truth in it. In the days when I felt God demanded perfect service, the mess would have overtaken the purity of the gift and my clothing preference would have overruled my son’s love. I would have been frustrated, maybe even angry.

How tragic to go through life that way and miss the wonder of the love in a child’s heart—messes and all!

The wonderful thing is that it’s never too late to change how we think. It is never too late to accept the purity of our children’s love. And it’s never too late to receive the love and acceptance God offers us, on His terms—Jesus—and not based on our perfection.

What adjustments do you need to make in how you see God’s love and acceptance?

© Trudy Metzger 2012