Sunday, July 24, 2011

How I Met Your Mother (For My Kids) Part 1

A few times in my life I have asked my parents how they met.  According to my mom they met while dancing at a club and had a mutual friend who introduced them.  According to my dad, they were at a bar, he dropped his wallet and my mom was there to pick it up.  There are several reasons why my mom's version is more believable (the primary of which being it is doubtful my dad had more than $10 in his wallet.)  But I have wondered what emotions were going on, what drew them to each other, what did they see in each other different from everyone before?  Thinking of this today while talking to a friend helped me realize I had to really think hard about what was going on with Alise and I.  So, I better get it down and put it out there before the story devolves to "we met at church when I dropped my wallet."

The first time I saw Alise was not a good time for me: just four months earlier I had gotten a divorce.  Emotionally I was in a bad place and I knew it, I was depressed and was not ready for another relationship.  Even though I was feeling guilt, depression and anger from the divorce, I continued to go to church - in fact i got even more involved because it was the most comforting place for me because my friends there were a constant.  One Sunday as I was getting to my seat I saw her across the aisle: and she was beautiful.  She was wearing a khaki skirt, maroon top and a tan jacket.  The first thought which popped into my head was "I am going to marry her" which was immediately followed by "that is insane, I don't even know her name or anything about her, she could be married already."  But still, from that moment I had a feeling I was going to marry her.  There weren't many people our age at church at that time so that same week I was casually asking some friends about her.  I wanted to know more about her, and it went beyond a normal attraction to a woman: I was drawn to her.  On the other hand, I knew I was not in a place to date her, so I went on with my life and kept the feeling of her in the back of my head.

Within a few months she started attending a study group which I was also a part of so I learned more about her: she was smart, funny, sweet and a little shy at times.  She was also extremely devoted, giving, kindhearted and hard working (she was working three jobs in addition to going to grad school.)  What attracted me to her most however, was her positive nature.  Not positive and upbeat like a cheerleader, but a positive outlook and faith in the goodness of life.  She expected the best from people, and she expected them to do the right thing.  And when people were around her, they wanted to do the right thing, and I did too.  The more I got to know her, the more I was drawn to her.  And I think that is the best description of how I felt about her: drawn to her.  I hardly knew her on a personal level, and rarely spoke with her one on one, but we did engage each other frequently in group discussions and the more I interacted with her the more respect I gained for her, for who she was and how smart and kind she was.  Call me crazy, but I don't think I was alone in this: when I was single I made a mental list of what I was looking for in a potential spouse.  The list was my dream list of what I wanted, or needed in someone I could potentially marry and was to be considered a "dream list" of the perfect woman.  Alise blew away my list, hardly meeting any of my own criteria and yet redefining what I wanted.  She was creating a new list for me and the more I got to know her the more I knew I needed to get to know her better outside of the group.  But I wasn't sure if I was ready yet.

After almost a year of this I had learned quite a bit about her character, personality and perspective of life, but I did not know much about who she was on a personal level: what she liked, what she did in her spare time or even if she was dating someone.  One Sunday she brought a male friend to church and I just about freaked out.  He was from out of town and staying with her for the weekend - though in my head I was not sure what exactly that meant.  Was this a boyfriend?  The topic of this guy came up at study that week and when I learned he was not her boyfriend I knew the time for simply getting to know her was over - I had to start acting on engaging her on a personal level and truly see if there was as much chemistry between us I hoped there was.  I was actually dating someone at the time and broke up with her within a couple of days - and made sure Alise knew it.  A few weeks later is when I took the next step.  Our study group was planning a trip up to Yosemite, I was the group leader and we would be staying at Alise's parent's house (which is just outside of Yosemite) so we spoke a lot in preparation for the trip.  The day before the trip I called her up and asked her out.  And she said yes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Narcissism in Prayer?

A couple of months ago I came across this great article on conversational narcissism : 
or more precisely, how to recognize it and avoid it.  It's a great article and you should read it.  Go ahead and read it now and come back here after.  It's really better than this blog will be.  

As I was reading the article I slowly began to realize I was a conversational narcissist, maybe not horribly bad, but not good either.  If nothing else it helped me see how often in conversation I was thinking about my response instead of paying attention or asking questions.  I immediately realized two things: I was really bad at carrying a conversation if I just listen and a lot of people I talk to are more concerned with telling me about themselves than asking about me.  Which was eye opening as well.  

Meanwhile, I had been trying hard to focus on prayer, to make a deeper connection with God and find new ways to relate to him.  The problem was, my prayers seemed so empty and one sided.  I think you can see where I am going with this.  Most of the time when I prayed I usually asked for something from God or for a solution to my problems or whatever I was working on internally - then I immediately tried to think of a solution or plan how I could better myself.  That is essentially when it hit me: I was being a conversational narcissist in my prayer life.  Worse yet, I was trying to answer my own prayers: it was simply a conversation with myself and waiting for God to give me the thumbs up.  

This is the theological equivalent of talking at someone instead of talking with someone.  Except that someone is the Creator of the universe, and I am just me.  My life has always been a poor balance of low self-esteem and an egotistical know-it-all: being my best at a humble yet confident middle ground but doing a bad job of consistently staying there.  It's hard to face the thought of my prayer life being more of the later.  I believe the point of prayer is not to get what I want from God: it is to get aligned with God's will.  It is being brought into peace and revelation of what he wants from my life and those around me.  Instead of wanting and desiring possession, I would want and desire to further his Kingdom.  But if my prayers are nothing but asking, seeking, and worst of all telling, then how can I be listening, learning and conforming?  It almost sounds strange to say it, but the point of prayer should be to get to know God.  Not the God I want or the God I expect but the true God.  And that true God is tough to see if my prayer life is preoccupied with my own needs, wants, desires and ego.  How can I seek his will if I am clouded with my own perception of God?  How can I seek his will when I am preoccupied with my own? I can't.  Dropping the narcissism from my prayer life means listening, waiting, asking questions and accepting the answers even if I don't like them.  Just like conversation, the result is a more fulfilling and engaging interaction.  And when that interaction is with the Creator of the universe, the lack of narcissism on my part is justified.