Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dressed for the Weather

   “There’s no such thing as bad weather,” someone has said, “only inadequate protection.”

    My mother was big on protection. She convinced us we’d catch a terrible cold or die of pneumonia if we didn’t put on our caps and several extra layers whenever it got chilly outside.

    You can learn from your mother. Dress right and you can take your own good weather with you.

    But “adequate protection” not only helps when it comes to facing the elements. It’s also great when dealing with difficult people in our lives--the folks we feel uneasy with, who create an unpleasant chill or even an emotional blizzard around us.

    Consider the case of 40-year old “Harry.” He describes his 75-year old mother as downright vicious in the way she keeps delivering zingers like: “You never come see me anymore.” “You only think about yourself.” “You look awful.” “You’re such a disappointment.”

    Harry is devastated. “She cuts me down, makes me want to stay as far away from her as I can. When I do have to be with her, I just lose it, that’s how much she gets under my skin.”

    Poor Harry. In spite of the fact that his Mom is now an aging invalid, to him she’s as powerful as when he was only five and she was 40. There’s no question in his mind--Mom is his number one problem.       

    But all mother does is create bad weather. She’s depressed and miserable, and has the unfortunate habit of taking out her unhappiness on others. Harry’s problem is inadequate protection. How can he stop focusing on Mom’s unpleasantness and simply begin “dressing accordingly”?

    A familiar scriptural metaphor is that of putting on spiritual “armor” and using a “shield of faith” and a "helmet" to ward off attacks. That kind of protection can sound pretty welcome when we think of all the people who intimidate us, get under our skin, raise our blood pressure. But is feeling safe actually possible?

    Let’s go back to our weather analogy.

    All of us prefer being with balmy, Florida-like folks. But the next best thing is putting on the mental equivalent of good rain gear, having a suitable wardrobe to help us ward off others’ wintryness. It doesn’t change the climate any, but it makes it more bearable, maybe even half-enjoyable.

    Here are some tips for braving harsh weather:

    1. Dress up in a robe of courage. Shed your fear, and see yourself, by faith, as a fully empowered person, a competent parent, a capable worker, a confident and mature adult. This doesn’t mean being powerful over others, but powerful with others. It doesn’t mean having to be perfect, but being OK based on doing the best you can.

    2. Wear God’s “uniform” of equalness. Think of others as being very much like yourself-- fellow human beings who are a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Being equal doesn't mean being identical, of course, it just means our worth is the same, that we are neither above nor below anyone else.

    3. Use extra insulation as needed. Picture yourself with Teflon-like protection when experiencing unfair criticism. Add warm layers of clothing as necessary to maintain a stable inner temperature.

    These forms of protection don’t have to result in shutting other people out. In fact, being “dressed for the weather” means we can be even closer to people. We can dread them less and love them more, connect with them more closely without fear of catching our death of cold.

    Your mother would like that.
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