Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thinking, Feeling and Knowing The Difference

Let me set the stage for you. Brook and I were engaged and sitting in our pre-marital counselor's office discussing conflict resolution, the most common reasons for divorce and other such things to prepare us for marriage.

As part of our conflict resolution discussion he presented scenarios in which one of us may disagree completely with the other and how we would handle an impasse in important situations. So in one of the scenarios the counselor asks, "Blake, how do you feel about Brook doing something that completely goes against your wishes"?

I replied, "Well, I think I wouldn't like it, but I suppose that I can't force her to do anything she doesn't want to do". For some insight here, I was certain that I had answered well and would likely be praised by him for such a great answer.

As if heading in a new direction with a new scenario, he calmly asked, "Blake, how do you feel about Brook doing something that completely goes against your wishes"?

I wasn't sure if he was testing my consistency or if he was slipping a little bit at the end of a busy day. In either case I figured it best if I went along with his question so for a second time I said, "Well, I think I wouldn't like it, but I suppose that I can't force her to do anything she doesn't want to do". He nodded with approval. I had obviously passed the test...I thought.

In the same tone and with no more urgency than before he asked, "Blake, how do you feel about Brook doing something that completely goes against your wishes?" I knew he wasn't testing my consistency this time and I didn't think he was slipping but I was having a bit of an internal conflict. I am pretty perceptive and I am the most introspective person I know. How could I NOT be getting the point he was trying to make?

This time I didn't bother answering the same as I had before. I looked at Brook for some sign of her thoughts about it and she returned a lost look. It was obvious that she was no more aware of his intent than was I. So being out of options I could only shoot straight with him and challenge him. I said, in a somewhat defiant manner, "Look, you have asked me the same question three times and I have given you the same answer. I don't know what you are looking for but maybe its time to let us in on your game".

He sat forward in his chair and paused. I knew something was coming and I had a feeling that it would be life changing. I was right. He said, "Son, I have asked you three times how you feel about something and you have told me only what you think about something. Now why do you suppose you only tell me what you think when I have explicitly asked about your feelings?" My silence was deafening and it must have been obvious how convicted I was. I had always thought myself to be decent at conversations and a pretty good listener, but I had completely blown off his "feeling" question. How could I have missed that or was it more than just missing it?

Since I obviously was reeling from this revelation and didn't answer him he continued with another question that I didn't like. "Can you name several emotions you have felt today?" I searched inside myself and was doing an honest assessment. The truth was that I couldn't identify a single emotion that I had felt that day. My blank expression told the story so he broadened the parameters for me. "Well, can you tell me some emotions, just name any that you ever feel or have felt in the past". His pointed questions had morphed into more understanding and he seemed to be trying to find an escape hatch for me. I didn't have to search myself or even divulge any personal information. All I had to do was simply name some emotions. I am a bit embarrassed by the five emotions I could name without too much thought...that's right, FIVE!

The five emotions I could identify without further prompting were, "HAPPY, MAD, HUNGRY, HORNY and PISSED OFF". He briefly challenged my separate labeling of "mad" and "pissed off" as being the same emotion. I rebutted by letting him know that they are different in my mind. "If I'm mad you may or may not know it, but if I'm pissed off there will be no doubt". He reluctantly let my differentiation stand...probably just so we could move forward with the meat of his lesson, but I felt as though I had won a small victory. He then pointed out that "hungry" and "horny" weren't really emotions. I informed him that people can certainly get emotional about those subjects but at the end of the discussion I had to relent and admit that maybe I should have named other emotions well before including my appetite, be it for sex or food.

So I had really only named 2 emotions and let's be honest; my kids could name more descriptive emotions than what amounted to happy and angry. I knew other emotions existed, but I had no clue why they wouldn't come to my mind. Why was I having a hard time thinking about the other ones and....WAIT!!! What the hell?!?!?! Was I really THINKING about EMOTIONS and wondering why my HEAD failed to intervene for my HEART? That's exactly what I was doing and the counselor knew it.

He then asked the question I most feared. "Blake, why don't you feel?" I wasn't really sure at first but I knew I could suddenly label a new emotion for me...FEAR. I also knew instantly that I didn't like this new feeling. It seemed weird and foreign. We talked through my family of origin and how emotions weren't really a part of every day life. You did what you did because it was right and when you didn't do the right thing there were consequences...all very black and white. We then moved to my time in the Army and how my ability to achieve and perform well in the military was likely a product of my ability to think, react and function void of emotions.

Now for the kicker...GOD! He inquired about my belief in God and wondered if I saw God as an emotional God. I knew the Sunday School answer was that He is indeed an emotional God. I also knew that I didn't believe that He was at all emotional. At least my internal reflections of God as I understood Him had nothing to do with emotions and everything to do with living life within boundaries, observing a code of ethics and conduct, retribution for transgressions and finally a reluctant forgiveness of our sins...but that He was probably good and pissed off (I knew that emotion well) about it.

So why didn't I feel? We returned to that question and I finally answered with the most get-level honesty I had answered anything in our sessions. "I don't feel a thing, ever, because feeling isn't safe. With feelings come vulnerability and vulnerable people are weak people. Weak people get trampled in this cruel world in which we live and I be damned if I am going to be vulnerable, weak or trampled." I had decided long before that day to never allow myself to be wounded by another person and thus far it had worked pretty well. The counselor even said as much. Unfortunately, he said more than that too.

"You see, son, if you won't allow yourself to feel, to be vulnerable or to even be hurt another person, one day this pretty lady right here will leave you and you will know that it's because you never let her in.  And what about your kids?" "What about them?" I replied. "Well, what will it be like one day when your kids don't talk to you, don't trust you and never seek a relationship with you? How well will you have insulated yourself from hurt then?" I knew what he meant and though most of my life to that point had been about taking chances, pushing the limits and often times crossing boundaries, I knew that to obtain the things in life I most wanted...to be a great husband and father...I was going to have to take the first huge emotional chance of my life.

So I began a quest that day. I think I have become better at feeling and even discussing my feelings. So much so that with my intentionality I can really piss Brook off...which in my mind is still an emotion. I now over analyze emotions...mine and other people's...but it is just because it is still all so new and foreign to me and because I never want to forget to feel again. I have found that the pain from deep and honest relationships is the most amazingly intense level of pain one can feel. I have also found though that without occasionally feeling the searing pain, or at least being open to feel it, it is impossible to ever taste the sweetness of real intimacy. Though I may have denied this fact in the midst of the most painful storms, the relationship Brook and I have is more than worth the pain and frustration we introduce in the lives of each other.

In addition to relational intimacy within my family another lesson was learned that day...and I'm continuing to learn it daily. In so many ways the gospel of Jesus became more real to me since that day. The fact that God would become flesh (John 1), enter into a relationship with an adulterous people (James 4) and suffer shame and even death (Philippians 2) never makes sense in the absence of love and relationship. In being open and vulnerable to others we not only make intimacy and relationship possible with those around us, but we also imitate Christ and in so doing bring glory to our God.

Therefore be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. (Ephesians 5)

I love that story.  Really.  Wouldn't change a thing.
It has been beautiful to watch such amazing transformation in Blake.  It reminds me what a gift marriage can be.  I forget a lot of good stuff like that, so it is good to be reminded.  Blake has gone from one of the most black and white people on the face of the earth, thinking about everything and talking my ear off those first few dates about my stance on this or that perspective, blah blah blah...to snug as a bug in a rug as a tried and true 'feeling' personality.  I cry a lot.  A lot. A lot.  I'm pretty much a giant infant:  movies, songs, church services, commercials, any deep conversation (especially with my children), adrenaline, whatever; I cry happy tears, sad tears, mad tears (not very often), frustrated tears, more happy tears (I love the happy tears)...I just cry.  The most tender thing, that I notice more and more every year, is that less and less I am crying alone.  Blake is right there beside me (this weekend we just happened to be watching American Idol...Jacob singing Bridge Over Troubled Water) with a little sniffle too.  
He has worked hard to undo some hurt, to open up where he learned never to, to stop...and feel.  It may have taken a month of Sundays (or ten years worth), but his biggest desires for intimacy with his family, he has achieved.  Let me stop there and say once more just in case you can't tell so far how big this is...
I almost never use definitives.  I almost always leave room for improvement or say that something is in the works, but never has anyone "arrived" at anything.  Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake.  Blake Thompson is AN. EMOTIONAL. GUY.   And, it is beautiful.      

So, what next, babe?  What do you do when you look around and realize all your dreams have come true?  Uh, I think you go build a chicken coop.  Just sayin.