Why It’s Exhausting to Hide

It’s exhausting to hide who we truly are, because the true self is like a beach ball. It wants to float, and it takes an awful lot of work and energy to keep it pushed beneath the waves…

true self

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The cold brick dug into my forehead.

Spring 2005. Early morning. I’d walked out the back door of our small, third-floor apartment, and I was leaning my head against the brick wall on the outside landing. I was exhausted and I had all sorts of good excuses for that—a clinical internship, a young and struggling marriage, a sick baby—but the truth was, my false self was slowly killing me.

Or, rather, the work of maintaining my false self was killing me.

Building an image. Preserving a reputation. Appearing confident and competent. Keeping everyone happy with me. Feeling like I was never enough but always looking like I was more than enough. Falling apart but acting like I had it all together.

Utterly draining.

It’s tiring to hide your true self.

The Fault in Our Scars

How often do we protest, “It’s not my fault,” both loudly with our tongues and silently in our hearts? Why do we hide our faults? And what if we quit protecting them, and started celebrating them?

intimacy

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“It’s not my fault!”

The most popular phrase in our house.

My son has just accidentally opened the refrigerator door into the dishwasher door, which was hanging ajar, knocking the dishwasher backward, off the hardwood and onto the subflooring. It becomes a box of crashing porcelain and before I have a chance to say anything, he is denying responsibility.

I stare at him blankly, at a loss for words. I watched it happen. I saw him throw one door into another. Either he thinks I’m blind, or there’s more to his denial than meets the eye.

There’s more to his denial than meets the eye.

He’s seven and, already, he has scars.

When he declares, “It’s not my fault!” with his chin out and his eyes a little scared, he’s not saying he didn’t do it. Of course he did it. What he’s doing is fighting not to be wounded again. He’s asking to be absolved of the emotional consequences of his mistake. He’s saying, “I didn’t do it on purpose, so please don’t blame me or shame me or reject me or leave me feeling alone.”

The thesaurus lists these synonyms for fault: defect, error, evil doing, failing, flaw, frailty, guilt, liability, misconduct, misdeed, negligence, offence, transgression, vice, wrongdoing. Is it any wonder our kids deny responsibility for their innocent mistakes?

Is it any wonder we adults do the same?

Is it any wonder no one wants to be at fault for anything?

It’s About Time (To Make Peace in Your Most Important Relationship)

“Know your fight is not within; yours is with your time here.” 

–John Mayer

mindfulness

Why would four generations of formally dressed people gather in a pub on a Thursday afternoon? If you can picture it, you can probably guess.

A funeral.

Two toddlers are alternately laughing about nothing and wailing about French fries. Their mother looks tired and sad. I wonder if it’s because of the person she lost or the little people she still has. Their father wrangles one of the kids while trying to carry on a conversation. A baby boomer eats quietly, while another gives her attention to her phone and the digital distractions it contains. And sitting at the end of the table is a married couple from the greatest generation. They trade the kind of sparse but loving conversation only possible after sixty years of marriage.

I came to the pub to take a break. I invited my wife, but she told me I needed some time alone. Wise woman. Life has been moving fast. Faster than I can handle, I think, and I entered the pub hoping time would slow down a little bit.

Instead, it expanded.

Into four generations.

As I watched them, I realized: time isn’t racing by; time is marching on, at the same slow and steady cadence it has since it exploded into existence. And, as I watched the subtle and sacred exchange of love and relationship amongst four generations, I realized: there is at least one relationship in my life with which I still need to make peace.

My relationship to time.

I’m always fighting with her.

How to Turn Pro at Relationships (By Keeping It Simple)

“The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.”

–Stephen Pressfield

marriage

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Sometime last year, my seven year-old son decided to turn pro at apologizing.

We sent him to his room after some egregious act toward somebody in the house, and he emerged fifteen minutes later with an apology note, scribbled with a black Sharpie marker and first-grade jaggedness.

Several days later, we went through the same scenario. But not quite. This time, when he came out of his room, he was carrying an apology note written in multi-colored crayon. The letters were less jagged, written with more care.

The next time it happened, he used glitter glue and waited for it to dry. He tried to write it in cursive he’s never been taught, and the words were tender and sincere. The note was hard to read, but love always translates, doesn’t it?

I’ve been a marital therapist for over a decade. Sitting in the therapy room, with two people who have two sets of histories, wounds, and resentments can feel complicated and confusing. I have a big bag of therapeutic interventions, and some days, I almost empty it out.

But as I held my son’s sparkling work of love and remorse, it occurred to me: maybe it’s not as complicated as I’m trying to make it. Maybe it’s about turning pro at one thing, and dedicating our lives to it. Maybe I just need to remember the old Navy engineering adage, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Maybe we all just need to KISS.

Why Kindness Multiplies, Joy Rebounds, and Generosity Goes Viral

Last week, I wrote about a pub in Colorado, where you don’t have to pay your tab when you eat. If you don’t have cash, they send you home with a Karma Envelope, and they trust you’ll send your payment in when you can. Because they believe kindness multiplies, joy rebounds, community is contagious, and generosity goes viral.

They claim a 97% collection rate via Karma Envelopes.

Joy rebounds, indeed.

charity

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Readers around the world wrote in, saying the post made their day and restored some of their hope for humanity. The Channel 9 News in Denver called to ask for details about the story, and I did an interview with a radio station in Montreal. But my favorite part of the week, by far, was hearing about other businesses around the world who operate on the assumption there is something good at the center of people.

Here are just a few:

There’s a sandwich bar in Basel, Switzerland that works on the honor system—you eat as much as you want and declare at the register how much you ate. About a decade ago, the owner ran an ad in the local paper, granting “amnesty” to everyone who “forgot” to pay for sandwiches when they were young and broke. And he offered this: if you now wanted to settle your tab, you could contribute anonymously to a fund, and the money was then donated to a local association for the blind.

The sandwich bar donated a lot of money.

Because kindness multiplies.

Karma Envelopes

karma

Last week, I got ambushed by hope in a pub in Boulder, Colorado.

My wife and I had just gotten into town for a conference. Our flight out of O’Hare had been delayed for hours by thunderstorms, so by the time we landed, traveled to the hotel, checked in, and set out with friends to look for our first food since breakfast, it was 6pm. We walked through the doors of the Mountain Sun Pub with empty stomachs and frayed nerves. We were seated quickly, given our menus, and were just about to open them when my friend noticed, in small type at the bottom of the menu, these words:

Cash only.

Our empty stomachs dropped, and we got up to go. A waitress stopped us and asked why we were leaving. We explained we were from Chicago and were only carrying credit cards. She smiled wide and told us not to worry.

Then she told us about Karma Envelopes.

Home Is Where the Grace Is

grace

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It’s a Saturday evening and my oldest son and I are working the dinner shift at a homeless shelter. We’re staffing the beverage table with friends, enjoying the challenge of keeping up with the demand for drinks, working hard, and laughing even harder. And then I see him.

Or, rather, I see the back of him.

I see the back of a young boy—about my son’s age—already walking away from the table. While we were trading jokes and jabs, he had quietly approached us, picked up a soda, and is now returning to his seat in the crowd. I watch him rejoin his family—two parents and two younger siblings. I’d been at the shelter for ninety minutes, and I hadn’t even noticed them. While serving them, I hadn’t seen them.

There’s more than one way to be homeless, isn’t there?

Being houseless is one thing; being unseen and lonely is another thing altogether.

The 5 Empathy Fails in Marriage (And How to Avoid Them)

Empathy is the foundation of any authentic connection. It’s the bedrock of togetherness, the fuel of compassion, and the mortar of grace. We must hone our ability to feel it and to give it. But empathy can be elusive, for at least five reasons…

empathy

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Dusk is closing in when I arrive home from work and walk in the back door.

Some nights, all is well when I get home—my wife is happy and the kids are smiling. But some nights, my wife is tired and worn thin after a long day at work and the onslaught of demands for food and attention. Some nights, my oldest son is anxious and fretting about homework and standardized testing. Some nights, my younger son is distraught about the inevitable injustices of a middle child. Some nights, my daughter will settle for nothing less than a Daddy mirror—a father who will show his interest by reflecting all her energy and joy.

Some nights, everyone wants a little empathy and, some nights, I don’t want to give it.

Some nights, I get home, and I want someone to notice how tired I am, to soothe my anxiety, to correct the injustices done to me, and to mirror me. I could embrace my fatigue, fear, anger, and neediness as common emotional ground and I could reach out and connect in the midst of that shared experience.  But, some nights, I don’t.

Because even for psychologists, empathizing with the people we love is hard to do. And it’s particularly hard to empathize with the person we’ve promised to love for better or worse, for at least five reasons:

A Father’s Bucket List

Two-thousand, seven-hundred, and eleven days.

About a month ago, I downloaded an app for my iPhone that is counting down the number of days until my oldest son leaves for college, assuming he goes off to college and assuming he goes when most kids go. I put the app on the first screen of my phone, and I check it every morning.

I know this is a little maudlin.

high school graduation

But I’m really tired of arriving at monumental moments in my life, and in the lives of the people I love, looking backward, and asking, “How did we get here so quickly, and why wasn’t I more intentional about the journey?”

And, actually, I’m not sure I’m being maudlin enough. Because when I installed the app on my phone, 2,738 days seemed like an eternity. But I have a feeling, in twelve days, when it ticks down to 2,699, it’s going to feel like time has actually passed.

How quickly will the hundreds fly by?

How quickly will the thousands race by?

Quickly, I think, because life gets busy and priorities get out of whack and I end up tyrannized by the urgent while neglecting the important and I can spend years on autopilot if I’m not careful.

The app has made me realize: just being aware of time passing isn’t enough. I need to be doing it differently, not just thinking about it differently. Living it more, not dwelling on it more.

I’m a father who needs a bucket list.

By August 20, 2022, there are a few things I want to do with my son:

I’ve Got Bad News and I’ve Got Good News (Which Will You Choose?)

hope

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“Daddy, I’ve got bad news!”

I’m getting into the car after making the mistake of sending my youngest two children out to the garage on their own. I finish getting in and I look in the rearview mirror. My son’s face is contorted by righteous fury. “She called me stupid two times!”

On this particular morning, I simply don’t have the energy to sort out discrepant eyewitness testimonies, request the appropriate apologies, and mediate forgiveness. So, instead, I say, “Do you have any good news for me?”

His face turns thoughtful and then a smile breaks out upon it. “I found my fleece under the seat!” He holds up a ball of something blue that looks vaguely like the fleece he lost last autumn. I smile, too.

The world is full of bad news.

And the world is full of good news.

Which will you choose?