I don’t know what to call this post: Or, on a life of chronic indecisiveness.

My friend Eleanor is one of the most decisive people I know. In the time I’ve had the pleasure of calling her friend, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her doubt herself, once. She knows what she wants in life, in meals, in relationships, in fashion choices, in her faith, and in her tile choice (you can refer back to this post to know just how deeply I respect this particular skill). Not only do I admire her for her steadfast steadfastness, but to be honest it baffles me somewhat, because it is a trait that does not come readily to me. In fact, I would say that my relationship to everyday indecisiveness is one of the longest ones in my life.

What do you want for dinner? I don’t care.

How do you want to spend the day? I don’t mind.

What movie would you like to watch? Whatever you want.

The list goes on.

In fact, one of my most deeply terrifying annoying and recurring nightmares is simply that I cannot decide what to wear on a given day. It takes me hours. In the dream I have important appointment to go do, and people waiting for me, but I cannot make a choice. The clothing is piled up high on the bed, and I’m trying on outfit #54, desperate to get out of the house, but seemingly unable to.

The problem runs subconsciously deep.

But if I was actually honest with myself, all decision making does not allude me. I don’t have a problem with making big decisions. Marriage? Travel? Jobs? Land purchase? All made without hesitation. Nor do I regret the big decisions made in my life either. So I must have some self assurance lurking in there.

Nor is the problem, I believe, a lack of opinion; I have some deeply passionate stances about many issues (climbing mount everest, collectable spoons, vintage clothing, grace, socialisation, how to spend a weekend in the Adelaide hills, individualism, historic fiction to name a few).

I don’t have a problem with knowing what I want. The opinions are there – under the surface, quiet in the conversation – but they aren’t often given air time when there is someone else in the mix or equation.

When there’s a stake beyond my own, I won’t make the call.

I’m not indecisive – I defer my opinion to others.

So here, now, we come to it.

Looking back over my teenage/young adult relationships, especially with people I wanted to impress (read: popular people, impressive people, or especially people of the opposite sex), I developed the habit of ‘not caring’, ‘not minding’, because far far worse than not getting the pick of choice of eats/movie/destination is the fear of having someone else be disappointed in my choice. “They can’t hate me if I didn’t make the call!”, I would say to myself, and I would let the other person pick the movie. Again.

But surely this is a likeable character trait, right? Being agreeable and amenable at every turn? I’m the perfect companion, right?

Maybe not – not really. A few years into our marriage, my husband, exasperated, shared with me how frustrating it was to be on the receiving end of constant deferral. “Do you realise how exhausting it is having to make all the decisions all the time?”, he lamented. I apologised. And made a decision to try to be better at decisions moving forward.

Because sure, being agreeable is nice – especially when the intent is to be hospitable to someone else’s opinions on a given matter.

But being always agreeable creates its own set of problems, because in giving away your opinion, you are giving the burden of responsibility to someone else to shoulder.

And if i’m being completely honest, that’s what my main MO has been.

I’m not indecisive because I don’t know what I want.

Nor am I indecisive because I am always happy to surrender the choice to provide room for someone else’s.

When I defer choice, I am absolving myself of blame if the situation goes south.

In removing opportunities for people to protest my actions, I am in the very deeply ingrained habit of aiming to be as you-can’t-complain-about-me as possible.

The behaviour is insidious because it forces other people to make calls before I do. And not only that, it creates more opportunities to twist situations or narratives to make me look powerless, or less powerful at minimum, in order to avoid responsibility.

It hurts to admit, but I would say that I have adjusted scripts and retelling of scenarios to make it look like I was less insistent or demanding in a given situation, not because that was necessarily the reality, but in the attempt to absolve myself of blame when someone else is even potentially unhappy with a result.

That’s embarrassing. Because I’m better than that.

The fear of disappointing others runs so deep though, that I will meet that need, even if it is fabricated, even if it is inconvenient or less than ideal, because I would prefer them to be happy (read: with me).

That’s incredibly selfish, hey.

It’s not generous to absolve myself of leadership or responsibility in relationship. Especially, especially, in relationships with your loved ones.

It’s not nice nor helpful not to back myself in the everyday. This doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help my colleagues. My students. My church. My community. My friends. My husband. My children.

If I don’t back myself, I by default make other people do the work for me. And perhaps even more depressing, I deprive myself of the pride of what it feels like when you do carry that responsibility; the gift that failure or disappointment can bring in teaching (even if it sucks at the time); and the joy of success when a decision bring victory and fruit.

I want to own my wins more. I want to own my failures a little more, too.

Maybe there’s a way to back myself without being in danger of arrogance.

Maybe there’s a way to be more helpful to myself – and others – than what complete deferral in an attempt to be likeable does; I have a feeling that people like me because of what I actually bring to the table rather than what I keep it clean from.

Even if the choice goes horribly (or a little bit) wrong – maybe I have to risk that the people in my life will be ok with me despite that. Taking responsibility is what growing up is.

There is a horrendous roundabout in Adelaide called the Britannia roundabout. It’s actually 2 roundabouts in one and brings together about 15 roads. Of course, it’s less than that; We’re no european city roundabout monstrocity. But it sure feels like 15 in rush hour. I know many drivers who will simply refuse to drive down the roads that connect at the roundabout, driving a long route around to avoid it. But I travel it everyday to work. And I kinda like it. Because when I do, I hear my mum’s voice in my head, who took me through the roundabout when I was learning to drive. She loved the roundabout too, and told me the only way to be able to navigate it:

“Assertive, Kirsten. You don’t have to be aggressive when you drive, but you need to be assertive. Take the space that’s there. Indicate your intention and go for it. It won’t lead you astray”.

– Mum.

I think of her every time I drive it.

Maybe my choices could do with a little more assertiveness, too.

Take the space that’s there. Indicate your intention and go for it.
It won’t lead you astray”.

x

“I’m here while you’re in it”: On being accompanied when you’re at your worst.

In a recent session with my genius therapist she encouraged me to speak of what was making me angry.

“Tell me one thing that’s making you angry.”
“Just one thing?” I replied. (I’m funny, friends).
“Start with one. We’ll work our way from there.”

I then shared some aspects of anger (a particularly potent emotion for me). We discussed triggers of that anger, along with fear and frustrations. Then after a while, in a lull of conversation, she announced;

“We’re going to stay in this moment.”
“What do you mean?”, I asked.
“Keep feeling what you’re feeling. Don’t summarise, explain or justify. Just feel it”.

“No thank you”, I replied. Nope. I didn’t want to. I was uncomfortable with the focused attention and lack of permission to move on out of the moment. But she pushed back, told me to ground my feet, to sit up straight in the chair, and then added; “Keep looking at me. Keep making eye contact with me.”
“That’s ridiculous”, I countered. No thank you. Again.
“You have to do it – even if you can’t maintain it. Keep checking in with me.”

Now dear reader, when you read this, the process of getting me to sit in my sadness and fear, my anger and frustration, may seem like a cruel act. Indeed, it was excruciating to experience. In sitting in the feeling, my emotions quite quickly manifested physically: My jaw started clenching. My breaths became shallow. My back began to ache, and my legs began jiggling. And then I started dry heaving.

It was really full on. Instead of diminishing how I was feeling, however, my therapist calmly collected her rubbish bin and placed it at my feet, just in case I needed it. She talked me through some deep(er) breathing. “This is normal”, she said. “Your body is catching up with your heart. Let’s ride this out. Keep checking in with me. Keep making eye contact with me.”

“Why?!” I asked, exasperated. “Why do I need to keep making eye contact?!!”
– If you can believe it, for me this was by far the most painful part in the whole experience.

She smiled, and replied – “Because you need to know that someone is here while you’re in it”

I’m going to write that again.

Because you need to know
that someone is here
while you’re in it.

Genius therapist.

I was floored.
The whole experience was about 15 minutes. It felt like hours.
But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

What a revelation and gift that presence was.

I was accompanied in the awfulness.
and it made it better.

The Christian heritage tells of a Jesus, who in the hours leading up to his death, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, desperate for respite, reassurance, and wisdom. In the garden we are presented with a man who was deeply anxious. Who was desperate. Who felt his fear – and felt it deeply. We are told that Jesus’ sweat was like drops of blood – which is actually a confirmed medical condition of hematohidrosis – where severe anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system, hemorrhaging the sweat glands. We are presented with one who did not deny his humanity amongst the fear.

I’ve always been arrested by this story. It is a central moment of God displaying his humanity in the person of Jesus – and this is the very point. He experienced deep fear, deep pain, and deep anguish.

Thus when we too feel deep fear, deep pain, and deep anguish,
we too can be companioned in it,
because he has experienced it too.

KJ Ramsey has beautifully noted,

Fear doesn’t have to be an enemy to conquer –
it can be a place to be companioned by love.

Accompaniment. What a privilege being soothed – not thrashed – back into strength.

No one ever moves from a space of fear by experiencing more shame.
No one has ever moved from a place of judgement and terror via more judgement.

But judgment and shame is often what we think we deserve when we have failed, or are doubting, or are tired, angry or resentful. When we judge others, I suspect it is often a misdirected projection of our own perceived inadequacies.

So let’s turn this narrative on its head.

What does it look like when we are accompanied in those moments of frailty?

What does it mean to recognise – as we see in the stories above – our humanity within reality?

What could it mean to be accompanied in those moments of terror, of dread, of brutality, of depression, of hopelessness? What does it mean to accept (with kindness) – or even tolerate – or be in the same room as – the parts of ourselves that are frail or burdened with heavy realities?

From personal experience, it is life changing.

Here’s genius therapist again:

“…you need to know
that someone is here
while you’re in it.”

– genius therapist.

Since when did we believe the lie that we’re supposed to experience life alone? – To be more specific, when life feels like you’re enduring, and surviving rather than thriving – who told you that you’re supposed to work it out on your own? It’s a lie. It’s a load of bollocks. The lie is three fold;

1) That anger/fear/frailty is something that to be ashamed of.
2) That anger/fear/frailty is something that can be squashed, intellectualised or compartmentalised away.
3) That when we do feel these fears, when we are ‘in it’, it is something that should be endured alone.

Lies, Lies and more Lies.

Some friends and I were discussing this confrontational – but also strangely hospitable – vulnerability recently, and one shared a stunning confession with us;

Sometimes I look around and I genuinely feel like I’m the only one who’s thinking, “But this is all still terrifying, right? Are we allowed to say that?”…I am reassured by how the Lord is not particularly impressed by how “fearless” or “strong” I am (and I certainly know he doesn’t need me to be) and how precious and beautiful my brokenness and weakness is to him.

Another dear friend echoed the need to forge language and space for our humanity and frailty.

The need to only show a story or victory, dominion, mastery and perfection is exhausting at its best, and destructive at its worst.

Feeling alone while you’re in it
is one of life’s tragedies.
For many,
it’s one of life’s realities.

But it doesn’t mean that it is how it should be.

Maybe fear can be a place to be companioned by love;

“Sometimes life is particularly hard and the soul suffers and feels eroded or crushed. At times like these we are tender and extraordinarily sensitive. If we can find a soul to accompany us and help us to open these wounds and sores to the light and love it can be a source of great healing and beauty.”

Daughtry & Green, 2020

The next time that you are ‘in’ it, (and let’s be realistic, it’s a when, not if), I would ask that you not berate yourself for feeling what you’re feeling. I would invite you to consider the possibility that you can – and really should – be companioned by those who love you – in that space. I might offer the question of what healing, beauty and sacredness can be discovered in the companioned moment. I might also ask what it could look like to offer that invitation, and hold that space, for your own loved ones when they’re in it.

It might be awkward and weird. It might be painful and clumsy. But that’s where the glory is, friends.

Keep checking in with me.
You need to know that someone is here when you’re in it.

May you be companioned in it, friends.

x

Daughtry, & Green, M. (2020). The art of accompanying. Immortalise.

Expertly Amateur

I’ve been a mum for 2 weeks now. As others have said before me, prior to meeting your bubs, you try to imagine both the emotion you’ll feel for your little one, and also the way that it will change your life. Both imaginations failed dismally to what I’ve felt and experienced in the past two weeks. I mean, the girl is scrumptious.

K&A

The sleep deprivation is not.

And neither has been that feeling of complete incompetence I’ve felt over the past 17 days. Like when my husband and I attempted to change our screaming bubs in and out of 5 outfits last night because we couldn’t judge the size of said garments compared to baby’s dimensions yet. Our daughter looked at us with this face that said – “Seriously, come on guys. It can’t be that difficult.”

Can’t it? I mean, how difficult is it to dress/feed/cuddle such a lovely one?

Heaps, apparently.

In the last 17 days I have found myself exposed to my own (and my imagined daughter’s) criticism in a way that is supremely uncomfortable. I’m an amateur.  Seriously. I don’t know squat. And that, my friends, is the thing that I’m afraid of MOST in the whole world. Forget spiders, heights, *collectable spoons and cancer. I can face them. But looking like an idiot? Please God, NO.

I’ve built my career and relationships on the fact that I know stuff. And that I can contribute. Not only have I learned big words in the past to sound impressive in conversations, but I have also actively avoided activities because I have trouble being vulnerable enough to learn things and not be an expert immediately (just ask how I went learning how to play tennis).

But now I’m faced with the task of needing to learn how to be a mum -and fast- so that my child can live and thrive. Not fun. The fact that she’s learning too hasn’t provided comfort yet because I am still the adult, right? In this situation, I’m the one who is supposed to be in control, and yet I’ve found myself being intimidated by a person who is only days old because I want to do so right by them, but I’m not sure if I can.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I can do some stuff, and some stuff I’m actually not terrible at. Here’s the rub though- I’m an amateur in Everything. EVERYTHING! Who am I kidding?! My dear God looks at my ridiculous attempts to impress him, and he says thanks love, but you don’t need to. I just love you. It’s ok.

There is so much beauty and space to breathe when I finally come with humility and realise that my state of amateurism can actually be one step closer to experiencing his grace for me. I’m so grateful that it’s ok to not to be an expert in life yet. My weakness and willingness to be taught can be a statement to his glory.

What a gift for me to be reminded of In Easter week.

Oh Dear Jesus, thanks for saving me from myself…

And please keep reminding me of this.

Kirst x

*Collectable spoons still terrify me.

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
2 Cor‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭NLT‬‬