I’m looking into Stepping Out of Denial: Into God’s Grace, by John Baker, a follower of Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. B suggested it as a good tool for self-reflection. It is a workbook with several lists of questions for self-reflection and writing. I glanced over all of them. I think I can use many of them. Unless you are a devout Christian, I recommend you ignore other parts of this book and focus on the questions at the end of each chapter. The book is almost entirely a list of Jesus quotes. Given my religion, I find that part of the book really undermines the rest of the message, which is about recovery from addiction or compulsion. In my case, a struggle against my compulsion to wallow in self-pity.
The first question set is really challenging. It asks what areas of life are in control and which are not. At first I found this line of questioning a bit difficult to understand. Initially, I approached the question from my vantage point of today. It didn’t seem relevant. However, when I looked again, from where I was before D-day, it suddenly made perfect sense. I should have worked on these questions decades ago. Today, I find them to be good reminders. But, as little as four years ago, they might have been life savers.
Here’s how I answered the questions. I could not control that I was physically small, that I looked younger than my age, and my parents were pathologically over-protective. I could not control my race and ethnicity, the town where I was raised, or the things my mother said and did. I could not control the past, including my own past actions and decisions.
At the same time, I often neglected to think of things I could have controlled. I could have controlled my physical activity and whether I endeavored to become stronger, faster, or more practiced at sports. I could have controlled my focus on academics, my attitude toward people, my view of the world, and my view of what was and was not important.
By focusing on things I could not control more than things I could control, I opened myself up to feeling powerless, becoming bitter and jealous, and blaming others — including God — for my situation. As I progressed into adulthood and well into married life, the list of my past decisions, actions, and circumstances that I could not control grew longer and longer. I continued to futilely struggle against those non-malleable facts. It helped me justify my cheating, lying, and selfishness. I tried to wrest control of my fate by breaking other rules and vows.
I also tried to control my wife. It was not possible to control her past, her views, or her ways. But, I tried. Like tilting at a windmill, I tried to badger her into telling me all those things were different, that they were not so threatening to my self-esteem. It could not work. Even if she had told me such things, they still would not be true.
Even as a parent, I tried way too hard to control my son’s choices and preferences. It was not only futile and unhealthy, it backfired. He instinctively rebelled, even at a very young age.
Baker asks how this particular discussion topic will help me. It’s simple, really. I just need to stay focused on things I can control and not get bogged down in things I can’t control. I’ve talked often on this blog about the self-pity I carried. That evil, seductive self-pity was deeply rooted in bemoaning things I can not control. I’m making progress on this, but it requires vigilance.