Saturday, June 10, 2006

Conflicting desires

This past week I've been at the beach watching the ocean as thunderstorms were followed by almost-blinding sunshine. The wind whistled around our doors and through the vents. Finely ground rain-driven sand coated the windows and the outdoor furniture.

Although we had much great beach weather, I walked on the hard-packed sand only once. I was content to stare out at the ocean, at the beach, at the walkers and children and dogs. I didn't really need to touch the sand and the sea for them to be real. I could smell them; I could close my eyes and let the surf sounds wash over me. I love the beach best when I can sit in the air conditioning and enjoy it in comfort. I am not fond of hot sand or very cold water. And, I always come back from my walks with far too many sea shells for any use.

My partner sprained her ankle and was a very antsy companion this week. I am an emotional sponge at times, absorbing others moods and feelings, and her discontent was very contagious. By today, five days of relative idleness, she was primed for action; and I was nervous and wanting to please. She wanted to be up and doing things, and I just wanted to get the necessities done. What a conflict of spirit!

It was much like the ocean with its thunderstorms and roiling surf compared with the calm sunshiny days of beachwalking and kayaking. So I rode a roller coaster of emotion - trying to help her stay still so the sprain would heal but letting her do the things she could (and I'm much too good a nurse to let her do much), craving the aloneness time with the ocean and finding it difficult to carve out a space for my mind and body to relax. I read an article recently about people like me who seem to absorb others feelings and what they could do about it. However, the article did not cover living with a temporarily disabled spouse.

And, I still feel like a sponge. I guess that's why I'm not asleep; I'm still processing all the ups and downs of the week. In Education for Ministry, the study group does a theological reflection each week, and one of the methods is the issue method. Basically, you relate a time when you have felt conflicting needs or desires, develop a metaphor and try to find times in the Biblical story or religious tradition, when similar things have occured. Once inside your metaphor, you can move very quickly to the obvious similes: Jesus wanted to do what he thought God was asking him to do but he also wanted not to do it; and so he prayed that the cup be removed if it was God's will. Samson wanted to do good for his people, but he also wanted Delilah, who cut his hair and removed his power; so, in one last surge of power, he ripped the columns down. Later in the New Testament, a man and his wife pledge everything they have to support the fledgling ministry but they want to keep enough to make them feel safe; they die for having lied about it.

My conclusion is that the result of these conflicts is often violent and unhealthy; so it's best to avoid them in the first place. I want to be helpful, but I need to coat my spongy emotional system with some polyurethane so it won't absorb so much of others' emotions. Rest will help me do this better. And, I'm looking forward to some good sleep tonight and a good day tomorrow.

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