Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Serious Business of Playing

Last night I spent 45 minutes exposing my complete incompetence. I was awkward, vulnerable, slow — and in the process, I was also delighted, energized and had an absolute blast! I left that time of inadequacy feeling exhilarated and wanting to share the new life that had been breathed into me.

It’s all about child’s play. Stay with me to see how playing is necessary and life giving!

IMG_0693I’m taking piano lessons — something new and completely outside my skill set. I grew up as more of a tomboy than musician, and like most adults who can’t play an instrument, I wish someone had forced me to stick with it when I was eight. Rob wanted to take guitar lessons, so why not learn something new myself? We enrolled in the music school at church. It sounded like a great empty nester activity.

I showed up the first night without giving much thought to what would transpire or how I would feel as a novice. As soon as I walked in the room, self-consciousness enveloped me. When he asked me to play something I knew, my mind went blank and I froze.

I’m every bit a beginner — like a little child, but different in one big way: the adult expectations I place on myself. I’m tense and impatient with my fumbling fingers. I know enough to recognize every wrong note. My adult expectations are an impediment to my learning and enjoyment.  Negative self-talk abounds:  “Wrong note! That didn’t sound right. I’m so bad at this… will I ever learn?” Adults aren’t used to being in situations where we’re inept:  bungling, amateurish, and incapable.

My teacher, Steven is patient, encouraging and accepting.  I arrive for lessons with anxiety, but he helps me to relax and enjoy music.


Tonight was my third lesson, and I was exhausted. Fatigue distracted me just driving to my lesson… you can imagine how poorly I was making music. Still, Steven said I looked (not sounded) more like a pianist. I didn’t really get it, but I was childishly giddy at my supposed progress — and felt a little life.

Possibly because I was struggling to translate the music into any obedience from my fingers, we practiced scales. I tried to relax my wrists between chords, as suggested. Funny how tense my whole body was; I was even holding my breath.  I was pathetic. Literally, I couldn’t press three keys at the same time. We remediated my exercises a bit…

Maybe it was a God-thing when Steven related learning the piano to sports… something clicked for me.

straight from the pages of my 7th grade yearbook – lol

More than raw athleticism or good form, my mind game was my strong suit in tennis and basketball. By that I mean my ability to stay positive — to shake off my mistakes and have fun no matter what — often helped me succeed against more talented competitors.

I began playing both sports at a very young age — before I had many expectations for myself. Play was about fun. Relaxing, full of wonder, creativity, experimentation, and laughter. I shot baskets in the back yard and hit balls against the garage wall for hours. It fed my imagination with possibilities and my soul with life.

Concepts like work, practice and mastery weren’t a part. I was a little girl just playing, consumed in the present moment. Unselfconscious and excited with each little success. I created games around what I COULD do — and I always “won.”  Curiosity and experimentation were just part of the game.  I was a sponge for learning new thing and free to enjoy the whole process.

IMG_0451Can I bring those beautiful, childish qualities to my adult piano practice? I think so! Learning piano is a humbling reminder of my limitations — a great place to find enjoyment and identity NOT in what I accomplish, but in being myself with God and his creation (in this case, music). This shift in attitude would be fun, and perfectly in line with my true goal:  I just want to “perform” praise songs and 70s rock when I’m home alone!

Hmmm. I think the application could be even broader.  Could the experience of exposing my incompetence while having a blast in piano lessons help me to live all of my life more like a little child? Is it healthy to playfully display our vulnerabilities and weaknesses? To not take ourselves so seriously? Maybe so. I think this piano lesson mentality could grow into an attitude and lifestyle.

In Matthew 10:15 Jesus says “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” It becomes clear to those listening to Jesus that heaven is not gained by human achievement or merit; it must be received as God’s gift through the simple trust of those who acknowledge their own inability, and accept His gift of salvation. Could the same be true of receiving abundant life?

IMG_4986The Bible describes us as children of God. As such, doesn’t it make sense that we should possess many qualities common to young children? Not those derived from immaturity, but rather those that reflect our dependence, wonder, humility, vulnerability, and receptiveness? Maybe one of the things He had in mind was that we, who are distracted by many important things, must rediscover a childlike capacity to play?

In all our focus on productivity and seriousness (including much of our “play”), we’ve made life rather dull. God is not boring!  Rediscovering playfulness, which ultimately comes in union with Christ, puts the fullness of life back in our living. “Wasting time” doing things for the sheer fun of it restores our souls. Isn’t it possible that God means for “recreation” to re-create and renew us?

IMG_5681Laughter, fun and light-hearted play remind us to be fully engaged, but not to take the work of our present day with ultimate seriousness. It’s not a call to irresponsibility or a slacker mentality, rather a reminder that God’s future, which is also part of our present, is most serious. God is in control and working all things for good according to His plan. Our work is central, but it is a subset within the BIG picture. A play-ethic is a good counterbalance to our work-ethic.

It seems to me that play was an original and important part of the fourth commandment to Sabbath rest. Developing a Sabbath heart has the added benefit of bringing an attitude of playfulness to all of life and work. Our willingness to accept the play, rest and refreshment that Jesus offers is a sign of our faithfulness and trust in Him.

IMG_0046It works like magic, when I sit at that rickety bench for my piano lessons. The world’s obligations melt away. I am fully present in the moment — like a little child in Jesus’s lap accepting the bread of life.  And the funny thing is — I’m no longer tired when I leave.

Similarly, God made our world a magical playground for us to enjoy. Jumping dolphin, hummingbirds, tumbling puppies. Ski slopes, water, woods and mountains. Music, art, sports and books. Gardens, spices, weather and people. The list and the variety is endless. All remind us of God — who He is and who we are in Him.

IMG_0701Childlike refreshment.  I feel it as I exhale and rise from this — another artistic keyboard. God’s pleasure and my renewal as I go to make up beds, grocery shop, cook and clean — with a new bounce in my step and a song in my heart. A little taste of heaven on earth.


A Brief Quiz: Are you a Compassionate Christian?

The Quiz

  1. Would you describe caretaking as a way of life? Your calling?
  2. Are you a people pleaser? Loved by everyone?
  3. Are you always loyal, lending a hand to friends and family whenever they’re in need?
  4. Are you great at anticipating the needs of others? But often have trouble being decisive in your own life and taking care of yourself?
  5. Do you struggle to accept change?
  6. Do you feel guilty a lot?
  7. Have you ever been unfairly called judgmental or manipulative, just for helping?
  8. Do you feel at your best and most useful when you are helping others?

IMG_3125A few affirmative answers are not enough to draw any conclusions. A majority of “Yeses” might warrant the questions, is it possible I’m missing the mark when I’m honestly trying to be a loving, caring, compassionate Christian? Am I codependent?

A mentor wisely suggested I write my first seminary paper on codependency, and what the Bible has to say about it. Let’s just say he didn’t suggest it because he thought I knew all I needed to on the subject —

I’ve done a few other studies (including Escape from Codependent Christianity by Dr. James Richards which inspired much of this blog). It’s fascinating how commonly we — especially women — are taught from childhood that codependent behaviors are synonymous with love, motherhood, femininity, compassion, generosity and a good Christian life.

I still struggle not to fall into old patterns — avoiding conflict, people pleasing, and needing to be liked by everyone to name a few. However, He has transformed me, and codependence is not my usual way of life.  Years of trying to accomplish what wasn’t mine to do (things I thought were loving and giving) wore me out.

IMG_0447Several friends are new to the ideas of codependence and the importance of motivations in our lives. Their questions and the recognition of my own recent slip ups have prompted me to write this conversation starter.

I’m a sojourner, not an expert. The purpose of this blog is simply to provoke thought – not to academically, psychologically,  or theologically “cover” the topic of codependence. To help us recognize caretaking flesh vs. Christ-centered compassion. To suggest we take responsibility for ourselves, and give responsibility back to others. To fully accept our God-given identity and the TRUTH that He sufficiently provides all we need.

Codependent is the term used for relationships in which people (often without realizing it) use one another to get their own emotional needs met in a selfish and destructive manner. We depend on someone for something that we have no right to expect from him/ her. It often looks and feels like we are loving, caring, being helpful, giving, teaching… but underneath, it is not good.

IMG_0573We ALL seek love, acceptance, worth, and security from somewhere. When anyone or anything other than Christ is our primary source, we err toward dysfunction.

Proverbs 29:25 warns, “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” When you get your emotional well-being and identity from the actions and opinions of another,  God takes second place to that person — in the Bible it’s called idolatry.

Maybe a fictitious story will help explain. A woman is married to an alcoholic. She supports him on his road to recovery and rejoices in his eventual sobriety. Shortly thereafter, she plunges into depression (She is lost without a project, purpose, and someone to control and care for — her identity is threatened). She needs to be needed. Possibly, her emotional crash sparked her husband to drink again (he feels comfortable in his role as dependent and controlled — irresponsible). Almost immediately after he hits the bottle her depression lifts, and she springs to action as caregiver and supporter, feeling responsible for keeping him in line. The couple thinks they have troubles like anyone, but their life normal.

IMG_0452Codependent people  are often attracted to each another and keep each other trapped in dysfunction —  each saying, being, and giving what the other needs to hear and receive in order to feel okay despite the chaos and destruction their choices create. When one person becomes more healthy — it usually disrupts the relationship.

Compare the following sketches of two types of people when they’re deeply involved in the lives of others  —

Codependent, Dysfunctional people:

I feel tired, anxious, fearful and liable – and try to fix, protect, rescue, control, carry their feelings, and don’t listen well — My focus is the solution, answers, circumstances, being right, details and performance. I expect the person to live up to my expectations.

Emotionally healthy people:

I feel relaxed, free, aware, and a high sense of self-worth – and therefore I show empathy, encourage, share, confront, am sensitive, listen – as I am concerned with relating person-to-person, feelings, and the individual. I expect the person to be responsible for himself. I can trust and let go.

IMG_1113Which scenario rings more true for your relationships? I think many of us relate to some elements of the first picture, when caring and loving others. We feel tension and frustration in a relationship, but aren’t sure why or what to do about it.

At first glance, the Bible can seem confusing. Galatians 6:2 instructs us to “bear one another’s burdens.”  Two verses later there’s a seeming contradiction — “each must bear his own burden.” These verses actually give clarity to us in understanding our roles in the lives of others.

The words in verses 2 and 4 are different in the original Greek.  Verse 2 commands us to come alongside others to share in the extraordinary and temporary burdens they may encounter. People need our intense support for a short while in the unique storms of life.

IMG_0613But in verses 4-5 the inference is collective, referring to the whole of everyday life — the normal emotional, financial, and behavioral responsibilities that come with adult living. We are not to enable people in these areas by taking responsibility for them and care taking in an unhealthy way. Each person should have space to examine his own character and behavior according to the Word of God — and to respond as God directs through the Holy Spirit.

If we are too involved doing good and feeling responsible for others,  our loved ones may never experience the consequences of their own character and mistakes. And they may not have the space to seek and hear the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit.

However, Jesus definitely left us with instructions to love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)  Jesus’ entire life modeled compassion for and sensitivity to other’s needs. When our behaviors are self-denying and caring, we honor Jesus – but codependency does not. What’s the difference?

The compassion urged in the Bible is not characterized by manipulation, control, emotional dependency on others, or a need for approval — the motivation for serving is pure. The healthy Christian finds his identity in the love, acceptance, forgiveness and redemption of Jesus – as opposed to finding identity in compulsive caregiving and approval. She is compelled to compassion simply by Jesus’ love.

IMG_5872If we think we may have codependent tendencies, what what can we do? Start by prayerfully giving up ALL your “rights.” If you don’t believe that Jesus is truly all you need, this idea seems wrong.  Prayerfully ask God what He wants you to surrender to Him.

What trusting Jesus as my Life means is that moment-by-moment, I am free to choose to…

Give up the right to be: Accepted, avoid conflict, understood, in control, perfect, used by Jesus, successful, competent, strong, unforgiving, loved, smart, treated fairly, rescued, listened to, encouraged, noticed, respected, trusted, married, comfortable, honored, healthy, financially secure, right… (add your own, the idea is we have no entitlements)

Replace them with a willingness to be/ feel: Rejected, confront, misunderstood, out of control, make mistakes, fail, inadequate, weak, forgive, unloved, dumb, mistreated, abandoned, ignored, criticized, invisible, viewed as insignificant, viewed with suspicion, single, in pain, embarrassed, sick, bankrupt, wrong… (expect troubles and persecution as part of following Jesus)

But know Jesus is faithful to be my: life, husband, comforter, adequacy, peace, reputation, strength, support, protector, Savior, defender, wisdom, fullness… (ruthless trust and belief in Jesus as my all-in-all, my sufficiency)

What will this look like practically in relationships? THROUGH CHRIST we can live life live abundantly as Jesus promises; fully alive in

  • boldness and confidence,
  • sharing with others,
  • loving the unlovable,
  • service,
  • witnessing,
  • taking chances,
  • being assertive,
  • accepting myself and others,
  • being flexible and relaxed…


I like to picture the love of Christ flowing to me, through me, to others; I am simply a conduit to be used by HIm.  If I make myself available to Him, the results are all up to Him! What a relief! The pressure is off, and I’m free to focus on HIM!

We can replace  the patterns of our flesh and the culture of the world by emulating the love and compassion of Christ . He will change us and show us His way, when we surrender our rights to His will.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

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*** This is one of those posts I sheepishly published… but understanding codependence and how naturally and unknowingly  I was helping, serving and loving others in a codependent fashion was so freeing! It was a HUGE growth experience for me (and a room full of wonderful women who studied with me). My prayer is if you think you might feel tired and lifeless in some of your relationships due to well-intentioned codependence, that you will do some research yourself.  Pray and ask God to transform you. Blessings!