I woke up at 2:30 this morning and I’m not sure if I got back to sleep before my husband got up around 3:30, and he was unwrapping something so I groggily asked what he was doing, and he said he was getting ready to go to the temple.
Ahg, I thought, I could probably go with him, but I was tired, and I hoped to get back to sleep before my day starts with my 2 kids who have ASD, and the other one. Because, really, I’m trying to be a good mom, right?
And then I understood something. I was entering a defense mechanism. I was adopting a construct that while useful in the short term, would not contribute to my ongoing freedom and development.
I did not get up and go to the temple. I did the easy thing and stayed in bed and went back to sleep. But I did not rationalize that this was the most virtuous thing I could be doing. This second step is something C. Terry Warner calls the box. It is very similar to defense mechanisms, though defense mechanisms are generally considered automatic, while Warner believes we exercise a choice when entering the box. Now in many cases, that choice is an ingrained habit and happens so quickly that it feels automatic.
Two friends from very different spheres of my life liked a blog this week that contained a critical phrase: guilt says something you did is bad, while shame says you are bad. I think this is a different kind of box. We do something that we know we shouldn’t, but since it is pleasant, we don’t want to stop doing it. And so rather than see the thing as bad, we take the badness onto ourselves. Though it’s also possible that we return to bad actions because being ashamed, we think we only deserve bad things. I’m not certain on that one. The funny thing is my personality professor asked a couple of times whether we understood the difference between shame and guilt, and I always meant to ask him after class but forgot.
Warner says the answer to the box is to genuinely love people. And I guess this is something I’ve been struggling with all week relative to people whose behavior and identity I disagree with. Warner says that when we love others as we love ourselves, we ask ourselves how we would want to be treated if we were them. But what about people who do things you would never do?
We we are asked to try to be like Jesus, I don’t think he means wearing sandals, growing a beard, and eating fish with honeycomb. We can’t fast 40 days or hang on a cross. Certain of the things he did were specifically so we wouldn’t have to. But there are lots of things we just would never do. What he does ask us to do is consider the phrase “Not my will, but thine be done.” It is his attitudes, his humility, his courage, and his love. If we have done it unto the least of these, we do it unto him, and that includes excluding them from our call to love.
Guilt may beget shame or humility. Frustration may beget anger or patience. Fear may beget judgment or hope. I don’t know if we always have to make the right choice. It’s pretty certain we won’t. But I think it is important to try, now and then, to evaluate how we are doing.