Who Says?

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Discovering our personal territory can be tricky business. Age, family background, religious experience, friendships and a long list of other variables are all unique to our own story. Where do we fit in this world? What tasks or joys are ours to bear and to share? Where do we go to discern answers to those questions?

Who says?

Whom do we give authority to speak into our life? Do we allow that influence intentionally or automatically? Might there be other options available to us, maybe even preferable for us, than the ones we have assumed?

Who says?

I think it may take a lifetime to answer that question well and thoroughly. We are always unpeeling the onion of our own selves, taking off another layer, carving off the accretions we’ve accumulated from the various ages and stages of our life. There is a lot of two-steps-forward-one-step-backward on this journey. And one of the best questions we can ask as we do the good work of peeling back those layers is this one:

Who says?

For example—who told us we were ‘less than’ or even ‘differently called than’ because we were born female? Or male? Or somewhere in between? Whom do we allow to define us, limit us, box us in, decide what we can and cannot do? Where do we go for answers? Whose voice echoes most loudly in our interior conversations?

Surely, our parents show up all along the way, bringing with them their own baggage and boxes. Yet cultural mores and values shift constantly, and sometimes, the things we were raised to believe were sacrosanct, written in concrete, indelible and eternal . . . simply are not. So how much power do we give to parental/familial voices?

If we grew up in a faith community, the voices of our congregation(s) show up in our psyche as well. Much of what we heard there may stand the test of time and truth, but some of it? Not so much.  Understandings morph, interpretation shifts, life experience teaches us to examine and re-examine what we’ve learned. And there are all kinds of ways in which these things are learned. Some of it comes at us didactically, in classroom settings or from a pulpit. But more of it trickles into us from conversations on the sidewalk, from expectations laid on us by a long list of teachers/preachers/leaders, most of whom are as trapped by expectation as the rest of us.

Other powerful voices, ones that can significantly expand our understanding of who we are and where our personal territory begins and ends, may come to us from books, articles, art exhibits, music, plays and movies. As I look back over my own story, I gratefully acknowledge that some of the most powerful voices helping me through times of transition have been artists, writers, poets, composers, musicians, movie-makers and dramatists.

Who says, indeed?

The journey to wisdom and self-acceptance takes us to some deeply introspective places. Our image of ourselves, our empathy for others, even our experience of God’s winsome and challenging place in our lives—all of it needs adjustment, expansion, tender care, and honest exploration. Learning to discern the sweet breeze of the Spirit often requires us to jettison a whole lot of what we thought we knew. And that means consistently asking ourselves, “Who says?”

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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Comments

  1. Madeline Twooney says:

    Diana, l loved this article; it addresses issues that l have been thinking about for a while. Who says, indeed? It calls to mind a great book l read recently from Pastor Steven Furtick called “Unqualified”, where he talks about how factors in us and around us – cultural, soci-economical, historical, political etc. try and determine who we are, but the only opinion that matters is what God says over us. Thank you for sharing!

  2. You’re so right, Diana. We have to be careful which voices we listen to. Praise God for his Word, our primary source of truth against which all else can be measured. Still, change occurs. I’m old enough to remember when “honor and obey” was part of the marriage vows at most Christian weddings. But “who says” the wife must obey every whim and request of the husband? Is that what the Ephesians passage about submission is saying? Paul wrote in chapter 5, verse 21 to submit to one another. Sounds more like a partnership than a dictatorship. That’s just one example of an “adjustment” people of faith have made over the years. “Consistently asking ourselves, ‘who says'” is the mark of a discerning Christian, I think.

    • Thanks for agreeing, Nancy. And interpretation is key when dealing with the biblical text. I really like the old Methodist 4-point picture of how we mature in the Christian faith – Scripture, tradition, Christian experience and reason. We need the full Quadralateral, seems to me. Thanks for you usual thoughtful comment.

  3. Thanks Diana. I appreciate the idea that those who lay expectations on us are (potentially) equally bound by the expectations laid on them

    • Exactly. We’re all in the same boat and it sometimes helps to remember that truth. Some of us are more bound than others, of course! And occasionally, we do come across an unusual person who seems to be bound by nothing at all — and that can be either a good thing or a really scary one.

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