2/05/2017 - James 3:11 ‘Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?‘
I was talking to a young man recently and I asked him to recollect his earliest thought. He went back to such an early age that he was embarrassed to tell me. It reminded me of how aware even a baby is and how much is being observed and picked up all the time.
Because we all have at least two temperaments, this will go on at two levels. In the early years of his life, the child will be most aware of what he is experiencing in his introvert. It is there that the view of himself will be formed and will quickly become set in stone. He soon learns that depth is an uncomfortable place to live. Feelings are too raw, too exposed, too extreme – unintelligible to even the people who matter most. There is only one thing for it – pack your bags and move upstairs. If no-one else is living at that depth then you are not going to stay there on your own – it is too lonely. There are exceptions to this – parents who live in their introvert and can, therefore, provide a safe place in which the child can express himself fully and know he is loved and accepted – but it is not the norm.
Freeze the film at any point and you will find two powerful stories going on at the same time. The first is what we present – the visible me. Patterns learnt from finding what makes us acceptable, first in our family and then in this big world. We compromised ourselves. It is not a natural expression of ‘me’. Living like that is hard work.
The second story is of someone sad, lost, alone, worthless, weak, anxious. It is pitiful and painful – but it is you. That might sound harsh – and, yes, you might be the exception but over 40 years of talking to people tells me that it is an accurate description of most human beings. There’s more bad news - it doesn’t go away. Nor does it diminish - we simply get better at not looking. That is, until the structures we build to contain this negative view wear thin and crumble and what we really feel about ourselves breaks through. Then we are in trouble. We struggle in our relationships, and we struggle with ourselves. No wonder we have so many mental health issues and why we need so many labels to describe them. We must not underestimate the power and influence of that second story.
Now for the good news - it doesn’t have to stay that way. Where do we start? By disentangling the two people that make up who you are. Separate them out. Stand one of them on one side of the room and the other on the other side. Address them both separately. Many people muddle on with two very different sets of thoughts and feelings all intertwining. Tell your extrovert that he has done a good job so far. Tell your introvert that you feel sorry for him but that he doesn’t have to stay in that decrepit state. Tell him that you are going to treat him well from now on, you are going to encourage him, be honest with him, have high expectations of him. Tell the extrovert to cooperate with this process and not to hinder it by stepping in and doing what the introvert should do - and by not criticising it. Enlist someone who will understand you, walk with you and provide a safe place for you to express all that you feel. We cannot be ambivalent about this. James reminds us that a spring cannot send out salt water and fresh water at the same time. May we become a life-giving stream to those around us.