Seeing the best in life's challenges

When the Rules no Longer Work

on September 12, 2012

Unless you have put up a very thick wall, and you have shut your eyes very tight, well, these days it is pretty impossible not to notice that there are situations that are just not making sense any more, situations that seem impossible.  Trying to figure out what to DO in these situations is not at all easy.

We all have a personal paradigm that gives us a framework for understanding how life is supposed to work.  Your paradigm might be described as a set of rules that help you know what to do, what’s right and wrong, what will help you have a good life or a bad life.  Many paradigms are strongly associated with a religious tradition.  And many could be summed up pretty much like this:  If you follow the rules and do everything “right,” then you will have a good life and you will be happy.  The other side to a paradigm based on following the rules, is that if you DON’T follow the rules, you are BAD and there will be BAD consequences.

To be blunt, this way is no longer working because it is based on an outdated understanding of the purpose of life.  I know that’s a strong statement, and I don’t expect everyone to agree.  But please take a deep breath and step back and think this through with me.

First, understand that a core belief that I hold to be true is that God IS unconditional love.  That means it is impossible to do anything unforgivable.  That means you are loved as perfect just the way you are.   This life is not black and white, it is complicated, and God only wants you to do the best you can do.  Jesus taught this – to look beyond the many rules of the Old Testament and to Love One Another.

Second, the purpose of life is NOT to “follow the rules or else something bad will happen.”  The purpose of life is to do the best you can and to LEARN LESSONS that lead to a greater understanding of LOVE.  Humanity has spent many years in rule-based living.  We are getting to the point where an over-emphasis on rules is holding us back.  Just read the book Practical Wisdom to understand what I’m talking about.

Third, you have to think about who you are.  You are not your body.  You are not your name.  You are not just the role you were born into.  Rather, you are a piece of God.  You are a soul.  You have a greater purpose.  While you are on this Earth, you forget all this.  And there is a reason for that.  Because if you remembered everything you know about God, you would not take the challenges of this life seriously.  You would not go through the difficult situations of life to learn those hard lessons.

Fourth, you can’t confuse behavior with intent.  You can’t assume you know someone’s intent just based on behavior.  You have to listen, you have to ask, you have to work to understand what’s going on with another person.  This is true for everyone who is affected by a situation.

What can you do?  Understand that the rules are there to help and guide, but their usefulness is limited.  Let go of the fear of doing something wrong.  Develop a trust in God that everything has a purpose, even if you can’t see it, and let go of worry.

Instead, look at every situation as an opportunity to learn a lesson.  I’m talking about lessons that have a deep meaning, not watching someone else “learn a lesson” so you can say “I told you so!”

Do you need to learn to value yourself, to love yourself enough to say no to others?  Do you need to love others enough to let them make their own decisions?  Do you have a distorted view of what love is?

Parents love their children.  It can be extremely painful to watch their children learn their own lessons.  One way to avoid this kind of pain is to enforce rules that will keep their children safe.  We all do this when we teach our kids not to run out into the street.  But at some point, we have to let our kids make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons.  The irony here is, if we care “too much” and try to control what our kids are exposed to by strictly enforcing the rules (even if they are “good” rules), those kids might learn to understand that those who apply strict rules are being loving.  Whose rules are “right”?  What is the real meaning and way to demonstrate love?  These are really tough lessons to learn about love.

Deep inside, we all know that we are lovable just the way we are.  Despite good intentions, too many rules contain the hidden message that we are only lovable if we follow the rules.  If we break a rule, we feel very guilty and conclude that we are bad.

How many times do we judge kids as “bad” based solely on the way they dress?  ALL THE TIME!  Kids KNOW that this doesn’t make sense and deep inside this is a painful lesson to learn – that despite knowing that superficial things don’t make us unlovable, adults (and even parents) contradict this all the time.

There are those who are so giving toward others, their own self suffers.  See my Always Be Nice post.  This is one of those balance issues.  When does serving others go too far?   We each need to love ourselves enough to expect respect from others and recognize when we are giving too much.

A crisis situation or a glaring conflict with one’s trusted paradigm is an opportunity that presents a choice.  One can play it safe and hold on tighter to the rules and being “right.”  Each person in the scenario will have to make a choice, and these choices are likely to conflict.  Things get stuck.  They don’t get resolved.  There is no learning or healing.

Getting too focused on the rules, and who is right or wrong, can also have the unintended consequence of backing the other party into a corner.  If you do not respect the other person’s right to have their own opinion, and they know deep inside that it is their life and that they are entitled to make their own decisions, then you force them to take a stand.

A different choice is to step back and evaluate, which is SCARY.  You might need to take another look at those rules, and you might have to consider abandoning some.  The scariest part of all is probably self-reflection.  It’s easier to be offended with someone else or their actions, which allows you to avoid looking at yourself.  I’m not saying you have to agree with another’s actions – that’s a separate conclusion.  I’m talking about the process you use to get to your conclusions.  It’s all about setting aside fear and ego, and getting thoughtful and unemotional.  HARD work.

What might be most important, is to remind yourself that people who care about each other really are usually trying to do the right thing.  If the right thing to them, is hurtful to you, you may have to be strong and point that out.  You might have to watch and see if the other person is more interested in following the rules and being right, than in finding the best way to express love.  We all have baggage and bad habits that we have picked up from life.  The best thing we can do with people we love, is to gently point out what we see, and be there to support each other in working to let go of what is not serving our best interests.

Maybe the most important thing of all comes back to faith:  God is in control.  We are not.  Pray for comfort, guidance and the ability to learn and understand the lessons we are presented with.


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