What joy when Pride and Prejudice (the proper BBC version) was broadcast on New Year’s Day! A cup of tea and some crochet work, a comfy blanket and I was set for the afternoon!
My love for this beautifully crafted story started way back in my early teenage years when I first watched it with my Mother. I don’t know what it is that draws me in; the lovely costumes, the innocent purity of living, or the intimacy the characters have with each other in a comparatively smaller, more restricted world than the one we live in. But whilst I was watching, I saw reflected in the complexities of each relationship the same problems we battle with today – the breakdown in relationships based on first impressions; quick judgements of character and assumptions of circumstance doesn’t sound too dissimilar from the things that make us unhappy today.
One of my biggest struggles in life is based on what I think I see in other people. It’s the insecurity of not being absolutely sure of their thoughts, attitudes and emotions, and not knowing how to behave. And I know I’m not alone in this, because one of the core elements that sustains us in life is living communally; sharing our sorrows and joys with one another, seeking comfort in one another’s company. It is therefore not surprising that we place so much value on what people think of us and how they treat us.
Indeed, research* has shown that there is a link between how we relate to others and how this fulfills what is called basic psychological needs; autonomy, competence and relatedness. In fact, if these needs are not met, our psychological well-being is negatively affected, impacting on self-esteem and anxiety symptoms. This seems to indicate that it is a natural but often harmful thing to draw upon our relationships in order to fulfill our basic needs – or as some may call it, our happiness.
So as I sat on my sofa, watching Jane and Lizzie lose all hope in their men because they believed the situation was exactly as they had perceived it, I saw my own life to be just like that; a factory of assumptions based on what I see and what I know of myself and those around me. But that seems ridiculous considering that we hardly know our-ever-changing-selves, let alone the person next to us – even those we profess to know inside out. And yet, we are always doing this thing where we see a person in a situation and we judge them with all we are because we need that relationship and if it doesn’t fit the list that will help us fulfil our basic psychological needs, then we’re out.
It’s only recently that I have begun to touch upon the meaning of liberation Jesus can give us from all those judgements with which we create our own prisons. Because, if you’re anything like me, then those judgements will become a torment of everyday living – they’ll follow you and tear at your heart, boggling your mind and bringing your self-esteem down at an alarming rate. They’ll end up breaking down those relationships and dragging you into the vicious cycle of loneliness and self-hatred.
“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved. Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” – Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child
It seems impossible to fully refocus the fulfillment of my needs away from ‘mere mortals’ to the One who is the Living Water. And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if that is what He asks of us. We learn to love and be loved by being broken. God does great things through the darkest situations, and we need to experience our own sinfulness in order to make out the way forward towards Him. We need each other to drive us in the right direction, and sometimes that involves going through a painful process that will shape us. There is surely a difference in finding liberation from judging others because we fear their opinion, and growing through the chastisement and encouragement – and the accompanying emotions – of those we care about deeply.
“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” – Proverbs 27:17
And so I have come to realise that others must be involved in our spiritual growth. Last year’s New Year’s Resolution saw a compilation of challenges that were aimed at developing my character. I never got any further than April when it came to documenting my experiences, but have tried to adopt all of them in my life in little ways. Nonetheless, there is still a lot left to do and write about, and despite the beginning of a new year, I would really like to continue working at this little list. But when it comes this year’s resolution, I want to keep it simple. I’ve learnt that my life is too broad, my self spread too thin. My reading involves a million books and hours on Facebook, my influences include the endless monotony of television and a bombardment of information on the internet. But despite super modern technology and a wealth of connections at my fingertips, my contact with those around me is minimal – a text here, a comment there. So I’ve decided to cut down. I’d like to focus more on one thing at a time, and take my time at it. I want to practice my calm and patience, and actually take in whatever I am doing. And most importantly, I am going to reduce and intensify my relationships, so that I can truly learn to shed those assumptions and judgements, and go beyond what the eye beholds.
“Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7
*Wei, M. et al. (2005) in Journal of Counseling Psychology 52 (4), 591-601, http://www.selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2005_WeiShafferYoungZakalik_RelNeedSat_JCP.pdf