Power is a tricky thing, isn’t it? “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” For me, it’s often harder to acknowledge and handle my own power than to accept the areas of my life where I’m powerless.
We took part in a small group with friend Daryn and her family earlier this fall, which covered the Beatitudes. That section of Matthew has always been one of my favorite passages of scripture. As an enneagram Four, it’s easy for me to relate to the marginalized and rejected folks, the “poor in spirit” and so forth.
But the reality is, I was always a very smart girl. I’ve grown into a very smart woman. Intelligence and knowledge are a form of power. I’m reasonably attractive–and beauty is a form of power. I have people who care about me, genuinely like me, and value my opinion. That influence is a form of power.
If you’ve been in any kind of codependent relationship (and I think lots of us have), it’s easy to feel helpless. It often seems like the other person has all the power in the relationship. Like they get to make all the choices and decisions, and you get stuck reacting to their chaos. But you still have the power of choice. You don’t have to react.
Don’t get me wrong. In some ways, each and every one of us is completely powerless. We’re powerless when it comes to justifying all the wrong in our hearts, minds and behavior. We’re powerless when it comes to salvation. But when it comes to effecting change in the world and in particular, in our relationships, we need to acknowledge the power we have.
As children of God, it’s our responsibility to promote God’s shalom, his perfect justice and peace. We’re to be constantly about our Father’s business, and His business without question includes reconciliation, healing broken relationships and building up our communities. He gives us the power to do that work, but He doesn’t do the work for us. Count me among the many who have dropped that ball.
You see, the really nice thing about abdicating your power is that it absolves you of responsibility. Throwing up your hands and giving up on difficult people is a lot easier than standing alongside them for the long haul. Most sane people will not blame you for writing off the crazy people in your life. Heck, most sane people will recommend you do it.
Unfortunately, most of us are at least a little crazy ourselves. That includes the unconventional Galillean rabbi we committed to following. The one who hung out with crooked bureaucrats, hookers and schitzophrenics.
We have power. We have influence–far more than we use or even acknowledge most of the time. Picking up that power and applying it is not without cost, and sometimes that cost is steep. That’s probably why we avoid it. Forgiveness and compassion are powerful, but they cost us our sense of superiority. Real humility is powerful, but it costs us pride. Looking honestly at our own part in our relationship difficulties and our own flaws is incredibly powerful–and incredibly painful.
The truth is, even when we accept our power and earnestly try to apply it as a force for good in the world, we’ll fail, at least some of the time. Looking back across our lives, we’ll realize we’ve abused our power, and facing that will be difficult as well. I realize that I owe a huge apology to many people in my life for the ways I’ve mishandled my power. I’ve held wrongs over others’ heads so they’d let me do what I wanted. I’ve cashed in other people’s love for me with emotional blackmail. I’ve withheld approval that others needed from me to try and bend their behavior to my will.
None of this works well, by the way. Well, it works in the short term, in a twisted sort of way, else we wouldn’t do it would we? But as a way of getting through life, it pretty much stinks.
At any rate–as I reflect on things lately, it seems increasingly clear that a chapter in my life is closing. Heck, probably an entire book from of a series of novellas is closing. (Note to self: maybe it’s time to start on that autobiography… or not.)
I have no idea what’s coming next. None whatsoever. Mom is gone. My grandparents are gone. Nothing has turned out like I thought it would when I graduated high school, got married and started my work life. That’s not a bad thing–in many ways my life is much better than what I expected. It does mean that I know better than to try and predict what’s coming down the pike for the next fifteen or twenty years. I have no idea what destinations are ahead, but I know what direction is the right one.
The footprints are as clear as day.