Tag Archives: Boundaries

Give Me Rest

Businesswoman doing yoga“Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”- Matthew 11:28

I have always been a “good worker.”  My mother often bragged about how she loved to work, crediting her father as the role model of a strong work ethic.  My mother never rested, and neither did her father. Interestingly when they both retired they spent most of their time sitting in a chair,  not doing much of anything.

As I grew up, I also became a hard worker.  I was always accomplishing things, taking on projects, raising my hand to lead a task. As a lawyer, overwork is a badge of honor. Billing hours, staying late at the office and coming in on weekends often garners you a partnership. When I entered the practice in the 1980’s it was particularly important to work hard and show up often because  women were just starting to be accepted into the previously male dominated profession.

Where is the line between hard work, perseverance and being a “workaholic?” One source suggests that if you answer “often” or “always” to the following you might be in danger of being a workaholic:

1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.

2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.

3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression.

4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.

7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Unfortunately, after examining this list,  it’s clear I may struggle with  workaholism.

One of the anecdotes for overworking is rest.  Without it we can suffer burnout.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Rest may not come easy for those of us who are constantly working.  As lawyers even when we are “off the clock” we carry our client’s burdens in our heads, and we may be worrying about the next court deadline in the back of our mind. Even when we are with family, we may have our mind back at the office. We may not even know how to rest.

I love the Scripture verse at the top of the page. When God says “come to me” what might that look like for this weary lawyer?

I’ve noticed it doesn’t take a vast amount of time to make me feel refreshed. When I have even a bit of solitude (preferably with God, reading my bible, journaling prayers to him, or just taking a walk in nature talking to him ) I feel instantly restored. And the power of that rest endures for hours.  Even during the day at the office when I close my door and read a scripture or a page from a Christian devotional, the break restores me.

For those without a spiritual practice, even  taking short breaks away from the desk or computer throughout the day can bring relief. A friend of mine sets her computer at the office to go off every few hours as a reminder to just breathe, pause, look away from work and dream for a minute.

One of the best steps I have taken is to remove my work email from my phone, so I am not constantly being pulled back into work during leisure time. I set limits on times to return emails and while I thought it would be stressful to let go of constant connection it has actually been freeing.

I’ve also blocked time on my calendar for a lunch break every day, and also for time to write at a local coffee shop on Friday mornings.  It’s tempting to fill the time when I see it blocked off but the more I actually take the time the better I feel. Even if I don’t take the whole lunch break I know it is “downtime” without clients coming in or other expectations.I’ve also been experimenting with setting a firm stop time for work, no matter what.

Like all boundaries, the ones I am setting are easy to set but not easy to hold.  It takes real commitment, and it’s important to enlist the others in the office to help you stay accountable. I meet a friend for the Friday writing who also holds me accountable. My law partner is supportive of my goals to stop overwork and is quick to remind me it’s time to leave if I am lingering.

I’ve also found it helpful to take a Sabbath.   Many Christians feel that Sunday is the Sabbath but this is just our Western tradition because we go to church then.  Christians don’t go to church on Sunday because it’s the Sabbath, it’s because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday and we are celebrating the resurrection.

The true Sabbath is Saturday, just as it was when Christ was alive. In the Jewish tradition the day begins at Sundown, so Friday night at sundown begins the Sabbath which then ends on Saturday at nightfall. The Jews still keep this tradition called “Shabbat.”

In Greek Orthodox tradition we have Vespers service on Saturday night just after sundown, as the beginning of the liturgical day.  It is my very favorite Orthodox service, and even now if I don’t attend Vespers I love going to Protestant church on Saturday night because I am in such a rhythm of beginning a day dedicated to God at sundown.  It makes me let down from the week, focus on God and relax, and I sleep like a baby.

There are many who would argue that to be “true” to the Bible and God’s commandment we have to honor the Sabbath on Saturday. I like to think that God doesn’t want us to be legalistic, particularly when we have taken the time to dedicate a Sabbath, and that he is just grateful to have our attention and to have us rest on any day we choose.

Taking these steps has helped me begin to pay attention to what I feel is an unhealthy pattern of prioritizing work. As I continue to explore this tendency I have self compassion,  remembering my overwork has been a coping mechanism in the past for me in some way. I want to choose a healthier  lifestyle and know that letting go of overwork, like all self improvement endeavors, is a journey.

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What if?

help-life-preserver-belt-sky-rescue-17173335Dear God, Please heal my romantic wounds, that I might give and receive true love.  Teach me how to let love in, and how to let it stay. –Amen

From “The Age of Miracles,” by Marianne Williamson.

 Recently I was contacted by a group of people working to promote the preservation of marriage.  It seems humorous to think a divorce lawyer,  herself twice divorced, would have something to offer the group.  But I’ve come to marvel at how God uses our mistakes and wounds, once healed, for His most important work.

I always ask clients who come into my office seeking divorce whether the marriage can be saved. Sometimes mediation first round discussions involve the question of whether the the divorce should continue. Clients will say they have tried to save the marriage, but that one or the other wouldn’t commit, or refused to give up a third party or a debilitating habit.  Many have tried marriage counseling.

The statistics the preservationists showed me indicate that in 75% of divorces at least one spouse is having second thoughts one year later.   In one survey 31% of men and 13% of women said they “wished I had worked harder to save my marriage.”

As we brainstormed ways lawyers could help in a marriage preservation initiative, I couldn’t help but think of my own divorce from FP. Even five years post divorce I ask myself that question every now and again.  “What if I had stayed?”

After years of hearing divorce stories and creating two of my own, I am convinced that the most important part of staying married is a commitment for the partners to “do their personal work.”  We are all wounded, some more than others, but until we have the courage to heal ourselves we can never reach the fullness of life that God created for us. If we are not whole, we can’t sustain an intimate relationship.

In her book “The Age of Miracles” author Marianne Williamson writes that in relationships, couples are ” drawn to each other in a way that our neuroses form a perfect fit. The ego’s intention is that they trigger each other’s wounds, but God’s intention is that they heal each other’s wounds. Which it will be is up to them. Whoever is willing to do the work in a relationship, seeing it as an opportunity for self-healing, will receive the blessing whether the other person makes the same choices or not. ”

“This is soon going to be a runaway train, ” I told FP shortly after filing for divorce, knowing how the legal process worked. “I think we both need to fix ourselves.  I am willing to do the hard work. If you will do it too, I will walk alongside you and hold your hand.   This is a defining moment that I will remember fighting for our marriage. Will you commit to doing the work?”

He stayed silent and continued eating a bowl of cereal.

I had a choice. I could stay, or cut loose for my journey of self to heal wounds that I had carried in to two marriages. I knew lessons we don’t learn will come back around until we have embraced them.

A couple we were friendly with came the next day and moved FP in with them. The marriage preservation folks say that friends who enter our story at this time have a great deal of influence over whether the marriage ends. They say that friends should be empathetic and listen, but should not encourage divorce. Instead they should refer us to resources that support entering upon a healing journey.

I often wonder what FP told those friends. They never had a conversation with me. I wonder what might have happened if, instead of whisking him away, they had sat us both down and counseled us to do the hard work. Interestingly, those friends have since divorced.

What makes some of us have the courage to heal our lives while others stay stuck?  Is it fear of the pain of looking in the mirror? Unwillingness to put forth the effort?  Lack of commitment to our partner, or to our marriage?  A combination of the above?  With FP, I will never know. One of the most painful things a partner in a marriage can do is to disconnect from someone they still love in order to embark on a journey of self.

“Healing can hurt,” writes Williamson. “Whether it’s the healing of having to face the shame of our own humiliation, or the pain of having to turn our backs on someone whose patterns are unhealthy for us to be around though we love them still.  Either way, the pain of the healing is far preferable to the pain of remaining at the effect of a neurotic pattern.”

I am a totally different person having made the difficult choice to leave.  I found life.  I don’t know exactly how to articulate this to my marriage preservation friends, most of whom describe long term healthy marriages where they have both committed to do the hard personal work.  What would they have done if their mate had been unwilling to join them on the journey?

I mourn for the marriages where only one chooses to heal. I wonder where I would be if FP had joined me. Where we would be. Even if we had done the work together would we have ended up a stronger couple?  Or would our mutual healing have led us to separate places?  I will never know.

According to Williamson, “Each must choose. The one who learns and grows will mature and ripen with age.  The one who doesn’t will just grow old….”

Divorce was a necessary step for me.  When I meet with clients, in addition to asking whether the marriage can be saved, I now ask them if they have explored deeply the idea of “doing their personal work together.” Some I send off to discernment counseling, a unique way of counseling around the question of “will we commit to try to save our marriage?” Others, I refer to individual counseling so that the pain of divorce breaks them open to finding themselves. I feel that by softly asking these questions and encouraging people to transform their lives, I am not just a machine filing divorces for the people who bring me a retainer.

The most important part of my healing journey was of course, strengthening my connection with God. “The problem with not yet leaning on God is that we tend to lean inordinately on other people. Failing to embrace a love that will always be there for us, we become vulnerable to ones that won’t be,” writes Williamson.

Whenever I ask myself the “what if” question, mine is worded a little differently.

“What if I had stayed,

And missed my life?”

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wpid-revised_diana_ross_jan_2009_monster1“Lights will guide you home; And ignite your bones;

And I will try to fix you.”–From the Song “Fix You” by Coldplay

In therapy I was introduced to the fact that I was codependent. I ‘d originally thought codependents were people involved with loved ones who were alcoholic. Instead I learned it describes those of us who are so concerned with others that we neglect ourselves.

The “Wow!” course confirmed my codependence and gave me some tools to deal with it. Apparently, I had weak “boundaries.” If anyone needed me, at any time, I rallied to their side supplying advice, aid, sometimes money, and always a piece of myself. After all as a Christian isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?

It turns out the answer is NO. What I came to understand was that by my efforts to “rescue” or “cut the pain” or “fix” others, I was not only depleting myself, I was interfering with the path God had designed for that person. If I influenced their circumstances they may not have to do their own hard personal work, to get to where God needed them to go. I was sad to realize I’d thought I was helping, when in fact I was hurting all of us.

In his incredible book “Boundaries” Henry Cloud says, “Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t.” I’d had misinformation about what God expected of me when it came to helping people. I found out that there was specific direction all over the Bible requiring me to set boundaries. My favorite was Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

God showed me that many of the people I was involved with were not healthy and weren’t really trying to become healthy. Painfully, I drew in the circle tighter developing a new mantra for those outside the circle:  “Pray –and stay away.” I envisioned Diana Ross of the Supremes holding up her hand saying “Stop, in the name of Love.”

I made a mental list of those who were hurtful; wounded and enjoying being victims; gossips; failing to work hard and asking for money; calling to whine to me endlessly; and smiling at me while talking about me behind my back. I put up my first boundaries. I moved those names to the top of my morning prayer list and stopped spending time with them. I prayed, and stayed away. That singular step made me feel like I could breathe more freely. It also made room for some of the new people that were coming into my life. The new ones were making tough choices to try to live a full and meaningful life.  I felt like after I’d healed, I was now on the path to an incredibly vibrant life. I wanted to surround myself with like- minded people.

I had a visual image of God arranging chess pieces in my life, and watching to see if I would trust Him with the choices of people moving in and out. Some moving out had been friends for years. Some were family members. I had done free or steeply reduced fee legal work, for “friends” and “family” and “church friends” for years. I put a stop to it, continuing my pro bono legal work through the volunteer lawyers program. If friends and family qualified for that program, I represented them. If they did not, I charged them a discounted but fair rate, or sent them to a lawyer who could do it for less. I started to be accused of being a “B” which was hard to hear. But I took it and stayed on course.

I had been working myself to the bone since my first divorce, scared that since nobody “had my back” I would not be able to support myself if I didn’t work long hours. Now that I was trusting God I started to ask Him to create a healthy balance of work.

As a solo practitioner, I would turn down work when I was “at capacity,” a scary proposition at first. “What if there is not work, when this work is finished?” I knew if I would trust God, He would provide. Over time I realized He knew just when I needed work and when I was capped out. He’d test me to see if I’d turn away work when I was already very busy,  choosing instead to trust Him.

Although difficult at first, the more I trusted, the more I’d see He would keep a great life balance. When work was very slow I’d start to panic and then I’d see that because of some other factors in my life, He’d deliberately given me a reprieve. I would do more yoga, leisurely read a book, or do other things I hadn’t given myself permission to do in years. At first I’d feel like I was cheating if I did a yoga class on a Tuesday morning during a workweek. Over time I learned to languish in the blessing of a comfortable tempo of life. I was getting off of the hamster wheel.

I’d been overly generous with money to anyone who needed it my whole life. I’d given away money, bought things for people, always picked up the tab.As I prayed about this, God began to show me that he had work to do in many of the lives of people who were leaning on me. Most were suffering from their own poor choices, and I was enabling them.  I started speaking up and asking for separate checks. I started to say NO without needing to give excuses.

At the same time  people started showing up who were trying to heal. I picked up a pro bono client who had been on meth and was at the homeless shelter when I’d gotten her case through the volunteer lawyers program. As we worked together she stayed clean, and was back in school. I encouraged her, told her she was strong, took an interest in her grades, gave her advice when she’d call to run things by me, and kept in touch with her after her case closed. She has since graduated from a two year program and stayed clean. I was a support to her not a rescuer. She did all the hard work herself. I just cheered her on and reminded her she was worthy. I began to see the difference.

God and I began working in tandem. Our teamwork was exhilarating. I felt He was using me for His game plan with others. His motto wasn’t “rescue” but was “empowerment and transformation” like He had done with me. He’d sent me the counselors, Father A, Alicia and the others He had placed in my path once He knew I meant business about healing and following Him. When we each do our part, taking good care of our own lives and letting God handle other people’s problems instead of taking them on ourselves, the pieces fall into place for everyone.

I redirected my codependence from wanting to please and rescue others to wanting to love, please and be obedient to an “audience of One”. The pain of my divorce from FP seemed like a distant life. I was becoming comfortable in peace, life balance and serenity.

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