I will not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

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Fool-Proofing Your Life

Jan Silvious

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excerpt from Fool-Proofing Your Life

Raising Your Relational IQ

Sally looked wistfully at the other women in the room. She had come to the Christmas party at church reluctantly, hoping to find some peace and joy for her soul. But in the midst of her friends' amiable banter, all she could hear were the words of her husband, Don. They were words that cut her to the quick: "You are so dull and stupid. I don't know why I ever married you."

Don was on one of his bad cycles. Just last month he seemed to be doing better, trying harder, and treating his wife better, but then things began to tense up. There had been a minor disagreement over a Christmas present, and from that point on Don seemed to grow steadily angrier. The man who just a few days before had vowed his love for her was now cursing her and raging at her. This man she loved but feared was almost destroying her.

It was so hard to put it all together. Her pensive look would have given her away if anyone had looked at her closely. Although she was among women who loved her and wanted to include her, she was on an island in her mind, trying to figure out why she felt so crazy.

Maybe you are like Sally. You understand what it means to be caught in the undertow of a relationship that seems to pull you down. Each time there is a lull in the tension, you tell yourself, this time, everything is going to be all right. Yet in a few hours or a few days, you are thrust into confusion again. Often you are blamed for whatever negative circumstances occur, and yet you can't figure out why.

Sarah is a woman who was forced to look reality square in the face. "My mother can be so much fun and a real friend in tough situations, if she wants to be. She is generous with my kids, and we look forward to her monthly visits."

Sarah tried to love her mother, Mary, but Mary had another side to her that baffled Sarah and everyone else. "I guess you could say she has a major blind spot," Sarah explained. "Everything will be going along fine, and then something happens to upset Mother. We never know what it will be; we just find out she's upset. Her anger flares, and she has what my dad always called "one of her three-day mad spells."

"She's had these so many times throughout my life I have felt there was no hope. I've figured that's just the way she is and I just have to live with her spells that throw us all off balance. What bothers me now, however, is I've seen her do the same thing with my children. She tells them, "If you don't want to come stay with granny, it's okay." The problem is then she punishes them for not coming. She withdraws, and no one hears from her until she eventually calls. Then everything is fine again -- for a while."

Sarah's eyes filled with tears as she recalled a particularly painful incident with her Mother. "My daughter had a very rare form of cancer three years ago, when she was eight. Since my Mother lives only an hour from us, she volunteered to stay at the house with my son while my husband and I were at the hospital. The afternoon after she arrived, she called the hospital room, demanding to know where I "hid" the mop. She wanted to clean my "filthy" kitchen floor. Since we were talking to the oncologist about the treatment plan for my daughter, I told her I would have to call her back. She insisted I tell her where I put the mop! Sensing she was pushing me, my husband took the phone and said, "Mary, we will call you back later. The doctor is here, and we can't talk." Then he just hung up the phone.

"When we got home that evening, my Mother wasn't speaking. She never asked about her granddaughter but only made an announcement: "I am leaving." I was too exhausted from the whole ordeal with my daughter to argue with her, so I just went to the bedroom and closed the door. I heard Mother say one last loud sentence to my husband before the front door slammed. "Obviously," she said, "my presence isn't needed." I didn't have the energy to stop her and, honestly, I didn't want to try. We'd been through episodes like this before. I always found a way to smooth things over, to pack it all away, and never mention it again until things would return to normal -- if you can call that kind of relationship "normal."

"About three days later, Mother called and asked about my little girl as if she hadn't ever been at our house. I was angry with her but, as usual, I told her what she wanted to hear, and I never brought up the incident again. There have been other incidents since then, and they're really starting to wear me out. My Dad tried to reason with her for years about her "mad spells," but she didn't get it. She refuses to even admit she has them much less be willing to change. She thinks she is just fine, and if people have a problem with her, well, it's just too bad. They are wrong, and if she's really mad, she calls them "stupid!"

"I love my Mother, and I want to be a good daughter. I don't want to be mean or act unchristian, but I just can't stand to walk on eggshells anymore. And I don't want my children to have to either. Something's got to change, but I'm afraid it will never be my Mother."

Sarah is describing the kind of complex, crazy-making relationship many of us experience at times in our lives. Her mother, as generous and fun as she can sometimes be, has more than a blind spot. She has a dangerous character flaw that ensures that anyone who gets close to her will eventually be ensnared by her manipulation. Mary exhibits the behavior of one whom the Bible identifies as a fool. The reality is, relating to her will always involve emotional chaos.

Excerpted from Fool-Proofing Your Life: Wisdom for Untangling Your Most Difficult Relationships by Jan Silvious (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 1998). Copyright 1998 by Jan Silvious.

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