The Unexpected Journey
Chapter 12

Second Guessing

These days my physical condition is changing faster than it has previously.  For example, for the first time, I am hurting at two unrelated sites at the same time.  My lower back began hurting late yesterday, and my right shoulder continues to hurt.  That combination pretty much causes some pain when there is any major bodily movement!  Much of the past since my diagnosis has been pain free.

There are lots of results that are a reaction to my new circumstance.  As an illustration, I could not do as much in the gym this morning as I usually do.  If a muscle or joint “talks to me” in the language of pain, I do not “push” that muscle or joint by demanding it to function so the rest of the body can get exercise.  If I experience pain, I go into rehab mode almost automatically—reduce the resistance, limit the repetitions, or (if the pain cannot be eliminated in those ways) stop the exercise altogether.  If necessary, I return to ground zero, and seek to build back slowly.

I often laugh at myself.  My exercise routine would be a minimum “warm-up” for someone who was into serious toning or muscle building. Each time as I return to the gym, I think the exercise machines say, “What?  You again?” and laugh at me when I leave.  My goal is simple—keep my body functioning as long as possible.  “Do not stop until you have no other choice.  Just because your brain is shrinking does not mean you have to encourage your muscular system to ‘shrink.’”  Yes, I know the undesired will happen.  However, I do not have to help the undesirable come more quickly than is necessary.

I have nothing to prove.  I leave what is left of my ego at the gym door.  Thus far, my only concession to myself is that I do not take my walking stick into the exercise area.   However, I am slow, follow a routine, am deliberate in my actions, and touch machines I do not use (right now, balance is the primary issue).  Basically, my hope now is that if I do not treat myself as an invalid that I will not act as an invalid.

I am delighted that there is not a hidden camera in my office.  A good comic clip could be made from filming my movements!  Everything is a slow (and often not the natural) process of movement. 

One of the bigger adjustments I continue to make is based on a huge, continuing urge to apologize.  The motivation is not to elicit sympathy or encouraging comments.  My desire to apologize is based on the awareness of the many years that I did much and was helpfully involved, and the little I can do now.  There are days I feel totally unproductive, a liability instead of an asset.


My Introduction to New Realities

I already have acknowledged my introduction to “second guessing” myself.  There are some things I never “second guess” and I do not ever anticipate I will “second guess.”  Prominently among them are my marriage, my wife, and my children. 

I am delighted that I have been married for almost 50 years to Joyce.  In my life, I see no advantage to my not being married.  In fact, my life is (and has been) immeasurably blessed by my marriage.  There are things I understand through marriage that I could not understand without marriage.

I cannot imagine being married to anyone but Joyce.  We often have laughed together as we wonder how two country persons exposed to so little of the world found each other, and experienced a world they did not know existed until after they married.  In our unusual life, we have grown closer to each other rather than further apart.  Her understanding of me overwhelms me.  I never stop being grateful for the many ways in which she blesses my life.

I never stop being grateful for all three of our children.  I do not remember ever regarding any one of them as a “mistake.”  I doubt that any of them understand how much they each bless my life.  I wish I were closer to them and more in touch with their lives.  It also is easy for the grandpa to come out in me.  

However, Joyce and I formed an independent team who did independent things.  We taught our children that an abundance of distance is no commentary on the love held.  As we are reminded occasionally, “You two took your children to Africa when they were small, and we are not that far from you.”  I have no doubt that if we needed any or all of them, they each would immediately respond.  We taught them to be independent by being independent ourselves. 

It is my self-centered wishes and not their love that motivates my desire to be closer to them.  Yet, I know they could not be who they are (nor could I be who I am) if they did not live their own lives in circumstances they chose as best for themselves.

Thus far, my “second guessing” deals only with past personal choices and what I consider to be personal mistakes.  It primarily involves “I wish I had acted differently in that situation,” or “I wish I had not said that in those particular circumstances.”  Primarily, “second guessing” in my life is about an action I took or words I said, not about a relationship.  It basically is about me, not people I knew (know) or relationships we formed (form).

I understand that no one lives a “perfect” life—that is not possible.  If the standards we hold are so low that we easily can fulfill them, the standards are much too low.  If the standards are so high that they form a constant guilt trip, they are much too high.  Standards should exist as challenges to grow toward good potentials rather than be a means of personal justification.  Standards also should express themselves in a feeling of guilt when we fail to live up to our own expectations of what is good or appropriate.

Yet, it is also true that when we “pass the point of no return” we do a lot of reflecting upon our past.  By “point of no return,” I am not talking of death.  In the past I had options.  They may not have been good options as I got older, but I had options.  I possessed marketable skills.

Now I have no options.  To me, the “point of no return” is the transition from options to no options.  Because I have a skill does not mean I have the strength, the energy, or the stamina to utilize the skill in a marketable manner.  Even the skills are evaporating! 

For the first time in my life, I have NO options.  No one would hire me for any purpose.  I previously have never lived with NO options. I find this situation a strange circumstance that is beyond my power to change!

With me, this “second guessing” reflection focuses on “I cannot believe you did,” or “I cannot believe you said.”  This reflection does not have to focus on something that other people might regard as terrible, but on something that violates my present standards.

However, such reflecting is tricky business.  Standards evolve and undergo critical changes as time passes and experience accumulates.  When a person reflects on his/her past, he/she does so by evoking a comparison made on the basis of the person’s current standards.  Thinking of what we did or said in our past must not produce a pseudo-guilt that plagues us as it makes us unproductive in our present.  If we feel guilt, (1) be sure, “I am guilty,” (2) make the feeling constructive, and (3) keep the memory open enough for forgiveness to occur.  There is a huge difference between a false memory and a just guilt.

How does a person make “second guessing” a constructive experience?  If there is something that can be done (positively) about the situation that causes us to feel appropriate guilty, do it.  Apologize, rectify, or appropriately address the situation in a manner that allows forgiveness to exist. 

However, do not make the situation worse by selfishly only considering self!  Do not make a private concern a public matter!  Consider the consequences to the present, in both words and actions—not just in regard to self, but also in regard to others!

If there is not something that can improve a past situation, turn it loose!   There are situations from the past that a person can constructively address.  There are situations from the past that can be destructively addressed.  It is too simple to seek to address past situations with a selfish motivation.  If we seek to make ourselves feel better at the expense of making others feel bad, we need to give serious consideration to what we are doing.

This is not given as an encouragement to justify or ignore past mistakes, but it is an urging not to compound past mistakes.  In years past, some advocated that catharsis would free a person from problems.  That depends on the problem!  An important aspect of taking responsibility for our mistakes is showing compassion and consideration for others.  Sometimes the courage to act with proper attitudes is the answer to past mistakes, and sometimes the courage to admit our weakness to ourselves is the answer to past mistakes.


What Is the Difference?

The difference to which I refer is the difference between forgiving yourself and justifying yourself.  I speak of justification in the sense I often hear the concept used in today’s society, not in the sense justification is used in the Bible.  How do we draw the line that separates an appropriate self-forgiveness and an inappropriate self-justification?

Let’s begin with society’s concept of justification.  The common concept of justification I hear today has to do with (primarily) escaping blame.  “It was not my fault!  I am not responsible for my actions!”  Either “Someone forced me to do what I would not have done,” or “Someone programmed me to behave as I did.”  However, regardless of my involvement in the undesirable occurrence, “It was not my fault, and I should not be blamed for what I did.”  Without care, tolerated irresponsible actions beget continued irresponsible behaviors.  If carefulness is not exercised, the focus of “I am not responsible” behavior results in “getting away” with irresponsible acts regardless of whom or how many suffer as a result.

Human behavior involves complex understandings that often involve the motives that produced the act.

There was a time when the basic consideration was did he/she do the act?  If the person did the act, the whys were not relevant.  Now there are three relevant questions:  (1) Did he/she do the act?  (2)  Was he/she forced to do the act?  (3) What was his/her motivation for doing the act?  Often, a rational explanation for the act is central to personal responsibility.

Currently, the determination of responsibility for the action involves his/her motivation.  For there to be an appropriate feeling of responsibility for producing the act or involvement in the act, who is to “blame” must be determined.  To understand the act, there must be an understanding of motives.  The assignment of responsibility for the act depends on the motives behind the act.  Thus, the person can actually do something, but he/she not be responsible for what he/she did.

Forgiveness is not an effort to evade responsibility.  Forgiveness declares and accepts responsibility for one’s actions. The internal acceptance of “This was not right!” is not questioned.  This acceptance of responsibility redirects the person’s future behavior.  Instead of accepting pardon to continue to act irresponsibly, the person accepts pardon to live and behave differently.  Continued irresponsible conduct is internally unacceptable to the person.  Lessons learned by hurtful conduct are transformed into responsible future behavior.

Justification is often the feeling that one is not responsible because others are to blame for “my” actions.  Forgiveness involves accepting personal responsibility and redirecting future behavior.  Internally, it is simpler to evade blame than it is to accept responsibility.

In accepting self-forgiveness, the difficulty lies in pardoning self while learning the lessons of responsible behavior.  In accepting pardon, the person becomes more responsible as he/she grows in an understanding of what responsible behavior is.

Copyright 2010

Previous Chapter


Next Chapter

David's Home Page