Nyla had been raised by parents who "loved her" conditionally. They convinced her that their conditional praise, acceptance, and kindness were truly love. When I first described to her what Real Love looked like, her reaction was far from positive. She defended her parents, resisted the notion that she might not be perfectly happy, and vigorously resisted any hint that she might be imperfect as a wife and mother.
But she also knew that something was missing in her life. Her husband had had an affair, her teenage son was using drugs, and her daughter was in a miserable relationship. She began to realize that all her life she had been manipulated by her parents to be a "good girl" in ways that benefitted them. She finally made a choice to exercise faith in the power of truth-telling and love. Faith isn't about words. Faith is demonstrated by what we do.
Nyla chose to believe that I loved her and that she was worthwhile, contradicting what nearly everyone in her life had told her. She chose to believe that with that love and sense of worth, nobody could hurt her. She chose to believe that being loving and responsible would always make her happier than anger or blaming or controlling people—the latter behaviors being quite familiar to her.
With these beliefs firmly in her soul, she apologized to her husband for being bitter and withdrawn on many occasions, and she expressed her understanding about why he would have an affair—since being with her had become so unpleasant (not to minimize his mistakes in any way). She chose to accept and forgive him, rather than waiting for him to sufficiently apologize and "make up" for his mistake.
She recognized that she had always controlled her children with guilt and by giving them whatever they wanted—spoiling them—so they would like her. She was terrified to give up these behaviors—for fear of losing their approval—but she simply did it. Initially, her son threw a fit that she would "take" from him the privileges he "deserved." He had a tantrum after the fashion of a four-year-old, which lasted for months, during which he called her terrible things, refused to speak to her, and involved the entire extended family in his uproar.
But still Nyla made choices to love him and teach him, even though he spewed venom at her for any attempts she made to alter his leisurely lifestyle. In his defense, who wouldn't like to be taken care of in every way: free apartment, car, insurance, food, and more. All his life he'd been treated like a baby, and—understandably—he liked it. He was in heaven—completely irresponsible, to be sure, but nonetheless enjoyable—and he was not about to let that go without a fight.
In the past, his disapproval would instantly have caused Nyla to stop her efforts and to resume pleasing her son. But she chose FAITH. She didn't just talk about loving and teaching. She DID it in the face of extreme opposition. That's the very definition of faith. Gradually Austin began to assume responsibility for his life. He got a job, his own apartment, and a sense of pride and confidence from being able to survive on his own. He was happier, and it all happened because of the faith of his mother. She had faith that loving and teaching would work better than manipulating and trading. She also had faith in her son, that he could really make it on his own. She proved her faith with her behavior.
At almost the same time that all this was happening with Nyla and Austin, I had similar conversations with Kara, whose daughter was in a position very similar to Austin's. Kara expressed her belief in Real Love, and in the importance of learning responsibility, but then she never did anything about it. She anguished over her daughter's pain. She prayed and wished for things to be different. But she was too afraid to change her own behavior. She had no real faith, so she stayed the same—as did her daughter, who remained miserable. The condition of their family deteriorated steadily.
Faith isn't a principle we just talk about. It's a choice we demonstrate. If we don't, we're guaranteed to stay the same. Lack of faith isn't just a problem. It's a living death.
As much as we might wish it, we cannot GIVE people faith. We can describe it. We can encourage it. We can provide an atmosphere so filled with love and safety that choosing faith becomes much easier. But we can't provide the faith. Nyla chose faith and found happiness, while Kara chose to stay in her fear. Kara protested that she couldn't make the difficult choices because she was afraid. But faith is moving forward WHILE we're afraid. Without fear, in fact, there is no real faith.
These two women are a cautionary tale for us all. We all have sufficient REASONS to be afraid—we've all been disappointed and hurt—but all our reasons don't JUSTIFY our staying in fear and denying the potential miracles of faith.
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