How to Grow When Life Isn’t Ideal


Jordan B. Peterson writes in his book 12 Rules For Life, An Antidote to Chaos that “The ideal shames us all.” Rule 2 is “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping,” and he draws attention to the way we as humans tend to degrade ourselves as not worthy of help, whether we realize it or not. He goes back to the Genesis account in the Bible and the shame that developed after the first humans’ eyes were opened. They discovered their nudity and felt shame, which led to their undeserving posture in the presence of God.

God presented the ideal, and they could not bring themselves to stand in His presence. We do the same thing, not only toward God but toward anyone who represents the ideal to us. Those who are stronger, faster, better looking, smarter, higher achieving, or have a higher level of authority. Shame leads us to feel anger about the ideal set before us by such people, and then we are able to reject the ideal itself.

More simply, if you’ve ever heard…

  • if you want to be rich, hang out with rich people,
  • or if you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people,
  • or if you want to strengthen your marriage, find a couple with a strong marriage to be around,

… then you have been encouraged to surround yourself with the ideal. People in such conditions of strength or success do the things it takes to be that way. You can observe and ask questions, learning to pattern your life, business, or athletic training to theirs.

We aren’t geared that way. In fact, in the world we live in, we are more often encouraged to find pride in our deficiencies. Having a string of failed relationships is regarded as having lived life, regardless of the carnage that may be left behind. Comfort is found in being around people whose struggles are worse than yours, so you don’t feel so bad about your own. Life hardly ever produces the ideal, and certainly not on its own.

We have to garner enough acceptance for ourselves to move forward, but remain hungry for better things in life.

Peterson says, “What are we to do about that? Abandon all ideals of beauty, health, brilliance, and strength? That’s not a good solution. That would merely ensure that we would feel ashamed, all the time- and that we would more justly deserve it.”

I think about marriage and family in particular because that is a high concern for me. The biblical ideal is one man and one woman, for life, who bear and raise their biological children to adulthood. The world is full of life situations that have not risen to that ideal. It is an ideal that is spiritually, practically, morally, and societally significant, but it is actively rejected. It would not be so easily rejected if one could observe the carnage that results from a child not knowing his or her father, a man who felt justified in leaving through whatever sleight occurred because he had no committed connection to the mother of his children. Often it occurs through divorce, and one parent or the other chooses to move on with their lives in a new family. Resentment builds as visitation tapers off. Neither side can understand it when mental health symptoms result, maybe even to the point of cutting or contemplating suicide.

The ideal isn’t to blame. On the other hand, the reality of your condition doesn’t have to become the worst case scenario. The ideal should still be an aspiration for us all, even if it takes a lot more work, and even if it isn’t reached in this generation. But reaching the ideal requires embracing it, seeking it out, and course correcting in order to aim for it constantly.

Every positive condition or situation in life is based on fulfilling an ideal. Don’t reject it or run from it. Embrace it for your sake and the sake of others.

Book a free 30 minute consultation with me– I want to be your family life coach.

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