The Whys of Manipulation

I think I’ve told y’all before that I’m working on a fantasy novel these days. I would say I’m knee-deep in it since I’ve got a first draft of the first 100 pages, but… well, that’s only about the first quarter of the story, and I have no idea how long it’s going to be.

Anyway! One of my characters, Ilane, manipulates people like nobody’s business. She’s done it her entire life, bending her circumstances to try to survive. It’s been really interesting to spend so much time with someone like that. I can’t condone her actions, but I can definitely understand them. As the author, I’m aware that it’s just part of her make-up because, as much as she manipulates people, she’s never actually gotten what she truly needs: love. Her primary motivation in life is survival.

How many of us are like that? I’ve been thinking a lot about the parts of her I see in myself. I have that same drive to try to steer circumstances. Culturally, we’re pretty okay with telling “white lies” or exaggerating if it helps our case. We share information with people we shouldn’t or withhold information from people we shouldn’t. We hide who we really are so that people will accept us or portray ourselves as someone we’re not in order to gain something from someone else.

In 1 Thess 2:5-8, Paul says, “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you” (NIV).

Paul didn’t manipulate. He didn’t put on a mask. Over and over he talks about how he’s seeking God’s approval above man’s approval (e.g., Gal. 1:10, 1 Thess 2:4). He didn’t even act like an expert while he was with the Thessalonians–despite the fact that he was trained as a Pharisee and knew the Bible like nobody’s business. The more time I’ve spent with Ilane, the more I’ve come to realize that manipulation is born out of need–whether it’s perceived or real. Someone who manipulates does it because they don’t think they can get what they need otherwise. If you’re like me, you find yourself manipulating people without even being aware that you’re doing it. The solution isn’t to work harder at being honest/non-manipulative. The solution is to be so full of God that we don’t need man’s approval, to be so grounded in who God is and the reality of our belovedness that we don’t worry about our lack.

One of the verses I have prayed for myself and my family off and on is Psalm 90:14. Spending time with Ilane has convicted me that I need to pray that one every day because the reality is if I don’t intentionally get my needs met by God, I will spend my day working to get my needs met by any means possible.

Ps. 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (NIV).


Fighting for Vulnerability

As I’ve mentioned, I’m working my way through Beth Moore’s Children of the Day. I’ve been ridiculously convicted by 1 Thess 2:2 where Paul says, “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition” [NIV]. The way Beth phrases it is that Paul and Silas were “one bitten, twice bold.”

I don’t know about you, but that is not me. (See that emphasis? I really mean it.) I’m the kind of person who, when injured in a relationship or situation, walks away. It’s completely contrary to the stuff I’ve learned in Tai Chi, but it’s still my gut reaction. I think anyone who’s had bad experiences, which is probably most of us, isn’t going to make the same mistakes twice. That whole “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” thing. We don’t take pans out of the oven without hot pads. We don’t do stupid things once we’ve learned that they’re stupid.

But here’s Paul, knowing that preaching the Gospel is going to result in suffering, and still doing it. With God’s help.

I finished my Lois & Clark fan fic. I’ll add a link once I get it archived (or if you want to read it a week at a time, I’m posting it on lcficmbs.com and fanfiction net). Anyway, super fun to write! Lots of angst, as I said. And one of the great things I got to explore was vulnerability, and how love leaves us exposed, but at the same time we’re better people because of it. It’s something I’ve been working on my own life. I want to be a vulnerable person–to share myself with others, the way Paul talks about in 1 Thess. 2:7-8–because I want to be a vulnerable person, not because I feel guilted into it, not because the people around me act in a way that makes me feel like it’s a good idea, but because it’s who I want to be. My relational paranoia means I am quite uncomfortable with that. I give people, even dear friends, a very  small level of trust. If they break my trust, even unintentionally, it takes me a long time before I trust them again.

Obviously–quick disclaimer–I am not advocating putting oneself in/staying in an abusive situation.

But there’s something to that whole being open thing. Community is impossible without it. In Children of the Day, Beth says “We were created for community. We thrive in healthy intimacy. We have to give fully to create the space to receive fully” (p. 59). We can’t really have fulfilling relationships without being vulnerable.

But it isn’t natural. It’s not a gut reaction. It’s something we have to fight for, something we have to depend on God for. That seems to be the key phrase there. Paul has to be determined to persevere, but he doesn’t do it on his own. He depends on God.