I learned a new phrase yesterday while playing Barbies with my niece: “Fully Articulated.” Yeah. I’d never heard that before. I was complaining that my girl’s knees didn’t bend, and her feet were too large for any of the cute stilettos her doll got to wear.
“That’s because she’s not fully articulated,” the eight-year-old said seriously.
“She’s not what?”
“Fully articulated. That means her body parts don’t move at all the joints,” she explained. “Just don’t worry about it. That’s how she’s made.”
Oh, right. I knew that. Not.
I’ve thought about it ever since. Fully Articulated. I even Dictionary.com’ed it. Here’s what I got:
1. made clear or distinct: articulated sounds.
2. having a joint or joints; jointed: an articulated appendage.
I was familiar with the definition in relation to language, but not the one having to do with joints. Hmmmmm. I wonder if I can stretch the meaning a little further to reach not only speech and body parts, but also mind and emotion. Am I able to bend when the situation requires a smidgeon of flexibility, or am I like Beach Barbie with her stiff knees and wide flat feet, frozen in one position?
When I began teaching, my mentor warned me that good teachers must be like rubber bands, flexible. That went against my rigid grain. I wasn’t very good at flexible. I struggled with flexible. I liked order, rules, and routine. “Teachable moments” scared me. They weren’t written in my lesson plans.
What was underneath that need for constant control? Insecurity. Fear-of-failure. Low self-esteem masking as people-pleasing and perfectionism. All classic symptoms of a “Codependent.” Those symptoms go way back. They were the same underlying themes that kept me from taking risks in other areas of life and the ones that kept me stuck in unhealthy relationships, particularly one which eventually did end up in divorce.
Dr. Henry Cloud is one of my heroes. Because of him and his work with John Townsend, I am in a much better place than I was as a twenty-three year old rookie teacher, or twenty-four-year-old rookie bride. Just glimpse a few of my favorite book titles:
- God Will Make a Way: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
- Changes That Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future
- Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life
I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the Celebrate Recovery East Coast Summit last week and promptly purchased his new book, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give up in Order to Move Forward. On page 67, I found this nugget about enabling, which is what some of us do rather than ending a detrimental relationship: “People enable others because they care. But this kind of caring is not caring at all and is destructive to the person being helped. It is a toxic dependency. It keeps adult kids dependent on parents long after they should have been independent adults. It keeps addicted spouses and friends addicted long after they should have been allowed to hit bottom and wake up… It keeps employers stuck with dead weight and paralyzes the people’s professional growth. It is horrible.”
Yeah, I know. Been there. Done that. He goes on to say, “There is a difference between helping someone who is disabled, incapable, or otherwise infirm versus helping someone who is resisting growing up and taking care of what every adult (or child, for that matter) has to be responsible for: herself or himself. When you find yourself in any way paying for someone else’s responsibilities, not only are you stuck with a delayed ending, but you are probably harming that person” p. 67.
Sometimes we need to be fully articulated – flexible, bendable, movable. We need to become unstuck from our unhealthy ruts. Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis before we launch ourselves from our familiar but toxic routines and embrace the teachable moments of life. I remember one Texas Spring day when I ditched the lesson plans and walked my class to the park next door. They brought their nature journals and we spent hours catching tadpoles, watching bluebirds swoop and swallow insects in mid-air and trying to draw squirrels who wouldn’t be still long enough for portraiture. It was wonderful! Many conversations and future journal entries came from that one bit of teacher-flexibility. It was a rubber band day, one of the best in seventeen years of teaching.
I also recall another Texas Spring day, one that began with indecision and ended with clarity. The realization finally dawned that my marriage was hopeless. We were not going to eternally be “Barbie and Ken.” Nothing I could do would change the circumstances. After trying everything, I gave up. I let go. Allowing myself to be “fully articulated,” I loosened my controlling grasp on my addicted spouse and released him to God. I bent my knees and prayed for divine guidance. I turned on my heel and headed for healing. For me, that realization of hopelessness was the beginning of abundant life. Dr. Cloud calls it a “good hopelessness.” Here’s the quote: “Necessary endings happen when you get to a “good hopelessness.” It is that moment when you see reality clearly and know you have to bring “what is” to an end. Unfortunately, sometimes that decision involves people, and deciding when to keep going with someone and when not to is one of the most difficult decisions that we have to make, and we must make it in many contexts, throughout life.” Necessary Endings p. 147
Do you feel stuck, rigid, stiff and inflexible? Is there an area of your life in which you need to become fully articulated? May I pray with you about that?
Jesus, You came that we may have life and life abundantly. You long to set us free from the bondage of shame, fear, control, people-pleasing, guilt, and unhealthy enabling. You showed us how to live our lives, loving and serving, but also dusting your feet and moving on when things became toxic.
You accomplished the mission you came to complete. You are THE SAVIOR. I do not need to try to be someone’s savior. My job is to point them to You. Please give me the ability to let go of the people and things that are hurting me and my relationship with You. Show me where, and when, and how to create the necessary endings in my life. Amen