Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Unlearn, repent


Spurred by experience, both first-hand personal, and as parent, and as a priest and a pastor, I have an interest in neurodiversity and in trauma. I note that in these circles of shared lived experience, people speak of the attitudes, behaviours, and expectations they are unlearning. Here’s just one example, shared on social media by @ReachOutRecovery:


Things I’m Unlearning:

Societal standards of beauty and diet culture

Seeking external validation over self-assurance

Distracting from hard feelings instead of processing them

Making myself smaller to fit into social situations

Pretending like I’m fine instead of asking for support

Ignoring my own boundaries to please other people

Believing my self-worth depends on my productivity

Sacrificing my voice/beliefs to avoid conflict

Not celebrating my accomplishments because “others have better ones”


The biblical word for unlearning is repentance. And it would seem that repentance is an idea that is experiencing a renaissance, is understood—by another name—as of vital importance. The Church has much to offer her, not least grace—room, and power, to unlearn, that is from within but is external in its source, a gift to us, from others and ultimately from God—and forgiveness—the freedom to begin over again each time we return to the old patterns we long to unlearn. But the Church must offer our lived experience not as experts who Know Better but as those who also know what it is to be held captive by society and who long for deliverance and for a new society.

As a straight, white male, with a post-graduate education, painfully aware that I have privilege within a culture lacking in justice and mercy; and as a follower of Jesus, attentive to the call to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him; and aware of the call upon Christians to prefer each other over ourselves; I have learnt patterns of behaviour that have conformed myself to the expectations of others, in unhealthy ways. That go beyond preferring others to not voicing my own beliefs. Rather than laying my life down for others (the greatest expression of love), withholding my life (and, thus, my ability to love others authentically). Trying—and inevitably failing—to be what other people want me to be, instead of who God has made me to be, including through the redeeming of trauma.

Things I need to unlearn, or repent of, include:

Saying ‘yes,’ or ‘that’s fine,’ to people when I should say e.g. ‘I can’t do that, for these reasons; I can offer you this instead.’

Keeping quiet instead of naming my truth, not as the Definitive word that carries more weight than yours, but as a piece of the jigsaw that is missing until I share it, a part of the body denied to the body, disabling you as well as me.

Using anger as a weapon to wound people with words, rather than a prompt to identify and address injustice.

Being both too undisciplined (I eat too much white bread, and sugar) and too harsh (exercising without pleasure, rather than resting so the pleasure might return) with my body.

Finishing other people’s sentences, rather than listening to the end, and then some before responding. (An introvert attempting to process extrovertly among extraverts.)

There are, I am sure, other things I need to unlearn, or repent of. And these are not because I am a bad person; they are because I am a person, and unlearning and learning are life skills, for life.

What are you unlearning? What has helped you?


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