You may see the title to this post and think “hmmmm…..what’s this? Strangely fascinating realityTV show?”
No. It’s an odd but potentially helpful analogy.
Just roll with it, people.
To help you understand the metaphor let’s look at the most famous conjoined twins: Chang and Eng Bunker, from Siam (modern Thailand). They were born in the 1800’s. The term Siamese twins came from these two. They were joined at the sternum. In modern times it would be easy for them to be surgically separated, but at the time there were no such medical advances. The King of Siam ordered to have the twins killed, but their mother refused.
When one twin would eat something sour, the other would taste it. When one was tickled, the other would feel it.
They were in a traveling circus for a season, but then moved to the U.S. and developed their own entertainment enterprise. They married sisters, and between the two couples, they had 21 children. (Let’s not ponder too long about this…)The wives each had a home and the twins would spend half weeks in each.
Chang had a anger problem while Eng stayed relatively happy and healthy. Chang was an alcoholic but Eng was a teetotaler. This was a sad set of circumstances, because they shared the same liver. When Chang had a stroke on the right side of his body, Eng nursed him back to relative health. Chang finally developed Bronchitis. Eng was healthy up the day of Chang’s death. A doctor tried to separate the two before Eng died, but it sadly was too late. Chang had brought him down.
The reason I have been thinking about conjoined twins the last few days is that I went on a solitude retreat this week. Every book I chose to read, every bible verse, every assignment from my spiritual director for inner healing, all challenged me to overcome my nasty seasonal habit of being mean to myself. I had not planned for this theme to be so woven through the week, it just happened.
Apparently, God wants to teach me the art of being kind to myself.
As I was reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning, I came across this paragraph:
“That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ, all these are undoubtably great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.
But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself- that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness- that I myself am the enemy that must be loved- what then?”
This resonated deep within me. I am a kind person. Leaders have specifically told me that kindness and encouragement are two of my greatest gifts. I truly see the best in people.
I have given a lot of my life to help people see their giftedness, their beauty, their worth. It is a central theme in my volunteer work with youth and homeless, my music, my writing, and at the retreats I have taught at.
What I realized this week is that the only person in my life that I don’t consistently see as valuable or beautiful, the only person that I am often unkind to
Whether it be my physical appearance or wrong decisions or romantic slights from men, I turn to being unkind to myself like an addiction at times.
I distinctly remember one of my best friends saying after a breakup in which I vocalized my lack of self worth “Kate, stop being so mean to my friend! If a guy in your life was treating you the same way you are treating yourself right now, I would want to punch him in the face.”
Wow. Point taken.
It seems that I have two sides to myself, my own Siamese twins that live inside of me. I have Chang, the one who lives in my psyche, who is unhealthy and sometimes mean and often feeds addictions. Then I have Eng, who lives in my soul, who is beautiful and confident and sees herself as valuable.
Chang is often so unkind to Eng that my soul starts to lose it’s radiance.
The truth is, if I were another person and I met Kate, I would like her. She would be one of my closest friends. I would think she was pretty and fun and creative. But something about being inside of my own body, being privy to my thoughts, something about that leads me to look at myself differently than I look at anyone else.
As I wrestled with these thoughts this week, I realized that shame is the root of this kind of thinking.
As Brene Brown says, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
There is something in human nature that says “I am not worthy of love, and here is why…”
If I don’t do the hard work of loving myself as much as I love other people, Chang is going to take Eng down, just like Chang took his twin brother to his death bed with him.
How can we escape this downward spiral of self deprecation?
First of all, it is so important to realize that God never called us to hate or even dislike ourselves, despite what some of our theology has suggested over the centuries. I’ve seen a bumper sticker that says:
I’m sorry to break it to you, Corporate Christian entities that be, but that bumper sticker is not necessarily biblical. Jesus says very explicitly to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength, “and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31.) Not more than yourself. As yourself. It is a balancing act.
The more you learn to love your neighbor, the more you will learn to love yourself. Conversely, the more you accept yourself, even in your weakness, the less judgemental you will be towards others.
Does this mean that we go out drinking and sleep around and buy stuff off of the home shopping network because we love ourself? No. That is not love. That is trying to anesthetize the pain that comes from not being loved, either by ourselves or by other people.
We can’t control if other people love us, but we can control how kind we are to ourselves. We can control how we bring healing to those unloved places.
I had a friend who wrote down all of the commandments that Jesus ever said. The command that he said the most is very surprising. Can you guess what it is?
“Be healed” which can be also be translated as “Be made whole.”
The concordance defines whole as without deviation, someone who is sound in body and mind. The dictionary defines it as an an unbroken or undamaged state.
Becoming unbroken and undamaged takes the hard work of repairing. It takes time. To love yourself, you need to work with God to be made whole.
Lastly, you need to try not to hate even the broken side of yourself while you are healing. Chang probably came into being to try to protect you, even in your childhood. You need to bring that part of your soul to Jesus. Let him tell you that you are beautiful and valuable, even in your weakest parts.
I am tired of this duality living in me. I want to love being alone because I like my own company. I want to truly see myself as God sees me and as my friends see me. A beautiful, loving, creative person who is a joy to be with. I want to be made whole.
So next time you see a torn look on my face, putting a finger in the air and saying “Chang, it’s time to meet your Maker!!” You will know that I’m not crazy. Instead, you will know that I am trying to transform from my inner Siamese twin into a whole person.