Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Coping with your Cop

We love our LEOs, that's a given. But sometimes they are hard to offense officers. I'm still trying to figure my hubby out (that won't change, it's called marriage), and I know I'm not alone on that one. This is in no way bashing of our Officers, but many times they are hard to figure out. They come home from shift and are amped up and full of energy, the next day they don't want to talk and need to be alone. They run fine off no sleep one week, and then need double next week, leaving you to shush your kids every two seconds while they try to catch up. They want to share about work, sometimes they don't. They love the job, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they kick the cynical demon riding on their back, other days it seems like cynicism just hitched a ride forever. Our Officers can be up and down and all around. How do we cope with the rodeo of the Law Enforcement life?

Picture a common LE spouse problem. You've just spent your day running errands around town, cleaning the house, managing the kids, and planning a yummy dinner. Tonight your LEO is home for the weekend. You've gotten all of your responsibilities out of the way so your weekend is relaxing and you can just have fun together. 6 pm rolls around and the table is set, dinner is warm on the oven, the kids are waiting for dad to get home. You look forward to hugging him, hearing about his day, relaxing together once the kids are in bed. Dad finally walks through the door (two hours late because he had a call) and the night you planned looks like it won't be happening. Something happened at work but he won't share. He is quiet, and thoughtful. You ask if he is ok and he mumbles yes. Not realizing it, you ask several times again throughout your quiet dinner meal. He finally snaps he's fine and you feel hurt at his outburst. After all, you're just making sure he's can tell he isn't. Dishes are cleared, kids are in bed and he decides to sit in his chair and watch TV minus any conversation. The rest of the night goes this way and you finally crawl into bed hurt, confused, and entirely disappointed.

Have you ever had a night like this? How do you get through it without holding a grudge or feeling resentment?

Two loving words...Empathy & Grace.

What is Empathy? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Empathy is "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings". What does the Bible say? "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind" 1 Peter 3:8.

Empathy is the ability to walk in someone eles's shoes. You've heard that term before, right? Have you ever thought about what it actually means? Your LEO comes home and isn't talking. He is keeping to himself and seems troubled. Sympathy is feeling bad for them. Empathy would require you to imagine what his day may have been like and thus experience his same emotions. Is his behavior due to a hard day? Could he possibly have seen something disturbing? Could he feel like he has failed at something or didn't try hard enough? Could he be questioning or reevaluating something? Empathy is the ability to think beyond a situation's obvious elements. It's being able to imagine a scenario and feel the same feelings the other person is experiencing.

While we can not fix our LEOs or take away their struggles, we can support them through trying to understand their positions. We can empathize with the results of an experience. Fear from a shooting. Pain from a Domestic call. Anger from a Child Abuse case. Nightmares. Tears. Worry. Anxiety. It comes down to asking yourself "How would you feel if...".

When we look at a situation from only our own perspective or experience base, we risk assigning wrong motives or misinterpreting the feelings, actions, or reactions of others. When we seek to put ourselves in their shoes, we gain an understanding that often helps us be more patient and supportive of others. Ministry Tools Resource Center.

God Himself empathizes with us. "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways." Ps. 139:1-3, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." Ps. 103:13-14

Empathy is something that can be developed through communication and a strong imagination. Not everyone is naturally empathetic. It can take time to be able to empathize with your LEO. The best way to begin to gain this skill is by communicating with them when they are able. Imagine a scenario, imagine how you would feel and then ASK QUESTIONS! "Honey, how did it make you feel when you saw the dead body?" "Are you troubled by what you experienced last night?" "How can I support you?" Empathy takes the spotlight off of ourselves...My dinner is ruined, he isn't talking and I'm lonely, I'm disappointed etc...and places the spotlight on another. It requires selflessness and patience. Empathy benefits others.

Without Empathy, we can not operate in true Grace.

Empathy takes operating in Grace to a whole new level. It enables us to not only offer support, but to show love and offer Grace because we empathize with their experiences.  

What is Grace? We aren't talking about the typical definition as found in the dictionary. The grace I am talking about is not a way of moving, it's not a dinner's an attitude, a way of showing love and patience, and an outlook of forgiveness. Grace is the act of letting someone be, of loving them where they are at and honoring that person with boundaries and respect. It is to operate in patience toward the person we are showing grace to. Grace is unconditional love and understanding with no expectations of return.

We all have received Grace from God in the gift of salvation. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--  not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9,  "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." Ephesians 4:7, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." Titus 2:11

We are saved by Grace because of God's love for us. We are not held to man's laws in order to receive love, but rather the understanding of our sinful nature, and the power of repentance and God's saving Grace.

In the same way we have received Grace despite our flaws and sin, so too must we give Grace to one another. Despite your LEO's faults, Grace is deserved.

I wrote above of different definitions of Grace: it is patience, forgiveness, honor, and respect. Read what the Bible defines love to be...Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. So if these are the definitions of love, as well as Grace, Grace is also the outpouring of love. When we interact with others through Grace, we show love. We live the examples of what love truly is. 

Your Officer has just had a bad shift. He isn't ready to talk. He needs time alone. You respect his struggle and honor his boundaries of needing space. You are patient with the amount of time he needs. You don't take it personal and hold no grudge for the fact that the night you planned didn't work out. You expect nothing when he is ready to share. You love him through this struggle despite your own desires. You show him Grace. 

THIS is an example of Grace. THIS is an example of Love. THIS is an example of unconditional understanding. You expect nothing for the patience, honor, boundaries, and love you show him. You take him where he is at with an Empathy for his experiences and a Grace for his behavior and needs.

Empathy enables you to understand what he is experiencing while Grace gives you the power to step aside and love him through the hard times. 

Your LEO has just come home. You catch him crying in your room, his shoulders are slumped and his muscles are tense. You walk in and hug him. You give him a moment while you imagine what his day has been like. Maybe he saw something gruesome. You would feel sick, and scared. You ask him how he is feeling. He doesn't respond. This doesn't bother you because you can imagine it may be hard to talk about. You ask him if he had a bad day. He nods. You ask him if he would like to talk . He says no. You kiss him and leave, giving him space until he is ready because you can image it's something bad enough he needs to process. Later that night he comes to you and shares. He went to a murder call. It was a child and he can't get the image out of his head. He projects the experience onto his own children and he is feeling every emotion imaginable. You listen. You affirm. You feel the same feelings. You pray together.

One thing I want to add is this, Empathy does not mean taking on the other person's feelings in order to fix them. WE CAN NEVER FIX SOMEONE ELSE. The power of Empathy is fulfilled in better understanding them...not fixing them. It is easy to lob onto our LEOs emotions or behaviors and let them set the mood for the day. It's easy to yo-yo with them and, in the end, feel victimized, down, and exhausted. Instead of assessing our Officers with a microscope and making sure they are ok so WE are ok...practice Empathy and Grace. These two abilities give us the power to own our own feelings, while respecting the boundaries of our Officers as they own THEIR feelings. Empathy and Grace keeps supporting our Officers simple. It empowers us to listen, respect, love, and counsel effectively. It does not ask us to fix demands that we love them where they are at unconditionally with no expectation of return or a magic fix. Empathy and Grace are Love.

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