I love Shauna Niequist. There is something about her writing that connects with me in such a personal way. The other day, I was looking for something to listen to while I walked the dogs and I decided to search for a podcast that might feature her. I was in luck. I came upon an Advent message from Willow Creek last year (I often listen to Willow Creek - I love them).
The message was about John the Baptist and the fact that he came to prepare the way for the Lord. He gave people four major directions -
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Luke 3: 10 - 14 (NIV)
Shauna called us to prepare for the arrival of Jesus by examining our own lives. I won't say more right now, I don't want to do it an injustice but if you want to listen to it, you can find it here.
At first, after listening, I felt as if some of it really didn't apply to me and that my biggest challenge in relation to John's call was to stuff. Yes, I have so much and I am often overwhelmed by how much we have packed into this house that we "need". I know I need to get on to cleaning out and that is definitely on the cards for January. It didn't really resonate as the more important message for me and while I wanted to focus on John and preparing for Christmas, I wasn't sure what it meant to me.
That's changed over the last two days. It's funny how God can show me in unexpected ways where my strongholds are. If you have been around here long, you know that a bit more than two years ago, I had a really challenging relationship in my life explode. I am not even entirely sure how to describe it. This was a friendship that had happened with the mother of a friend of PK. I was always a bit uncomfortable with her (she was VERY forceful that we were going to be best friends and was constantly asking me to do things that would take me away from my family and truly didn't understand that given my work schedule, I don't want to be out all of the time). I am an introvert and I have issues around needing very clear boundaries with people and I just assumed that this was my being difficult around that but I felt very uncomfortable. She became friends with several of my friends (when she wasn't saying nasty things about them behind their backs), started to come to our church and wanted our kids to be best friends. I tried for a long time and then, finally, after several episodes of her really having a go at me about something, I cut the tie. I have never done anything like that before and I was heartsick about it. I am such a pleaser and I really struggled with how to deal with it - where is the line between compassion and self-care? To what degree did I have to put myself in harm's way emotionally to be a good person? I really struggled and after the blow up, I was devastated. I didn't know how to act and after a lot of talking with Dh, he convinced me that I just had to do what he uses as his life's mantra - "keep your side of the street clean." I tried to be polite and kind, to continue to give her clothing for her daughters (which I had been doing for a couple of years), to not discuss it with friends (even though I felt betrayed by a few who had sat by and watched her be horribly nasty to me and while they said they felt that she "had problems", they didn't seem to mind as long as it was directed at me and not them). I became really depressed about it and worried that it was my fault and that I hadn't tried hard enough to be nice. Especially given that she became very, very close with the ministers at the church we had eventually left because we had felt excluded and unwelcome, it was a very dark time for me and a time that led me to doubt myself in really upsetting ways.
Fast forward two years. I am in a new church that is much more healthy for me and for my family. It's a church that is open, loving and active and in which I am called to do what I believe and to be out in the world, not sheltered in this little church and everything outside of it is undervalued. We have moved on and several of our friends what were mutual friends with this person have also cut off contact with her because of similar issues. We have cleared our lives a bit in terms of people who don't really connect with us and have made more room and built new relationships with people whose values align more closely with ours and who enrich our lives in many ways. I have learned to see her picking up our kids at daycare and to smile and say hello and it doesn't bother me (much) anymore, even when she turns her back on me and refuses to see me. Our daughters play at school and I'm fine with that. I thought I had moved on and I try to pray for her at least once a week, that she find happiness and that the church she is at meets her needs and that she finds comfort and love and support in her friendships. I really thought I had moved on and my self esteem had healed a bit.
Every so often, though, something comes along and it reawakens all of my hurt and worry. She blocked me on Facebook after she asked for some bricks on a local buy and sell site and I offered her some we had (I don't know why...) and at the time, that was one of the things that really hit my hurt buttons. I would see that there were four comments on a post that I knew would interest her and I could only see three or people would tag her and yet things would be hidden. No big deal, right? Not for me. Every time I saw that, I felt like a failure and like it must be my fault. I ended up hiding everyone mutual on my feed because it just opened the wounds each time it happened. This past weekend, it happened again and all of a sudden, the hurt came back and I thought it had already gone. I do find it a tiny bit reassuring because she appeared in an attack on someone from church who posted a question on our local buy and sell group along with the group of mutual friends. It's so stupid and I feel so much like a fourteen year old girl who can't get past a hallway dispute but it really activates all my insecurities and shallow though it may be, it hurts.
God is clearly telling me that I need to do more to move forward. I think prayer is in order and I have to make some important decisions, too. To what degree does forgiveness mean having to have some kind of contact? How do I find a way to deal with this that is healthy for me but also leaves me with no guilt? If there is something that is keeping me away from full relief in my value in Jesus, this is it so I need to work it through now. Looking back on the entire situation, I have known that this was something I needed to have happen - I have worked so hard to avoid conflict and to avoid people who made me feel lesser for most of my life. After 43 years, I need to figure out how to be with people who don't work for me and be both compassionate and kind and safe emotionally myself. God puts us in situations that break us so that we can heal better than before. I just keep feeling as though I don't know how...