Free To Be A Fellow Traveler

We are two months into 2017 and I’ve already started singing “White Christmas” at random intervals. I don’t think it’s because I am obsessed with the movie (haven’t seen it) or the song’s old-timey goodness, or am still coming off the 2016 Christmas train. I think it’s because these have been a long two months. And it should be December now.

What late last year felt like gentle, “soul whispers” as I fondly called them (yes, I am to the point of self-parody) have morphed into life-lessons that feel more like flooded rivers than the melodic brooks in Tolkein’s iconic shire, and more like a fire hydrant than the little green hose we all used to drink out of on sweltering days, despite our mothers’ warnings. It’s like waking up in the middle of the night as a kid, with aching pain in your legs, because you’re sprouting up like a beanpole. Or, to get more dramatic and cinematic, think Raiders of the Lost Ark when the ark is opened, the spirit of God leaps out and people start melting like crayons on a black, leather car seat. Yes. I am the crayon in this example.

Basically, I want to grow…just slower, please.

Look, I have learned that I deal with insecurity by finding where I am better than someone else and focusing on that. I have seen that I try to create a niche in a social group and embody it, in an effort to grow my self-worth. I have swallowed the fact that, though I would vehemently deny it, I talk like I know everything and hate admitting when I’m wrong. I have caught myself acting without integrity. I have become aware of when I am trying to get people to feel a certain way about me. I have been made to understand that I have spent my life living empty, even though I have been granted the fullness of Christ. I am somehow both more joyful than I’ve ever been and more aware of my failings than I ever wanted to be.

And I know these lessons can’t take root in just two months, so this list seems like a) a lot and b) more than enough, to occupy me for the rest of my loooong life the rest of the year. Dis girl out.

Yeah, no. Which–surpriiiiise–brings us to my latest reality checks:

1. I resist accepting what people can afford in relationship.

Let me explain. When I am unfriendly in a social situation, I know it’s because I didn’t eat lunch, lost a batch of product somewhere in the icy mid-west, stained my white shirt, learned that an automatic payment hadn’t been automatic for months and found an army of ants attacking a TINY DROP OF JAM on my desk. I might be worried about my aging grandparents, the future of my dad’s company and whether I’m an imposter in my own life. Whatever the cause, I am not feeling quite human at the moment, so you’ll have to excuse my lack of a winning smile. I’ll be better tomorrow, folks. Stay gold.

But when other people are unfriendly, it’s because they are just-the-worst.

What is that? Oh, yes–hypocrisy. #addittothelist

I walk around wanting everyone to match me in availability, interest, presence of mind and whatever else I happen to think is necessary that day. But not only is this expectation totally irrational, it’s completely lacking in grace and leads to a lot of unnecessary misunderstandings. Accepting that everyone is, like me, just giving what they can afford at that moment–smile or no smile, hug or no hug, acknowledgement or no acknowledgement–is living gracefully and an idea that I certainly didn’t think up:

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

But that’s not all! Because…

2. …I also resist accepting what people offer in relationship.

In other words, how do I react to what people do give, as opposed to what they don’t give? Let me tell ya. #youcan’twin

There are times when someone has approached me and led the conversation down a path I didn’t understand, or brought up a topic that felt totally off base; they might have asked to show me something that was of no interest to me and I-just-was-not-that-into-it. It has been incredibly easy to detach and, trust me, I’ve shut down more than once. But time and awareness of what I bring up that no one cares about, have forced me to see it differently:

Every time someone talks to me, they are giving a very real offering of themselves.

Every word that leaves our mouths, every (bravely) shared thought, is an act of exposure–of putting ourselves out in the open. Not so sure? Just think about those times when you said something no one seemed to understand or “get,” or something heartfelt that they mocked. Your words were separate from you yet their reception may have been excruciatingly personal. You were offering an idea, yes, but also yourself.

Essentially, in every interaction, people are either giving you what they can afford or an offering of themselves. Sometimes, it’s not that frustrating and sometimes it’s really, really frustrating. So what do we do with it?

To me, it doesn’t mean that my feelings aren’t hurt when someone avoids, ignores or snubs me. It doesn’t mean silence in the face of a disagreement. It doesn’t mean that every opinion someone states is right and that there are no wrongs. It doesn’t mean that I should endure negative treatment in a relationship. It certainly doesn’t mean pretending to be interested in a topic.

For me, it means that they are in process, too. It means listening more. It means accepting that someone came to their conclusions based on their life experiences. It means waiting and not rushing to correct, qualify or clarify. It means accepting that they have legitimate thoughts. It means extending unconditional positive regard (as my mother says). It means being interested in the person, even if I can’t muster that feeling up for what they’re talking about. It means they are still, forever, always worthy of Love, belonging and time–just like me. It means relinquishing the role of a judge.

It means I am free to be a fellow traveler.

Because, as is often the case with such things, while grace is good for others, it is infinitely better for us. 🙂

Yours, A.I.A.L.

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