For as long as I can remember, I’ve hidden behind walls constructed for the sole purpose of protecting myself from hurts, both real and imagined. My walls, I’m coming to understand, are made from very specific types of materials: Anger. Criticism. Avoidance. Withdraw.
Hurt feelings seem to be a theme for me, lately. The practice of allowing myself to be vulnerable has left me excruciatingly tender and raw. Since the last time I wrote about hurt feelings, I’ve been trying to pay very close attention to myself when my feelings are hurt and I’ve learned that one of my knee-jerk responses to emotional pain is to attack. To make people small in my own eyes so that I can justify never being close to them in an effort to avoid being hurt.
He’s not enough…
We all have weaknesses, and I exploit those weaknesses to rationalize never getting too close. I hide deep within a fortress built from accusations, surrounded by a moat filled with justifications.
The other night, after having my feelings hurt for approximately the seven-hundredth time, I sat on the bed with my husband and sobbed: “I don’t know how to live without walls! I don’t know how to be vulnerable!” Then I called a friend and cried in her ear for a while, so I guess I know how to be a little bit vulnerable.
That night, I had a dream about someone trying to break into my house to steal something precious from me. When I woke up, I felt God saying to me: “you don’t have to defend yourself. No one can take me away from you.”
No one can dictate how Jesus, God, The Holy Spirit, feels about me. Criticism, disappointment, frustration, contempt, accusation, irritation, judgement, rejection… none of these things – these very real things that people are going to feel and project toward us from time to time – none of these things are a reflection of God’s love for us. God’s love is steady, constant and unconditional… even if those around us sometimes can’t be. If we can learn to stand on the solid ground of God’s love for us, we’ll not be tossed and turned and flipped upside down by the opinions of others. We can love – really love – from a place of love.
And so, when I’m feeling especially raw and tender and bruised and beaten, I’m learning to stop and acknowledge (and even say) to myself: “this hurts, this hurts, this hurts!” over and over again until I can breathe enough to ask myself: “What hurts? Why does it hurt?” And then ask myself “Do you need to talk about it? Do you need to walk away? What do you need right now?” And then do that thing. And the next thing and the next until I find my way right back to love.
I’m learning that boundaries are different than walls. Boundaries are a healthy – necessary – part of good relationships. Boundaries say to my husband: “I don’t want to talk about this right now” and walk away for a while. Walls say: “I never want to talk to you about anything ever again!” and stay away. Boundaries ask my friend: “Why do you think this is a bad idea?” and discuss and maybe disagree. Walls say: “You’re always nagging me! You’re never supportive of me! You’re not a safe person to share anything with!” and never speak of it (or anything like it) again. Boundaries are designed to allow safe passage in and out and through. Walls are designed to separate that which is without from that which is within. Boundaries connect while walls divide. Boundaries are essential to good relationships. Walls are detrimental.
Walls are funny, nondiscriminatory things. We build them to keep out the bad, but in doing so, we also keep out the good.
I read an inspiring thing today:
Love is scary. Let’s do it anyway.
*Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things