A Truth

“The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
—Rayya Elias

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“I can’t tell him that!”
“Why not, if it’s the truth?”
My heart drops and I find it impossible to imagine a way to reveal this without destroying my husband and my marriage. There are a thousand ways this could ruin him, and I spend the next few days desperate to find just one that I hope will only hurt. One thing is certain: He has to know.

I am in love with a woman.

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My husband thinks I shouldn’t write about this. He’s worried about the reaction I’ll receive, the negative comments and loss of friendships and to be honest, I’m worried, too. So why do it? Why announce something that could possibly ostracize me and cause me and my family to be ridiculed, scorned, and possibly even hated by my conservative friends and neighbors? Because it’s not about a blog post. It’s not about an announcement. It’s about who I want to be when I look at myself in the mirror. It’s about honesty and transparency and moving through the world unashamed of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. For the nine years that I’ve been blogging, this medium has been a tool in my quest for authenticity, and I cannot allow one of the most important things in my life to remain in the shadows.

“If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, although it also means that. It means that so much of what you could be will never come forward. Truth is the light in the darkness.”
—Jordan Peterson

And so, I tell my story…

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I sit criss-cross-apple-sauce and read the baby book. It’s obvious from what is written that my I was loved, once. What did I do, as a baby, to earn that love? How can I become that child again? I turn each page slowly, desperate for answers.

My life became a search for love. I studied the popular girls in class, the successful women on television, the members of my family who seemed to “have it all.” A deep, hidden part of me decided I needed others, especially men, to define me; I needed the respect and admiration of those around me in order to feel worthy and loved.

As a teen, I was given a book called The Rules. Advertised as a formula for being “desirable and mysterious,” the authors claimed their list of do’s and don’ts would help me “land the guy of [my] dreams.” I vowed to follow this set of rules, twisting the meaning of the word “love,” giving it an impossible definition, and spent years of my life chasing it.

The illusion. The Sisyphean Stone. My very own Holy Grail.

As a young adult, I was given another book which would change the trajectory of my life forever: The Bible. Within, The Commandments. A divine list which, if followed, guaranteed stability, predictability, an idea of what the future would hold and, to a certain extent, control over my life and seeming lack of vulnerability. Most importantly, it offered a clear road through which to earn God’s love. I vowed to follow yet another set of rules.

For the next two decades, I examined the bible to determine the correct practice on every subject I could think of. From birth control, to recreation, to clothing, to celebrating religious holidays, I held it all under the microscope and examined it in the light of scripture. I kept the Old Testament commandments, covered my head, and abstained from using birth control and wearing jewelry. I read books on how to be a good Christian mother and a good Christian wife and experienced guilt every time I binge-watched a season of Grey’s Anatomy. Most heartbreakingly, I lost my best friend because she was gay, and I felt I could no longer associate with her. Later, I broke ties with several family members for the same reason. I made unimaginable sacrifices and horrific mistakes in my search for what was “right” and held myself apart from all I believed was “wrong.”

Until it all fell apart. Without going into too much detail, two years ago I found myself going through one of the most heartbreaking, difficult things I’d ever been through, and it left me drowning, disoriented, plunged deep underwater and unable to find the surface. During this time, I did what I’d always done when in pain: I turned to books. However, things were different. For the first time in almost twenty years of Christianity, I lifted my self-imposed ban on authors who didn’t line up with my religious beliefs. I decided to read anything and everything, with only one stipulation—I would read only those books that pointed me toward the surface. I examined my own responses as a drowning person might examine her own breath, searching for the bubbles that will show her the way. I had long ago discovered that some books were stones, weighing me down with guilt, shame, and unrealistic rules and expectations. Now, my focus, instead of being one of control and orchestration, became “who can help me navigate this? Who writes good bubbles, and how do I follow them?” I devoured books by Glennon Doyle, Cheryl Strayed, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sue Monk Kidd, Anne Lamott, Jen Hatmaker, and Anne Patchett—all authors I would have once avoided in the past. Simply put, and to use Anne Lamott’s words: they’re “bad Christians.” But their words resonated with me and helped me in a way few authors ever had.

These books changed me. My life became more peaceful, even as my beliefs became less stable. Somehow, without intending it or fully realizing what was happening, I began exchanging my book of rules for little markers of direction. I released the self-created certainty I thought I had with scripture and embraced the unknown. When I finally breached the surface, I faced a landscape for which my maps had become irrelevant. What was the world, if it was not as I had always defined it? Who was God, and how could I relate to him outside the confines of my own understanding? I spent weeks confused and disoriented, unsure of how to navigate this new territory, unsure of how to connect with God. Then one day, I realized there was only one thing I could offer the one I had called my Lord for nearly two decades: honesty. So I said one thing, the same thing I’d been saying since I met him eighteen years before:

“I will follow you.” Only this time I would LISTEN.

For someone raised in the particular brand of Christianity I was raised in, this was one of the most difficult moments of my life. I had been taught that my desires were questionable, if not bad, and my heart was corrupt, if not evil. I had been taught not to listen to the voice inside, never to trust myself. In the bible, I believed I had a set of instructions that would keep me from being deceived. Yet now, I faced uncertainty. I no longer knew what the bible was to me. Had I become lost again? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. But through this process, I discovered that it’s not my job to know. That’s what God’s sovereignty is all about. I had taken His job upon myself, and He’d allowed me to do so. Now, I gave it back.

In the months that followed, I became aware of my own thoughts, feelings, emotions and reactions in a way I’d never been, before. I spent time doing things I loved and hadn’t done in years. I said “yes” to more things I wanted to do and “no” to things I didn’t. During this time, I stopped wearing headcoverings and started using birth control and stopped trying to squeeze myself into the Christian box I’d believed I must live within.

And then I met a woman.

By then I had paid attention to my own voice long enough to identify the feeling. I was attracted to her.  My body resonated like an untouched string that sings with its harmonic. It caught me by surprise. I had never been attracted to a woman before, and didn’t know what to do with all I was feeling. Yet I knew what NOT to do. I wouldn’t ignore it. I wouldn’t shove it in a box and sit on the lid and pretend it didn’t exist. I wouldn’t call it bad. I had committed myself to embracing the dichotomic yin and yang of my own existence and resolved to pay attention to all that was inside of me, rather than slapping on a label and repressing what I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what would happen, but was determined to remain open to the experience, wherever it might lead.

We slip our shoes off at the shore and I try to anchor my feet in the sand, the rest of my body floating, unmoored by the strangeness of this night. Me. Her. Together in the moonlight, under a canopy of stars. Our first date? I clutch my skirt in trembling hands, desperate for something to hold on to.
“You make me so nervous.” My words sound foreign, transfigured by the salty air.
I feel her eyes on me. “Why?”
I turn and force my mouth to form the question I’ve been longing to ask since the day we met: “Am I the only one who feels this?”
Each second seems an eternity waiting for her response. When it finally comes, it is so soft I can barely hear above the crashing waves. “No. You’re not the only one who feels this.”
Her hand meets mine and everything fades as I focus on the sensation. After years of squeezing myself into places I don’t belong, it feels as if I’ve finally come home.

For a short time, I believed I could leave this experience behind, but having once stepped over the chasm between what religion had taught me was “right” and what I believed in the deepest part of myself to be “right,” nothing in my life would ever be the same. In the days that followed, I slipped deep into dark thoughts and reflections. I no longer felt like the confident woman I wanted to be, the courageous woman I’d spent half my adulthood striving to become. I felt like a simpering fool.

I tried to be gentle with myself. As a 38 year old mother of eight, raised in the Southern Baptist/Pentecostal traditions, married for 17 years, in love for the first time in two decades, and grappling with a new-found sexuality, it seemed only natural to feel disoriented and confused. Questions haunted me.
How could I explain this to Jon?
What would happen if I tried?
Was I gay?
And the biggest question of all: Did God hate me?

But though I was confused and distraught, I had promised God I would trust his love for me, even if I couldn’t understand it, even if I felt I didn’t deserve it. I took great comfort in the words of Thomas Merton:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

I also took comfort in the words of Elizabeth Gilbert: “Women can survive their consequences.” I had survived horrific religious mistakes in the past, such as cutting ties with our family members for the crime of being gay, and I would survive them again, if need be. I chose to trust God’s love. And I chose to tell my husband.

The first few weeks after telling Jon were fraught with confusion, anger, resentment, and blame. He struggled to support me and I struggled to help him understand. A few weeks before I was scheduled to see her again, I sat down with him, in tears.

“I can’t do this. I can’t be an adulteress.”
He twirls his thumbs the way he always has during uncomfortable conversations. I notice the pale, wrinkled strip of skin on his ring finger, skin that hasn’t seen the light of day for 17 years. Until now. “What choice do we have, Rina? We can’t divorce until the kids leave home.”
I touch my wedding band, running my finger along the indention of letters which spell “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” I can’t yet bring myself to take it off. “I’m not talking about divorce. I’m talking about the time between. We’ve talked about open marriage, but I don’t think you want that. And I can’t be an adulteress. I can’t be the person causing you pain, if it’s not a pain you’ve willingly signed up for.”
“What do you mean? Who signs up for pain?”
“I mean there’s a difference between deciding, together, to open our marriage and deal with the pain and jealousy and fear because we’ve chosen this path, and being forced into a situation where you have no choice. We’ve spent 17 years partnering in this marriage, and we’ve committed to continuing that partnership at least until the kids leave home. That means something to me. It matters to me. I can’t take this next step without your blessing.”
He leans forward, eyes dancing with anger. “You’re asking me to bless this relationship? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“I’m not asking you to bless it. I’m telling you I can’t do this unless you can.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that if you can’t, I end the relationship. It means we go back to the way things used to be.”
I wait, watching the familiar expression of thoughts playing across his face, still handsome after all these years. “I’m going to need to think about this.”
“Of course.”

He spends the day driving and praying while I lie in bed, sick from blame. For 17 years, Jon has been faithful. He has worked for me, sacrificed for me, and given me and our children everything we’ve ever needed, everything we’ve ever asked for. For 17 years, he has worked toward a life with a clear future. A life in which we would grow old together, perhaps on a little farm somewhere, surrounded by our children and grandchildren. All he’s ever wanted in return is now the one thing I am powerless to give him. Stability. No matter where we go from here, no matter what he decides, nothing will ever be the same.

He sits beside me on the bed and places a hand atop my own. “Rina, I love you,” he begins.
“I know you do. And, although it must seem impossible to believe, I love you, too.”
“I do believe that, as insane as it all seems. And I think that if I truly love you, I have to let you go.”
I swallow a lump rising in my throat. Do I want him to let me go? Do I really want to end our life together?
Reading my expression, he goes on. “I’m not talking about divorcing you. I’m talking about possessing you. I think I have to learn to love you without expecting anything in return. As crazy as it sounds, and as much as I hate to admit it, I see so much good coming from all of this. I see so much growth, for both of us. And in a strange, fucked up way I can’t begin to understand, I think we need this. I don’t know what’s going to happen with us, but I think we’ve been given an opportunity to learn what true love really is, and I think whatever pain or heartache we have to go through to learn that will be worth it. Don’t you?”
I nod, tears filling my eyes.
“I wouldn’t have chosen this, any of this, but I think we have to see it through.” He draws a piece of paper from his pocket. “I wrote this, today. Will you read it?”
I unfold the paper, studying the familiar handwriting, the writing which had begun our relationship so many years before, when he’d tucked a love letter into my hand at the end of our work shift. I hold it in one hand, place my other into his, and read:

“The place of brokenness is a quiet place. All arguments are laid to waste, there is no room for begging or pleading or trying to find a way out. The door is closed. This is the place of acceptance and surrender. There are no volunteers here. This is a place for those whose dreams have been shattered, the humbled and broken souls. Some decline into despair and hopelessness and never make it out. But those who return do so changed. They return with a divine ability to love—truly love. Not a love of rules, or protections, or covenants, but a love which needs no such restrictions. A love that is vulnerable. A love that boldly states in the face of its recipient: “You can do whatever you want and I will continue to love you, because I have fallen through fire. I have risen from the ashes. And I will be here, loving. Regardless, loving. I will love freely, without fear, anger, resentment, or control. And my love will never fail.”

.

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GAGGLE. 1 : a flock of geese when not in flight 2 : a cluster of people lacking organization

Over the last year, I’ve been writing a book about our family’s adventures on our little farm, and it didn’t take long before a pattern began to emerge. Every year or two, I get An Idea. Whenever this happens, Jon and I begin a series of intense discussions where ultimately my superior logic and unfailing optimism wins and we end up implementing The Idea, with varying degrees of success.

For instance:

  • I ran a very successful dog rescue… until a 120lb rottweiler pooped ALL over my living room and scarred my husband for life.
  • I decided to purchase one milk goat and ended up with ten (several of whom didn’t give any milk, and one who couldn’t reproduce.)
  • I decided to purchase five “inexpensive” sheep to live with the goats, only to discover that 1. goats hate sheep, 2. these particular sheep were wild, and 3. one of them had a slight problem with vaginal slippage. One hefty vet bill and several expensive fences later, we butchered them all.
  • I decided to follow Joel Salatins example and implement rotational grazing only to discover it doesn’t work out nearly as well with one milk cow on two acres as it does with 900 beef cows on roughly 100 acres.
  • I purchased a beef cow and bull in hopes of starting our own little herd, only to discover the cow was so wild we couldn’t even get her home (we sent her straight to the butcher) and a bull living with a milk cow who must be taken from him twice a day was not a particularly safe situation for our children (we butchered him, too.)
  • I decided to try my hand at a permaculture garden and dug giant ditches throughout my ENTIRE front yard, only to realize a year later that none of us actually enjoyed gardening. (But we ARE still growing strawberries, and have 500 fruit and nut trees planted, so I consider it a raging success! Only I’m not QUITE sure what we’ll do about those ditches…)

I also have a TEENY TINY tendency implement Ideas without Jon’s input at all. For instance:

  • When a friend couldn’t keep her chickens anymore, I volunteered to take them, even though we didn’t have anywhere to house them. $300 later, we had a brand new shed and five pet hens who didn’t lay eggs.
  • When a friend told us he needed to get rid of some honeybees, I volunteered to take them, despite the fact that Jon is terrified of them and we didn’t know what we were doing. A year and $600 worth of equipment later, all three hives were empty after the bees decided they were better off on their own.
  • When another friend could no longer keep her geese, I volunteered to take them, not knowing they were aggressive and would torment the entire family every time we walked out the front door.

Which leads to the following conversation between Jon and I today, after sadly discovering that our female goose had passed away:

(His sentence ended with “have enough material for the book.”)

So I decided to play on his sympathy and let him see first-hand how sad the gander was after we brought his mate to the house to let him say goodbye:

At this point I texted a friend: “Jon accidentally gave me permission to buy more geese!”

But I REALLY knew my ploy was working when, a few hours later, Jon asked about him again:

(Sort of.)

I’ll be sure to post pictures when they get here.

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Thursdays Thought – Glennon Doyle on self forgiveness

I forgive myself relentlessly. Just relentlessly. It annoys people how freely and relentlessly I forgive myself. The truth is that I just don’t understand living any other way. Shame is so… self indulgent and power zapping. It leaves us useless. To ourselves, to our people, to the world. Self flagellation is not a badge of honor. It doesn’t make us worthy It just makes us – kind of a drag. And It takes us out of the game. Who has time?
What are we doing here, if not learning and growing and trying again? Why can’t we do that with some lightness and tenderness and humor?
Who we were last year last hour last minute- it’s gone. We are new! Let us begin again!

–Glennon Doyle

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Why we should consider being less approachable

“Last year I felt confused and sad because someone told me that I was ‘unapproachable.’ This sort of thing happens to me often.
I used to feel upset about it because I thought the world perceived my quietness as unkindness. That made me feel misunderstood.
I called Elizabeth Gilbert And complained to her about being called unapproachable. She said this: ‘awesome. well done, Honeyhead!’ And I said, what? This is terrible! I don’t want people to think I’m unapproachable! Liz said: wait, why? Do you want to always be approached? And I said: Um. No. And she said: Exactly. Well done. Carry on.
Love you, my introverts. We love deeply don’t we? For example: We will die for you, but we won’t, like, meet you for coffee.
Carry on, quiet Unapproachables.”

– Glennon Doyle

The older I get, and the more I look at the lives of those I admire most in this world, the more I see a common thread. In the words of Brene Brown:

“[In my years of research on compassion] I found that the one thing the most compassionate people all shared in common was they were very boundaried. They happened to be the people who had very, very clear boundaries about what they were willing to do, what they were not willing to do, what they were willing to take on, and what they were not willing to take on.”

I would add, and I think Brene would agree: the most compassionate people are also very boundaried regarding who they’re willing to associate and spend their time with. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which Oprah brought up an incident where Dr. Angelou kicked someone out of her home for making a racist joke, Dr. Angelou responded:

“I’m convinced that the negative has power. It lives. And if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over. So when the rude or cruel thing is said—the lambasting, the gay bashing, the hate—I say, ‘Take it all out of my house!’ Those negative words climb into the woodwork and into the furniture, and the next thing you know they’ll be on my skin.”

Perhaps Glennon Doyle and Liz Gilbert and Maya Angelou are onto something. Perhaps we ought not be approachable to everyone. Perhaps a friend of mine was onto something when she told me years ago:

“I don’t want any more friends.”

Does that sound bad? Does it sound horrible, to limit friendships? To choose a relationship with this person, over that one? But… is it? If time and energy is finite (hint: it is) then maybe one of the most loving things we can do, both for ourselves and for those around us, is give those finite resources to those whose presence we cherish, opinions we value, and who contribute to our own well-being just as diligently as we attempt to contribute to theirs.

“Do you enjoy your friends? If not, dump them. Seriously. Why spend time with people you don’t enjoy? There are plenty of people out there (about 6 billion), so surely you can find a handful of people you enjoy spending time with. I have a personal policy that I won’t spend time with people I don’t enjoy. That means I don’t go to parties or to dinner with people I don’t really like. At times that makes me very unpopular with others, including my wife, but very popular with myself. I just won’t compromise my personal happiness to put myself in the presence of people I don’t like. Selfish? You bet! And I suggest everyone do it.”

Sound harsh? Maybe it’s not. Haven’t we all had relationships with people we dread spending time with? Whose presence leave us mentally and physically drained? Who make us feel bad about ourselves, are unsupportive, or even actually make us worse people? Maybe we find ourselves gossiping more when we’re around them, or judging people more harshly than usual, or participating in activities we would typically avoid. Maybe, as Maya Angelou says, that really does climb onto our skin.

What if our presence in the world matters? What if the way we spend our time here on earth, and who we spend it with, matters? What if spreading ourselves thin in an attempt to be “nice” or “helpful” is not only limiting our ability to make a difference toward those we care the most about, but also limits the ability of others to find their own way? If someone irresponsible with money is consistently bailed out of financial crisis, are the rescuers helping or hurting? When we fake our way through unpleasant interactions, rather than allowing people to suffer the consequences of their destructive personalities, are we helping or hurting?

I have a theory that God is always waiting to whisper direction to us, but can only communicate through a line held open by honesty. Honesty about who we are, what we think, how we feel, and what we want. How can God give us “the desires of our hearts” if we’re not honest about what those desires are? Using the theory of the law of attraction, how is the universe supposed to bring us the things we want and need most, if we’re too afraid to allow the universe (ie. those around us) know what those things are? And how is the universe supposed to stop bringing into our lives those things we don’t want, if we keep opening our arms to them?

When you force yourself to spend time with someone or pretend to have a good time you are either lying to yourself or lying to them.
This is not truthful living.
– Vanessa Van Edwards.

Maybe, unlike the popular facebook meme I’ve seen floating around, lately, my door shouldn’t always be open. Maybe I shouldn’t be available for everyone, at all times. Maybe the most loving, supportive thing I can do is be honest about who I want in my life, who I want to spend my time with, and who I’m willing to drop everything for at a moment’s notice.

Maybe limited approachability is a gift. A gift to ourselves, a gift to those who need to find another way, and a gift to those for whom our limits with others grant us time and energy to love more fully.

.

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Posted in Friendship, PERSONAL | Leave a comment

Thursday’s Thought: Glennon Doyle Melton on body image

One of my daughters was telling the other a story about a woman we met, recently.  She was doing her best to describe the woman, and went on and on, describing the way she spoke, what she wore, where she sat, even how many children she had and how old she thought they were.  And as I sat there, I waited for the descriptions that never came…

“Heavy.  Overweight.  Big.”

In her desperate search for a way to describe this woman to her sister, the characteristic that stood out most to me wasn’t even on her radar.

I was reminded today of something Glennon Doyle Melton wrote:

Your body is not your offering. It’s just a really amazing instrument which you can use to create your offering each day. Don’t curse your paintbrush. Don’t sit in a corner wishing you had a different paintbrush. You’re wasting time. You’ve got the one you got. Be grateful, because without it you’d have nothing with which to paint your life’s work. Your life’s work is the love you give and receiveand your body is the instrument you use to accept and offer love on your soul’s behalf. It’s a system.

We are encouraged to obsess over our instrument’s SHAPE, but our body’s shape has no effect on it’s ability to accept and offer love for us. Just none.  Maybe we continue to obsess because  as long we keep wringing our hands about our paintbrush shape, we don’t have to get to work painting our lives. Stop fretting. The truth is that all paintbrush shapes work just fine -and anybody who tells you different is trying to sell you something. Don’t buy. Just paint.

 

Posted in Thursday's Thought, Weight Loss | 1 Comment

Rocking Who I’ve Fought to Become

“The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart — your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.”

–Anne Lamott

“With age comes inner strength and the power of not giving a shit what others think.
Today I am rocking who I’ve fought to become.”

—Unknown

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At various times in my life, I’ve realized I am a liar, a hypocrite, judgmental, self centered, and in desperate need of forgiveness. I’ve confessed many of these things publicly over the ten years I’ve been blogging, because I have also realized this forum is an extremely effective tool in my fight to become a better person. Part of my understanding of what that means includes honesty and transparency, and, through writing, I have experienced first-hand what physiologists are only beginning to understand: the process of gaining insight into our experiences and sharing those experiences is a critical step in emotional and physiological growth. I am a better person because of the things I’ve shared, and I believe that by sharing my own struggles, I can help others through theirs.

Yet, lately, it seems the biggest struggle I face is the fear of what others might think of what I have to say. For months, this has kept me bottled up, feeling secretive and ashamed, unwilling to let anyone see the deepest parts of my heart.

This must stop.

That doesn’t mean I’m ready to publish a tell-all (I’m working to find the balance between transparency and confidentiality) but it does mean I’m going, to the best of my ability, to stop giving the opinions of others so much power over me. It means I’m going to start writing the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of my heart. It means I’m going to rock the person I’ve fought to become, even if that means being misunderstood, or criticized, or losing the relationships I cherish most.

Because I have another confession:

I am prideful.

I’m prideful enough to believe I have something to offer. I’m prideful enough to believe that something I say might resonate with someone, somewhere, and I’m prideful enough to believe I can make a difference.

A friend asked me yesterday: “When are you going to happen to the world?”

That work starts today.

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Thoughts on Unconditional Love

I turned to my friend. “Something is different with me. I don’t know what happened, but I know I’m not going to be able to keep my feelings inside anymore. I’m afraid I’m going to start screaming, and I don’t know what to do about that.”
She stepped closer. “Well, then, we’ll just have to build a wall to muffle out the sound so the neighbors don’t hear us.”
I searched her face. “Are you saying you’re not only willing to accept my screaming, you’re willing to participate?”
“Well, yes. If that’s who you’re going to be, we’ll just have to figure out a way to make it work.”
In that moment, I felt a love unlike anything I’d ever experienced before and, with it, the freedom to be myself, completely and utterly, warts and all, safe in the knowledge that I was loved and supported and always would be. Safe in the knowledge that someone had made a DECISION to take the good along with the bad, come what may. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.
Then I woke up.

When I woke, the feeling of being unconditionally loved stuck with me. And yet, as I thought about the dream in the days that followed, I saw clearly that my friend’s love had come at a cost: Her love was contingent upon her being able to accept something about me she would not otherwise have accepted.

I am learning that unconditional love requires this kind of acceptance—even for those things I ordinarily would not want to accept. It requires sacrifice and support and, at times, even participation as the need arises. To be honest, there’s a part of me that has a hard time with that, because I have many hopes and dreams and definite preferences regarding what I want my life, and especially my future, to be like. When I think of that kind of acceptance, I realize it might mean laying down some of those desires for the good of another, and there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to do that.*

But I’m learning that we don’t live in “the future,” we live in NOW. And when I focus on what ought to be, I forget to be grateful for what is. I forget that life is meant to be lived one step at a time, and I don’t allow for the possibility that what I want now might not be what I want in the future, and that the things I see as problems now may not remain so once I learn to accept them.*

I often feel as if I have to figure out what I want and what type of future I’m working toward, because I don’t want to waste time walking a path that can’t take me where I think I want to go. But I am learning that if I can learn to love with a self-sacrificing love, the years spent walking will have been FAR from wasted, regardless of where the path leads.

Through the dream, I realized that being loved for exactly who I am, and having someone create a safe place for me to be myself in, was among the greatest blessings I could ever experience—far beyond anything else I think I might want in life. I realized I not only want to have that kind of love in my life, I want to give that kind of love. And I realized that if I can focus on the present, if I can make a commitment to love, moment by moment, and give those around me a safe place in which to be themselves without condition, then I’ll reach the end of my life having learned more about love than I know now, and having given those around me the gift of my love, to the greatest extent possible. And whatever it took to get there will have been worth it.

*Some clarifying thoughts:

I think it’s important to note that unconditional love does not—and should not—always require participation, and acceptance is not the same as encouragement. There are very real things people deal with that should not be participated in or encouraged (some forms of addition, physical or mental abuse, etc.) In these instances, acceptance for where they are, while at the same time working toward change for their betterment, is a good thing, and love from a distance may be necessary.

Also, when I speak of laying down my own desires, I speak of this in the context of sacrifice by choice, not obligation (I’ve written more about this HERE.) I think that involves getting very truthful with ourselves about what we want and what we’re willing to tolerate. I think it’s also important to recognize that a failed relationship does not necessarily equal a failure to love.

“Not everyone in life is meant to be a beautiful story. Not every person we feel something deep and moving with is meant to make a home within us, is meant to be forever. Sometimes, people come into our lives to teach us how to love; and sometimes people come into our lives to teach us how NOT to love… How NOT to settle, how NOT to shrink ourselves ever again. Yes, sometimes people leave—but that’s okay, because their lessons always stay, and that is what matters. That is what remains.”

–Unknown

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