I’ve been avoiding writing on my blog because I’m feeling a little like once I get started, I might just vomit my junk all over the place, and, really, who wants to be on the receiving end of that?!
So, I’m apologizing in advance for any emotional puking I may do.
I have had mostly unhealthy friendships for most of my adult life. I used to want to save people. Truth be told, I still want to save people, to love them unconditionally, make sure they feel included, valued, important. The only difference is that now I know how unhealthy that can be. I have an almost neurotic fear of anyone feeling left out. I also can’t stand for anyone to feel unloved. I am, by nature, a “fixer” and it looked pretty noble and sacrificial from the outside for most of my life. But, as happens with most illusions, the truth begins to rear its ugly head eventually. About 5 years ago, when my life was falling apart, a wonderful counselor, who is now an even more wonderful friend, helped me uncover my other motives for my choices in friends and how I behaved in close relationships (my husband, my children, my family of origin, etc.) in general. It all began with the profound question, “So, how’s that working for you?”
I realized that I felt left out much of the time growing up. I’m the only girl in my family of origin with four brothers, so being left out on some level is kind of a given. My mom and I were not close while I was growing up. The public schools that I attended, like most institutions, did not lend themselves to inclusion of all. It is heartbreaking to me to see how unaccepting children and teenagers can be. Even as an adult, I am usually the “odd girl out” when we have a get-together with my family of origin.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why I want everyone to feel part of things or why I have a deep need for people to feel loved without condition. Nor does it take a brain surgeon to realize that I long for people to return the favor so that I can feel part of things and truly loved. The crazy part of all of this is that it took confirmation from some of the people closest to me that I was not loved unconditionally by them, not really even worth fighting for, for me to see who I am truly, deeply, madly loved by and who thinks I am worth fighting for no matter what.
He thinks I am worth it. He loves me and all of my junk and He knows all of my junk more intimately than ANYONE else ever could! That may sound cliche’ to some of you, but the realization of this truth wrapped its lovely arms around me and enveloped me in a blanket of peace, grace and joy such as I had NEVER known before. It saved my life. It has changed my relationships with others in many ways. I feel more free to love others with grace. I don’t feel like I have to “save” people like I used to because I trust Him to love them SO much more than I could ever imagine. I understand that until people are ready to take the steps toward healing, no other person can “fix” them or love them out of it. But I can love them – no matter the path they choose.
I wish I could say that now I only have completely Christ-centered healthy friendships with other women, but it just ain’t so… I still find myself longing to be loved unconditionally, to be part of the group, to be wanted… I am struggling daily with knowing how to be in a healthy friendship – with give and take, seasons of unbalance that are just part of life, but grace abounds and love flows abundantly, where both people give each other the benefit of the doubt and trust each other because they’ve earned each other’s trust through their journey together.
I wish I could tell you that when a friendship blows up in my face I just tell myself that He loves me completely and that is enough – and I wish I could tell you that I come to this conclusion immediately after the pain of betrayal and loss set in. I can tell you that I always come back to this truth, but it’s usually after spending a lot of time feeling indignant, hurt, sad, angry, etc. Pity parties do occur, I’m ashamed to admit. I can also say that this truth still wraps its lovely arms around me and saves me so much quicker than it used to. Knowing that we are all worth loving with all of our “junk” helps me to understand that someone else’s inability to reciprocate friendship is probably more about them than it is about me. My shortcomings are not a reflection of someone else’s worth, but simply my junk getting in the way. This isn’t an excuse. I have to bring my junk out into the light so that it can be worked through, dealt with and deflated so that it doesn’t have the power to hurt anyone anymore.
The part of this process that I struggle the most with is what 12 Step people call step 3: “Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” I am aware of the problem, aware that He is God and He knows best, but I’m always unsure of what my part is after that. This is probably my biggest struggle as a mom, and I think my kids are more frustrated with me than I am.
I was one of those moms who rocked all of my babies to sleep, made homemade baby food and my own healthy wipes. I never missed a game or an event that our children participated in. I was the PTA president, homeroom mom, and had HUGE weekly pool parties for 30-40 of my children’s friends and family members each summer. My children had haircuts ever 4-6 weeks, dressed to the nines, and (most) always minded their manners. In 2003 I became aware of the lunacy I was living one night when I was reading my daughter’s report card which complimented me on what beautiful outfits she wore to school! I realized that I once took great pride in this and now I was full of conviction about the example I was showing my children and I began to question the why of it all.
Several things happened in the next couple of years; we began to homeschool, we changed churches, and eventually we moved across the country. We began to value stuff less, sometimes too less, I would think as my ragamuffins would walk into church barefoot many Sunday mornings. I would also feel thankful that we had changed churches, as this would not have been accepted at our former place of worship. All of this made our family closer in many ways, and I am thankful for that, however, I was still overly mothering our children. I would tell myself, in a very smug inner voice, that I was a wonderful mom, willing to sacrifice for my children unlike so many other moms who behaved so selfishly. I knew that one day my children would arise and call me blessed because I had made them and their father my whole life. I had loved them all unconditionally and created wonderful memories for them, so they would always love me.
So, when we moved to Texas and everything fell apart, I found myself sitting in a chair in one of the offices at our church. I was lamenting how unfair it was that I would have this horrible thing happen to me when I had been such an amazing mother and wife. I had sacrificed EVERYTHING for my family! The next question changed my life…
Counselor: “Why did you do that?”
Me: “Because I’m the mom. I’m the wife. That’s what good moms and wives do. They’re my life.”
Counselor: “But why did you do that? Who asked you to? What were you hoping for?”
Me (indignant): “Well, no one asked me to. I didn’t want anything. I just wanted to… I don’t know…”
Counselor: “What did you sacrifice?”
Counselor: “What do you mean?”
Me: “I gave up my dreams. I lost me because I was so busy supporting, encouraging, and saving all of them.”
Counselor (patiently): “Did someone ask you to do that? Did they expect it?”
Me: “Yes… No… I don’t know. It’s just what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it?”
Counselor (kindly): “What dreams did you give up? Why did you do that?”
Me (feeling defensive): “I don’t remember. I feel like you’re attacking me for being a good mom and wife.”
Counselor: “I want you to really think about why you gave up everything for everyone around you when no one asked you to. I want you to think about what you expected to get out of that – not in a selfish way, it’s just that whenever human beings do something there are always expectations, some unselfish and some not. Try to figure out what kept you on that path.”
I went home that day feeling really beat up! I had been respected for the kind of mom I was to our 5 children. Our marriage was idealistic on the outside. It wasn’t easy for me to be honest with myself about the why after convincing my “self” for two decades that I was a model wife and mother for no other reason than I loved my family immensely and this is what God called on me to be. This was a big part of the reason I lived the way I did, but it was not the only reason. He revealed to me that as long as I was putting myself behind everyone else’s dreams and struggles, I didn’t have to put myself out there and risk falling on my face pursuing my own dreams – or more importantly, becoming who He wanted me to become. I also believed on some unconscious level that if I loved my husband and children unconditionally and completely that they would always love me the same way. I guess I thought I was taking out “love insurance,” guaranteeing I would never have to feel that I wasn’t worth loving again.
I’ve done a bunch of work since then. It hasn’t all been pretty. Honestly, most of it has been ugly and uncomfortable. I’ve pulled back from being SO involved in my kids’ lives and tried to trust Him to take care of them and to allow them to stumble at times. Most of the time my kids feel abandoned by me. They feel like I went from being all over every aspect of their lives to not really caring what happens to them. I’m just not very good at finding that healthy place, yet. I think that it’s natural for them to want things to be as they were, but I know that is not what He wants from us. I know it’s not what is best for them. I just wish I could find that healthy, balanced place where my kids feel loved and they know that I really believe in them and where I am involved just enough. I’m working on it. I cling to 1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. I know it sounds like a cop-out, but really it’s just me being thankful that He knows my heart. He knows I’m trying to be in His will and His grace and love coupled with my love will cover my sins in being a mama and in my other relationships.
He’s freed me from a lot of the superficial things that used to enslave me. I don’t believe all of my children have to fit into a “Tricia-shaped” box that says they must earn a 3.5 or higher gpa, and then attend college immediately after where they will meet the perfect partner during their last two years at university, get married upon graduation, have big money jobs and live happily ever after. I trust each of them to find their way. Each of our children is a truly amazing human being with more talent than I could ever muster. None of them fits into the ugly box that our society deems “good” and I am thankful that they are all finding their way in this world with no need for any shape box. I wish I knew if and how to help them during this part of their lives. I’m kind of like a drug addict. If I start to get involved, I’m afraid I won’t be able to quit and I’ll just want more and more… So, I pray a lot and I continue to be thankful for 1Peter 4:8, because I’m still feeling around in the dark and His love and grace are the only reason I’m still standing.