Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Hold the Key to Love and Fear

this past sunday, my wife was away visiting a sister, and i was unable to go with her.  in her absence, i did something that is most unusual for me--i stayed home from church.  i felt a tinge of guilt.  what if the choir needed me?  why would i miss an opportunity to see friends i only see on sunday?  what if God checks roll today?  i felt a great peace, too, because i knew that it might be good for the choir and my friends to miss me (and for me to have a quiet retreat of my own), and i can't really have faith in a god who would check attendance.

instead, i spent some time thinking about how much suffering we cause ourselves by harboring thoughts about supposed offenses.  one of my male friends has built up an antagonism toward a married couple who are also my friends.  he can't speak of them without listing all the ways they've harmed him, and the more he speaks the angrier he becomes.  i hurt for him, and i know the couple at whom he's angry would hurt, too, if only they knew the depth of his hurt.

in talking to my angry friend recently, i asked if he could go talk to the couple at whom he's angry without becoming angry as he talks with them.  he wasn't sure that he could.  i told him that they need to know how he feels and why he feels that way, and the only way they'll know is if he talks to them.  "express your feelings honestly but without blaming them for the way you feel," i said to him.  i explained to him that he couldn't deny his feelings or his reasons for feeling them, but he couldn't resolve this problem by approaching the objects of his anger, accusing them of causing his feelings.  instead, he had to open his heart to them and say, "here's how i feel and why.  i don't want to feel this way.  i want to heal my angry feelings.  can you help me?"

after our talk he tried to do this with little success.  i've talked with the couple with whom he's angry, and they've told me that he has made an attempt to talk with them but apparently he can't get past his anger enough for them to understand his feelings toward them.  my hope is that time and the continued support of this couple who truly value his friendship will heal the hurt he's feeling right now.

i remember a time when a couple with whom my wife and i had been best friends suddenly turned a cold shoulder to us.  this was especially true of the female member of the couple.  her husband and i continued to be friends, though not with the same closeness.  both my wife and i tried to talk to her, asking her to let us know what one or both of us had done to cause the breach, begging her to allow us the opportunity to set things right.  she would never discuss the matter with us, and the friendship came to an end.  my wife and i still bear the hurt of this loss, but we did what we could to set it right.

i say all this to say that, as i've grown older (and perhaps wiser), i've learned that it's always better to seek healing when we feel ill-treated, even when our attempts are unsuccessful.  sometimes that means a difficult discussion with another, where we have to bare our hearts to that person.  this has to be done without blame or accusation and with a genuine desire not to allow a passing disagreement or perceived slight to destroy a mutually beneficial relationship.  we must learn to say, "because i love you so much and our relationship means so much to me, i must let you know that this action you've taken or these words you've said have caused me hurt and here's why.  help me to understand why you did this, and try to understand why i'm reacting as i am.  let's move past this together."

my prayer today is that each of us will find the strength and compassion to permit love to overcome anger, bitterness, and hurt by reaching out to others.  may our clinging to destructive emotions be replaced by healing words and actions.  shalom.

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