If I had to take a guess, I would wager that I will be learning the following lesson for the rest of my life: you do not have to do the hard things on your own.
I learn this lesson over, and over, and over again...and when it comes down to it, my go-to response in the hard times is that I need to pull in, shut down, withdraw from others. I need to toughen up, knuckle down, pull myself together, and handle the thing. I get imaginary bonus points if I look good doing it. No sleep? No problem. There's nothing a little make-up, a skirt, and a hair-do can't cover, right?
On my good days, you can frame this as fiercely independent. On my fair days, you can frame it as stubborn. Both would likely be correct.
On the bad days, though, what this is, really, is stupid. It has long led to unhelpful patterns. I like to think that I'm a pretty rational person, and this pattern -- it's not rational.
I'm trying, then, to channel my stubborn energies into stubbornly changing this pattern. It is not easy. I don't feel like I always really know how. But I'm trying.
The past two weeks have had so many hard things. I have felt small. And scared. And stepped on. I hate feeling small, scared, and stepped on. Blogger Glennon at Momastery talks about how the only thing you need to do is focus on doing the next right thing. I have been focusing on this with an intensity that has taken all of my energy -- almost like I'm rock climbing, and looking for the next foot or handhold that will support me as I continue scaling the wall of rock. Reach up. Grab. Test it out before committing to it. Will this one hold me? Yes? Take a breath. Let this be the next right step.
And I did take the right steps. I continue to take the right steps. I have taken the steps that feel true to me, and what I believe is right, and my sense of ethics. I have accused myself of making the wrong decisions, of being overly moralistic, of being silly. I accused myself of being wrong. I tried to convince myself that I, as a person, am wrong. And when I did those things, I knew they were not the right steps. I did the best I could to stop from fully grasping those handholds. I tested them, held onto them for a bit, even -- but they were not right, and when I saw a better next right step, I let them go. That's what taking the next right step is all about, I think.
I read this post about two weeks ago, and I've been wanting to write something about it ever since. I cried over this post, because oh my goodness I know those moments. Don't you? You should read the post, because it's hard, and true, and beautiful, but here's the gist: Glennon did some very beautiful things for someone else. Upon doing the beautiful things, however, she found (1) that she had not done the beautiful things perfectly and (2) that others were angry about the particular beautiful thing she had done.
And when this happened, she writes, "And I heard what I ALWAYS hear when my pride is all scuffed up and my heart is darkening and I'm wanting to SHUT DOWN and retreat and lick my wounds forever. I hear: STAY OPEN. STAY OPEN. STAY OPEN.
You guys, that's the only way to make a mess beautiful. Stay Open. To everyone and everything. All the time. I'm absolutely convinced of this horrible truth. The good news is that I know this. The bad news is that Staying Open is the hardest thing on Earth."
There's a breath living in that, isn't there?
My story behind the shutdown is different from Glennon's, but my heart feels raw and like it needs more space around it. The simplified version is that someone said things that made me feel hated and wrong. I did the next right thing and I talked to the necessary people about the many issues this presented, and those people made me feel scared, and small, and stepped on. I have had multiple conversations, with many people, and I have one more -- a big one -- remaining. I hope that will be the end, but I don't know for sure. My body physically feels like it wants to curl in upon itself in self-protection. I am not kidding when I agree with Glennon in saying that I want to "shut down and retreat and lick my wounds forever." Part of me wants to decide that the world doesn't get to have my heart right now. It is mine, and if I want to shut down around it, I can.
But there is that voice that tells me to stay open. There are many voices, really, but mostly it sounds like friends asking, "you okay?" Every time that happens -- every time that voice comes in -- it's a little wedge in the door, reminding me that it's okay to stay open. And this action -- this staying open -- it made three things happen:
(1) It led to a big meltdown. I cried, and I panicked. I mean, I really panicked. I mean a think-I'm-dying, can't-find-the-oxygen, can't-move-my-body sort of panic. I mean three days of joint pain, just because my body was so flooded with stress and inflammation sort of panic.
(2) It complicated the issue tremendously. Because I did not shut down my heart, I stayed open to the possibility of connection and perspective. In my next interaction with that person who made me feel hated and wrong, I was able to really listen and hear her heart, and guys...here's the thing. She thinks she's doing the next right thing. She really does. For her, these steps -- these steps that I know are wrong and hateful -- they seem to her like the next right thing. She is hurting. She is angry. And all she wants is to do the next right thing.
(3) I allowed myself to be not alone. In fact, I allowed myself to be more me. It's scary. And it's hard. But it is less scary and hard than the scary, small, stepped on feeling. That is important.
At church today, our new, amazing intern minister spoke right to my heart in ways that took my breath away. Among other things, he said something about how we can stand in the truth while still standing on the side of love. Honestly, I lost the context around it, and I didn't hear him afterwards (sorry, Anthony), because I was so busy really hearing that phrase.
We can stand in the truth while still standing on the side of love.
By staying open, I can stand in the truth of feeling hated and wrong. I can stand in the truth of feeling small, and scared, and stepped on.
And, by staying open, I can also still stand on the side of love. I don't need to sacrifice my truth of hurt in order to do the next right thing. It doesn't have to be either/or. It is hard....but it can be yes/and. By staying open, I don't need to do the hard things alone. By staying open, I can let others stand with me on the side of love.
And this, I think, is the only antidote to feeling hated and wrong. This is the next right step forward from feeling stepped on, and scared, and small. When we let others stand with us on the side of love, there are so many right steps forward.
Thank goodness I keep learning that we don't need to do hard things on our own.