I haven’t written much about relationships in a while. It could have to do with the season I am in. This topic I probably could not have written about two years ago…
As a writer, there are certain things you can write about while going through the thing – there are equally other things you cannot write about until after the thing. The topic of rejection and betrayal would be one of those for me.
This is not a feel sorry for me post. This is not intended to stir up emotion on my behalf. Rather, this is an honest reflection of one who has listened – one who has observed a terrifying truth inside relationships – including my own.
It is no secret that I practice my life and my faith with an open heart and open arms.
It is not a hidden idea that I invest deeply and love hard. If you’ve followed my blog and my work at all, you will get the sense that I’ve lived a life where the judged and misunderstood would have a place to belong. A friend who would listen. And a table where they could expose their soul and share their deepest parts without fear of being turned away.
For the last decade, I’ve sat on the other side of tables at coffee shops and on couches in my living room listening to story after story of misunderstood souls. I’ve walked side by side with pastors, leaders, stay at home moms, teens, divorced and single parents through some of their darkest times. I carry many people’s stories of loss, heartache, regrets and struggle. I hold those stories close and consider it to be an enormous honor.
I observed many things throughout my years of being a listener.
Through all of the stories I was invited to be a part of, there were familiar threads. These people were not murderers or criminals – these were simply people experiencing the hardships and painful parts of life.
But, why were they sitting on my couch and not their pastor’s?
Why was I on the other end of the phone rather than their closest friends?
Why was I meeting with them instead of their family?
There is an interesting phenomenon inside of mainstream Christianity. Where the foundation of most relationships is not unconditional love, but rather an agreed upon set of beliefs.
Where you are loved unconditionally so long as you agree on: theology, interpretations of scripture, roles in marriage, political parties and cultural stances. But, if your life takes an unexpected turn where things are not “perfect”, mistakes are made or your beliefs shift, unconditional love is taken off the table.
Instead, conditions are placed on you and a set of “if you do this….”, “if you change your position on this…”, “if you change this…”, “if you reconsider this…”, etc. then you can have a relationship again.
Nearly every person I met with shared a hunger to be heard, seen and loved inside their most tender, authentic space. And yet, they dared not share their honest parts with their peers, pastors or family for fear of being rejected and betrayed.
Now, sitting here on my own couch listening to my own honest thoughts, I admit I’ve shared the same fears…
I was terrified to let others into my crumbling marriage, my struggles as a parent, my bouts with anxiety and depression and my personal beliefs. All of these topics were terrifying.
Maybe that is why I worked so hard to create space for people to share their lives with me?
Maybe that is why so much of my work is centered on being a voice for the misunderstood and the outsider?
Maybe that is why I focus so intently on the model of Jesus…because he didn’t require people to change who they were in order to be in relationship with him?
Maybe my own understanding of how the Christian world worked is why I tried so hard to be a speck of change inside it: because I wanted to give to others what I so desperately needed myself.
Two years ago I decided to take a risk.
Two years ago, I took off my “perfection” hat and took my turn in the wounded seat. I exposed the painful realities of my marriage, struggles with my children, deep levels of anxiety and some inner (not so popular) convictions in my faith. I exposed things that made others uncomfortable and upset the pretty package I had created.
And before you think I was brave, let me just tell you that exposure wasn’t easy – it was down-right terrifying. And, the cost was significant.
I realized by exposing the inner realities of my life – the imperfect, unpolished me – I faced an inner truth, imbedded in me for decades. A truth I believe every person who sat across from me and unzipped their imperfect souls believed too.
A truth so terrifying that once I looked at it square in the face, it scared the hell out of me.
My truth was: I believed I didn’t have value.
At least, not the real me. Just the perfect me. The me I thought everyone expected me to be. The me that appeared to be some sort of super human. I feared that if I couldn’t maintain that strength, then everyone would disappear. Because the broken, scarred me didn’t have value or worth; just put-together me did.
When my forfeited walls cracked and I exposed my broken, tattered, scarred pieces, my greatest fear was realized. I found myself exposed and utterly alone.
People don’t often fight for the broken parts of you.
People may fight to “correct” them, rearrange them, or “fix” them. But, rarely do they fight to protect the vulnerability of them. Very few see the beauty of tattered parts or look deeper into tear stained eyes.
It just isn’t done.
Most Christians see those things as a problem to be fixed or an issue to be resolved – they do not see them as a beautiful part of the human experience. One that Jesus himself embraced. They do not weep with those who are weeping or mourn with those who are mourning.
Instead, they stick verses on it, share sermons about it, pray/fast about it, shame it, gossip about it – trying their hardest to force a perfect outcome on an imperfect situation. And if none of that works, they tend to walk away or ignore it all together.
Yes, sitting with – and loving – the imperfect human soul is a lost art in the modern Christian world.
It is so anti-Jesus to not embrace this and yet, somehow this has become the norm. This is why every person who confided in me dared not whisper their story to anyone else. It is why I trembled with fear when it was my turn and I knew I was cracking…because we know what happens to those who don’t fit the mold.
We know what happens to those who break away from the status quo.
We know what happens to those who crumble…
Rejected, talked about, betrayed, pushed out and labeled as one of “them”
But, let me offer you this little secret: no one is super human. In fact, no one, not even pastors are living a squeaky clean picture-perfect life. I promise. Because I’ve sat on the other end of the phone with them. I’ve heard it all. And, let me just break the news to you, that everyone is hurting. Everyone is wounded. Everyone is struggling. No one has this thing completely figured out yet. The only difference, is that some are brave enough to be honest about it.
As one who sat on both sides of the table, there is one thing I learned: the strong ones are the honest ones.
People who walk away from a hurting, broken friend or family member are not strong.
People who slap a smile on their face and tell you they are fine are not strong.
People who refuse to speak to those they disagree with are not strong.
People who cut off family members, church members, friends and spouses over “theological” differences or life choices are not strong.
Real strength is found in those who can be honest. Real strength is in humility and admitting you don’t have it all together either. Real strength is found in those who are vulnerable and authentic, messiness and all. Real strength is found in sitting with people where they are and looking deeper into tear stained eyes. Real strength is in creating space for someone to safely expose every part of them and choose to love and accept them exactly as they are.
Real strength is found in sitting in an uncomfortable space and fighting to listen and understand.
It takes strength to make unconditional love the foundation of relationships. A strength that is lacking in Christianity (and in our world) today.
But, this is the kind of strength Jesus had. This is the kind of love that makes the church uncomfortable, yet it is the very kind of love that the church and it’s neighbors so desperately need.
We are strongest when we are honest and when we build relationships on unconditional love.
Peace and grace,
PS: If you’ve lost friends, family, community or your career it can feel like you’re wandering in a wilderness of sorts. I share my own inner struggles through my wanderings in a recent podcast here.