Stingy

I met with a friend the other night. We shared a bottle of wine, chicory coffee, and conversation between songs from the ’90s being played on acoustic guitar by two guys on a stage outside of Kelleher’s on Water St. The evening was the perfect kind, with bright stars and cool air and a gorgeous moon playing hide-and-seek behind a wisp of cloud. Over the course of hours we covered a lot of conversational ground, including the role of women in ministry, the relationships between men and women in general,  how to beat altitude sickness, and military cadences.

My friend asked me a question that night, one that has been lurking in the corner of my otherwise-occupied mind ever since. He talked about the grace I’ve needed over the course of my life to overcome certain situations, the need I’ve had to be gentle with myself and accept my flawed nature (which, by the way, I am still really bad at). The question he asked was not meant to do harm, but struck deep nonetheless.

He asked if I’ve been willing to extend that same grace to other people in my life. Have I been willing to be gentle with others, to accept them flaws and all, to walk with them in their brokenness and believe the best about them and their intentions?

The answer is, I used to be. I used to have an eye for the potential goodness of a person, the image of God that was imbedded inside of them. I could recognize the broken places, and I had seemingly unending grace for the ways in which those broken places might manifest. I really loved people, pretty much all people.

Then, over time, others’ broken places started to really wound me. They cut and jabbed like broken window panes; the very thing that had let me see the person as a whole would shatter and bury deep inside the tender places of my heart. One particularly destructive relationship cut so deeply that I still wonder if I’ll ever really heal (the healing touch of God notwithstanding); there’s a thin line of stitched tissue reaching from neck to naval in my soul. Bits of him are still being plucked out of the wound.

I became really confused about how to distinguish between boundary, codependence, toxic relationships, unconditional love, and the third way.

Eventually, I retreated into a shell of self-preservation. I have known for some time that I spend too much time there, and that something has grown cold in my love. Yet I am drawn to people as much as ever, and I feel compelled by stories of love and grace and care people like Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, and Anne Lamott Fear describe. Fear and insecurity have won out over love in my world; this makes me really sad.

I once saw a picture of myself standing inside a guarded tower. The area was encircled by a barbed-wire fence. Outside of that fence were snarling beasts, storm clouds, and many other dangers. Inside my tower I was safe from all of those elements. But then I saw that love and companionship and joy were also outside the fence. The very walls that kept me safe also kept me isolated and alone.

My friend asked if I extend the same grace to others I’ve needed in my own life. The answer is, I used to. The answer is, I want to feel that grace and acceptance and organic love again. The answer is, I don’t know how to.

His question made me wonder if he’s needed me to have that grace for him in the past. If I’ve failed him by protecting myself from harm. If some of my pain in that relationship has come from botched attempts at self-preservation. Maybe I invited him to talk with me through the jagged fence, but because I couldn’t open the gate we both ended up bleeding.

I still don’t know how to navigate the precipice between healthy relationship and Human connection that embraces flaws and all; but in my hypocrisy I nevertheless ask for grace from those who love me as I continue wandering the ragged edge.

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1 Comment

  1. Vicky said,

    June 18, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    For what it is worth, I think you do a great job of extending grace. To me for sure, but I have seen it extended to others as well.


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