We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 47 – The Spirit Conspiracy
Tthis week’s chapter I found very applicable to the season of life I am in right now.
It’s a season of standing still, taking stock, remembering, assessing, listening, being still, and waiting. This process means looking at relationships in my life, looking at the various circles of relationships that intertwine throughout my life and taking note.
Have you ever done that?
Just taken a step back to observe all the various relationships in your life?
What do you see?
When I look, I see a variety.
I see safety, stability, and growth built through dedication and love. I see old ones that have evolved into new depths, as the roots only grow deeper and stronger. I see new ones that have yet to encounter any adverse conditions. I see other relationships that are strained, or slowly dying off through lack of care and the silence of distance. I see others where I have settled into a limited comfort zone, knowing the environment feels safer for a balancing act rather than something more. I see relationships that need work, and others that have produced a harvest I never expected.
Looking from the outside in, the picture before me forms an array of human art as it displays different levels, colors, and textures.
If I have learned anything as an adult, it is that relationships take work.
During my time here in Japan, I have developed a new found interest in gardening. Growing up I was never really that interested in it, probably because it was one more chore to do outside with dirt and bugs. Growing up on a ranch gives you plenty of those opportunities, so being the girly-girl I was, I spent more time trying to avoid them then embracing them.
Now though, I have found it strangely comforting and a small reminder of home. We have a small balcony off our apartment, and its view below is that of bike sheds and a parking lot.
So inspirational right? Well it’s made even better by the bird net that covers the entire balcony to prevent birds from roosting and nesting.
So I try to make it a little better, by creating little bits of paradise. If nothing else my cat appreciates it, as she feels like its her own little jungle to explore with plenty of bugs and leaves to chase and pounce on.
This new found interest in gardening though, makes a great analogy for relationships. Plants thrive when they are cared for, pruned, watered, and get plenty of sunshine. However, when they are neglected they quickly begin to show the lack of care.
My first round of plants experienced this the most. Turns out you can’t go three or four days without watering plants here in Japan in the middle of summer and expect them to recover with drowning them in water. In case anyone was wondering. 😉
Have you ever experienced a friendship like that? Where it goes for a long time uncared for, and suddenly one person realizes it and frantically dumps thinking it will fix it or just expects the roots to be healthy? Or maybe its a hearty relationship like my Rosemary plant, where it continues to bloom and grow through transplants, vacations, all kinds of seasons, and all levels of care.
I used to believe all relationships needed to all look relatively the same.
For a long time I only really had three circles in my life. My family and faith being the inner circle of relationships. The second circle was my close friends. The third circle was church. Those circles were all that mattered, and often they would get deeply intertwined. I had a difficult time knowing who to really to prioritize, so I would try to prioritize everyone and invest everywhere equally. Needless to say I ran around like crazy trying to please everyone and failing miserably.
Now however, I am learning that life like that is very small and very exhausting.
Allowing more circles in my life of relationships with people who were too different from me, made me uncomfortable because it made me question and feel uncertain.
Maintaining several circles of relationships as equal in priority and value, often left me running a circus juggling act that left me very unsure of where I actually stood with people. No one really knew Kallie either, as I was too busy trying to be this person’s version, and this person’s version, and this person’s version.
Prioritizing and allowing relationships in inner circles of my life to take precedence also brought with it inherent risks and dangers. For so many of these closer relationships, the depth I had built was formed around some very distinct masks I had started wearing from a young age and by this point believed were who I was and what was expected of me.
Awhile back, I shared my story about being a mask-wearer.
If you are this kind of person, you probably know well how difficult and scary it is to take off that mask and look unflinchingly at who you find behind them, much less show that person to people you love and care about. In some ways, it would be easier to walk into a room of strangers and rip the mask off because they don’t know you and you are in control, thus the risk of being seen is very minimal. Taking it off to look in the mirror or to sit down with people you know well brings with it the the haunting question of will the real me be good enough? Will I still belong? Will I still be found lovable and worthy?
The woman who taught me about this journey, who shared with me the secret power of vulnerability, and started me on my own quest of mask-removing is the shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown and her book Daring Greatly. It’s no secret around here, as I quote her work a lot.
When I look back on that time in my life, I see how comparison, perfectionism, and scarcity ruled my life.
These words took on new meaning for me, when I read Brene Brown’s work. Her definitions made perfect sense, as I found their footprints every where I turned in my relationships.
Comparison is ‘covert or overt comparing and ranking. Holding others to a narrow standard, rather than acknowledging them for their unique gifts and contributions…’
Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval.
Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem. …Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.
Choosing now to focus on building key relationships in my life around being vulnerable and real is a whole new experience. It has brought with it inherent difficulties, risks, highs, lows, joy and tears, and everything in between.
I am finding though that it is far more rewarding than the former approach.
I still have plenty of relationships to work on. I still have plenty of masks that fit so easily that I catch myself putting them on without even thinking about it. I still struggle with questioning if I invest more in this relationship and less over here does that somehow make me not good enough or a bad person. I still struggle with the tendency to lean into relationships that are familiar and comfortable versus reaching out to new and different ones.
Brian McLaren in Chapter 47 challenges us that the Spirit will lead us into many circles of relationships, often circles that are not easy or comfortable such as reaching out to the vulnerable, forgotten, and broken. Or perhaps even more difficult, those circle of people in our lives who have hurt us, misunderstood us, or we now see as enemies. He writes,
There’s another circle that we can’t dare forget: the circle that includes our critics, opponents, and enemies—the people who annoy us and those we annoy, the people who don’t understand us and those we don’t understand, the people who try our patience and those whose patience we try. Rather than write them off as unimportant and unwanted, we need to rediscover them as some of the most important people we know. If we ignore them, our growth in the Spirit will be stunted. If we let the Spirit guide us in what we say to their faces and behind their backs, we will become more Christ-like.
Excerpt From: Brian D. McLaren. “We Make the Road by Walking.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/we-make-the-road-by-walking/id721841337?mt=11
That circle of people has become by far the hardest for me to know how to relate with. I used to take the method of faked politeness and distant christian kindness. It is so much harder to engage in an actual conversation, especially when it involves disagreement, or tension, or at worst conflict and to make the choice to show up, be honest and yet allow for that person who hurt you or adamantly opposes you to do the same.
It also takes courage to show up and take a stand. For so long I thought as a “Christian” that famous mantras like ‘kindness,’ ‘turn the other cheek,’ and ‘love your neighbor,’ ‘cover a multitude of sins,’ and ‘for the sake of unity of the brethren,’ were paramount and always meant taking this high road of silence.
But now I know from painful experiences that it can take even more courage to speak up and question, to speak out and challenge, to be honest about my faults and how the Church, Christianity, and other Christians have failed me. Perhaps this is a unique aspect to the growth Brian hints at.
I used to think growth in conflict meant achieving the absence of conflict altogether in all relationships everywhere. Now I am learning that the important relationships in my life only grow stronger when I embrace diversity, tension, uncertainty, and disagreement — all of which bring about conflict at one point or another.
So now instead of growing a garden of relationships that I try to make all look relatively the same, I am instead getting down into the soil to do the work in creating art.
Each person, each relationship, each season, and each plant will be different — but hopefully if I water them with time, love, honesty, and care — it will result in something truly beautiful.
- What do vulnerability and being real look like for you in relationships?
- How do you manage prioritizing relationships?
- Do you see conflict as strictly negative or do you see it producing healthy change and growth in relationships?