I recently came across one of those quotes that makes you stop and reflect.
I was challenged to think about relationships, past and present.
We cannot live very long within any community, marriage, family, religious community, or genuine friendship without becoming aware of our faults and narrowness. We either begin to grow up, or we leave.
Ronald Rolheiser OMI, The Polished Stone, February 8, 1993, https://ronrolheiser.com/the-polished-stone
A Note of Wisdom
While reading I quickly scribbled the quote onto a post-it-note.
The note has moved around my desk multiple times over the past few months. Each time I found the yellow piece of paper I was reminded to think about my relationships.
The longer I have spent with these words the truer they appear to be.
I believe they express a deep wisdom that can help shape who we are. Help us to grow healthy communities.
The Relationship Challenge
Thinking back on my life there have been a number of relationships that challenged me. Relationships that, in one way or another, revealed weaknesses in my personality or a general lack of maturity on my part.
My first response to such moments of revelation was to react with a passionate enthusiasm to defend myself.
I was quick to point out how I was correct. I could show you how I was above reproach. Other people, or circumstances were doing me wrong.
A common protest was that people simply did not understand me. The fact that they had concerns, or expressed any doubt about me simply showed they were unable to appreciate what I had to offer.
I was like fine art. If you did not get it…well you simply did not have the “gift” to appreciate beautiful artwork.
Raising such a defense moved any focus away from me and onto other people. It was always easy to find a few people who agreed with me, or simply remained silent as I protested.
Set Up for Failure
Moving in such a way set me, and the relationship up for failure. Slowly, or not so slowly, the narrative that I spoke regarding these relationships became one where I was the victim.
The focus shifted from an issue I may have been struggling with to a perceived wrong done to me. I became the victim.
Someone simply did not appreciate all I had to offer. Why could they not see how much I could help or benefit them. Pretty soon every interaction was colored by such a narrative.
I lost all sense of objectivity. With each interaction all I could see was the failures of the other while remaining totally blind to my own faults and narrowness.
To use Jesus’ words,
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. – Matthew. 7:3-5
Grow Up or Leave
Rolheiser writes, “We either begin to grow up, or we leave.”
In my finer moments I grew up. To state it more correctly I was blessed to have people who cared enough to help me grow up. They spoke truth into my life and helped me see areas where I needed to change how I was thinking and behaving.
They loved me enough to stand patiently as I protested. When I was ready to hear their wisdom, they spoke with grace and tenderness into the wounds of my life. They were patient with me when they could have simply walked away.
The relationships where people or communities stretched me are some of my most valued relationships. They helped me grow into the person I am today. I thank them for it.
Work or Flee
We either learn how to see and deal honestly with the truth of who we are, or we leave.
Either we are open to a season of growing and maturing, or we find somewhere more comfortable to live and act out in familiar patterns.
We either work on ourselves, focus on our own program and development or we leave. We leave because a relationship that speaks honestly reveals uncomfortable truths about who we are, how we function.
Unwilling to grow the only answer, the only way for us to have some sense of peace in our lives is to move on. We find people, or a community, that will tolerate (or celebrate) our poor behavior. The fact that this new group does not challenge us just serves to confirm our suspicions that those who were calling us to growth simply did not understand us, or were unreasonable.
Thinking back over my life I have seen this pattern before. I have seen it in my own life and in the lives of others.
Moving On, Thanks to Clarity
It should go without saying, yet I feel it important to say, that not every relationship ended is a result of our unwillingness or inability to see some shortcoming about ourselves.
Sometimes we are granted a clarity that allows us to see that a certain relationship is not healthy for us. In those moments it takes great strength to step away. Some relationships truly are toxic and it requires great strength for us to create healthy boundaries. We should celebrate those moments when people take bold steps to create healthy boundaries to protect themselves from unhealthy relationships.
It is equally important to remember that not every failed relationship is because the other is toxic. We need to take appropriate and honest responsibility for the role we play.
Other times we sense the invitation of God to move in new directions.
Following the invitation of the Spirit is exciting. Sometimes this necessitates changes in the form and shape of important relationships in our lives. Having the strength to let go of one relationship to embrace the new thing that God is doing is often challenging.
Relationships lost because we were unwilling, or unable to deal honestly with our own faults and shortcomings.
It is sad. Where does this all come from?
Somewhere we have bought into the idea that we must be perfect, that we should have all the answers to every situation.
Very few of us would ever put such an expectation upon anyone else, why do we put it upon ourselves?
We are unable or unwilling to extend grace and forgiveness to ourselves and others.
In such an environment it is hard for any kind of strong, life-giving, healthy relationship to take root and grow.
- Maybe it is time to extend yourself some grace.
- Maybe it is time to thank those in your life who are bold enough to help you work to become a better person.
- Who is that one person who has challenged you, helped you grow into the person you are today? When was the last time you thanked them?
- What is stopping you from thanking them today?
- Into whose life are your gracefully and boldly speaking truth?
- Is someone speaking truth into your life these days? How are you resisting or embracing it?