love, not answers.

Oh hi.

So the lifeguard class is still mostly smooth sailing, except for the part where my instructor gives no feedback on something we both know I’m doing wrong. Then again, I come from a household whose main hobby as a collective is correcting each other.

I still feel better about this stats class than the last one.

“Excel 101” today involved the making of a survey using online software called Qualtrics. Basically, it made me wish I was born into a simpler era of business, before everyone hated us and everyone and their mother had a stupid startup for the sake of “increasing productivity” or some such vague mission which is invariably burdened with a tacky name that makes me want to puke. Frankly, I would not mind in the least being a lowly bookkeeper in the days of black-and-white photos. I would rock the hell out of that job. But oh well. In fairness, right now I am okay with having a class which moves too slowly for my taste. It means 20 credits will not be as stressful as it was in the fall. I suppose I shouldn’t say “better a class that’s too slow and bores me to tears than one that’s too fast and challenges me,” but I am unreservedly content with a class I don’t have to freak out about. As a matter of fact, I have a couple of those. I don’t know what changed between last semester and this, but suddenly I am much more confident. About everything. Including stats.

Well, except for the part that I may have completely neglected to speak up about my afternoon skiing class when someone suggested scheduling emissary meetings on Fridays at 3. I’ll wing it. It’ll only be 8 weeks and I’m missing two Friday ski classes anyway. But that’s okay, cause that’s 5 guaranteed ski trips this season.

Have I ever mentioned that in my humble opinion, the best motivation-to-go-crush-the-thing-that-scares-you song is the Eleventh Doctor’s theme?

Anyway.

So I have a lot of reason to think about some very L’Engle, summer 2013 topics today.

For backstory, I’m struggling in one of my friendships, and it’s not important why. But I got caught (as I seem to have done a lot lately) between “standing up for myself” and “being a good person,” which, apparently, when I choose to “be a good person,” means being a martyr. I got stuck somewhere, and I missed some things.

The point is not to let yourself be a doormat. The point is not to walk all over anyone else either. The point is to respond in love.

Which I realize is vague, but I think I can explain it.

If you have a friend who is expressing (one way or another) that they’re having a shitty day, you can respond in a lot of ways, and I’ve seen (and done to some extent) all of these.

You can immediately text them and say “OMG whenever you wanna talk I’m totally here for you!!” I’m intentionally using valley girl lingo because I find both the method of speech and the approach to this kind of problem annoying, but this can happen in a lot of ways, including badgering the person to tell you what’s wrong, becoming unreasonably paranoid that it’s something you did (guilty!), and threatening the other person with loneliness because you’re not getting what you want. Mostly, people who do this to their friends are either (a) nosy, (b) looking to feel important to someone (also guilty!), or (c) desperate to keep the other person in their life by whatever means possible. If you are nosy, it is likely that you and this person are not (or will not be much longer) friends. If you are looking to feel important to someone (specifically or not) or are desperate to keep the other person in your life, this is martyrdom. This is doormatship. This is kind of hellish, to be honest, even if you would prefer it to losing that person’s friendship. This also sort of degrades you, the responder, and paints you as needy and unhealthily dependent (in one way or another) on the other person.

You can also do nothing. A lot of people call this not taking bullshit you don’t need, with some perhaps going as far as being strong and taking care of your own needs first. (Note: First is one thing, always is another.) This is what I call cold, definitely-not-friendship assholery. If your friends are concerned or unhappy, you listen.

Last night I was sort of caught between these two things, between being a good friend (and simultaneously avoiding my own proneness to guilt) and scrabbling out of the repetitive hell which is wanting to be a good friend/be called a good friend (which are not the same thing, nor do I want them for the same reasons), and I discovered (after a couple of hours of yelling, some text messages [note: texting is one of the suckiest communicative methods ever] and a spontaneous prayer) that neither answer is ideal, or even preferable.

I realized (perhaps re-realized, perhaps re-re-re-re-realized) that if other people cannot accept or take seriously the help that I offer, that is not my problem. That is between them and God. My job (at least at this point in the circumstances) is to respond in love when they reach out, not bother when they don’t, and be waiting when they’re ready to talk.

I reached this conclusion after, as stated, a spontaneous prayer in which I wondered if God really intends that good Christian people maintain relationships in which they are miserable. Not that I mean to pass myself off as a good Christian person. I’m a bad Christian, if what I am can be called a Christian. But that’s not the point right now. The point is, does a God who loves his creations want them to be legitimately unhappy in a friendship? I don’t think so. The song I am listening to (Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Jubilee”) just explained that “there’s only so long you can take it all on, and then the wrong’s gotta be on its own.”

But I also don’t think a God who loves his creations wants them to be abandoned by people who professed to be friends. And as such, if I want to love my friends, I cannot cause them the kind of pain that comes from being told, effectively, that your pain is too much for anyone else to help you bear, let alone for you to bear on your own.

Where’s the disconnect? How do you make it fit? I don’t think you end the friendship. At least, that should be your very last option. The other person needs someone to stick by them at their prickliest. It occurs to me that people like my mother and father and Derek must have done this for me a thousand times without my noticing.

But I don’t think you need to be miserable, either. And that’s where you have to realize that you do not need to fix that person, nor do you need to force them to appreciate what you are doing for them. You need to get out of the way.

After I finished praying, I picked up L’Engle’s Walking on Water because frankly it’s the closest thing to a Bible I have here at school. She quotes the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, who wrote, “By love God may be gotten and holden, but by thought or understanding, never.”

She follows it up with the simple paragraph, “Love, not answers.”

I am reminded of a Bible verse I learned in Lutheran school long, long ago, to music, which is probably the only reason I have retained it to this day. The first part of Ephesians 4:32 is “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”

Hmm.

For an intellectually egomaniacal middle-school quiz bowl champion like me, it’s humbling. Especially when one considers that that middle-school quiz bowl champion grew into a high school advice-giver whose right answers made Derek sit up straight and think about the way he expressed himself, and got Hannah to the realization that she asked, but it’s up to them to answer. Not to brag or anything, but I have said the right thing a time or two in my life.

Maybe I need to let go of that and just get out of the way. And for once, I am not quoting Doctor Who when I say that, although, predictably, it is L’Engle instead.

My job is love, not answers. I don’t have all the answers. I never will. I may kick and scream about that and try to read all the books in the universe to find them, but it is not within my power to know everything. Not that the book journey is futile. The Official Long Reading List may be one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. But I still won’t know everything.

And that’s okay. Love, not answers. My job is to love.

Of course, that’s easier said than done (“as simple and as difficult as that” – Michael Leunig), and thinking about the difficulty of loving a human who is imperfect and prickly leads me to think up epigrams like “All love is beautiful because all people are hideous,” even though of course hardly anyone is entirely hideous. (I’m using hideous in adjectival contrast to beautiful, not because people are actually visually unappealing.) Love for hideous people is beautiful, because the person is hideous, yet the love is there.

That’s a tangent. Moving on.

I don’t need to have the answers. I need to love. I am reminded of cummings again: “love is the whole and more than all”

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