Thursday, September 29, 2011

Not in My Sandbox!

So here's a point of order: Love your neighbor does not mean be a doormat. The full commandment is love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. Life is about balancing that trifecta. We don't love our neighbor by constantly subjecting ourselves to our neighbor's hurtful behavior towards us. We are simply engaged in the emotional equivalent of constantly poking ourselves in the eye when we do that.

Love is about care and nurture. We too often limit love to being some kind of friendship, like loving our neighbor means we have to invite our neighbor, the one who repeatedly has knocked us down the stairs, to dinner, even if we're afraid during the entire meal that s/he's going to throw Brussel sprouts at us and call us names. That isn't loving ourselves, and it's not really loving our neighbor.

When did we forget that sometimes love is best done at a distance? That love can be drawing very sturdy boundaries with some particular people in our lives that are nice and clear? I can love a person who has hurt me AND love myself by saying, "You can't play in my sandbox anymore," or (in a close friend's parlance) "Go with God, but go." I don't have to wish his face turn purple or pray she has bad hair for the rest of her life (although admitting our anger is often part of the journey of reframing our love for someone who has hurt us). I can lovingly pray for those who have hurt me in a journey of forgiveness; I can love them as God commanded; I can love myself. It's not a choice of which one, but the wisdom and willingness to do all three in a healthy way.

So who are these people that might need an eviction from our sandboxes? Some of our thoughts (based on our experiences - your experiences may be different):

+People who constantly give you an inventory of your flaws and shortcomings, while never reflecting on their own. We are not saying that you should avoid people who tell you some hard truths about yourself. In fact, honor and nurture those relationships - as long as they are mutual. We're talking about those people who constantly assault you with unsolicited advice, like, "Wow, those pants look tight. Have you gained weight? And your sermon Sunday was boring, too." And those are the whole of the conversation. We have women's magazines and make-over shows to make us feel badly about ourselves. We don't need BFF's for that.

+People who pursue a romantic relationship with you while still dating someone else, while married to someone else, or while having weird, quasi-romantic relationships with others. Men and women who do this have deep, dark stuff going on that a professional therapist needs to address, not you. Stay away. When they start the grand explanation, after you've discovered the pictures on their Facebook page, the emails/phone calls to the other women/men, or whatever proof you've discovered that causes you concern, remember that honest people don't need to explain away things like this. Oh, and when you end things and they still want to be "friends," trust that they will be as dark and hurtful as a friend. So, stay away from that, too.

+People who disregard your boundaries. Our ears should prick when we tell someone, "(This act, comment, etc.) makes me feel uncomfortable," and the reply is, "Well, that's your problem." No, it isn't. Every balanced relationship has boundaries, and when someone ignores yours, there is a high probability for an emotionally damaging relationship. Balanced relationships, loving relationships - professional, romantic, and otherwise - honor various boundaries and various levels of comfort.

+Those whose behavior is abusive. Physical abuse is often (but not always) easier to spot, but emotional bullying and sexual harassment are also abuse. As a note, sexual harassment includes working in an environment where the comments and/or atmosphere is sexually hostile. Abuse is not loving. And being victimized by abuse is not loving ourselves. As an aside, if you see this kind of abuse and say nothing, that isn't loving, either. Silence only helps the abuser, and too often, the victim isn't in a position to defend herself/himself.

+Those who engage in character assassination. Constantly. And meanly. Our experience is that people who talk smack about others with you will talk smack about you with others. Particularly when the friendship is strained (as all friendships will be eventually). Those relationships worth energy are those that, when the strain and unrest comes, you talk to each other about the problems, not tear each other down with others.

So who did we not put on this not-inclusive list? Those who vote differently from us; those who disagree with us or have another viewpoint; those who are a different ethnicity, religion, race, or sexual orientation; even those who worship differently from us. None of the examples we listed can be seen in the first moments of a relationship. We might be lucky to hear someone else's experience with a person that gives us the heads-up about certain behaviors (and when someone has had one of these experiences with a person, pay attention).  Usually, however, we just have to spend time with someone to discover how loving them and ourselves will look. Some people we meet with an initial negative first impressions become life-long friends. Some people that seem like wonderful additions to our life turn out to be segue ways to hard lessons we need to learn in hurt and disappointment.

Temptation may invite us to give proper names to these examples, as if we are always the ones who have been wronged.  But loving ourselves also means seeing ourselves fully for who we are - shadow and light, goodness and evil.  Perhaps another reading of the qualities of those who need to be loved with strict boundaries will engage us to see how we are also on the giving end of hurt and pain.  We may have been the person who didn't hear someone's discomfort with our repeated behavior in a relationship.  What was merely "joking" to one may be bullying to others.  What was "processing" to a co-worker may really have been experienced as character assassination.  What was an innocent flirtation to us may have been a violation of vows to the other party.  Oh yes, we are also the wounder.  But love gives us courage to see the darker parts of ourselves, our capabilities for damage to others, and, in the same act, damage to ourselves.  That loving act of taking our own inventories, of hearing why another cannot be in relationship with us because of our acts, may stop future wrecks.  Owning our mistakes allows love to transform them into lessons that needed to be learned.

This holy love is unsafe and reckless. It is not for the faint-hearted. Loving as God commands takes courage and honesty and willingness to grow, change, and learn from our successes and mistakes, but mostly from our mistakes.

So be of good courage, and love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. All three. In one.

2 comments:

Southern Lady Lawyer Mama said...

This is such a powerful message. Thank you so much.

Kurt said...

Really well done!