Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When we hurt each other

A priest I know reflected on when she knew her relationship with her then-boyfriend was over.  They had been going through one of those proverbial rough patches all relationships enter, "rough patch" also being a euphemism for a time of growth and learning, which is never particularly fun for us humans.  Expectations are challenged, and that impacts the relationship.  Individuals change, and that impacts the relationship.  Life happens, and that impacts the relationship.  Both people have usually engaged in some not so loving behavior that has impacted the other.  All of those circumstances settled into the lives of these people, and they were now at this place. 

"This place," was sitting across from one another, and he was telling her all the things she'd done to hurt him.  Then, after he finished speaking his truth, he said, "Don't ever hurt me like that again."

She started looking for a new place to live the next day.

Perhaps your response is that she wasn't too nice or she reacted badly to hearing what he said.  Perhaps, but her reaction was not at the things he'd experienced her do, which, by the way, were not of the caliber of having an affair.  The hurts were the mundane, painful hurts we all do to each other.  Her reaction was to the last line:  Don't ever hurt me like that again.   She realized in that moment, that the person she thought loved and respected her and the person she did love and respect, had no understanding of relationship as she did. 

Firstly, his words were a threat.  When someone throws out that kind of ultimatum, beware, because the unspoken part is scary - or else.  What, if during the course of life, she did hurt him again?  Would her shave her head or assassinate her character?   Threats in relationships are nice little signs that there may be some creepy boundaries going on, like one person is supposed to be the puppet of another, and if you dare deviate from their almost-always impossible expectations, you will pay the price and perhaps be the subject of a Lifetime movie.  Good boundaries state clear and realistic expectations, like telling someone, "Don't ever run me over with the car again." Telling someone to never hurt you again is wishful thinking and a sign of some deeper, darker stuff. 

Because we do hurt each other, even in the best of relationships.  The prayers in our marriage liturgy and the vows in our Baptismal Covenant don't say, "If you are ever silly and foolish with another person's heart, you can repent, if you deem yourself responsible for said actions."  Nope, the wise people who write our prayers figured us out - that we WILL hurt each other.  The prayers say, "When."  When you hurt each other, when you fall into sin, when you act out in hurtful ways, you can repent and return to the Lord.

We will and do hurt each other in all of our relationships, from marriages to friendships to our pastoral relationships.  What is Godly about these loving bonds between humans is not that they are without failure or shortcomings or misunderstandings or even the downright petty hurting of the other, but that they are capable of naming that hurt and moving onward.  When we hurt each other, we are called to hear each other's pain and to respond to it, maybe with explanation, but mostly with compassion.  When we hurt each other, we are called to recognize the powerful fragility of trust and love among humans.  When we hurt each other, we get a stripped-bare view of the truth of our relationships.

Those that collapse under the weight of the impossible standard of never hurting one another are not relationships - they are thin, one-dimensional expressions of the interactions with others or the pithy line in a cheesy 70's movie.  The relationships worth keeping around are the rich ones grounded by not only the joys and laughter between the people, but also the disappointments and sorrow caused by each other.  In that mysterious and often annoying way God works, the darker parts of our relationships ground and give dimension to the lighter parts.  We appreciate and value the joy, perhaps, because we have gone through the struggles. 

A note here - there are some relationships where the darkness does overcome the light.  Physical or emotional violence and/or constant boundary violations are not the hurt of which I'm speaking.  When you see these signs, do what the people in Amityville didn't do soon enough - Get Out.

I understand the impulse to say to someone, "I'll never hurt you again," and sprinkle fairy dust on the situation and ride off into the sunset.  I like the idea of perfection, too.  I wish my friends wouldn't do things that hurt me, and I wish I didn't do things that hurt them. 

I also wish I could eat all the cupcakes I wanted to eat and never gain a pound. 

We, however, do not live in such a world.  We live in a world God saw at the end of the initial burst of creation and proclaimed it good, not perfect.  Goodness is not about never hurting one another.  Goodness is having the courage to sit in the pain and disappointment with one another WHEN you have hurt each other and wait until God and love do their redeeming.  Goodness is trusting that rough patches to give way to new growth and new depth of relationship.

So when we hurt each other, we can learn to love each other more deeply and honestly.  You know, more like Christ's love. 

4 comments:

  1. Good advice. It is quite a lesson to learn, that love has so many dimensions. Thanks for the reminder :)

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