Insights: Love your enemies

I just discovered what is the best, most honest, funny, hopeful, amazing blog.  In fact, I’m a little mad I discovered it only just now.  Have you heard of Momastery?  Please, whatever else you do today, make some time to read and be inspired by the writings of Glennon Doyle Melton.  Seriously, her words are that important.

Glennon is a recovering alcoholic and bulimic.  She is a wife and mother and sister to her thousands of followers.  She is a writer, the kind of writer that takes those impossible things that you could never express and eloquently and honestly shares those stories.  She talks about hard things.  The kinds of things we fight our whole lives to keep secret because we’re ashamed or embarrassed or sad or lonely or tired or numb.  She takes those fiercely protected secrets and blurts them out and makes us realize how universal our very personal secret problems and issues are, shared by so many in the world.

I loved reading post after post, partly because I’m so proud of the growth and progress I’ve made in my own life, but also because it highlighted and normalized those things I still do that I’m not proud of.  It feels so empowering to recognize my successes and also have the courage to look at those areas that still need refining.

One of those areas that needs loads of refining is dismissing or excluding people that I find hard to love.  I have two people in my life right now that I find extremely hard to love.  One is obnoxious, selfish, arrogant, and boastful.  The other is sad, anxious, harsh, and exhausted.

For a while now, I’ve felt absolutely justified in creating as much distance as I can between them and myself because who would want to be friends with people who acted like that?  Even though they have completely different personalities, when I’m around one of them, I feel the fun and life and inspiration getting sucked out of me.  I find it so hard not to have an emotional reaction even when I just think of them.

The second time I went to Africa, my friend and mentor, Kathy Headlee Miner, gave me a challenge to write down all of my fears.  I was pretty good at lying to myself back then and even though so much of my life was real happiness, I would dismiss things that I thought were negative like being lonely or worried.  I thought if you were happy then you couldn’t have any troubles in your life.  The biggest culprit was using gratitude as a way to say those things shouldn’t hurt or scare me because I have so much to be thankful for.  I am the queen at avoiding hard emotions.  It took a long time to make my list and get honest with myself, but by the end, I had some insightful, rather telling list of fears.

I had a few that I thought were pretty normal, universal fears.  I am afraid of disappointing other people.  I am afraid of being left behind or being alone.  But the one that fuels a lot of my anxieties in life is I am afraid of other people ruining my experience.  Ruining it by taking over, or not caring, or getting in the way.

As Kathy and I worked on ways to help me deal with my list of fears, she talked about one of her favorite parts from the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  She said when we read this, we usually think of praying for enemies that their hearts will be softened and will stop being jerks.  And while we should pray for such things, she said we would be wise to start praying for enemies to enter our lives as if we were asking for them like we would blessings.  Enemies teach us so much about ourselves and often our true colors are shown under duress and persecution instead of peace.  They give us the opportunity to experience growth in ways that might otherwise not be possible.

So as I think about those two seemingly unlovable people in my life, I try to look beyond those annoying or depressing qualities that seem to dominate their personalities.  I try to recognize that what I’m primarily feeling is that I’m afraid that they might ruin my experience in that moment.  I try to look for ways to interact with them and involve them in my experience instead of shutting them out.  I learn to sit with those uncomfortable feelings and let them pass so I can feel empathy instead of judgement, peace instead of frustration, and love instead of loathing.

Of course, if one of these people was Kim Jong Un, then maybe he’d deserve a little loathing.  Luckily mine just need love and kindness and service and not an intervention from the UN.  The last thing they need is one more person who dreads being around them, which I’m sure they sense and just fuels their sadness and shame.   And the last thing that I need is focusing my energy on my self-righteous notions of why I’m more well behaved or pleasant to be around when I could be making them feel welcome not uninvited.  My wise friend Kathy sums it up beautifully by saying, “When we serve each other we remember who we are, Whose we are, and who everyone else is.”  When we serve with our whole heart, it is impossible not to love each other and see one another for who we really are.

Love your enemies

Words to Live By: Curiosity

replace fear

Each day that comes brings with it the nearness of summer and our dreams of moving abroad.  I love doing research about moving to Spain, finding beautiful pictures from all over Andalusia, and I’ve even begun collecting Spanish recipes I want to try out (like yummy churros and dipping chocolate).  I get so excited just thinking about our life that is to come.

With that excitement, there is fear that sometimes accompanies it.  I’m typically quite calm and relaxed and thankfully, I’ve never been plagued with constant anxiety and fear like so many friends and family members I know.  However, I do find myself at times wondering and worrying about the what ifs…  What if it takes so long to make enough to move?  What if we run out of money?  What if I get pregnant overseas?  What if we have consistent bad experiences and we find traveling the world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Luckily, I have a lot of practice listening to others play the what if game and validating their fears, but then eventually directing them to a more balanced mindset instead of being trampled by their emotions.  Before I had all this practice, I made some pretty big errors in my own thinking when I was the one who was fearful.  Because I’m pretty chill and logical, as soon as I would have the what if thoughts, I would immediately dismiss them as silly, unproductive thoughts, and would move on to the solutions.  I thought it actually worked pretty well for 25+ years.  What I didn’t realize the emotional damage I was doing by not validating my fears and just skipping that part and moving on to the solutions.

Because I’m not having fears of elaborate, catastrophic what ifs like apocalyptic zombies or Godzilla or things like that, it’s easy for me to be dismissive about things that really are important to me.  Now that I have more practice, I realize that it’s perfectly reasonable for me to wonder and worry about what if I get pregnant in another country, away from my family, unable to speak the language?   Feelings of fear, apprehension, confusion, and worry are actually just intended to prompt us to seek more information so we can make decisions, but too often we get stuck and unable to move past the fear.  The easiest way for me to replace fear with curiosity is to answer the what if questions.  What if something terrible happens in Spain and we use up all our money to get out of trouble?  Well, depending on the rest of our plans at the moment, we might get a loan from the bank or family, or maybe we’d just come home.  Not that scary after all, right?  Even what ifs that end in death and dismemberment, those are usually pretty improbable and I’d rather those calculated risks than the risk of cowering in the suburbs for all my days.   In the end, I always find that the immobilizing fear of the what ifs is far worse than if those fears were actually realized.  So here’s to adventure and discovery, to living instead of just existing, and above all, to love and peace and curiosity instead of fear.

creative life