On Unkindness and Cowardice and How Truth is Essential to Defeat Both

white and pink flowerson a book beside eyeglasses

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I am not the kindest person I know.

I am sometimes socially shy to the point of rudeness; there are moments when I value my own comfort over making others feel comfortable; I can be extremely harsh and judgmental, to my own self as well as to everyone else; I often have mean thoughts about other people that pop into my head.

I share this with you all today lest you think this post is coming from a “holier than thou” place. It’s not. I’m a pretty mean person sometimes. I think we all can be.

I recently went to a wedding this past year that was beautiful. The ceremony was heartwarming, the music was fun, the food was tasty, and the decor was gorgeous.

But the people… the people were mean.

No, not the bride and groom… I’m talking about their guests, whom I was one of.

There were countless times at the wedding where the guests made a snide remark about the wedding itself, or even the bride herself, or the way they chose to order the events. Overall, I got a sense of extreme judgment going on, and it was very unkind.

Being a pretty mean person myself, this still baffled me.

Why on earth would you attend a wedding where you didn’t love and support the couple getting married? Why in the world would you expect someone’s wedding to entertain YOU rather than be the bride and groom’s special day? Why, oh why, turn the happiest day of these people’s lives into a haughty evaluation session of their clothes, taste in music, wedding budget, and food choice?

I was astounded at the unkindness I saw from the so-called “guests” at this wedding.

I know that in American middle-class society, there is are norms of what a wedding should be. Sure, there are subcategories of style and location and theme, but there are some expectations about what happens at a wedding these days. I don’t know if I was ever aware of this before I got married myself, and I know that many of these key expectations were not present, or were dramatically altered at my own wedding.

So, self-centeredly, the unkind guests at this wedding, an event which I thought to be pretty standard with societal norms, made me wonder what on earth was said about my own wedding, and my own choices for one of the biggest moments of my life.

Was my choice to walk down the aisle in sunglasses to Hall and Oates’ “You make my dreams come true” scoffed at? Did people roll their eyes when the guests were asked to move chairs from the wedding location a few yards to the reception tables? What about the buffet of Hy-Vee catering– did people turn their noses up at it all? Was the dollar dance seen as cheap? Was our music contemporary and trendy enough? Did people think a dry wedding reception was lame?

I’m so glad that I didn’t think about these things the day of my wedding. I was too focused on becoming Mrs. Florine, and how grateful I was for all the things I wanted my wedding to be. What others wanted my wedding to be didn’t really enter my head. Maybe that was another sign of my self-centeredness, but if you ask me, that’s the way it should be for the bride on her wedding day.

A wedding is about two people getting married. 

It’s not about how fancy or expensive things are or even how smoothly everything goes. And while I think it also should be a fun party for the guests, I really think a wedding should be whatever the heck the bride and groom want it to be, and the guests can deal. It’s not about them. 

But regardless of what you believe a wedding should be like, I have to wonder how being kind plays into the lives of these guests I keep referring to.

As I stated earlier, I am far from the kindest person I know. But this is something I am not content to sit in.

I hate my unkindness. I hate my selfishness. I hate when my reflex is to be mean or judgmental or harsh, even if it’s behind someone’s back. No–especially if it’s behind someone’s back, because that means I don’t even have the spine to tell someone to their face that I think a certain way about them (which usually would imply that the way I think is cruel).

Or there is another option. Perhaps I don’t tell them something to their face because I’m too much of a coward to do so. Even as I write these words, I think there might be fear behind much of this blog post. Fear that stops me from telling these guests to their face that their comments are unkind and rude and downright mean.

Sharing the truth isn’t easy, and often we don’t get rewarded for it. Perhaps this is why we even have the temptation to gossip or talk poorly about someone behind their back: because telling someone something negative to their face is hardly ever appreciated, even if the comment is true or warranted.

The comments that these guests made were not warranted, and most of them weren’t true at all. They were just cruel evaluations and harsh opinions.

But here on this blog, where I evaluate these wedding guests and share my own opinions, harsh or not…. is it really much better?

While I refused to participate or even listen long to the gossip I heard, and while I didn’t make a cruel remark myself, I certainly didn’t call out these people for their unkind behavior.

I’m doing it now… behind the shield of a semi-ambiguous blog post.

And it’s now that I realize that truth has a huge part to play in the remedy of both unkindness and cowardice, two things I think we all struggle with from time to time if not everyday of our lives.

When we are unkind, the truth is we are often just masking an insecurity we are feeling. We do this by putting another person down. It makes us feel elevated ourselves because “at least we’re not like so-and-so”. Or sometimes it’s because we are masking a deep wound that we feel from the other person’s actions, and instead of addressing the hurt, the sadness, or the betrayal, we simply lash out at them and are either unkind to their face, or behind their back. Covering up these truths only makes the wound deeper, and the insecurity’s power over us stronger. It does no one any favors.

When we are cowardly, we hide from the truth that needs to be exposed, either in our lives, or in the lives others. We refuse to look at our own mess in the light and shy away from facing our fears. And we won’t speak up when someone else is being oppressed or abused or even just gossiped about because it means confronting someone else’s unkindness and potentially alienating ourselves, or becoming the brunt of more unkindness. Refusing to act out of cowardice hides the truth and allows others to become victims. It makes us into guilty bystanders instead of advocates for the less powerful. It also does no one any favors.

I am guilty of both unkindness and cowardice.

And so are you.

We all are.

To be kind means to speak the truth in love. This is also what it means to be courageous. 

To the bride and groom: I truly hope your day was everything you dreamed it would be. You both looked beautiful and the whole day was so special. I’m extremely happy for you both.

To the guests at their wedding: I truly hope that your unkind behavior is exposed to you in some way so that you can examine the root of either your insecurity or your hurt. And I truly apologize about not being courageous enough to speak truth to you at the time. While you may have been offended in the moment, I know that it’s my responsibility to be honest and loving and kind, and part of that means saying things that are uncomfortable but true.

This blog post is an attempt at sharing truth, feeble and untimely though it may be. I should have said something simple, kind, and true in the moment, and not allowed my cowardice to stop my mouth in the face of someone else’s unkindness.

I will try to do better next time, as I hope we all will.

Advertisements

Sufficient for Me: a hard word for 2018

IMG_0243

This month is a weird month for me.

This time last year I was finishing up the last of my Bradley birthing classes, rubbing cocoa butter on my stretch marks, and doing crazy amounts of walking and squatting as to attempt to induce labor.

My little girl is 11 months now, and we are a month away (obviously) from celebrating her first birthday.

Cue emotional sobbing about the swift passage of time.

Milestones such as this one that is about to occur are a chance to reflect on the year past. However, I will save my motherhood lessons until next month when my little Esther will actually be 12 months.

For today, I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold (yes, I know people usually do this in January, but I’m different and slow, so deal with it).

For those who used to read my previous blog (The Art of Breath), and this post (yes, all five of you), you know that God usually gives me one word to focus on throughout the year. This word was usually given to me in September because, up until fairly recently, I was either a student or a teacher for whom the new school year was usually the best time for start fresh with a new focus. But somewhere between quitting my job and having a baby, the word “Journey” was my word for like a year and a half. This January, The Lord released me from that particular word, although not it’s lessons, and gave me a new one.

That word is Grace.

Grace is one of those words that has a very different meaning depending on who you ask. A dancer might say it is elegance with which movement is executed. A young boy might tell you it’s the short prayer he says with head bowed and eyes closed before he is allowed to dig in. A landlord might think of the period in which she allows for her renters to get away with being late on their payments when the term “grace” is used.

But my word of “Grace” for this year of 2018 refers to the unmerited favor of God, and then my responsibility to extend forgiveness to others based upon my state of such gracious love. Grace, for me, encompasses so much–forgiveness, freely giving without expectation, long-suffering, forbearance, seeing God’s blessing in and among trials, and choosing to bless others when it’s hard.

This word might sound precious and sweet, and oh, it is! But it is also a hard word.

There are some people I need to show grace to (forgive), people who really do not deserve it, or even know that they have hurt me or continue to do so.

There are some situations I have to walk though gracefully, choosing to experience God’s blessing, even though it seems like there is no good that can come from such circumstances.

There is gracious service to give, and the call to not expect anything back in return– not even a “thank you”.

There is the task of letting go of my own ambitions goals and expectations for myself and to receive grace in each disappointing let down that comes this year.

I began this post by writing that I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold. This is not exactly true. Because in all honesty, I do not want to do these things that grace requires. They are not exactly fun to work on and sometimes seem to be bitter pills to swallow in the name of no immediate recognition. And when I’m merely thinking in terms of this world, rather than eternity, I really just want to toss this new word out the window and pick a word that fits with what the selfish person inside me really wants 2018 to hold.

And then I am reminded of hose verses that Shane & Shane put to my current favorite song.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “…’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And I know that it is the weakness in me that cringes at this grace-word, and all it means for me. Not just for this year, but also for the lessons I will learn and carry with me into the next year, and years to come.

And I am reminded too, of the whole point of each “one word” for the year. It is not so I can focus myself on what I would like the coming year to hold. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. The whole point of each one word is to submit to what God wants to do with me and in me for this period of time.

But it is not I who have to worry about producing enough grace to accomplish all of these things–the forgiving, the serving, the walking through trials, the patience, the loving till it hurts. No.

His Word says that it is His grace that is sufficient for me. His mercies are fresh every morning, new and tailored for the particular day, which I am always ill equipped and ill prepared for. His power is perfected in my weakness because it makes me lean on Him fully, rather than relying on myself.

And so I start this February out–because, yes, I’m a little late on the New Years Resolutions, and also because this is not so much a resolution as an acknowledgment of God’s work–with this beautiful, hard, complex, and scary word. A grace-filled word. A word chalk-full of potential and freedom and life. I start this season–because I don’t really know if God will release me from it after a neat little calendar year–with this word:

Grace. 

His one word is sufficient for me.

Begin Again

rear view of woman standing in balcony during sunset

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

I’ve done it again.

The thing I vowed to never do and the thing I knew was oh-so wrong, even as I found myself doing it.

My husband has left the house for a few hours to cool off and I sit alone shame-faced, tear-smeared, and utterly disappointed in myself.

Not but four days ago I remember writing in my journal how I was giving up being negative for the month of September. And now I am eating those written words like a bitter pill.

I screwed up… again.

I silently wish over and over that I could do tonight all over, to not be critical, to hold my tongue, to pray instead of voice my disapproval in such a nasty and disrespectful tone of voice…

Oh God, could I just start over? Please?

And it’s not until now that I remember the words of St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” And I think about what it means, in my faith, to be born again.

So often I want the development of my character (and the character of others) to be a neat and tidy process. I want to look back and see a steady progression into a better person, more self-controlled, patient… (I could keep going).

But all too often I look at my journey and I see a tangle of stuff– good things and bad growing up together. One stupid habit abolished only to be replaced with another one, equally as detrimental. I see plateaus and back-slides and screw up after screw up– the same ones over and over again!

If I look at the world, I don’t often see much grace for this kind of messy progress or lack of improvement. If I look into myself, I don’t always see hope, especially when I’m here–sitting on the couch waiting for my husband to come home so I can apologize once again for being the way I don’t ever want to be.

But I do see hope in those words.

Always we begin again.

And I think of the way life is.

How trees say goodbye to their own leaves each fall, and how they start from scratch come spring.

How each January the first, most of the world makes promises and vows that are oddly similar to last year’s.

How, in the beginning, children need you oh-so badly, and then they grow to leave you and be needed by their own little ones.

How even though I’ve been born already, 28 years ago to my then 28-year-old mother, I was born into a different kind of life at age 20–a life that is now reminding me of my need for a kind of grace which I cannot get from the world at large.

Always we begin again.

I see that supernatural grace in the eyes of my husband, who knows Jesus, when he holds me once again. I see it when I wake up in the morning with the permission to be different, to “put on” the woman I know I can be despite the woman I was last night. I see it when I forgive my parents for the things I’ve vowed to do differently for my daughter. When I let my upstairs neighbor borrow my vacuum for the sixth time this week and patiently explain how to use the new washing machine (I’ve lost count of the number of times).

I see it in God’s love– a love like a kid loves a raggedy old stuffed doll to pieces. And I know that I am that ragged little doll. And I know He loves the stuffing out of me. It makes no sense. And that’s why it’s grace.

And I know that I must give myself this love-grace too. Otherwise, I don’t think I am ever really able to begin again.

So tonight I’m starting over. And when I screw up in this same way a few days, weeks, or months down the road, I will breathe deep, let go, and I will begin again.

Always.