Friendship – Nourishing or Toxic?

Featured

Yesterday my phone was busy. I was blessed because I received phone calls from friends. They brightened my day and reminded me of the gift I was given when these people chose me to be their friend. All of these particular people were old friends. Friends from childhood, my early years as a wife and mother, my middle years as I struggled, as we all do, with responsibilities we never dreamed of in our wildest dreams that we would have to tackle.

As I pondered my conversations throughout the day with these people, I was not only amazed all of them called me on the same day, but that it seems as if we just talked yesterday. Throughout this pandemic we have been in closer touch sharing our joys, our fears and just talking silly. What had kept us together so close all of these years?

As we grow both in our personal lives and in the way we present ourselves to the public there are some friendships, old friendships, that fall along the way for many different reasons. Perhaps we didn’t always connect and take the chance and show those friends who we are, or we did, and because of it just didn’t mesh anymore. There is something about hearts aligning that keep important relationships going, along with hard work.

Although, I must say, with the friends yesterday, it has never felt like hard work to keep the friendship. Probably because our values align, our interests may be the same, but along with that we have challenged each other to try something new and experience each others interests. And…after trying their crazy ideas, it’s been perfectly acceptable to say to them, “You can do that but I think it sucks.” All in all, through it all, the good, the bad, the ugly, we have the luxury of acceptance of who we are. We feel safe in those friendships sharing our failures, our fears and also our triumphs and successes and we are happy for one another.

Inevitably, as we go along life’s road we have let go of people because the way in which we change and feel and believe, is too different for us to maintain a connection. We agree to disagree but life’s circumstances have changed us so much that middle ground is hard to find. We are in a different era in our lives and we need a friendship and a soft place to fall that isn’t there in a friendship, and maybe never was, but we made excuses and bit our tongue so as to not provoke judgment from a friend. I say that as these friends were probably doing the same thing with me.

I have changed. I have always been opinionated. I was spoiled. I didn’t have time or enough compassion for those who had less than I. I didn’t care about others feelings, or I shouldn’t say I didn’t care, but I didn’t see them. Life hits you in strange ways. My wake up call was job loss, illness, losing people I cared about, Alzheimer’s in a family member and their ire, and abusive relationships. I found when we were down and out I no longer fit in some places because our cash was gone, and we live in a world where belonging needs money. Some friendships I thought I could count on I lost, occasionally because of my attitude. Once we peeled away the mask of acceptability because of what was happening in my life, people went away. I learned the true meaning of friendship and the true meaning of compassion, and that I am not a sum of the kind of house I live in, what type furniture I have, or if what kind of vehicle I drive. Figuring out how to pay my bills was more a challenge than trying to keep up appearances.

I’m not complaining because those experiences opened my life to so many peoples struggling like we were, and though we were never in the situation some are in now, I have empathy for those who use the food shelves, need help and assistance during a tough time and who struggle every day with illness or mental health problems. Let me tell you there are days I want to go back to not caring about anyone because it hurts to see others hurt.

My old heart friends have been there with me through it all and I felt no judgement. That doesn’t mean they let me get by with bad behavior. They are very good at calling it out, but it comes from a place of love. Those are the friends you need. Disagreement but no judgement, calling you out when they see you making a mistake, or putting their take on things when you have a different viewpoint but it’s never toxic.

I can be a very toxic person. I don’t want to be that toxic person that destroys lives, but I also don’t want to be that person in a friendship that has to bite their tongue all the time, or be scared if I voice my opinion I am going to verbally be assaulted. For a long time I felt guilty wanting to distance myself from some people, but talking to the friends I did yesterday I realized I am only toxic when I spend time with others that feed that toxicity. There should be no guilt in letting that go. Friendships should make you a better person and those are the ones to hold on to.

I am rambling. I guess that’s what a blog is all about. I do have some advice. When you are with a friend ask yourself how you feel when you are done with a conversation. Are you a better person being with someone? What brings you together? Is it a commonality of spreading toxicity or love? Maligning others that think differently than you or uplifting others and accepting the differences? How has life changed you? It took me a long time to get out of the pity party of the circumstances we were in. It was the friendships that stayed, put up with me, listened to me and jerked me up once in awhile that got me through. They know who they are. I am forever grateful because that is true friendship. I still fall short being that type of friend but we are all a work in progress. The key is to keep that progress going.

A Summer of Ponderings

Since I quit my column, Something About Nothing, I have been more silent on my blog. This summer I needed a step back to see where I have been and where I am going. I am not sure I am there yet, but I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you. I have never been good at keeping things inside and yet I found there were so many feelings I was stifling because I wanted to keep friends, not cause a ruckus, and that is what I was trained to do most of my life. Don’t get angry, don’t yell, be strong.

I remember a be strong moment when I was pregnant with my first child and my dad died. I was an only child and everyone told me I had to be strong for my mom and I was until…   I remember walking down the aisle following the casket after the funeral. I heard someone sobbing loudly and realized it was me. Strong took its toll at the worst moment. This summer I found I had never properly taken the time to grieve for missing my dad, and it was 48 years ago that he died, but I held those feelings inside of me because I needed to be strong.

I like to think of myself as an authentic person but I realize I am not. I have said things are ok and fine when they really aren’t. When I felt my voice and feelings didn’t matter or they wouldn’t be heard so to avoid conflict, I would stay silent, but hurts don’t disappear that way, they may diminish, but until they are acknowledged they never go away or get resolved.

This summer seems to have awakened a journey in my heart. We have been dealing with the illness of a loved one, that is invisible to others and there is a level in which you don’t talk about it because when you don’t know how to cope, it is hard to explain it to others so you retreat or… you put on a smile and hide the heartbreak.

I also have been examining my faith journey and what I was taught to believe and what I have experienced throughout my life. I could say I have been putting together the pieces. I wouldn’t call it a faith crisis, although some would because I haven’t been to church much this summer, but it isn’t a crisis as much a faith growth. I started my life in the Catholic Church and after my marriage joined the Lutheran Church. At the time it was more about the leadership of the Priest in my church community when through conversation during our pre-nuptial counseling, he revealed himself to be racist. My husband recognized it, I didn’t, and my soon to be husband felt he could not belong to a church led by a man that felt that way about another race. Looking back I brushed it off and thought my decision with leaving the Catholic Church was more to do with going to church as a family because as my dad was of another religion, the Catholic Church at the time didn’t allow that. Examining my heart I now know that Priest’s comments were also a part of my decision, even though at the time I tried to make light of it to excuse the behavior. So right now, after 48 years I will say, “The Priests behavior was not ok.”

This summer in my faith journey that is still going on, I was fed by friends of different religions and different backgrounds. I was fed by book studies with strangers and discussions with different beliefs. I was fed because though there were basic differences we disagreed upon, we listened to one another, not always understanding and expressing that in a graceful way, but coming through it with love and kindness and a feeling of relief that we could come together with differences and leave with differences, but we were allowed to speak and be ourselves and not be judged. I learned church family doesn’t always mean those from a brick and mortar church. I learned a Pastor or a Priest make a difference depending on their leadership. I remember when I joined the Lutheran Church one of the reasons is what I saw in the leadership of Pastor John MIkkelson, a wise, kind, strong leader. He showed us who he was. He let us know where he stood. He could lead and delegate and make all feel welcome. The rest was up to us. I have heard the words “I don’t go to church because of a Pastor.” But I will say this, we need to respect the person who leads so that we can respect the message that is being taught to us. That respect does not mean they are perfect but they show us their flaws, can admit when they are wrong, and they know how to feed a flock that inspires us to go out into the world and treat each person we meet that are searching for their church family to feel accepted and welcomed. Have I done that? I don’t think so.

I used to be very involved in the church when I was younger. It wasn’t something I planned but at the time our Pastors, after Pastor Mikkelson visited each and every home in their congregation. The visits only lasted five minutes but they felt it was important so they could meet their congregants where they lived. Some complained the majority of the congregation actually liked the visits. It was because of those visits and Pastors I got more involved in the Sunday School and was in church more often. They knew who we were and it was easier to go to them with problems because they took the time to get to know us.

Last Sunday in my home church it hit me what I was looking for and what I think many are looking for in a church and that is to be accepted. To be able to show others the good, the bad and the ugly. For someone to say I don’t understand, but I care about you and I will tell you if I feel you are harming yourself or others and do it with love and acceptance of the person, not the actions. I am looking for a church that follows the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28. I think the Message Bible speaks to me the best. Matthew 11: 28-30. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” That is the feeling I want when I enter my church. As many of us are, I am tired. I am weary. I judge myself so much I don’t need to be judged by others. I can do it far worse than anyone else can and I need a place to go and people to be with that is a safe haven no matter how I dress, no matter what I look like. How about you?

So what have I decided about my faith crisis or faith growth? The journey will continue. The climate we are living in today pits us against each other in religion but history shows it always has. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who worships the correct way? Who believes the correct way? Whose sin is greater than the other? We point fingers. We judge. And we are weary. And I have felt myself doing the same thing because of the climate of our country today and I don’t like myself for it.  I need to stop.  I wonder how God’s love or a higher powers love can shine through any of it, but it does if we look for it.

Next week…. more of my summer musings about writing and painting and family.

 

 

I Wish You Five Minutes

Chapter Six: I Wish You Five Minutes

img_1625Now that I have caught you up on my past religious institution journey, let me explain how I got to this point from the beginning blog about priorities and time and anxiety.

It’s a Sunday in January 2019 as I write this. I went to church on Wednesday night because churches have changed to accommodate the busy schedule we all have today. Our priorities have changed. Schools do not make time for religion. Sports and activities do not make time for Sunday and religion. And my Facebook people on Slices of Life, along with me, are filled with anxiety and fear and we can’t find five minutes to take a breath, pray or read a chapter in a book. And that in itself makes us anxious.

All I have is my own journey to critique. I write books for a living and am semi-retired. I work from home and yet…I am stressed and anxious much more than I was in my younger years when I really had things to be stressed about. Still, I found time in those days to read a book and be involved in my religion.

But I also know now at this stage in my life I am questioning more. I am frustrated frequently with the dynamics of society. Maybe it is because I am older and I have time to think about it.

Some questions that come to mind are these:

Why would my mother marry someone she thought was going to hell because he wasn’t Catholic? Did she become more rigid as she got older?

Does it matter whether I am Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist etc. as long as I believe in God and worship Him in some way?

What is more important in a church? Is it the appearance of a building or a person or the outreach and teaching of love for one another?

I know I need a church family but I can no longer color inside the lines because I feel the joy being stifled. We live in a society now made up of all races and religions and we expect everyone to fit into one box rather than embracing what one can bring to the other. I think I have always felt that way but have conformed to societies expectations because I was taught that was what one did as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a church member, and as an American.

I wanted to be liked and accepted. I wanted to be included so I fit in. But now I want to be me with my wild ideas, with my wild imagination and with my not caring about what is on the outside but what is on the inside. I feel alone some of the time when I am in a group that makes me feel as if a change is not progress, and wants to hold on to what was no matter if it turns people away or stifles growth. I feel like an outsider when others scoff at my ideas because my ideas don’t conform to what society expects.

Part of my frustration probably is that I am a sum of all my parts. Each person has to find spiritually, that which draws them closer to what I call God or to their name for their higher power. It may be Catholic or Lutheran or Methodist or whatever religion speaks to their heart. But the sum of all my parts are a conglomeration of religions from my ancestors and I think I feel that because I want to raise my hands in praise and shout loudly with joy. I want to clap, yes clap my hands. That may be why committing to one denomination and their beliefs are so hard for me. I come from roots of many religious belief systems and I loved those people. How could those good,  loving people be bad because they chose to worship a different way than me? All I knew from them was love.

Taking five minutes with Max Lucado’s book or five minutes just to be in the moment has helped me accept me and know that my anxiety and fear might also come with trying to live in a world that is loud in judgment at those who are different, or when not agreeing with the norm or the popular opinion. All my life I may have blindly accepted or followed, without taking time to think it through or question why the spoons had to be so perfect in a church. Was I afraid if I revealed my true self I would be asked to leave?

There is a lot of anxiety in wanting to be accepted, in wanting everything to be perfect and by disallowing how we truly feel and going along with what society deems is honest and truthful because let’s be honest and truthful –––honesty and truth in 2019 are not what they used to be. And it causes anxiety and fear.

Perhaps in our busy lives, we can’t find five minutes to read, to breathe, to be kind to someone or to take time for ourselves because we don’t want to face what we want to change in ourselves.

Those five minutes I take to read and refresh and pause, make me also realize I kept so busy because I didn’t want to take the time to face my life. I didn’t want to know me because maybe I didn’t like who I was, or maybe I was afraid to speak up because of the ridicule and repercussions.

My friend was right. I needed the forced time to confront my journey. It wasn’t easy. Life is hard. But looking at life and where we have been and where we are going is almost harder.

Right now my five minutes a day reading is a book called,  Catching Your Breath, the Sacred Journey from Chaos to Calm by Steve Austin. I have only made it to Chapter Two but this book is what prompted these few blog posts. He brought up many of the feelings I have wanted to articulate but have been afraid to. I can’t wait to read the rest, five minutes at a time. My journey is a work in progress and it will be for the rest of my life.

Thank you for reading and sticking with me during this diatribe. I wish you five minutes.