To catch you up to speed, I went through a few months of counseling not too long ago. I am an anxious, performance-oriented, neurotic ball of nerves. Jesus loves me anyway.
My issues, much like everyone else’s, are rooted in things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid. (There is, of course, a fine line between reasons and excuses). Over the course of my counseling experience, we addressed a lot of these things that have shaped me, for good and for ill. I have learned, at least in theory, to combat lies with the truth. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to have a bad day. It’s okay to not meet all the expectations all the time. It’s okay to need grace and mercy; God offers it freely.
You know what, though?
It is very difficult to integrate what I have learned into my practical, day-to-day experiences.
People have expectations. Needs. Demands. In one sense, striving to fulfill them is reasonable. I should be expected to show up to work on time, to be faithful to my husband in every way and to be a loyal friend. It’s not wrong for my boss to want me to do my work well and have it completed on time, for my husband to need me to hold him or for any one of my friends to desire a listening ear on my part. That’s all good and normal.
However, it’s so easy for good and normal to cross the line into dark and twisty. Being there to listen to a friend begins to mean being available 24/7, no matter what. Being a dependable employee begins to mean every mistake is a big deal. Being a faithful wife begins to mean never exchanging a cross word with my husband. That is, at any rate, where my mind goes.
You know what, though? That level of perfection, of always being “on,” is oftentimes simply expected. I have absolutely no idea why. More than once I’ve heard the words, “You’re supposed to have the answers,” come out of someone’s mouth. Even if it’s said in jest, the meaning is clear: fix this. One lovely lady I know put it best in a conversation we had earlier this week. “You’re left to bear the brunt of it.”
Left holding the bag.
Why is that? I want to be a dependable person. I want to be a good friend. I have no desire to walk around disappointing people or stepping all over them. I simply fail to understand why so little grace seems to exist for me. Part of this, I know, is because I’m so everlastingly hard upon myself. That’s my own issue. I get that. I just want someone to explain to me why my issues, imperfections and flaws seem to be so consistently shocking to others.
I’m not angry as I write that. What I am is afraid.
See, I think I’m going to be abandoned.
When I was 7, I was accidentally locked out of the house and left alone. This was incredibly traumatizing to me; I was not a latch-key kid. Someone was always there when I got home from school. This early spring day, all was dark and silent. It wasn’t the fault of my parents. My mother’s car had broken down and she had arranged for a friend to meet me after school. The friend didn’t show up when she needed to. It was just an accident. I had no idea what to do, though. I’d never been left alone. I can remember what I was wearing, that the sky was overcast, that it was windy and the trees made scary moaning noises. I can remember banging on the screen door and screaming. I sat on the porch steps and bawled my head off, terrified. Begging for someone to come and find me.
A kindly neighbor came, and it all turned out just fine. I wasn’t fine, though. I carried a key on a string, around my neck, under my shirt, for the next three years. I was never going to be locked out of my house again. I couldn’t handle even thinking about it.
What does that have to do with the expectations of others?
When I make a mistake, or even just fail to be what someone wants/needs me to be, and am given no grace or understanding, I’m on that porch again. I’m locked out with no way to get inside. I’m screaming and crying and trying to figure out what to do, but I’m stuck. The only way to get back in seems to be to turn the situation around and apologize profusely and make another vow to never do that, say that, be that again. To never allow the cracks to show.
I get so tired of performing, of trying to be a better Jesus than Jesus, but my past experiences tell me that I will be shut out if I cease. I don’t understand. Nobody I know is perfect. Sometimes they hurt my feelings or make me mad, but I feel like I try extremely hard to cut them some slack. I don’t confront them over every single issue, because not every single issue is worth that kind of a process. To me, that’s part of what friendship is about.
I’ve had friends just up an abandon me. I wasn’t what they wanted me to be, so they left. They moved on. I do know that relationships ebb and flow, and some work better than others. People do move in and out of each other’s lives, but this has happened too many times for me to ignore it any longer. Is it something that I’m doing? Do I drive people away?
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t want to pick up the phone at 2 a.m. unless it’s a legit crisis. Sometimes I am crabby and I treat people out of that crabbiness. Sometimes I say the wrong thing. A lot of the time I am awkward. I don’t want to be the glue that holds everything together; I’m not made for that role. Sometimes I need people to reach out to me instead of trying to maintain depth and intensity in 1,500 relationships (yes, that is an exaggerated number). Sometimes I just want to sit and stare at nothing, because I am introverted and things drain me in ways that they don’t drain other people.
Why is that not okay? No, let me rephrase that: if it is okay, how come nobody behaves as if it’s okay?