|I carried my laptop an hour out into the woods on a very muddy day to write this. Maybe not wise, but definitely the most pleasant blog post writing experience I've had, except for the occasional mosquito.|
I’m not even surprised that anxiety is such a thing for people my age. I tend to be laid back to a fault, but today I felt that chest-tightening, tear-welling monster creeping up on me as soon as I got out of bed. I usually fight that beast by tearing the kitchen apart in pursuit of some really elaborate dessert, but since the sink was already full of various chocolate-goo-covered baking implements from my escapade last night, I put on my Chacos and my best / ugliest flannel from Goodwill and disappeared into the woods behind my dorm. I think Thoreau might have been on to something, because walking in nature does me so much more good than it seems like it should, considering how simple it is. Greater than the sum of its parts, or something.
Today I flipped through my well-worn mental list of things that could possibly be making me anxious. Homework That I Have Not Yet Done and Assignments That Have Received Less Than Satisfactory Grades are a given; I am rarely not undergoing some variety of low-level, GPA-related stress. And next on the list is usually My Relationships With People, followed by How Messy My Room Is and How Many Hours of Sleep I Got Last Night. Today, I’m settling on My Relationships with People as the cause for my anxious heart. Dude, people are a mess. I love them, but wow, would my life be simpler if all I needed or wanted was myself. Or if they and I were less messy. A favorite professor last year often told my class (and he meant this in the best possible way), “You’re all little trainwrecks, which makes you endlessly fascinating.” I’m weirdly obsessed with that line, despite the fact that it calls me a trainwreck. I find it beautifully accurate. I think it’s comforting to hear what I already kind of know said aloud: humans are anxiety-inducing, inconsistent, trainwrecks.
Today I feel like an extra-wreckable train, or maybe a train that’s come into contact with one too many other wreck-prone trains. I realized that a lot of the anxiety I’m feeling goes beyond the typical relational worries of whether I’ve called my mom enough lately or supported my roommates like I feel I should be (and are my dirty dishes still sitting in the sink? probably); it’s brought on by fear caused by the leftovers of having been hurt. Like, really well-hidden, long-forgotten leftovers, shoved in the back of the fridge to pretend they don’t exist. I am most certainly speaking from experience.
Over the last couple weeks, my roommate and I started to notice a weird smell in the kitchen. We ignored it for a while; we took out the trash and pretended that the smell got better when we did or made the air flammable with apple cinnamon Febreeze (because, fall). Eventually, we investigated a couple Tupperware containers and checked the expiration dates on the dairy products. The smell shifted a little bit in its composition, but mostly it got worse. One night, she’d had enough and took every single item out, putting every container through a rigorous inspection and disinfecting everything. And she found the most evil smelling old chicken beast that has ever disgraced anyone’s nostrils. I kid you not, I cried when I smelled it. Ew. We threw it away promptly, took the trash bag to the dumpster, and with that room 117 rejoiced because the smell was gone.
Maybe the analogy is obvious: we (unknowingly) hid the chicken breast in the fridge, probably because someone was too busy to deal with it one day, and eventually forgot it was there. We couldn’t see it, even when we tried, but we most definitely felt the effects of its disgustingness. Kind of like when I’m hurt and I act like I’m not. I eventually get busy and forget that I’m hurt, and maybe other people can’t tell, either, because the change starts out subtle. But it affects me. I end up living hurt – I’m a little less willing to trust, slightly more easily offended, and unsure of my worth.
I’m really good at letting old chicken rot in the fridge of my soul. Don’t judge me; that’s a great analogy and you know it. Admitting to having been hurt and then cleaning up the mess of that is so unpleasant, and often the easy way to avoid that responsibility is to fake that I’m fine. I tell myself that what other people do doesn’t affect me; or that if it did at one time, I’m over it (side note: isn’t it funny how much easier it is to admit to a past hurt than a present one?); that I don’t have a right to be wounded by a certain thing or another; that I should expect that this will happen – (people have, after all, a trainwreck nature – and haven’t I done my fair share of damage?). This rationalization takes about 35 seconds, and shortly thereafter I realize that I have a paper due like yesterday or that I promised to call my little sister, and the raw chicken breast that I’m refusing to acknowledge exists is shoved to the back of the shelf. (Honestly I’m kind of weirded out by this chicken analogy but I’m sticking with it.) Forgotten and rotted and making my life stink, unbeknownst to me.
So, whether I know it or not, the hurt continues to exist and it causes me to live the way that someone who has an unhealed hurt lives. People with unhealed hurts are (and this is not based on extensive research; I’m speaking only from my personal experience) above all, afraid of being hurt again. They protect the places where they’re vulnerable. For me: I don’t allow myself to care too deeply for people. Specifically, I’m the first to let go of hugs and to leave conversations and I’m careful not to be too excited to see someone unless I know they’ll act equally as excited to see me. Big-picture, I wait and try to measure how much someone cares about me before I decide what my actions towards them are going to look like. I think it’s a very rational approach. As such, it results in my spending a lot of time in analysis of how I’m being treated by other humans and plugging that into algorithms that output my reciprocating actions. And then consequently worrying about whether I got it right.
And yes, it’s highly possible that that’s an anxiety-inducing process. (By “highly possible” I mean: it definitely is anxiety-producing.) But, in a really backwards way, when I’m in a place of hurt it makes me feel safe to limit the ways that I love people, therefore limiting my vulnerability and the risk of re-injury. In a world where people are overwhelmingly likely to be imperfect and I’m so prone to being hurt by their imperfections (or mine), any other less rational, less careful approach would be idiotically reckless.
Except, Jesus. I’m learning right now about how the presence of Jesus in my life means that what makes sense in my head is not the be all, end all.* That the standard against which I measure myself is not other human beings, but the holiness of God. Lol at that concept, because I think if me and Jesus were on a bar chart you probably wouldn’t be able to see my bar. I KNOW, wow. Just for fun, let’s run that comparison and see what that looks like.
Let’s compare me to Jesus. The God of the Bible didn’t run statistics to decide how to love people. (I do, informally.) He created and fiercely committed himself to generations of trainwreck people who would most likely be really ungrateful for it. They wouldn’t love him back. They would ignore his existence while he watched, wanting desperately to be close to them. They’d walk away from him and get into trouble, and he’d bail them out again and again – just for an uncertain chance at a relationship. He would pursue them with the open offer of his whole self while they chased after cheap, fake substitutes. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it is to love like that. Create that story quickly for yourself: what would it look like to pursue every single person with all-out love? God’s heart is wounded again and again and again, but he hasn’t held back even a little.
If God loved me like I love people, he surely would have removed himself a safe distance from me as soon as he knew me. If I met me, and knew my tendencies fully like Jesus does, I can see myself saying, “Wow, is this girl a mess. She’s volatile. I don’t think it’s worth the risk. I’d really, really rather not go there.” All while slowly backing away on violently shaking legs. But God looks at the mess that I am and knows without a doubt that I am not good enough for him and fully expects that I will hurt him countless times and says, “I don’t care. I love you. I love you. I love you.” And when I forget about him he stays in hopes that I’ll remember. And when I love him he rejoices. And he says the same of you and he does the same for you, whether you ask him to or not. Are you crying yet? I’m crying. (I cry at everything. This is worth it, though.)
You see, my God doesn’t love rationally. Not even close. If he did a risk-reward analysis for loving humans and was in this the same way people are in this, he’d be way out – but he’s not. He fully knows the certain danger that comes with the way that he loves, and then he does it anyway. That is the kind of love that the God I believe in is made out of. I am constantly receiving love that isn’t based on the way that I act. That has big, big implications for the way that I live.
When I make my “How Much Love I Give People” algorithm, the input should no longer be other-people-based. It’s Jesus-based, because his love is so true and real that it makes everything else irrelevant. And with that simple (yet astronomically important) change made, the output is me loving like Jesus does rather than loving like a hurt Allie. Aka, in a way that risks getting hurt, in the same place and way that I was before, again. It’s knowing that the love I give won’t always be returned to me and caring deeply for the people who won’t return it.
Love like that cannot come from a place of back-of-the-fridge, ignored, unhealed hurt. Instead, it has to come from a place of perfect love – like, love that is completely independent of outside influences. Kind of (as in, exactly) like) the way that God loves.
To be broken and love people wholly at the same time means that the love I give has to have nothing to do with me. The more that I can be drinking of the perfect love that Jesus gives me constantly, the closer I can be to giving people a love uncolored by how broken I am. Which allows me to love without fear or the anxiety that comes with desperately protecting myself where I’m vulnerable. It allows me to be real with myself about how I’m hurt and to love people well at the same time. And in that way, the perfect love of Jesus can reach in and heal me and the people around me.**
(FYI, my favorite way that I’ve learned about God’s love is in the book of Hosea. Go read it. It’s so dang beautiful.)
*What the heck does “be all, end all” even mean? And why am I using that phrase if I don’t know what it means?
**Before publishing this post, I sent it to my dad for editing. He responded with, among other things, some pretty wise advice, which I’m using as a disclaimer to what would otherwise be a somewhat unrealistic picture of how relationships between people who know Jesus will look. Disclaimer: People will still hurt people. Dad says, “I am certainly one of the people who has wounded you in our relationship with my sometimes blunt words and tendency to be too preoccupied with my own thoughts to listen to others carefully. I don't lose sleep over it. A wise Christian writer (Henri Nouwen) clued me in that all human beings wound other human beings because we ourselves are wounded. Though I have great parents who I wouldn't trade for anything, I have wounds that I carry from them, though I consider them pretty minor. So I am confident whatever wounds I have inflicted on you will be used by God in his way.”