Have you ever noticed that when someone loves us, it is easy to see that this is about them? They love us because of certain abilities they have to see the good in us, or certain things in their personality that are drawn to aspects of our own personality. Or maybe it is just a God- Spirit connection or maybe it really is "pheromones" that connect us as friends as well as any other kind of relationship. At any rate, it is easy for us to see that it isn't about us, really. That their caring is a gift of grace, for which we can be grateful, but one which we haven't somehow "earned".
I've been thinking about this lately as I've reflected on the different places I've lived and worked and moved and breathed and had my being. I am incredibly, deeply blessed beyond my expectations or hopes with amazing and wonderful friends, many of whom have become true family - some who have been friends for 30 years, some for just a few. I am so very grateful for the constancy of these friendships, for the support of these truly amazing people in whose faces I see God's reflection and in whose words I hear God's voice. Some of the friendships that have survived and grown (despite distances, dramas and other issues) have surprised me, some of the people who have chosen to hang in there through the trials and struggles and who have stood by have deepened my vision and belief in the love possible for many humans. For every one of them I am grateful. I recognize that this shows depth in each of these people, that it shows constancy and commitment and strength and the capacity to love in each of these individuals. Someone asked me recently if the things I have faced had caused me to be bitter and cynical about humanity. But the truth is far from this. Yes, some people have disappointed me, surprised me, upset me, hurt me. But the great majority of the people I've encountered, talked to, shared with, walked with through this time have been absolutely amazing in their ability to simply be present, to offer care, to see deeper than judgments, to move beyond the fear that leads to prejudices and blindness, to offer wisdom and to support my faith with their own. And it is so easy for me to see that this is about each one of them...That their caring and amazing capacity to love is pure grace - gifts from God that I did not earn and could not deserve. And even those who have hurt me through all of this - I see in them, too, their humanity and struggle to do what is right, what is best. I see that they are limited people as I am, struggling to find their way. No, I have not become jaded about people. I am simply more aware of the grace that each friendship represents, and the amazing gift that each smile, hug, or conversation really is.
But I've also been listening to a couple of my friends who are going through personal hurts right now. And as easy as it is to see that when we are loved it is pure grace, for some reason it is hard to see or experience the reverse of this. When someone doesn't love us, or what is even harder - if someone stops loving us, we often see this as being caused by something "wrong" with us, or something we have done wrong. It is not as easy to see the truth that this is the same - a person's love for us or lack of love for us says volumes about who they are, their abilities to love or extend themselves to others, their abilities to commit to relationships, to forgive mistakes, to work through challenges, to accept differences in temperaments, thinking and behaviors, their perceptions of who we are, and their choices and desires for what they want in friendships or relationships.
When we don't love someone or when we stop loving someone else, we know this is about us. The common phrase used in so many break ups of "this isn't about you, this is about me" is true. We recognize that our love or lack of love for another person does not change their innate worth at all. That it isn't really about them, but about what we want in our friendships or relationships. It's about us. But again, from the perspective of the other side, it sure doesn't feel that way.
One of my close pastor friends put it this way, "When I was in my last call (which happened to be in the area where I grew up), I was not part of the "in-crowd". I was not included by the "cool people" or invited to be part of things regularly. I was a bit of an outsider, I was not highly valued and respected by my family or community. My experience here in my current call has been very, very different. I have been valued, I have been loved, I have been "sought out" for my thoughts, for my friendship, for my pastoral skills, for my wisdom. Does this mean I've become a better person? A person more worth knowing? A person with more innate value? No. But again, it sure feels that way. And as I contemplate moving once again to a new call back near my home town, the challenges of going back to a place where I am less valued tug at my heart. Because no matter how much I can see that I am the same person in each of these places, in each of these environments, not a lesser person somehow when I am nearer to my home, I still feel like I am less when I am in an environment where others are treating me as less."
Yes. That is my experience as well. I can take in negative comments, opinions, reactions much more easily than I can take in the constant and amazing affirmations and grace that surround me daily.
But the truth is that neither the love and approval of others, nor the rejection or dismissal by others should determine who we are. Neither should. We are of value because we are God's children. We are of value because we are created and loved by an awesome God. We are of value because God loved us into being and that is enough. So once again, it is grace that saves us. If we have faith in God's love and grace and can therefore turn to God and accept that love and grace, we can be freed from needing that human affirmation or rejection to tell us if and how much we are worth. But of course, this is much easier said than done. Even when we are faithful, it is hard to not somehow hear others' comments as being truthful accounts of our self-worth. Still, when we can accept that it is God who declares us worthy and loved, then others' comments or reactions can become, instead of statements about our innate worth, opportunities for us to grow, to learn, to become more whole and more connected to the holy, to God and to each other. I pray for that faith, that grace, that vision for all of us as we walk this journey and strive to be the people God created us to be.