In a World Full of Hurt, How Do We Persist in Love?
Round bodies. Buff bodies. Hurt people and happy people. Smokers and runners. Ghostly people. Tan people. Brown people. Old men with metal detectors. Extraverted beachcombers who chat with everyone. A couple throwing a football in the shallow. Pretty people. And not so much.
Last week I headed to the beach for a date day with me. I packed books and journals and snacks and music, and I planted myself in a chair for hours. And I often sat, propped on elbows, smiling a smile that was just to me. A smile and soft squinty eyes (’cause my fluffy cheeks sit on my eyeballs when I’m happy) born out of a swollen joy that begged for a name. It was called a raw love for people.
All of them.
Even the fella sunbathing in his sneakers. I find that incredibly endearing. He’s rocking his own thing, and I dig it.
It wasn’t that long ago that I sat in my counselor’s office asking, legitimately seeking an answer that held water, “Based on my experiences, ALL people are selfish and ALWAYS act in their own best interest. What is my motivation to ever trust or love anyone?” Because Jack Johnson was singing in my ear and we wanted to know…
Where’d all the good people go?
I’ve been changin’ channels
I don’t see them on the TV shows,
Where’d all the good people go?
We got heaps and heaps of what we sow.
Of course, my counselor refuted my assertion and touted all the benefits of love and trust and intimacy. And, of course…I tuned him out. He wasn’t going to unravel forty years of distrust and hurt in one session. No matter how comfy the couch or how calming the lavender. But, I have to admit, his words gained traction in my gut over the course of future visits.
At the time, I had a door.
I could go behind the door and look present and engaged but be completely emotionally unavailable. You weren’t allowed behind the door; no one was. I was the population of my safe place. I could even make people think they were invited behind the door……..when they were really just standing on the sidewalk in front of the house. Intimacy was a sham. Because hurt little girls often grow up to be well-fortified women.
Tim, my counselor, had his work cut out for him. But as I began to tread the water of healthy, I began to believe he was on to something. I tested his words like a flag I waved from a crack in the door. And – whatdya know – they. were. true.
I hadn’t been a hard-hearted person before; I had loved people, individuals and people in general, but only in the way a hurt person knows how. I could love you and serve you and cry with you and listen; I was in ministry, for Pete’s sake, but I couldn’t offer you an ounce of me in return. I could hang out with you on the sidewalk, but I always, always retreated behind the door.
I still have the door today, I guess; I just can’t remember the last time I intentionally holed up behind it. The trouble with walling people out is that we wall ourselves in. We inadvertently protect ourselves from the most fabulous thing about wearing skin – the opportunity to give ourselves away. The blast of giving our lives to others.
Will I get hurt? Maybe every day. Will people disappoint me? You bet. Will people do dumb things that are purely selfish and destructive? Yes, yes, yes. Will I hurt and disappoint people and do dumb, selfish things? Unfortunately so.
But. It’s worth it.
Today, my heart melts for marginalized women. I was driving the interstate recently and passed a group of ladies in khaki overalls and loud orange safety vests – incarcerated women collecting litter from the side of the road. Everything in me wanted to pull off and work with them. Smile at them. Dignify them. Serve them.
I love cashiers. Shy cashiers. Distant cashiers with hardship in their eyes. My Diet Pepsi addiction has afforded me lots of opportunities to make great friends in convenience stores. Upon moving back to Florence, one of the people I was most excited to see again was Willie Mae. When smiles were a rare commodity in this life, she never failed to smack talk a grin out of me every day.
I love the warm smiles of strangers on the Rail Trail. I force my introverted self to speak to everyone I pass, and I often receive beaming smiles in return. It’s the goodness in a person that makes their smile pure. There is an imposing man in a helmet and glasses who regularly rides his bike on the Trail. My initial reaction to him was hesitance. His build had me planning self-defense tactics (mainly, run like the wind!) as we approached each other in an empty span of asphalt, but when I spoke his entire head broke into the most disarming smile ever. Now I grin expectantly when I see his big self biking towards me in the distance.
I love Patty from Deltona, Florida. She works at Chick-Fil-A and recently moved there with a friend from Texas. She serves people so well, and her passion is kindness.
And Kenya. That dusty spot on the equator turned my waxy heart into a gooey moldable mess.
There is good in people. Our own hardness is a far greater liability than other people’s selfishness. Even though it is absolutely counter-cultural, we have a mandate to persist in love. But how?
Four Ways to Persist in Love
- Do more of what stirs your affection for people. And, as much as possible, eliminate things that feed your cynicism. For me, this means I go to the beach. I engage waitstaff; I run on the Rail Trail…..and I avoid Walmart, Black Friday, and the DMV. It means I don’t watch riot videos or videos of people being shot, and I hide negative Facebook friends. I’m not uninformed about Baltimore and Ethiopia, and I’m certainly not unaffected. In fact, I am protecting my ability to be affected. My ability to be moved. I will not allow my eyes to desensitize my heart. Because if I ever make any impact in my two inches of the world, it will be rooted in a broken tenderness.
- Stop making fun of people for sport. I’m as guilty as anybody about taking a crack at somebody’s interesting fashion sense (see my friend above tanning in his kicks) or other forms of human goofiness, but when it becomes a lens through which we see people, it affects more than our wit.
- Create a daily practice of serving people who can’t do anything for you. They can’t spot you $20 when you all go out to lunch. They can’t follow you on Instagram. They can’t keep your kids when you’re in a pinch. They can’t help you get a promotion at work. They can’t lend you some of their favor when you’re hanging out together. When we give of ourselves with no possibility of repayment or advantage, we tap into something pretty stinkin’ beautiful.
- Know your hang-ups. I know that I naturally prefer to love people from afar. Messy relationships sometimes give me the heebie jeebies – especially when folks don’t make the kind of progress I think is in order. While not holding myself to the same standard (booooooo! selective grace isn’t even a thing). And I can have hard places in my heart for whiny, advantaged women. Even though I am one (selective self-righteousness is self-righteousness nonetheless). When we know what is most likely to keep us from loving well, we can proactively dismantle those tendencies. Because we will never ever accidentally remain compassionate. Vulnerable. And Available.
To read more about my trip to Kenya, you can check out the scariest moment of my trip, our first visit to a school in the bush, when my tongue turned black, and why it’s not a good idea to play duck-duck-goose there. You can see pictures from the trip on the Reel World page.
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