"the rules" -- on how to love yourself and people better
Well, I am fresh from a vacation in Charleston, where I got to spend a few days with some of my favorite friends in life. This is a big deal, because I do not take vacations. And let's just say that it turned out to be exactly the thing that my heart needed, that I had some moments in which I was shocked and delighted with how happy I was, and that it helped me sort of pull a lot of things together in the wake of a Serious Letdown.
Disappointing things keep happening, and it takes things like vacations to Charleston and pep talks from dear, old friends to keep me in balance and remind me that in life, the good outweighs the bad even if the certain does not outweigh the uncertain. And so, over time, I've collected a list of things I swear by when I need more help remembering.
This post is sort of a "by popular demand" type of thing, in that I've had lots of friends and people ask me to write about my Rules of Life. (They are too kind.) There used to be 7 and now there are about 42. I might be wrong about everything, and that’s alright, but these are some of the things that help me carry on after life’s little disappointments. And I’d also like to think that following them is helping me a better friend to have and person to be around. Mostly, they are helping me to be kinder and more gracious. I could use lots more of those two things.
1. We are all doing the best we can. This one makes it very easy to love people when they aren't perfect. You've probably heard me say it a million times, but that's because I believe it and it's widely applicable. If I ever mutter, "Rule Number One..." under my breath, this is what I'm talking about. If I ever write a book, I'll probably call it this.
Note: this is not the same thing as “Anything you ever do or say when you’re having a bad day is okay!” That’s not what I’m saying. I don’t mean that hurting each other is permissible just because we’re not feeling up to par, or operating out of anger or bitterness or hurt. We’re all damaged and raw and confused, just in different ways and about different things. I have a theory, and I don’t know how universal it is, so I’ll just apply it to myself. When I hurt someone, or disappoint someone, it is almost never intentional. If it is intentional (and that happens!), that’s not something I’m proud of or would like to claim as part of my normal everyday self. I operate out of my weak places a lot. But that’s a risk you run when you’re friends with me, which brings me to Rule Number Two…
2. We all have blind spots.
At the end of the day, against all our best intentions, we operate out of weak places and we still hurt people. By doing something or not doing something. By saying something or by not showing up somewhere. The possibilities are endless. But intentional or not, this always happens out of a place of weakness, whether that be temporary blindness by way of selfishness, envy, malice – pick your poison. I am always more upset by the times I’ve said something hurtful and didn’t realize it until a little birdie (courtesy of the rumor mill) lets me in on what was so painfully obvious to everyone but me. This has happened a lot in Boone. It happened a lot before Boone. We already know how this story goes. Sometimes my “This wasn’t how my life was supposed to go” diva mode kicks in and I say stuff that offends people. This was really, really bad before I realized that I don’t deserve any more or any less respect than anybody else. (That should be a rule.) I’m much better about it now (I’d like to think), but that diva mode was and is also a coping mechanism that I had to use because I didn’t know any other way to deal with my life. Patience and faith and trust didn’t make any sense to me at the time.
I love it when people tell me what my blind spots are. It’s really hard to
offend me (but not so hard to upset me, but that’s a different thing), and I
would always rather know how my coping mechanisms are hurting people because
most of the time, I’m too scared to think about anything else other than how
they’re helping me to not be so scared. I can’t see everything all the time. I
get scared a lot. There are gaps in my character when that gets the best of me,
and I’m sorry for that (please, forgive me), but I think this is true for
everyone. Some people are stronger in their weak places than I am. I am
stronger in some of my weak places now than I was a year ago.
3. You don't know everything and you're not always right. This one came into being because I used to think that I did know everything and that I was always right about everything. Humility check! This is mostly just a reminder to be open to the idea that you can’t see everything that’s coming. You can’t see how a season of your life is going to end when you’re in the middle of it. You can’t see the good things that are coming when you’re standing knee-deep in your pain.
Mostly, for me, this happens with God, who has more patience with me than anyone ever. I very much like to tell God when I think He’s wrong. And this, I think, makes him smile, because I end up having to stick my foot my mouth, and I am thankful that He never brings that up. And also because He gave me the spunk that brings on the courage to give Him a piece of my mind. (He and I are working on better ways for me to channel that. They include writing and dreaming up ways to fight to make peoples’ lives better.) Anyway, let’s all just be thankful that I am wrong, and that He holds his ground on that whole knowing what’s good for me thing. If it wasn’t this way, well, I would have ended up at Harvard or as a neurosurgeon, with no friends (thanks, isolationist phase), with blonde highlights, a couple of ponies, a lot of wrong relationships (50+? You should read my old journals), and a lot of “good but not quite right things.” Yes, I am thankful that I am wrong most of the time. Also, I am thankful that I am not God. I don’t know how much more I would put up with from me. Mad props to God.
4. Admit it when you’re wrong
and say that you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness.
I've heard people tell me that they're sorry about a million times, but I can count on my fingers the number of times that someone has asked me for my forgiveness. It happens rarely, if ever. When you’re wrong, own it. Say why you’re sorry, and don’t take it lightly. Remember my soapbox about how we’re always going to hurt people and sometimes not know it? Sometimes we really, really wound each other. Sometimes it’s pure sport. I’m guilty of that. Just ask the people who are closest to me; I’m much more likely to lash out at them because I have this crazy idea that they’re obligated to love me a little more and that “they can take it.” I need to tell those people when I’m wrong, and I need to tell them why I’m sorry, because I need to suck the poison out, if you will. I owe them that much. And I also need to ask them to forgive me, and I’ve tried to study forgiveness so that I understand it better. This means that I bought some books on Amazon and haven’t read them (yet?). But I do know this much: it is a huge thing to ask for. It’s asking someone to more or less disregard the bad thing that happened and look at you as if the infraction didn’t happen. I know that Forgiveness is very forgetful. And I also know that I want to be quick to give it.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from one of my mentors
while I was at Wofford, and that’s to always
live in a posture of forgiveness. This makes everything easier. And all you
Friday Night Lights fans remember that it’s Tami Taylor who said, “There’s no
weakness in forgiveness.” That’s true. I love forgiving because it means I
can’t hold grudges. Grudges are bad things for me to hold, because I am good at
them and like to think of them as prideful staring contests, and I do not like
to lose at anything, especially when my pride is on the line. Forgiveness saves
me from myself and my own bad tendencies. It isn’t quite a reflex yet, and I’m
working on that; bear with me.
5. Sit with something as long as you need to in order to accept it, and then move forward. I am stubborn. I am probably the most stubborn person I can think of. There’s that saying about not beating a dead horse or whatever. Well, I for one, absolutely will beat the dead horse. I need to. After everyone else is done, I’d still like to give the horse a good kick, and will probably be back in two weeks to make sure the horse is still dead and that nobody’s figured out how to bring horses back to life.
When it comes to relationships, I think this is known as being desperate. I prefer to think of it as being thorough. Sure.
My point here is that you know yourself better than anybody else. You know what you need to do in order to process something. This is not code for or permission to justify whatever you want by saying you need to do this or that in order to move on from a situation.
6. Sometimes you just gotta brush ya
shouldas off and keep on hustlin'.
This is the moving forward part. People aren’t always going to like you or the things you do. Sometimes they’ll let you know it, too. Sometimes in big ways and sometimes in subtle ways. Sometimes in ways that especially sting. And sometimes, things happen to you that literally make no sense at the current moment.
Oh brother, am I sitting in the middle of one of those situations right now. I went to Charleston to visit sweet, sweet friends this week, yes. And it was beautiful. But I was also supposed to go on – gulp – a date. Maybe not technically a date, but I was supposed to meet up with someone who I was excited to meet up with. And it fell through. And I was disappointed. (That’s putting it lightly. We all know that I am sort of a dramatic mess. My capacity for attachments is a little intense.) And I did what I could to try and salvage it without being creepy (an improvement!), but it was to no avail, and I was given the “It wasn’t anything you did, I’ve got some personal stuff going on,” vague deal. And at first I was pretty mad because I would have rather it been that I did something wrong; it was looking like a pretty good situation, and then, almost unexplainably, it was gone. And then I had to put up my “WTF?” billboard prayer to God. And all my friends started the standard “let’s talk smack about homeboy” stuff, and while I appreciate that sentiment, you know what? He probably didn’t wake up one day and think, “Ooh, let’s really throw this girl for a loop here.” Rule Number One. To keep going, I have to believe Rule Number One. And I do. And so I decided to leave all my confusion and disappointment and the “WTF?” billboard in Charleston and spend all that energy instead on soaking up sun and the 4th of July and time with friends. Because he’s doing the best he can. And so am I. And so are you.
There are things you can’t change. Sitting with all the things you can’t explain or the ways you have ever hurt people or all the negative things have ever said about you will only weigh you down, and you owe it to yourself to not do that, don’t you? Make amends when and where you can. Sometimes it takes a long, long while. Do the best you can (Rule No. 1) and stand up in the middle of it. Leave behind what you need to leave behind. Don’t drag around old things, untrue things, old stories. Don’t hold yourself back – you will have plenty of people trying to do that for you. Forgive yourself. Forgive other people. And keep going. Keep on hustlin’. I can’t say it enough.
7. Never make anyone feel like crap about anything. Ever. Ever! This one is simple It just doesn't help. Have you ever felt good about someone putting the emotional shakedown on you? Wouldn’t you rather people be gentler with you somehow? I know there are big serious things like interventions and confrontations and stuff, but can we all please work on being a little lighter and kinder to everyone?
8. Carry each other. You can't tell me that you're completely self-sufficient. I’m not. I never have been and I never will be, and I need people to come along side me to remind me of that and of all the other good things I tend to forget when I head into my weak places. There are things I could not have walked through by myself. There are things I had to be carried through. Here comes the proverbial “I don’t know what I would have done…” talk, but I really don’t. I can think of two (million) really pivotal seasons of life in which I wouldn’t have gotten help unless the people around me hadn’t picked me up and thrown me over their shoulder and taken me to get it. I hope they know who they are, and I hope I have expressed my ample and endless gratitude. I am freer (more free?) from my damage and more able to grapple with my weak places because of them, and my only response is to watch for opportunities to return the favor. And those opportunities have been the greatest Honors of my whole life; probably the most important Things I have ever done. (When things are really important to me, I like to make them proper nouns. I don’t care if someone has a rule about not doing that).
9. Pray huge. Always.
I learned this one in Colorado during the most difficult summer of my life. For a long time, I had trouble with praying huge things, because I’d pray for something like that my depression would go away. And it would, but then it’d come back. I’d pray for really big things to happen, and they wouldn’t happen, and I’d chalk that up to “well, prayer isn’t working” instead of realizing that I’m not always right and I can’t see everything. If I never had depression, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t be as strong or as brave, as wise or as kind, as able to walk through darkness with the knowledge that spring and light always come.
This one isn’t about getting what you ask for. It’s just about asking. Because you never know. I would rather pray and pray and pray, and be optimistic and be wrong, because those are the sorts of things that have actually opened me up to seeing my wrongness and the bigness of God’s heart. This is a complicated one, I know. It’s about asking, at the risk of being wrong, but asking anyway. It’s about knowing that you don’t know everything. I need to pray, mostly, because I don’t know everything. And so I have to pray huge.
10. Don't lean on "maybe" and "supposed to." If it should have, then it would have. If it should, then it will. And cue the fairy dust raining down upon you. I know this one sounds cheesy and awful, but it's true. This is a friend of mine’s favorite rule (and she has seen all 42), despite my defense of the greatness that is Rule Number One. But I think she likes it because being in our early twenties has brought us to a lot of things we didn’t see coming, and the failure to arrive of a lot of the things we thought we did see coming. We take turns giving each other pep talks about it; I’m thankful that we seem to take turns struggling with it, so one of us always has something good to say when the other can’t find anything that resembles our definition of “good.”
If I was supposed to be a neurosurgeon or a lawyer or a janitor, or be in a relationship with someone, or live in South Carolina right now, or whatever, then I would be doing that. God is not holding out on me. God did not dream up ways to tease and taunt me. Sometimes I think that is a true thing. Sometimes I think things happen unnecessarily and I throw up the “WTF?” billboard prayer. If this rule is true, then the opposite of it is true. The other end of the story is that I don’t learn anything when I’m not struggling, and so I have to struggle a lot for God to get His point across.
Quite frankly, the idea that my life is unfolding exactly as it’s supposed to makes me want to vomit. A lot of hard things have happened to me. And to you, too, I’m willing to bet. We have plenty of pain to go around, and I think that if we all tossed our problems in a pile, we’d gladly take back our own. And remembering that makes this rule a lot easier to digest. It doesn’t really change the wanting to vomit part, but I’m starting to think that’s a universal phenomena. And so I feel better.
Yes, so there you have it. Ten of the reasons why I am still a (somewhat) sane person. I don't know for a fact that they'll work for you, as they've only really been researched in my own life, and I don't know everything, but I do hope that they help. I hope they help you to love people better and bigger and more fully. I hope they help you do that for yourself, too. (You are worth it.)