Monday, March 3, 2014

Missed Opportunity

I think it was Madeleine L’Engel who wrote in A Wrinkle in Time that a lie mixed with a bit of truth is always stronger. (It’s been a long time since I’ve read that book. Bear with me if I’m mistaken.) I fell for a lie this week because there was enough truth or potential truth in it that it seemed wise.

I have this friend who has been amazing since my husband died. Actually, I have many who have been amazing but this story is about one in particular. Chelsea was the one who was with my kids while we were at the hospital. She’s the one who had to wake them up and bring them. And she is the one who held my hand and went to see his body with me. I think these events made her feel almost responsible for me.

I have been blessed with many friends who are walking through this journey with me—so many acts of love and service from so many friends. Seriously, it’s been amazing. But Chelsea is an organizer and that sense of responsibility has manifested as a protective instinct over me, though I’m several years older. From the first day, she has actively looked for what I might need and tried to find people to fill those needs. She’s checked in on me regularly and been a listening ear. She has two kids and a husband of her own and yet she takes time almost daily to text me or listen when I’m falling apart. She’s been amazing. (Again, other friends reading this, you’ve all been amazing, too. Just go with the story here.)

Last week I had a really bad day. I met her at Starbucks and just couldn’t hold it together. Several things had converged and I was a mess. She, again, was calm and understanding. She directed me to two people who could help me take care of two things amplifying my stress. And she welcomed me into her circle of friends so that I could simply focus on a salted caramel mocha and try to pull myself together.

This week, she was quiet for a whole day—no texts, no calls. By afternoon a simple thought crossed my mind: “It must be exhausting to be my friend right now.” The thought was that simple. I guessed that perhaps since I hadn’t called or texted her, she might be enjoying a break and really, who could blame her? It’s been almost six months of helping me deal with this. So I decided to leave her alone, to let her escape from being responsible for me.

The first day, I wallowed a bit in feeling bad that I was such a burden. Self-pity is really pathetic. I tried to think that I was being noble, giving her time off. The second day, I was not in a pity party but I wondered if she was enjoying not having to “handle” my stuff. At the end of that day, a different friend texted me to ask about something she was helping me with and I confessed to her my concern that being my friend must be exhausting right now.

Jaime’s response was gentle but firm—stop that. It’s not true. We are here in love to help you and you must never feel that way. The lie was revealed. Though helping me deal with the loss of my husband and adjusting to parenting my kids alone may be hard work, my friends were ministering with God’s grace. This was an act of love.

The next morning, I texted Chelsea, realizing I had missed her. I discovered something that put me to shame. Chelsea had injured her back and had been basically immobile. She hadn’t wanted to bother me. Those three days of quiet were ones when I could have helped her. I could have turned my eyes away from my own pain and reached out to a friend in need. Instead, a lie had festered in my heart and caused me to turn inward, selfishly isolated in self-pity.

I apologized to my friend. She forgave me with quick assurances that her husband had been around to help her and she was fine. She said she knew I was still dealing with a lot. She hadn’t expected me to do anything. But I think I learned a lesson.

Sometimes in our greatest sorrow, giving to others is our rescue. Sometimes when we feel the most alone and lost, reaching out to help someone can connect us and help us find hope. There are days when just caring for my kids is all the grace God has given me right now. But there are others when I relish being a listening ear for my sister as she struggles with her own parenting issues. There are days when what little strength I have to give would be amplified if I was helping a friend accomplish a simple task. I had forgotten those days when listening to a friend’s or sister’s problem was welcome distraction from my own.
When we give of ourselves to others, we take our eyes off ourselves. Lesson learned, I hope.

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