Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Other Side of the Fence

"You're not LISTENING to me" is one of the more frequent complaints in our house.  Whether it's us parents frustrated with our kids' disinclination to follow instructions, or the kids complaining that we are not understanding their side of the argument, the phrase is lobbied around often.  Sometimes the issue is that I don't distinguish between "listening" and "obeying" and simply ask Brady and Maryn to listen to me (when I really mean I want them to do what I tell them to do).  Consequently, they accuse me of not listening to them when they don't get their way.

I'm feeling stuck in this conversation loop in other areas of my life lately.  I've been frustrated by polarized conversations that pit one side against another, with both parties claiming that one side can't understand how the other feels.  I'm tired of all the articles posted that seem to create two opposing sides.  I buy into it, too, though, reading articles that claim to give expectant parents advice, but is instead a warning about how their lives are about to go downhill.  I can laugh from the "other side", having experienced the torture of years of sleepless nights and the shock of having your life upended.  I know that this "advice" does nothing for parents-to-be, but gives those "in the trenches" an opportunity to commiserate, laugh in recognition, and find a little solidarity.  I have a different response when I read something that comes from a different "side" or experience, such as how I can't understand a single person's perspective as I'm married.  While there is some truth in this (although I haven't always been married), it stings, just as I know the sides I take may be hurtful to others.

It gives me something to think about.  Why must we choose sides?  Why must we think our way is the only way?  Why do we allow our hurts and different experiences to divide us?  Why must "our side" win, or, alternately, why do we believe that the grass would be greener on the other side?  As my friend Linda Moore recently wrote on her blog, "Why can't we all sit at the same table?"  While my experience as a wife and mother is unique in some ways, the hurt and joys I experience are somewhat universal.  Although I'm extremely grateful for my family, there was nothing magical in our coming together that granted us universal and eternal happiness.  It's hard work every day to work through our conflicts and become the people we want to be.  We all came into being with detrimental traits and baggage, part of the experience of being human, and living together only amplifies that and challenges us to work that much harder for healing and growth.  I understand that some of my single friends may long for those relationships of support in which to work through struggles together.  I know that I can't understand all of their experiences just as they can't understand mine.  We only see the surface level and can't truly know all of what someone is carrying.  I appreciate the saying I've seen quoted by multiple sources, "The reason we're insecure is because we compare our behind-the-scenes footage with everyone else's highlight reel."  Facebook and Instagram make this all too easy to do.

But here's a thought: instead of assuming that someone else can't understand where we're coming from, why can't we share our perspective in a kind, loving, and open way?  Why can't we reach out and ask someone else about their own experiences instead of just being stuck in our own?  Instead of feeling like a victim of all the blows of life, can we open our eyes to the community around us and find a way to reach out in service and love?  Perhaps it's not all about us and what we need or can gain, but what we have to give and offer.  It's a paradox, I know, but I have always felt more fulfilled when I have given of myself instead of seeking what I need.  I guess that's where the whole "It's better to give than to receive" comes from.  What would our world and our lives look like if, instead of isolating ourselves because of our pain, we opened our lives up to the beautiful mess of community?  Yes, it's risky; and yes, it can be painful.  I know so many people that have left the church because of something painful that has happened.  I certainly understand it as I've been there too many times.  And yet, something keeps drawing me back.  There will never be a perfect church as there aren't any perfect people (other than the Savior we imperfectly attempt to follow), and more than once I've had to bite my tongue (or not) at a contentious church business meeting.  But then there are the times when we come together as a community in support of a person or cause, and it truly feels that we are the Body of Christ, becoming stronger than any of us could be on our own.  It is a place where I can be authentic and vulnerable and hear others say "me too", reminding me that I'm not alone (nor should I be).  We were all created for community, not isolation or division.  We were not created to take sides, but were ALL (Republican/Democrat, gay/straight, married/single, male/female, Christian/non-Christian) created in the image of God who loves us and calls us to love others...ALL others.

 "For there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are now one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

What would it take for us to truly believe and live this?

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