The readings today are for the feast of Saint Jean Brebeuf and his companions here in Canada. Brebeuf is a Canadian saint, a Jesuit who died while working among the Aboriginal people in Ontario. Today has been quite a day. I attended a funeral and then went to see my social worker. Now I am lounging in a cabin with my sister and niece.
The funeral was in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. I found myself a bit distracted by the beauty of this liturgy which is somewhat familiar but distinct from the Roman rite. The man who passed away was 92–he had been doing 100 push ups a day up until about two years ago I think the priest said. That is quite remarkable. I remember him as his daughter is a friend from elementary school days. I spent quite a bit of time over at their home for many years, at parties, study groups, and just hanging out.
Funerals have taken on a critical eye now–what do I want at mine? Today was also poignant as it is the 24th anniversary of my youngest sister’s death. I cannot help but think that this is a double whammie for my family. They have lost one daughter/sister and now face that scenario again, though this time with a much longer processing time than the quick death of my sister. Needless to say I arrived at my social worker’s office in an agitated state.
He bounced around with me as my brain flitted from one thought to the other. He is patient man. In the end, we landed on the topic of listening and holding space. I am tired lately and I remained a bit out of sorts but I could still spot God today and that brought me peace. I knew the social worker was listening to me even if my thoughts were all jumbled. As we talked, I mentioned that I had read about different types of listeners from a newsletter by Heather Plett that mentioned Love Warrior, Glennon Melton Doyle’s new book, which explains some of the ways people respond:
In her raw and beautiful new book, Love Warrior, Glennon Melton Doyle talks about how hard it was to share the story of her husband’s infidelity and their resulting marriage breakdown. There are six kinds of people who respond.
•The Shover is the one who “listens with nervousness and then hurriedly explains that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ or ‘it’s darkest before the dawn,’ or ‘God has a plan for you.’”
•The Comparer is the person “nods while ‘listening’, as if my pain confirms something she already knows. When I finish she clucks her tongue, shakes her head, and respond with her own story.”
•The Fixer “is certain that my situation is a question and she knows the answer. All I need is her resources and wisdom and I’ll be able to fix everything.”
•The Reporter “seems far too curious about the details of the shattering… She is not receiving my story, she is collecting it. I learn later that she passes on the breaking news almost immediately, usually with a worry or prayer disclaimer.”
•The Victims are the people who “write to say they’ve hear my news secondhand and they are hurt I haven’t told them personally. They thought we were closer than that.
•And finally, there are “the God Reps. They believe they know what God wants for me and they ‘feel led’ by God to ‘share.’”
I did not talk about any group in particular. My therapist asked me if I had experienced being “held” and I responded with a yes, but how I long for more of that. Holding space without hurrying me along, sharing your own story, trying to fix the brokenness, later outing my personal sharing, pouting about how I shut you out, or falsely representing my Beloved is a wonderful experience. I found such space in several places this summer as traveled. I find it among a handful of people in my core network. I am as guilty as others when I think of how I listen and respond. Few people can go to the dark, scary edge with me. Fewer still can sit on the cliff silently as I bare my soul about the sadness I feel about certain things. When they do though, I am given permission to free myself of inhibitions and fears. I can say things that I have not yet said out loud that need to be said and that is very healing. I need to say important things such as telling someone that I am so very sad to be missing out on watching her children blossom into amazing adults. That she is an awesome parent and I so admire her so I know that all will be well but still a part of me wishes that I could watch that on this side of heaven.
I wonder what it would be like if my sister was still here–and all that she has missed these 24 years. What joys and sorrows would have visited her? How would she have aged? What gifts would she have offered our world? A friend of mine sent an email earlier today, just as I was arriving at my appointment. What a glorious day to be alive, she wrote. The words stopped me in my tracks. Yes, I thought. Exactly. My sister did not have that luxury but I still do. God had my attention.
This notion that life is hard is sometimes our own choice. I am trying to live vulnerably and honestly. Some days are just plain sad. Today had moments like that for sure. As I hugged my childhood friend to comfort her she said to me, I think of you every single day and I know that she is holding me in her prayers. Another friend called me in the middle of the day to talk and I stretched out on my bed and gave her my full attention, giving and receiving blessings. Driving out to the country the wide open prairie spaces seeped into my soul. Sometimes we can abandon our suffering and choose to embrace the good that God plants on our path. We can be afflicted but not crushed as the reading says today.
Who can hold space for you that frees your innermost thoughts and heals you?
How are you afflicted but not crushed?
Creator, I can tell you anything…and you do not judge or complain. Show me how to listen and respond with empathy and compassion. Teach me how to open space for those who need an ear. Allow me to be held lovingly by others so that my heart has space to heal. Amen.