With all this talk of candy and parades, I think it’s important to remember, once in awhile, it’s difficult to extend grace.. really, really difficult. In those moments, when I don’t want to gleefully give out grace, I see warning lights .. “Construction Zone Ahead”. Closed fists always signal some work is about to be done. Things are gonna get worse before they can get better. The flashing lights remind me I might have the same problem, might be in need of the exact same grace I don’t want to give out. I’ve found friendship, real face-to-face, hand-to-hand friendship, is one of the greatest boot camps for learning the dance of grace.
Want to learn how to give and receive true grace with wild abandon? Make a friend, share your life and dreams with them. Let them see you in scarcity with morning breath, when your bank account is empty and your kids are sick. Tell them the stuff you won’t even write in your journal and let them sit with you on the front porch of rock bottom. Then see what happens next. Watch them become a mirror for some of your ugliest flaws and most selfish tendencies. See how much they drive you crazy. Pay attention when you say the words under your breath, “how could they be so _____” about the other because, chances are, you’re well versed in being so _____, too.
I had one of those moments recently with a dear friend. I call her Friendwife because she’s the kind of friend who, if our husbands died and left us old ladies, we’d move in and take care of each other. I was sharing the idea for this space with her, told her I wanted to share my story in letters to others who were human and hurting along with me. I told her I felt like it was time, this idea was bringing me a lot of life, and I was giddy to tell her about it and have her blessing and support. Her response to my passion, paraphrased down, was something like, “No. Not right now. You have to get well first.”
I’ve mentioned the recent migraine hell, living with chronic pain and not knowing why it came or how to stop it. Well, this beloved of mine is not having it. She has a wide open, bleeding heart of love for anyone, but especially those in pain. She hates to see others hurting, and part of her glory is making sure to do whatever she can to make the injustice stop. People like that change the world. She changes mine almost daily. But this felt different. This felt like a big giant wall of resistance when I expected her flash the green light and wave me on through, throwing confetti and singing loudly as I passed.
I did what all mature folks do when a close friend tells them what they don’t want to hear.. I pouted about it. I went on a walk and felt sorry for myself, then I talked to husband and got him to feel sorry for me, too. That felt good. Like a little tantrum. Then I pushed the hurt down into my rib cage and told myself something to the effect of, “she doesn’t know .. don’t even listen to her..who does she think she is?” That felt a bit better in a slimy sort of way.
Somewhere after all this mature pondering, I managed to respond to her in a calm, honest way. I knew she loved me, knew she was doing the best she could in the moment, knew I had to extend grace to her even though she had let me down in her response. Or as kids say, my feelings got hurt. I told her I loved her, I always appreciated her voice and her care for me, but in this area, I believed she was wrong. I told her I had no idea if or when I would get well again, but I couldn’t spend my life waiting around to see if that day came. I had to do this, and I knew I had to do it now. I asked for her blessing.
The next time Friendwife talked to me, she melted my heart like an m&m without the thin candy shell. She told me she was sorry, she was wrong, she wished she could rewind and take back her “no”. She didn’t know why she had said it, her words were from a heart of love, from someone who wanted to see me well because she was hurting so deeply over my pain. Then she said, “I also think it’s good for us to remind ourselves once in awhile that, even though we’re peers, you have a solid four years on me in age.. when it comes to soul age you’re like 95 and I’m a 24 year old…Hey, maybe you can even write about this? I mean, there’s got to be a story here, right? Like, ‘I told my best friend about the thing I was passionate about and she said no?’ Maybe this won’t be wasted if you can write about it!..”
Her words were like a divine dialect interpreted to my heart saying, “Welcome to another day at the grace bootcamp, dear heart.” I’d thrown myself down in the grocery store aisle of life, kicking and screaming when she didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear. Whether she was right or wrong, I’d behaved like a petulant child to her response. But she didn’t know that. She knew she loved me, knew she hated to see me hurting, and wanted me to be well before I opened a vein and bled out for others. Like a true woman of substance, so much older and wiser and grace-filled than myself, she wasn’t ashamed to admit and remind me of her age and limitations.
Isn’t it wonderful how we’re all in need of the exact same grace? Isn’t it great news that we have this complicated and frail, inextricable human tissue to connect us to one another? Isn’t it wonderful how, when we stop the mindless digital rhythms of “double tap, swipe”, and get into the gritty mess of human life together, we get to extend the thing we most need to the people we belong to? And then we get to receive it back with interest? It comes in the form of words we don’t deserve and love that does not quit from dear souls we don’t deserve to share our lives with, whose wisdom age far extends our own. They tell us they love us, they believe in us, and they’re sorry.
Then, because grace takes two to tango, we get to say, “me too.”