Recently, I wrote a post on how I’m not worried about being “nice enough” to those who I’m critiquing. The next day, I read an article that bothered me, and it took me a long time to figure out what about it specifically made it feel . . . off.
And then I realized:
It wasn’t nice enough.
To me, that was interesting, because I’ve read all sorts of articles that could be perceived in the same way– no sugary sweetness, occasionally acerbic tones, sarcasm, even anger. So what about this article, specifically, bothered me because it wasn’t “nice”?
There were two halves to this article; the first half talked about a common pattern in evangelical culture, and how that pattern is reinforced by rhetoric from very powerful people in different movements. It’s an idea that gets hammered away at in pulpits, comes screaming off of the pages of a hundred different books, and it’s an idea that causes real harm to people. The author was critiquing the delivery of this particular message, encouraging people to be aware of how they go about talking about this idea. And I agreed with him.
However, the second part of the article changed focus. Instead of talking about the delivery of the message, he turned to the people who were the recipients of this message– specifically, he addressed those who had been hurt by this message, directly affected by it.
But, instead of continuing his original critique, by saying “I know you’ve been hurt by this message, and here’s how I want to bring some healing,” he instead delivered the exact same message not because he said the same words, or even used the same style, but because when he turned to those who had been wounded by this idea, instead of acknowledging that pain, he told them “I’m sorry, but this is your cross to bear. Some of us are called to suffer more than others.”
W. T. F.
This is when I’m worried about being “nice,” but I’m working with a slightly different definition of “nice” in this post than in my previous one. In my last post, I was using “nice” rather pejoratively– as part of this idea we have of nice being non-confrontational, or non-offensive, or having a pleasant tone and delivery. Today, though, when I say nice what I actually mean is compassion.
That’s the key here, I think.
Even when I’m critiquing power structures and the powerful, I still try to have a level of compassion and love for that person. Whoever it is, he’s a human being, and deserves to be loved. But, often, this is extraordinarily difficult. Impossibly hard.
If I ever came face-to-face with the leader of my church-cult ever again, I don’t know what I’d do. Hopefully ignore him. But, I know myself. I’d be shaking with rage, and I would be flooded, again, with all the things he’s done to intentionally hurt me and my family.
If I ever came face-to-face with my rapist . . . I would be completely paralyzed. He would probably try to make nice– he’s tried reaching out to me before with “I would so love to talk to you again”– but I wouldn’t be able to. I’d have a hard time resisting the urge to scream at him. I had a hard time resisting that impulse when we were still in college together. He chased me down and confronted me all over campus, and nearly every encounter ended with me screaming at him. A while ago, when the city he lives in suffered a natural disaster, a sliver of me hoped he’d be on the casualty list.
So… yes. I struggle with loving my enemy. I have a hard time separating the eternal soul of a person– the person that God loves — from the person who has done evil things. I have a hard time thinking of abusers as anything but– they abuse. To me, that is the defining factor of that person, and I will have nothing to do with him or her, and I believe that is right and justified.
But there’s a balance there, a balance I don’t maintain. Loving that person . . . is up to God. It’s not something I can do on my own– neither is it something I want to do. So, I do my best to surrender that person to God. God can love them because I can’t. Not actively hating them has got to be enough, because I need God to even manage that.
But what about us, the victims?
This is even more difficult territory for me.
Because there are those who walk among us that are so very, deeply hurt. They are still hurting. For some of us, nearly everything in our lives rips a new hole in our heart, or scrapes open an old wound. A flicker, a moment, a word, can cause all of our pain to come crashing down around us until we just want to cover our ears, shut our eyes, and scream at the world to just make it stop. Everything hurts.
But, sometimes, I struggle with empathy and compassion, even for victims, because I’m a fighter. I have some hard things in my life– not as hard as some, not as easy as others –that I have to deal with on a nearly daily basis. Chronic pain, the fallout from spiritual abuse, the physical and emotional scarring from being raped, the constant nightmares, the triggers, not being able to sit in church without flinching at every other word . . .
But, I get up in the morning, even though I know waking up means pain.
I go to church, even though I know someone might innocently say or do something that hurts.
I go to sleep, even though I know the nightmares will come.
Handsome says I’m tough, and I think of myself as resilient. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been times in my life when I haven’t succumbed. There have been those times. The days when getting out of bed was too much to contemplate, so I didn’t. The whole months that disappeared into fog. The days I managed to scrape by on painkillers and coffee.
So, when I encounter someone who seems to have given up, to have surrendered to the concept that they are a victim, I have to remind myself that what looks like “giving up” to me might be fighting tooth and nail for them. I’m not them, and I have no right, no place, to judge– because I know. I’ve been there. I’ve been the person who people look at and tut-tut and shake their head. I’ve been on the receiving end of helpful advice where well-meaning people tell me to “not have a victim complex.”
Fight, they say. Fight for your shitty life.
What I do to fight my battles, however, is not what another person does, and that is something I have to keep in mind. Even me. Because I’m not above hurting someone else because I think they could be doing something more with their life. That it’s been years– shouldn’t have they recovered more, have experienced more healing? And, it’s tempting to think that it’s their fault. If they wanted to get better, they would.
The key is compassion.
To look at people who you know have been hurt and be willing to say that.
And that’s ok.
No “buck up.”
No “put your big girl panties on and deal with it.”
No “it’s your cross.”
No “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
No “his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.”
The best thing to do, sometimes, is just to shut up. Weep with those who weep. Mourn with those who mourn.