4/18/2014

Venting is Not Venting

Yesterday I had a conversation that changed my life. Some people are put in our paths to do just that. My mentor and friend, Clarice, is my current life-changer. She comes from a very different world, where people value each other and honor mingles with integrity. Generations of good habits and loving connections are being cultivated and the results are evident in her children and grandchildren. My world isn't worse than hers in every way, but it's been more dangerous and maybe a bit darker. The light she has brought into my life has illuminated things that have been a joy and a sorrow, but they always change me for the better.

She really puts forth very little effort to influence me. Her love from God simply overflows while we're talking and the next thing I know I'm wading in it, marveling at the work God can do in both of us. She offers me a banquet of optional advice and doesn't hover while I selectively fill my plate. She brings out the comedienne in me and appreciates my silliness just like my parents do: with a healthy dose of acceptance and surprise. Her laughter is a burst, an explosion of delight! It comes after she gently offers a much-needed course correction. Having learned something valuable, I start cracking jokes about myself in the levity of relief.

Clarice doesn't wait for me to come to specific conclusions about the insights God gives her; there are no expectations burdening me. After the hard truths are spoken, she provides an open plain for me to hold hands with it, and she knows my reaction will be honest and unfiltered. There is an abundance of trust and where there is trust, there is freedom. I have grown so much in the short time I've known her. It is an incredible privilege to have her as my mentor.

Our words over tea yesterday were epic. I had written her an email filled with complaints and whining. I usually call that "venting" but when I write to my mentor-friend, it's a cry for help. I presented the problem and all of my attempts at solving it, then I rationalized my anger and sounded very convincing to myself. Imagine my surprise when Clarice showed me how awful I was being. Only she could have gotten away with taking my words and reading them back to me with incredulity at the meanness they carried. I can still see her heart hurting for the person I was upset with. Her eyes were moist and she pressed her hand to her chest in sympathy for them. In that moment I didn't feel shamed or defensive, but truly sorry. Had I known what my words would do to her I never would have written them. But what of the person I was slandering? Suddenly I wanted to have the same feeling of compassion that she did for them, no matter how much it hurt. I wanted the teary eyes and the head-shaking in bewilderment, the whole works! How could I have missed the cruelty in my words? Why did I not see what Clarice saw?

I have never thought of myself as a gossip. I would simply discuss observations in the name of "processing" and "working things out". Little did I realize that I have been leaving a dark snail trail of negativity behind me. Here I was thinking that by releasing my words I was cleaning up and airing things out. What I really did was create more crud, each word like a fungus or mold that you can't get rid of. This record of wrongs that I have been adding to has been creeping over my world until it had almost blocked out all light.

I asked God the other day why I couldn't think of anything I liked about this person I seemed to be perpetually mad at. Usually I can find some redeeming quality to focus on. It's how I deal with difficult people everywhere. But when it came to the object of my wrath, I had trained my brain to think only of the bad. So I went to God with it. God answered me by giving me an image. It had to come from a random lady at church because I wasn't picking up the signal on my own, apparently. She said, "I don't know what this means but I'm seeing a croquet mallet." I replied, "Hmm, could it be a judge's gavel?" "Yes! She said. It's on it's side." I opened my journal to show a doodle that came to me while reading Psalms a couple weeks prior. It was a judge's gavel with two silly stripes like you'd see on a croquet mallet (why I put stripes on it, I didn't know... at the time). The message God was sending out was magically quite clear to me. I was judging people left and right and thought it was some sort of game.

Humbled again, He let me sit with it for a week or so. First the diagnosis, then the treatment. The Lord keeps coming to my rescue by saving me from myself. I am my own nemesis. Without what He provides through my mentor, my pastor, His Word in the bible and from His church, I'd be at the mercy of a ruthless villain: me.

The convicting words of my dear friend may have been difficult to take, but those are wounds that can be trusted as the Proverb says. As Clarice reflected back to me the ugliness she saw, her sincere hope was that I'd be freed from it. Anyone else would have read the email and supported my point of view. I've held the gavel so many times with many others, passing it back and forth. Slam! A verdict handed out against our peers, our family members, our spouses. Wham! We mean well as we speak the words. God created the universe with words, what do we create? Down goes the gavel as our lips form poison, condemnation, and self-justification and call it "blowing off steam". There's nothing depressurizing about it. It's a fire. It's time for me to watch my mouth. Thank God for His kindness in pulling me, once again, away from danger. If you hear me say something bad about anyone, feel free to put me in time out or slap my wrist. I need all the help I can get!