Whenever there is conflict, I need to run.
Any disturbance in the Force is a reason to flee — a true Jedi I am not. If there’s something someone else has done that has hurt me or bothered me, I’ll often ignore it for the sake of keeping the stasis (calling it ‘peace‘ is probably too generous). If I ignore long enough, time will heal all wounds, right?
Except, those passive-aggressive attitudes start to seep out in little obnoxious (and stinkingly destructive) ways; those little means of control start seeming like hills to die on; my attitude towards the other person becomes permanently discoloured; my sleep is disturbed, my eating habits are either nonexistent or filled to overflowing with comfort foods. I’ll endure anything to avoid a confrontation. The very thought of confrontation — or even criticism — melts my heart to a puddle of sticky goo, and I often become emotional during such moments because all of that intense focused emotion is too much to handle.
As an Enneagram 4, emotions are huge. My fear confrontation rivals that of a 9; my fear of criticism rivals that of a 1; my detached feelings rival that of a 5; and my crippling self-doubt and rebellion against authority rivals that of a 6. Realizing these monumental emotional experiences helped me settle on my number. It’s not just confrontation that’s a millstone to handle; it’s all the feelings. Even joy, laughter, peace, and love are massive for me. No wonder life feels permanently exhausting!
It’s not a particularly healthy way of being, but it’s my natural default. I’ve worked hard to overcome my fear of confrontation but, if I’m honest, I want the world to change before I do.
This attachment to homeostasis, this obsessive need for equilibrium somehow convinces me that even in my imperfections, I can remain as I am while critiquing the world-at-large. Some days it seems I’ve arrived at such a settled place of self-awareness that I feel I have the right to suggest the rest of the world change, rather than myself.
Other days, I’m simply too ignorant of how my presence and privilege impacts the world with all the grace of a drunken bull — never meaning to harm, but causing an insane amount of damage. I don’t wield that much power, do I? I’m not really like that, am I?
I’ve been using J. Philip Newell’s “Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter” for morning and evening prayers. These lines from Monday’s Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession beat out of me with all the finesse of a high-powered jackhammer:
“Open my senses to wisdom’s inner promptings
That I may give voice to what I hear in my soul
and be changed for the healing of the world,
That I may listen for the truth in every living soul
and be changed for the healing of the world.”
My healing is tied up with the healing of the world. My liberation is tied up with the liberation of the Other. Without desire to be transformed, I can’t hope for change in the world. Demanding transformation from the world is, at best, hollow. Demanding transformation from the world without first working hard on myself is simply willfully blind and deaf.
We are all flawed. And we all take great pains to either hide those flaws, or decorate them with the glitz and glamour of distraction so the world will admire them to the point of acceptance. Sometimes my theology pronounces ‘good enough’, so why am I trying to change again?
Change isn’t the result of a pill bottle. How many of us know this deeply, but still expect some sudden turn of mind after swallowing a hefty dose of humility or disruption? Such events burn me alive, so how could they not change me forever?
Well they do.
Just not completely.
I will always struggle with that pesky fear of confrontation. I haven’t learned all the lessons I need to know from it quite yet. In the same way, I haven’t been exposed to all the ways my white privilege impacts my speech, my actions, my access, and my influence. The colour of my skin determined an enormous realm of open doors for me, doors I haven’t discovered yet.
It’s not up to communities of colour to educate me or pat me on the back for taking my training wheels of my inclusive learning. It’s up to me to determine to change the world through changing me. I may not know all of who I am or how I be in the world — that’s a lifelong journey — but I am still responsible. I may not have caused all the problems of racism, poverty, homophobia/transphobia, or ableism in the world, but I am still called to be responsible for them.
My responsibility is acted out in working hard to change myself.
And deep change is painful and exposing.
But deep change is needed for the healing of the world. Deep change in me. I may not witness the end to all global injustice in my lifetime; but my choice to work on myself, a self that is part of that global injustice, will be given a response of growing relationships, community, and a deeper understanding of God.
Here’s to raising a glass to necessary, worthwhile, lifelong work.
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