Relationships are difficult for me. To begin with, most of the time I’m far more comfortable with books than with people. Books can transport me to other worlds; other eras. They do not have unrealistic expectations of me. Nor, do I of them. We can be friends. People, on the other hand, always have some expectations. They have their own agendas that may or may not be in the best interests of anyone else. These relationships are messy. I don’t like messes. I’m not comfortable sharing my space with others. Over the years I’ve constructed thick barriers around myself in order to protect me from the mess, the hurt and unwanted intrusions that invariably force their way into my life.
Yet, God seems to desire that we humans live within a community. At the very beginning of God’s self-revealing are the words, “It’s not good for humans to be alone.” I find that even in my solitude, my self-willed ‘aloneness,’ there is a place in my heart that desires companionship. Honestly, I try to fight that. I’ve fought hard. There are very few people that I let into my life, my heart, even a little. And, no one with whom I’m totally available to or vulnerable with. But, why? I know some people who seem to have no problems being open with others. They are the ones who can make friends easily. They are the ones who can talk openly about themselves. In some ways I envy them.
I haven’t always been this conflicted. I wrote a little about that here. There was a time when I was a happy kid who trusted people. I enjoyed being with friends playing at the rocky beach of Lake Erie near my home. We built forts in the woods and rode bikes. We raced HO gauge cars and built model airplanes. In those days, I would have never been caught with a book in my hands. I had to be outside with my pals.
As I reflect on this perceived paradox, both desiring solitude and companionship, there is one thing that continues to surface. As time moved forward I began to notice that sometimes the things I said and did hurt others. I found that my tongue was a useful weapon. Without thinking I would unsheathe it and cut someone deeply. And, I felt shame. Shame…that is the one thing that I keep coming back to. One definition of that word is stated as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” Yeah, I can see that as a ‘catch all’ definition. Whether real or perceived, some word or action causes one to feel guilty. The shame gene kicks in and gives shame the emotional impetus to rise to the top of our consciousness. As Pink Floyd sang, “Another brick in the wall.”
Another definition that I found, however, I think gets closer to the issue. I read this quote on another blog recently. It comes from a book that I’ve not read yet. The author, Brené Brown, wrote in her book Daring Greatly, that shame can be viewed as the “fear of disconnection — it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.” Fear? I thought we were talking about shame! I think that Brown has captured something profound. We hide our guilt. The shame emotion drives us to do that. We certainly don’t want anyone else on the planet to know what kinds of nasties are living in our hearts. And, we don’t want our dirty laundry hung up for everyone and anyone to see and judge our uncleanness. So, the fear of losing relationships or the connectedness that God built into humanity causes the shame that covers our guilt. But, shame also builds walls. The very fear of losing our place in the community becomes the thing that breaks community. No wonder I’m such a basket case! I feel like Dr. Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu.
What to do? Actually, I’m not sure. That’s something that I continue to consider. There are some who would say that I just need to have faith and God will set things right. Besides being an overly simplistic approach, I’ve tried it. It doesn’t help. Others may suggest that confession is good for the soul. Yeah, but confession may also break community. Perhaps, practicing vulnerability. After all, shame tends to make one take great pains to keep from being vulnerable. We’ll look at this later.
What do you think? Are there any folks out there who can relate to these things? Or, am I the only person who has these issues? Please leave a comment and let’s think through this together.