I wasn’t going to join Sarah Bessey’s synchroblog about What’s Saving you Now, because my husband is traveling. When my husband is traveling, I am in survival mode: fish sticks and cereal on the menu, too much tv, short trips to keep the youngest one from turning the living room into a giant bounce house. (Dude has a lot of energy.) Bare minimum. Mom stuff. Very exciting. I know. Writing hard stuff is harder when my beloved is not here to unwind me afterwards. When I’ve spun myself into a dizzying fit of emotions, I need him to sort of pat my arm and smile; there. All better.
But. I read some of the other posts and I realized that one way we survive is by being honest. And another way is by sharing, by being in community. So.
I’d seen the man at church a few times. He wore tattered jeans, untied, patched-up sneakers, a gold chain. His hair in dreads and a smile on his face. One day, he approached me as I spoke with a friend after church, saying, “I’m always afraid to talk to you.” Then, I’m fairly sure he tried to pick me up. Not being hip to these sorts of things, I smiled and tried to steer the conversation back to more…comfortable topics. When he wandered off, my friend made it clear that the man made a habit of coming to church high, and was clearly in that condition during our conversation.
If what had just happened had really just happened, I was at a loss for a proper response. They don’t teach this stuff at Presbyterian church camp. On one hand, seriously guy? We’re at church, and I’m married, and my kids are standing right behind me, and I’m talking to someone. On the other hand, the high man is in church. He is neither the first nor the last addicted man to go looking for Jesus.
I’ll be honest; the bitterness of judgement on my tongue tasted good; how dare he? Church as pick up joint? I hardly think so.
And then the aftertaste of shame. I understand that addiction often masks a well of pain that has no bottom, a well with an endless supply of new wounds.
“I screwed up,” said my friend. She had reacted in anger, with a thirst for revenge clouding every other desire. It was one particular thing, the screwing up she confessed. But as she spoke, the spool unwound. Every kind of sad life event or circumstance peeled off as she talked. Not excuses. Not explanations. Just background, the ruined pages of her story, like pencil marks that never quite erase.
Listening to her was seeing behind the curtain, the less-than-perfect machinations of a life that can seem so pretty on the facebook stage. For the shortest moment, I felt disappointment, sadness, regret for her. A flash of judgement illuminated the ugly parts.
But, this time, the judgment eroded quickly; it could not stand against a wave of compassion. I had been where she stood and I did not like it. Standing guilty in the court of conscience ain’t pretty and it does not feel good.
Truth is, what’s saving me right now is compassion. Compassion is hard won and costly. It comes from stumbling blind in the desert, alone and afraid. It is the child of mistakes and hurt and healing. I, alone, am not a compassionate person. I am judgy and unkind and quick tempered.
Compassion is what allows us to see the scars under the acts, the broken person coming high to church, the woman lashing out. It is how we see the grody parts without pointing the cruel finger of judgement. Compassion is what allows us to build community in trust rather than tear it down with legalisms and appropriateness. Compassion, I know, is how my friends and my family see me when I am in survival mode, when I feel like the definition of inadequate mother, when I barely manage to tolerate the bickering as I write about compassion.
When we remember from whence we came, out of our own miry pits, we are capable of the love to which we are called.