I have searched my entire adult life for something that I’m good at…some talent, like painting, photography, writing, etc.
So far, I’m not really talented at much.
Except for one thing, and this is a terrible talent.
I am really, really, really good at ignoring people I’m mad at.
Which actually is not a lot of people. I can only think of two people I’ve ignored…an old boyfriend who really, really hurt my feelings once over 10 years ago and my ex, Luke’s father.
My ex, Luke’s father, really hurt me after we broke up. He said some terrible things about me–to pretty much anyone who would listen. And they were mostly lies. But I live in a small town, and word gets around, and my pride was hurt as well as my reputation (to a certain degree, really. Anyone who knew me, knew the things he said weren’t really true).
But the fact it, he was hurt by me leaving the relationship. And as much as I think that the way he handles it was lame, I am not him and I don’t know what was going through his mind, though it couldn’t have been pleasant.
In fact, I was so mad that every time I saw him, I would feel a ball of rage forming somewhere in my stomach, and I felt like I’d explode.
And when we had to speak, either before Luke was born or shortly thereafter, he had a unique was of being nice on the surface, but then also being really passive aggressive and slipping in some under cutting statement that sent this ball of rage into an almost tangible fury.
Of course, he was dealing with break-up issues as well. How he dealt with it was his way of healing. It does not make him a bad person.
Anyway, at the time, I was in therapy, and my therapist suggested that I just stop talking with him–that everything we need to say to each other could be said via email or text. This wouldn’t last forever, of course, but until we could heal, it was probably the healthiest way to handle each other.
It worked wonderfully. Anything and everything we need to say concerning Luke can be said via email, and the ball of rage I once felt slowly went away. Of course, it was awkward at first not speaking to each other whenever we had a drop off/pick up of Luke, but after time, it grew to be quite natural for both of us I think. And much healthier.
And like I said, I’ve gotten really, really good at this.
But as Luke’s gotten older, I’ve started to realize that we cannot keep going on like this. That we will damage Luke if we cannot have some sort of pleasant communication while in each other’s presence.
The question then remained: how? How do you go from not speaking at all for a few years to trying to be civil, even nice?
I’m not so good at that.
Then, last week a friend of mine recommended the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.
Publisher’s Weekly describes it as:
“Miller’s a young writer, speaker and campus ministry leader. An earnest evangelical who nearly lost his faith, he went on a spiritual journey, found some progressive politics and most importantly, discovered Jesus’ relevance for everyday life. This book, in its own elliptical way, tells the tale of that journey. But the narrative is episodic rather than linear, Miller’s style evocative rather than rational and his analysis personally revealing rather than profoundly insightful. As such, it offers a postmodern riff on the classic evangelical presentation of the Gospel, complete with a concluding call to commitment. Written as a series of short essays on vaguely theological topics (faith, grace, belief, confession, church), and disguised theological topics (magic, romance, shifts, money), it is at times plodding or simplistic (how to go to church and not get angry? “pray… and go to the church God shows you”), and sometimes falls into merely self-indulgent musing. But more often Miller is enjoyably clever, and his story is telling and beautiful, even poignant. (The story of the reverse confession booth is worth the price of the book.) The title is meant to be evocative, and the subtitle-“Non-Religious” thoughts about “Christian Spirituality”-indicates Miller’s distrust of the institutional church and his desire to appeal to those experimenting with other flavors of spirituality.”
I read it in a few days though I don’t know how much I’d recommend it. It didn’t move me the way it moved my friend, and it seemed too Christian fundamentalist for me. But there were definitely certain aspects of the book that I took away thinking about: trying to be more “Christ-like,” in that you should love your neighbor, actually love everyone, as well as the strong message that we are selfish, ego loving people, and we should work on ourselves before we even attempt to go out in the world and make a change. If we better ourselves, the world will be changed!
I like that part of the book because I do believe I am incredibly self-centered at times, and it’s something I’m conscious of and strive to change. I also love the part about loving everyone because it’s what I like most about Jesus (and Buddha and countless other non-Christian awesome peeps).
But half-way through the book, I also though, “My ex would probably like this book” (for several reasons that needn’t be discussed here). And then I thought, in the spirit of the book, that I’d extend some love and give him my copy.
Which meant talking to him.
And then I also was panic-stricken for two reasons:
1. Was I really giving him this book because I thought he needs to learn something from the message: like “stop talking shit about me, asshole!”
**But after much thought, I realized that no, I wasn’t thinking about giving him the book for this reason because when I was reading it and kind of just randomly thinking, “my ex would like this,” it wasn’t parts that were particularly about who I thought he was or what I though he needed to learn or anything about that. So I’m pretty sure I just really thought he’d like the book.
2. Would he think I was giving it to him because I had a hidden agenda, like “Look how nice I am. Read this book and fix yourself.”
**Well, I can’t control what he’s going to think or what goes on in his mind, so there’s nothing I could really do about that, and if I presented him the book and said, “I’m not giving you this because I think you need to learn some important message from it which will make you a better person,” then OBVIOUSLY that’s probably exactly what he would think.
And then again, just to remind you, I had to actually talk to him. Which was the point. Which totally terrified me.
But I decided to do it.
So when I dropped Luke off, I held the book up and said, “Have you read this book.”
Him: “No. Why?”
Me: “I read it this summer and though you might enjoy it. You can have this copy. I already finished it.”
Him, looking at me suspiciously: “What’s the premise?”
Me: “It’s not a parenting book.” (and I know that wasn’t the question, but I was already nervous and I didn’t know how to describe the premise without more talking than I was ready to actually do at this point.
Him, with a look of continued suspicion: “So then what’s the premise?”
Me: “I just think you may like it.”
Then I walked away. I didn’t feel exalted or extremely impressed with myself. No mountain was moved. But I didn’t feel a ball of fury in my stomach and that’s good.
So, a small peace offering I gave today to my ex. Who know’s what will happen from here.
I’m pretty thankful I made this gesture as nerve-racking as it was. And while I’m certainly no Jesus (or Buddha or Mother Theresa or Bono), I’d like to think that they’re all high-fiving me for my attempt at kindness.