By Jenn Zatopek
Last January, I chose a word to cast a positive vision for the year. A few days after I prayed, a word came to me through a dear friend who slipped a bracelet with the word “beloved” into my hands. It was a cold, gray day when we met up for dinner, but my delight at being seen by my friend was ineffable. We shared our vulnerable hearts with one another, a gift for my parched and weary soul.
As time wore on the tectonic plates of the relationship shifted, and like the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, the earth filled with molten lava and cooled in a new distance between us. Her withdrawal baffled me, and I sought out the relationship more, asking for contact and getting rebuffed. Suspecting the worst, I asked for a meeting a few months later, to talk things out and begin again.
But the worst happened. I lost another friendship due to the devastating effects of alcoholism, the second friendship I lost to the disease last year. Intellectually, I understand her reasons for abandoning the friendship— she was stuck between choosing her alcoholic lover or a friend. I know deeply what it is like to confuse love with pain, choosing iron shackles of loyalty over goodness and growth for one’s soul.
However, I remained disconcerted by the loss of this friendship. We were kindred spirits, heart sisters, and the absence of the relationship took months to grieve and mourn. My sense as God’s beloved came into stark question. How could I still remain beloved if I continue to lose friendships as the years march onward? How can I learn from this experience, not as one that the Divine sends me to teach me a lesson, but as an opportunity to grow as a human being fully alive and awake to the endless possibilities around me?
As I sit and ponder the year in review, I watch the pin oak tree out my writing window. It sits in comfortable stillness, its tawny branches reaching for the heavens, peaceful in its role as a tree in the world.
And then I am struck by this realization: What if my role, before any other, is beloved and accepted as God’s delight?
Reviewing the year, I observe how easily I let my friend’s opinion matter more than my very own, even more than God’s. As a young person, growing up in a family ravaged by alcoholism and mental illness, I became an accomplished student, worker, writer, and musician to receive the positive feedback I desperately craved and missed in my origin family.
But in relationships I clamored for the old lie that I have to perform and perfect my way into affection with others. This tendency to perform at all costs is so prevalent that Brené Brown formulated the shame resilience theory to mitigate the damaging effects of shame, or our felt disconnection from others when we embark on daring to risk sharing our true selves with others.
The sobering truth is that our friendship was not a lifelong plant but lasted only a brief season, its roots dying from a lack of authenticity from the other. As much as I sensed losing this friendship would hurt me, I resolved to recover from the wounds of relationship in which I felt pressure to hide behind masks of fake happiness and cheer.
It would seem that as the Holy called me into deeper relationship with Him or Her, a settling period needed to occur. As I rooted in spiritual practices such as centering prayer and the Examen, I reencountered the Holy One. Undeniably, my soul needed healthy relationships, but if I had a pattern of choosing emotionally distant individuals, then I needed to stop and wait in the wilderness, a chance to get my bearings before moving onward.
If only there was an oasis around here, I thought to myself, but I soon discovered there was.
In stillness, in quiet and solitude, I recognized the wilderness where I wait. It is a deep path on the lea side of a mountain, filled with beautiful sunlight and a verdant green meadow. There is no one here, but it is not a lonely place; on the contrary, it is filled with healing light while little bluebirds flit amid the sun-drenched Spruce and Douglas fir trees which line the path. This wilderness-turned-oasis is a Divinely inspired place. It is a refuge and a home, for it is my heart, a safe place in which to laugh and play and rest.
Over and over, I return to this place after I practice breathing quietly for a while. There is no need to rush. As I take my time and relax into the present, I experience peace. There is no trying to get there, no additional work I must do when I sit in stillness with the Holy.
When I accept that the old friendship has washed away, I stop judging the situation, analyzing the whys and hows of the downfall. Great energy has already been spent evaluating the past. Now is the time for me to surrender, accepting the gift of Love’s accepting presence.
I wonder if I would have discovered this meadow of my heart had I not lost the special friendship. Would I have sought out the Divine as persistently as I have over the past year? Perhaps this wilderness will allow me to strengthen my heart as I wait patiently for new relationships to emerge, or old ones to resurface. And while I breathe in peace and let Love heal my heart, I can find comfort in knowing that stillness is where I belong.
Jenn Zatopek is a recovering perfectionist, writer, and therapist. She has been accepted to Brite Divinity School to pursue a degree in theology. Jenn’s work has been featured in magazines such as SheLoves Magazine, The Glorious Table, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, Panther City Review, Fathom Magazine, and elsewhere. You can find her writing about the intersection of psychology and theology at her website https://theholyabsurd.com/, Instagram at @theholyabsurd and Twitter at @JennZatopek.
Check out How to Find Water (For Thieves)
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