I’ve been seeing a number of posts in social media lately about how everything that happens in one’s life (especially in relationships) should be seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. In other words, the posts discourage regret or sadness about past choices by suggesting that everything one has endured up to a certain point has been a teachable moment. The messages imply that if you haven’t learned something from a decision that turned out to be the wrong one that you just aren’t looking hard enough for the lesson.
Look, I’m all for learning from my mistakes and growing stronger from disappointment, but what happens if the depth of that disappointment feels like an abyss; like a hole one has fallen into by no fault of their own? But wait. We aren’t supposed to blame others for the things that happen to us, right? We always play a role. OK. So what if our fault lies in loving someone too much, seeing the potential in someone who refused to see it in themselves, or just trusting another human being to do the right thing? You see, here’s where my confusion about the lesson to be found begins. Am I supposed to learn not to love so much? Should I stop pushing to see the good in people? And how about trust? Should I be less trusting?
I know a great number of people who are jaded from relationships in which they suffered deep disappointment. For these people, the answer to most of the questions I posed above is a screaming, “Yes!” As a result of their experiences, these people do approach relationships differently than maybe they have in the past. They might stick a toe in to test the waters, maybe go knee-deep for another length of time, and maybe even make it into their waists. But they never fully submerge – and subsequently spend their lives complaining that they can’t seem to find anything real and meaningful. I guess in these cases I wonder what the value of the lesson truly is. More importantly, I wonder what part of themselves they are sacrificing as protection from future hurt and disappointment. I’m not sure the lessons are serving them well. In fact, I think what is really happening is that they are punishing themselves – and anyone else they meet – for things that happened in the past.
That which doesn’t kill us might make us stronger, but I think its ok to be broken for a while. Some things deserve to be felt, to be grieved. And that’s ok. If you’ve spent all of your energy in loving someone or something that didn’t work out, it’s probably ok to spend some energy grieving its loss. And if you can’t find a lesson in any of it, don’t let that make you feel worse. Sometimes people just don’t have the capacity to love in the same way you do. Sometimes, the lessons they think they’ve learned block them. Maybe knowing that is lesson enough.
In the end, perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn is more about ourselves than it is about any situation or person. And to that end, the most important question we can ask is whether we want to be motivated by love or motivated by fear. A seemingly simple question requires careful introspection. And living true to the answer may require courage. What will you choose? I have a feeling your answer will shape the lessons you learn.
Want to read more about fear vs. love? I found another blog that deals with this topic: https://wordfromthewell.com/2012/08/03/love-vs-fear-the-most-important-decision-youll-ever-make-and-youre-making-it-right-now/
When I first graduated from college and landed a job in the city, one of my coworkers accompanied me on a lunchtime walk. As we were strolling a downtown sidewalk she paused and looked up. “People never remember to do this,” she said. “These old buildings are just beautiful,” she continued, “but so few of us actually pause to look up and admire their architecture.” Twenty years later, I am still looking up in the city…past the bustling street and up into the sky. I am awed by the carved stone, the carefully pointed brick, and the majestic buttresses. But there’s another element of big city buildings that just fascinates me: the windows.
I am a person who likes to look into windows. At the risk of sounding like a peeping tom, let me clarify. I am not interested in seeing the people inside the windows, per se. What peaks my curiosity is the glow of light that comes from those windows. Driving past a tall building, those lights invite my curiosity. There are so many stories illuminated by those lights. There are single people, couples, families who are living lives I know nothing about. They are old and young, straight and gay, rich and poor, happy and sad. They have struggles and celebrations that will never intersect with my life. And yet, they are so interesting to me. Maybe it is because I am a storyteller at heart. Maybe it is because I just happen to like the diversity found in people. Or, maybe it is because when I stare at those little lights, hundreds of windows illuminated, I suddenly feel like a small part of a great big world. I am humbled…and intrigued. And it makes me happy to see those lights glow.
I was recently having a conversation with a friend who is newly divorced. After 30 years of marriage, he finds himself single and in a new apartment. Turns out that his daughter and her mother (his ex) were scheduled to visit the following night. Apparently, his daughter’s offer to help decorate the new place included bringing her mother along for a second opinion about curtains. When he told me about this seemingly simple (although I thought it odd) plan, it occurred to me that I’m not the only one who is interested in windows. In fact, the stated focus on curtains – while it may be literal to them – is overwhelmingly metaphoric to me. For the duration of the visit, the ex wife will be invited into a life she no longer shares. On some level, she will no longer need to wonder about the glow of light from the outside. Instead, she will be able to walk around on the inside. My guess is that for the entire visit she will be assessing how well he is doing without her. Perhaps he will do the same of her. And once his window is neatly decorated, she will once again be framing his view of the world, even if this time it is a more literal application.
There is a saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Gratitude lies in that window. Remember that doors are just solid pieces of wood, designed to keep things out. Windows, however, open wide to fresh ideas and possibilities. And so as I think about my friend who is rebuilding a life different than the one he expected, or about the hundreds of lives represented in those apartment buildings, I say this: Keep your windows open to the world. From them, cast a light that shines a warm and inviting glow. And if every once in a while you need to draw the curtains to sit in darkness, remember that there are people like me … people who look forward to seeing your window lights shine. And shine, you will!