I'm in a new city, have been for a year now. Most of my closest friends are people I've known for less than a year. Until a year or so ago, I still had contact with my best friend from first grade through my early adulthood, but when it came time to update her with my new contact info after I left AM, I never managed to get it done. It's been years since we had anything in common to talk about. She grew distant after she learned that I, a woman, became a pastor, and being the stubborn one, determined not to give up on the relationship, I maintained contact for years, hoping someday my "commitment" to our friendship might persuade her to accept me. It never happened and something glorious in my changing understanding of commitment after all the heartache with AM freed me to let that relationship go too.
It leaves me in an odd place though. With the exception of my family, I have no regular contact with anyone who has known me for more than 9 years. That's hard to admit. Though I have new ways of framing it, I still worry that it is a reflection, somehow, on my character (or lack thereof) that I haven't managed to remain close to anyone from my past. That sense of failure is heightened by the reality that I am not close to anyone in my family, for essentially the same reasons that I have no contact with any friends from the early part of my life. With a record like that, it's hard not to assume it's my responsibility.
But the gift of the past few days is a new opening to accept the impermanence of relationships, a willingness to lay down the judge's gavel and open myself to a more freeing way of looking at what's happened. It's brought a lot of things into question for me. I don't know that there are a lot of answers yet, but there's a new sense of grace, I guess, that seems to permeate the way I'm looking at what has for years felt like failure. Here are some of the questions and thoughts I'm left with:
- Where have I learned to place such high value on permanence in relationships, to assume that commitment means sticking it out no matter what?
- Accepting impermanence doesn't mean assuming relationships will end, I think. It seems to me that it is probably more a shift in orientation toward the nature of all relationships. It's a surrendering of control over the outcome and an acceptance that change in the relationship is inevitable. Sometimes the change strengthens the relationship, deepens it. Sometimes it leads to separation. Sometimes it just means the relationship is different.
- If impermanence is accepted as a reality and embraced as something to be valued, rather than dreaded or feared, how, then, does my understanding of important theological categories like reconciliation and unconditional love shift?
- My experience is leaving me with the question, is there a love that remains constant through all those changes? I have some relationships that I've maintained throughout my lifetime, but I would hardly say they're characterized by unconditional love, a love that is constant, unwavering, that is able to accept me for me who I am.
- And, ultimately, I guess I wonder if I'm capable of loving and accepting in a way that I long to be loved and accepted myself.