To Love, We Have To Be There

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bethany suckrow -to love we have to be there3

I’m at war with myself.

Maybe you understand what I mean: feeling that the best parts of ourselves can also be the worst. That the thing we are hungry for, is also the thing that will eat us alive if we’re not careful. That the things we’re gifted at—communication, organization, numbers, theology, politics, creativity—can become the double-edged sword we wield against people we love in a moment of anger or fear. Or that the most important parts of our lives become the grooves that the needles get stuck in, damaging narratives we repeat to ourselves and to each other over and over again until they break us.

A few months ago I was chatting with a friend over lunch about personality types and how we cope with disappointment, and she quoted something from a book that crystalized my struggle:

“Your vision and high ideals are here to inspire you, not to be the yardstick you measure the world against.”

Ouch.

If it were coming from anyone else, I might have responded with sarcasm and profanity. But this particular friend said it with such tenderness and encouragement that it softened that ugly instinct to defend myself from criticism. She saw me. She saw my vision for a world where there is justice and beauty and wholeness, and she understood my pain of coming face-to-face with the imperfections and the brokenness.

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Even with how deeply my friend’s gentle criticism resonated, it’s been hard for me to accept. After our conversation I didn’t share it with anyone, but let it stew inside me for a long time. I don’t really hold up a measuring stick to everything and everyone, do I? Is it so wrong to have a vision and ideals? Do I really make people feel like they can’t live up to my standards? It took me weeks to even convince myself to write this post. If people understood this about me, wouldn’t they use it against me?

A couple months later, just after my 30th birthday, I read a poem from Marie Howe called “The Landing.” It ends with this incredible epiphany:

“… And I understood that if I kept it all up …
no one would know me.
A dim light in the far distance? No.
To love—I had to be there.
I had to be there to be loved.”

Ouch.

It felt like that poem was reading me instead, calling out my competing desires to be in control of everything and to be loved. I can’t have both. And because I can’t have both, I’ve been a mess.

Inwardly, I’ve been retreating into the labyrinth of Everything That’s Ever Gone Wrong to fight that battle of What I Wanted to Happen vs What Actually Happened. Outwardly, I wield all of my verbal prowess and hyper-vigilance against everyone I love—my husband, our family, friends, coworkers, the dog. I curse at public radio on my drive home and write angry twitter threads over the constant barrage of bad news. I repeat a broken narrative to myself, about how nobody understands me or cares as much as I do. I feel a lot of feelings, but I don’t really do anything constructive. Mostly I’m just miserable to be around.

So in therapy I’m working on learning to be present, to face conflicts without wandering down the labyrinth, to stop holding up the yardstick to everything, to stop going to battle over every little thing I can’t control. It’s not that my vision for the world is wrong or that my gifts aren’t enough. These things are beautiful and part of what make me who I am. But as my friend said, their purpose is to inspire and motivate, not to be used as weapons.

If we want to be known, we have to give up the act of being in control. It’s not enough to live our lives at a distance and retreat every time things don’t go as planned.

To love, we have to be vulnerable. We have to be vulnerable to be loved.

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Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at bethanysuckrow.com, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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  • Lynn Morrissey

    Powerful post Bethany. Insightful. Thought-provoking. Transparent. And for me? I need to give up the right to be right and to think I have to have the last word. Funny. I was just thinking yesterday of writing a funeral essay to be put in a worship folder at my own funeral (not maudlin, I assure, but just wanting not to burden my husband w/ all of this). And in my mind, I was already wording it, something like: “Well, by now, you know I always have to have the last word….” (And obviously, at my demise, it would be). But the thought sort of pulled me up short. I feel powerfully about things. I hope my thinking is clear and godly. But wow, how often it is not. Maybe I’d be wiser sometimes just to listen and keep my thoughts to myself. At any rate, your wonderful post shows that the extreme version of our strengths become weaknesses. We always need to be in a posture of humility and learning and then speak from that place, as I believe you are doing now. Thanks for sharing!
    Love
    Lynn

  • So much wisdom here.
    Our greatest gifts are often our greatest burdens. I’m working on this business of kicking myself out of the center of the universe, and it’s been a long process.