Monday, August 22, 2016

Contempt and Coming Home

I prayed a prayer yesterday, for someone else. But God did not listen to the someone else part; He answered for me instead.

I had been struck by a person earlier that day, how quickly and almost causally contempt overtook them. They would just be sitting there, being their sweet self, and negativity would burst forth. It came so hot and so often, it was like tuning into someone's “umms” or chewing noises, once you've heard it you can't stop hearing it. Then I started paying attention to how this was making me feel, and I noticed I felt completely thrown off and worn down by it. The pleasant conversation would so abruptly switch, not to words against me necessarily, just to words against. And I got so tired of trying to keep myself positive, trying to fight off the meanness of it, that I just wanted to leave.

I don't think they mean to be this way, I thought. I know this person. This is a lovely person. But this is not lovely. This is the opposite. It occurred to me that they probably are not even hearing it anymore. That contempt had become a habit, like a bad smell in your own house when the only one not smelling it is you. God, I prayed, give them new ears to hear their own words, and their sweet spirit, that wants wholeness, will answer you.

In my experience, God always takes our prayers a little more seriously than we take them.

So, wouldn't you know, there I was yesterday talking. Being my sweet self on a lawn chair in a group of women I love on the most beautiful day. Pleasant, pleasant, affirming, and contributing. And suddenly, out of my mouth, lava. It struck without warning. It was one of those moments when you say something and the words just hang in the air in front of you, you can't escape them, you just have to sit there in a circle with your friends and look at them as they ring over and over in the new ears that you prayed for someone else but God gave you. He had not stopped at new ears either. My new eyes took in the moment, the faces of those women, and I saw how the words had struck, and how I had thrown them off balance.

I wanted to leave, immediately. I wanted to hide. I told myself to shut up, to be quiet and be kind. My shame did the opposite though. It just released more poison in me. And there it came, out again, words like acid, against against against. Contempt and me fought a battle and I lost. I left and I wished I wouldn't have ever brought my monster of a self there. I shouldn't have left my house. I shouldn't be allowed to have friends or say words (this is how I was feeling).

Contempt has a fortress built up in my heart. Seriously, a bunker. It is dug down deep and built up high and I have been trying to dismantle it for years. As I reflect this morning, I am reminded that shame and isolation and fear often seem like the tools to defeat it, but they just add to the layers of protection around it. Honesty, compassion, and repentance are the only things I can used to tear this down.

With honesty in my hands, I can admit that I keep contempt around, even though I hate it, because it makes me feel strong and it makes me feel legitimate. I use it to bully my way into a space in the world, into having a voice, into making allies by pointing out enemies. These are the lies I have bought again and again, that contempt works. Praise God, for new ears, new eyes: it doesn't work. It delivers the opposite of what it's selling. It discredits my voice with its violence, it steps into a space that isn't mine and so I can't fill the spot I was meant to fill, and it pushes away the people I was trying to be close to with its manipulation.

Compassion comes to replace shame when I remember that God knows all about my monster-self already. So do all my friends. The only one who doesn't notice the contempt smell in my house is me. My shame comes from thinking I was keeping this a secret, that I was fooling them all, and now I've been found out and everyone is going to leave. But come on, it was no secret, and yet I will gather with all those women again, many times. Of course I am lacking, just like the friend I loved and prayed for that started this whole thing, and no one is really that shocked about it. What freedom! I am loved anyway.

Repentance means to turn. Turn back, turn around, come home. That's what I am hearing this morning: the strong, kind voice of God. "Don't be afraid," He is saying, "you've wandered down that old path again, you got confused about who you are and what you need, just turn around and come back, Kylee."  And here it is, my own sweet spirit, who wants wholeness, answering.

We can trust these things. We can come home. We can choose the new thing. We can keep choosing it.