For the last many months, I’ve been searching for some definition of what my faith is, and what it’s all about. But for some reason, I’m not able to plug anything into it. It seems to be so transient and difficult to latch something onto it. It seems to be so nebulous as to defy definition. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s time for me to stretch, but it’s most likely because I’ve allowed my rebelliousness to get the best of me. But then as I drilled further down, I had to ask; where is this rebelliousness coming from? Well, I found the source: frustration.
Let me tell you where I first realized that I something was wrong, and it was bad. Without going into confidential details, I snapped at one of the participants in my Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) meeting. Afterwards, I was strongly prompted to apologize to both the group and the individual but it left me shaking and wondering; what was wrong with me? Why did I have this feeling to be so hard on this person? What possessed me to call this person to repentance when it was nowhere near the realm of my place to do so? Something with me wasn’t right.
It was during this analysis that I was able to peel back the layers until I got to the source of what triggered me. Without going into all the gory details, first, I was publicly dressed down and humiliated by someone I considered a good friend. Then, just a few weeks later, I was told by a close friend that our boundaries were going to shift to less of a confidant role but to a more friend-like role.
Now I think that I’m a tough enough guy and can handle this type of stuff. However, when things go wrong, I may look confident, but I get aggressive both physically and emotionally; both a reflection of the turmoil that is boiling inside me. If it’s a relationship issue, then hey, it’s easy, I cut people out. You dis’ me, I no longer know you. It what has been an emotional defense mechanism left over from my younger days. You see, before I began my journey, friends were people that I know and share experiences with and will always be there. If they left, they were out. Besides, to me, nobody stuck around and even fewer, if anyone, could be trusted. So you can imagine how I treated people who would try to cry on my shoulder (it wasn’t pretty). Thus, because I didn’t like people, by default, everyone was an acquaintance. It was black and white; you were a person I tolerated or I didn’t like you at all.
There is only one time that a close friend (my first close friend) had left me and I didn’t cut them out. Granted, I wasn’t always nice to him but he appreciated my brazen forthrightness and accepted who I was. The only two reasons I can come up with for not cutting him out is that his wife told me that he was just as sad about leaving as I was and he hadn’t done anything that had me question our trust for each other. When we reconnected 10 years later, we pick up where we left off, albeit a lot older and wiser. But we are still close friends.
But as part of my rehabilitation, I had to force myself out of isolation and interact with other people. This forced me, in my linear thinking way, to define relationships and place people into categories:
- People who don’t like me.
- People who treat me trite-fully or with contempt.
- People who are disingenuous.
- People who want me to join in their bad behavior.
- Funny people – those who “tolerate” me. I tend to mess with them. Unchristian, I know.
- Cliquish people – People I have to deal with but who are in their own little clique and have deemed that I am not worthy to join in (mainly, the way I feel with some in my ward and stake).
- People I know whom I’m not close to.
- Friend – A person with whom we have shared personal experiences.
- Good Friend – A friend I feel I can trust with a little bit of myself.
- Close Friend – A good friend whom I have implicit trust in and am loyal to. A confidant. These people I can count on one hand.
Now these may not work for you or are totally wrong, but in my logical and linear thinking, it works. With these categories, I learned to deal with the ambiguity of people’s behavior and relationships up to “Friend.” Good and close friend are less ambiguous because there are a basic set of assumptions and rules that I can count on and trust. But I get lost when I have a good or close friend do or say something that challenges the notions that they even want to be that close to me. In other words, they do something outside my nice and tidy definitions and force me to re-define what relational category they are in. So when two people I considered good and close friends did something that force me to wonder if they even want to be friends with me, it threw me off, made me question my judgment and put me on the defensive with all the aggressiveness and walls that come with it.
But it goes further.
While on a defensive posture, I am slow to answer all emails and texts, I avoid answering the phone, I isolate myself, I doubt myself, I question my judgment, I loathe myself. Character weakness? You bet! It reminds me of the scene from The Hunt for Red October. When the sonar couldn’t identify the sound of the new submarine, it ran back to its original programming – seismic anomaly. So as I become confused and hurt, I run back to my original programming – ostracize and hate (both them and me).
But I ran into a conundrum that left me even more confused; these are friendships that I didn’t want to lose. For the first time, I began to feel that the best course of action was not to dismiss these people but to forgive, work with them and keep them as good and close friends. So I was internally fighting the autopilot reaction to shove these people out, but I didn’t know where to put them. It became an emotional and intellectual fight that overwhelmed me to the point that it leaked to how I began treating other people around me. The more frustrated I got, the more aggressive I became until I lashed out in that ARP meeting that night.
So now where am I?
In short, still confused and still questioning and watching as this confusion is now spilling out into the very faith in Christ that I hold so dear. It’s so easy to say that Christ is my Elder Brother and my Best Friend, but our relationship with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ is colored by our relationship with other people. Thus, the scripture “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34). Additionally, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” (1 John 4:7) We cannot say “I don’t need friends” while at the same time espousing “I love God.” It doesn’t work that way.
Or how about a mental exercise: Is your relationship with your Father in Heaven the same as your Father on Earth? When you do something wrong, are you afraid to pray about it because your Heavenly Father will be, if He is not already, mad at you? Think about how you approach your Father in Heaven in prayer; is it similar as you would approach your father on earth? Then why would it not be different with friendship? How can we say that Christ is our friend if we are dismissive of our earthly friend who offends us? Or more personally, how can I dismiss the friendship of my good and close friends but on the same breath call Christ my friend? I believe that it is because I gained a closer relationship with my Father in Heaven and Christ that I now pull back from cutting people out. While I am currently going through a period of turmoil about people and my relationship with them, it is tempered by my new-found relationship with God and my Savior. In other words, I don’t see people like I used to see them, I don’t treat people like I used to treat them.
So for now, I have this personal struggle because I’m 30 years behind schedule in understanding the basic tenants of friendship. As a result, my natural reaction is to be harsh. But my new-found, all-be-it not natural reaction is to be easy to be entreated. My attitude is to try to do the right thing by listening to how God wants me to act. Reading the previously cited scriptures, there is no ambiguity left. As for my rebelliousness, that still needs to be excised out of me. But it is that rebellion that puts me in the position to stretch and grow. It’s the questioning that opens me up to self-analyze, search and receive answers. But it’s not getting all the answers at once that both frustrates and keeps me focused. However, it’s the questioning of my faith that terrifies me, but on the other hand, comforts me because to not question is to be stagnating, rotting away and falling. To be questioning is to be in constant movement, progressing and traveling further down the path of rehabilitation and life.
Quite frankly, I’m not able to see the future or have a certainty that life will get better. The here and now is not very bright but full of difficulty and consequences, but I have a firm faith that my Father in Heaven is very much aware of me and my struggles. I also have a firm belief that this struggle I’m having now is for a reason known to Him; that these lessons are preparing me for something better. So while I question why He would be so interested in me, a lowly sinner who brought on me the weight of the consequences of my actions, I am very much aware of His mercy, patience and love for me. It is that love and acceptance that I’ll try to use that as an example of how I need to be with my friends.