Well, over 2 people thought the "Here's-a-headline-and-I-wrote-a-better-article" thing was a good idea, so I'll be doing that forthwith. In the meantime, I've been Thinking Thinks, and decided to share some of them, for no real reason except that sometimes Thinks make more sense when they're written down and you can have a good look at them.
Recently I was looking through old diaries and journals, and came upon some stuff from about 2000-2001, when I did a Thing called "Encounter" - a kind of discipleship / Sonship course, which involved about 20-25 Irish people and some Americans all meeting in a little village south of Dublin and Learning Stuff for a fortnight, before being sent to far-flung places like Galway to work with churches for a week (that was a whole other experience, which we'll save for a time when I have the emotional strength to dig it all up again).
Anyway, part of this was that you got stuck in a "discipleship group" with a few others, and you talked about your problems*. So I was with 2 others, who we'll call Lorraine and Christine, since that's what they're actually called. I like to describe the three of us as "The discipleship group from Hell", because, while we're all very nice people, in general, we all arrived on the Thing refusing to talk about ourselves or share experiences or generally do any of the things that make a discipleship group actually work and not just be really awkward.
*I'm not sure that that was really what we were meant to do, but it sounded more doom-laden when we put it that way, and we liked that.
I remember being asked things like "What are you struggling with at the moment?" and it wasn't just that I was being awkward (I mean, I WAS also being awkward, but even if I hadn't been, that wasn't even close to the main issue), it was more that I really honestly couldn't have told you what I struggled with, because I didn't like Thinking Of Such Things. If you'd asked me whether I was happy with who I was, I'd immediately have laughed and said "no" (well, I might have said "yes", but that would have been to stop you asking any more awkward questions), but if you asked me for specifics, I'd have been at a total loss.
During that time, I was keeping a journal fairly regularly, and one of the Bible verses I wrote that week was "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new
spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from you and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26), and I remember feeling that I had a heart of stone because it didn't seem to really do "feelings" and stuff very well, so I prayed that God would soften it and put feelings in it and that, even though I had a notion that I might not like That Sort of Thing, but I figured I could always throw them back out if I had to.
The thing is, I'm not an especially good person. This is not me-bashing. I'm not an especially bad person either. I'm just a regular person, and I have good points and bad points. But I've always loved an excuse. Like, when I read stuff about how I should love other people, I liked to be able to say "Ah, yes, but that command is for people who can do stuff like that. Not for me. I just exist to facilitate everyone else doing that." In the great mosaic of life, where everyone adds their own little bit of colour, I liked to think of myself as the grouting. I'm there, I show up, you can see me if you look, things wouldn't go well without me, but I don't actually add anything much. I liked to think that stuff that happened in the past meant that I had a sort of free pass to skip bits of the Bible. I didn't have the capacity to love other people, I told myself, so therefore I was exempt. I didn't have a ton of people in my life who loved me or did stuff for me, so it was ok to not love people all that much.
Don't get me wrong; I was all for compassion and goodness and kindness and things like that happening, and if I was able to do the dishes afterwards then I could feel ok about myself, but I didn't like to think that I could actually DO anything to make myself more compassionate or loving or generous or whatever, because then I'd have to actually DO something involving feelings.
I liked to be liked, though. We all do, I think. I liked to be nice to people, and to help out where I could, and to listen to problems and be all sympathetic about them. And I was aware that sometimes sympathy wasn't the best course of action, but if I tried to suggest that perhaps plotting to kill the person who'd annoyed you wasn't the best course of action*, then you might not like me, so I'd go back to sympathy.
* Dear Police, this never actually happened
But then stuff started to change. Our little group started the fortnight by spending our hour (or whatever it was) of discipleship group time studying the daisies and making jokes to break the tension, and ended it by actually talking about stuff. Like, not major stuff. But stuff. At some point someone even cried a little. Then we went to Galway and we all came back exhausted and ill, and suddenly all the feelings inside me exploded all over the place one night. The leader of the Thing was summonsed, and I sobbed on her shoulder for about half an hour, howling out the most random sentences known to mankind before or since, and she very patiently held me tight and then pointed out that maybe I was a self-centered, people-pleasing ball of anger and confusion who used excuses to stop having to move on or let God work* and suddenly I realised that maybe that was true, and maybe I couldn't just excuse it away, and maybe it might be ok to deal with it.
* I think she said it nicer than that, though. But I wouldn't swear to it.
So suddenly the heart of stone started to crack a little, and let stuff happen. Not much stuff, and not very fast, but I could stop blaming myself and my past and my fundamentally flawed personality for not being able to say hello to a new person who'd just come into the room, and I'd start going over to chat. Awkwardly, of course. It is a merciful thing that I don't remember my early attempts at being a Normal Sociable Person. But I started to discover that people weren't really looking at me and thinking "Why is this girl with the weird facial expressions and weird voice who looks all weird having a weird conversation with me?", but really they were thinking "Does she think I'm weird? At least she's talking to me so I don't have to stand here like a weird freak on my own.", because really, I'm not the centre of everyone else's universe, and that's probably ok.
And then after a little while I could open myself up to being generous and taking little risks like giving people stuff and risking that they might give me something back and then I'd be stuck in some sort of viscious cycle of gift-giving, or else I'd look bad for not saying Thank You loudly enough, or else they wouldn't like what I gave them or they'd just think it was weird. And I started to stop giving things just to make people like me, and started giving them just because I thought they might make the other person happy. And I stopped really noticing whether the things I did for people made them like me or not, and I just went on doing things because there was joy in it.
And after a while that got to be ok, and, to cut a long story short, I started to open myself up to the idea that maybe I could try to love people properly, and focus on them instead of on myself, but in an encouraging way and not in a comparing myself to them way. And maybe I could be honest and say "I know you want to kill that person, but maybe you shouldn't" and maybe they'd reject me and not talk to me again, but maybe that wasn't the end of the world, and maybe it was even better than just encouraging them to kill the person so I didn't look like a party pooper. And maybe I could let them love me too, and I could be vulnerable sometimes, and accept help and allow other people to give it and not have to immediately make it up to them, and not be obssessed with what it would make them think of me.
And after another while, I realised that it was actually ok to obey what God said and to love other people, because it's not about me anyway, and if I screw it up, I have a couple of friends who were in that discipleship staring at daisies who have seen the bad and the good and who love me anyway, and then I thought that maybe that's a bit like what God is like, only he's even better, and then I started to get more friends like that, and then I think maybe I started to be that kind of friend for other people sometimes too. And it turned out that other people actually thought that being secure in Christ as a child of God was more important than being good and right all the time, and that I could drop the pretence and not have to be perfect, and actually that was much better and safer and more exciting than always trying to be good and right and then having to run away and hide and never speak to people again when I messed up or gave in to temptation or couldn't be bothered or decided to have fun doing things my way.
So I'm thinking that somewhere along the way, quite a lot of what was stony and scared has been replaced with flesh and confidence, and even though that sometimes means that I care too much and probably annoy the feck out of people (especially the people who just want to block things out and stare at daisies), and even though there are still a lot of stony bits that I probably don't even know about, and a lot of the good bits are messed up in some ways, and there could be a lot more good bits and a lot less bad bits, I think I find much more joy and freedom in being this way, and overall, I think I would recommend it.