Today a new friend asked me a question that took me off guard and brought a surge of memories, relationships, feelings and fears to the surface…memories that I try to forget.
We were working on a project, and my friend asked how a tough situation in my past had affected me. I stumbled around for a second, trying to find the right words to say. “I, I don’t know,” I stuttered. Over the next few milliseconds, my brain froze. Do I tell this new person deep, raw information about myself, my fears? Or just put on my game face, sweep it under the rug, and give the answers people usually want to hear? Before I could hesitate any longer, I leaped.
“No, I do know. I do know how it affected me.” In many ways, that particular tough situation still does affect me to my core, shaking the contents of my heart and brain around like building blocks in a dryer. Loud and uncomfortable. Painful. That’s why I don’t let myself bring it to the surface. I trick myself into believing that the deeper I bury the reality of how I was affected, I will protect myself. That, however, only does more internal damage.
That initial question trailed into a full-blown, 30-minute conversation that felt more like a wrestling match inside my head. What this person was asking me about required me to reveal my true thoughts…something I’m often not willing to do.
“So, what sets you off?” my friend asked.
“Not knowing where I stand with people,” I replied.
“What do you mean?”
Over the past seven years, I’ve lived in a season of change. Good, frustrating, annoying, humiliating, scary change. In this season, I have really, really struggled with trusting, loving and forgiving people. One minute, they love you and the next you’re out like last year’s fashion wondering what went wrong. Through that, I’ve learned to protect myself by building walls around my heart, not opening up honestly to people, masking my emotions with my “game face,” and constantly living with the feeling of walking on a tight rope, afraid that it will snap at any given point.
Truth is, we’ve all got bruises.
Every person that has been woven into the story of my life was written in for a reason. It may have only been for a chapter, or even just a page, but they were written into my story. Sometimes I don’t like why their character was suddenly pulled out of my life or the situation surrounding it. And there are times when I just seriously want other characters erased forever from my memory. But those lives that have intersected with mine are significant. They have bruises too.
“How do you let people know where you stand with them?”
That question threw me back. I had honestly never thought about it before. I am so consumed with how people treat me, figuring out their agenda, or deciding if they’re honest or not, that I’m missing what I’m communicating to them–and ultimately myself. I’m missing out on the fact that I’m not being honest either, wearing my mask like I’m living in some gaudy masquerade ball, hiding my feelings because I’m too afraid that if I’m honest I’ll just get burned like every other time I’ve opened up.
After our conversation, I struggled, letting questions tumble around in my head: did I answer the questions the right way? Should I have answered differently? Does my friend think I’m a total loser when it comes to the people department? I mean, I work in a church! Shouldn’t I be a pro at dealing with people?
I grabbed my car keys, started the ignition, and began to drive home, questions still shaking around in my brain like animated iPhone apps. When the radio came on, the first lyrics to reach my ears were from Train’s new album. Floored, overwhelmed and actually, relieved, I listened to the sweet words entering my ears, “These bruises make for better conversation, loses the vibe that separates. It’s good to let you in again. You’re not alone in how you’ve been. Everybody loses–we all got bruises.”
My story is significant and worth more than shoving down the drain. Yes, I’ve been bruised. But so have the people who have bruised me. It’s time to let people in again. Breathe in. Breathe in and out again. I’m pretty sick of always putting on my “game face” and trying to hide my story, my past–it just took taking a leap and answering really hard questions as rawly as I could to see that.
To my friend, keep the tough questions coming. We’ve all got bruises.