So as I mentioned at the start of the year, I’m reading this wonderful book called Finding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray. Seriously…like why was this not a NY Times best seller for like a million weeks? I mean, this book has been both life-changing and a life-saver for me. In one particular passage, I connected a great deal to Gray talking about the debilitating panic attacks she once experienced and how they intensified as she began “digging up” some intensely sensitive stuff from her past in therapy. It affected her so much that she couldn’t blog as much as she used to. In fact, she wasn’t sure if she’d ever write again.
Before giving up completely, Bonnie reached out to a few of the fellow bloggers who wrote alongside her for one popular website. She’d decided to share with them what she was going through but…well, she was scared.
I knew hiding had always been my modus operandi. So I decided to take my challenge to stay present in my story into my writing world. I chose a few fellow bloggers to reach out to. I thought about how Jesus sent the disciples, two by two, out into the world. All I need is one, I tearfully prayed. First on my list was Holley. Holley and her friend Stephanie invited me to write with them when they first launched inCourage at Dayspring, an online community of Christian women. If I was going to have a chance at crawling through this tunnel with my writing life intact, I needed another writer to collect my dog tags if I didn’t make it. I was so scared she’d asked me to leave inCourage. Who would want a panic stricken woman writing on a devotional website?
“What’s going on, girl?” Holley spoke from her house in Arkansas as I pulled into a parking lot in California. I told her about my panic attacks. I don’t know how long I went on about how competent I’d always been.
“I get them, too.” Holley replied when I was finished.
What was she referring to? “You get nervous too?”
“Panic attacks,” she said. “They’re scary. It’s hereditary for me, but yeah I’ve had them all my life.” Suddenly, the shame receded. I took another step into the whitespace of friendship.
So you know I’m reading this and BAWLING, right?
Yep, just like that. Straight up, ugly cry, bawling.
All I need is one.
For much of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider. Growing up, I was the girl whose best friend always had another best friend. I made a great effort to be “down” enough so my “quirkiness” wouldn’t stand out too much but I still remained on the perimeter of any circle. That’s very much true even today. Yes, I had and have friends but I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt like I belonged anywhere. I’ve never quite fit in. And for the most part, I’ve accepted this as my lot. Maybe even God-designed to keep me from shrinking into the masses. At 40, I know I’m a little different. Way too much in my head, most of the time. Certainly hard to put in the kinds of boxes and categories that we often like to place people in. Because of that, whenever I have a major trial to touch down in my life, I too find myself saying, “Please God, all I need is one.”
One person who will understand.
One person who will get me.
One person who is safe enough to hear my heart.
It’s way too easy to allow fear to prevent us from reaching out to someone for help. That nasty critic in our heads tells us that no one is going through what we’re going through and no one will understand. We believe the lie that if people know that we are sad or angry or feeling broken then somehow they will associate that with who we are as a person. For example, I’ve been that mom who wouldn’t tell another mom that I was wrestling with sadness and anger because I didn’t want that mom to think I didn’t love my family. I didn’t want to be judged. Like Bonnie, I was afraid that my competence would come under fire.
We all want someone to share our stories with. We all want to know that we are not alone. No matter how isolated we choose to be, there is great value in authentic relationships. Friends can do things for each other that they can’t do for themselves. Which reminds me:
Two are better than one because a good return comes when two work together. If one of them falls, the other can help him up. But who will help the pitiful person who falls down alone? – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
We aren’t meant to do this life alone.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking.
“You can’t trust people nowadays, Tracey.”
“I can’t allow myself to get vulnerable with people just so I can be shamed. We live in a shaming culture.”
I get it. I sooo get it. The truth is, there is definitely a kind of wisdom we all need when considering who to share our hearts with. Everyone isn’t going to be, as Bonnie says, our “whitespace” friend. The person we go to for relational rest. And it’s hard to distinguish the real deal folks from the counterfeits sometimes. I’m a person who has been hurt many times by alleged friends. So much so that safety in relationship is extremely important to me. But I often have to remind myself that my safety is not found in any person but in God and therefore, I have to keep myself open to the possibilities of friendship even when there’s the potential that a person can hurt me. Here’s the thing: There’s ALWAYS that potential. Because: humans. At the same time, I do think it’s important for all of us to be acutely aware when a person is unable to handle our stories, our vulnerability.
Have you ever been called “needy”? I have. Several years ago, a person who I considered to be a close friend said that I “needed too much” from her. All because I took the risk to be transparent about what was going on with me. All because I chose vulnerability as my survival mechanism. So, in order to respect the boundaries she inadvertently set, I stopped sharing my heart with her. The relationship had never really been a reciprocal one and upon me getting really clear about that, naturally, it changed. Today, we no longer communicate because once I decided to not be “needy” anymore—and therefore, not allow myself to be my authentic, open-hearted self—she became angry. She said some very hurtful things to me in that anger. I suppose she sensed my disconnection and didn’t know what to do with it. And I was. Disconnected, I mean. Because, for me, vulnerability and emotional safety should be the lifeblood of healthy relationships. When it doesn’t exist, friendships die.
To my own surprise actually, I have never been mad about the death of that friendship. I still love this woman a great deal. I think my acceptance of her being incapable of being a “whitespace” friend came from, as Brene Brown often says, not attaching my self-worth to the relationship. Clearly her reactions were a reflection of where she was in her life as much as mine were. As a result, I was able to assess the relationship for what it really was—as opposed to what I wished it to be—and come to the conclusion that she was not “my person” and that was OK.
I used to internalize those words though; “you’re too needy” or “you want to much from your friends.” I used to take them extremely personal. I would spend hours wondering what was wrong with me. Why I felt the need to “go deep” all the time and why the people I chose to be friends with were usually ones who lacked empathy and the kind of emotional literacy to deal with “someone like me.” This internalizing led to always feeling like an outsider. Even in the crowd. I don’t know how many times I’ve been on a stage or in the midst of an event and still feeling very much alone.
Fairly recently though, I came to the conclusion that it really isn’t necessary for me to view these “you’re too needy” assessments of me as negative. I am human. I am made in the image of the Creator and, through Jesus, the recipient of the greatest act of passion ever demonstrated. I deeply desire connection. I want to be safe. I’m self-aware enough to know that I need relationships where I can express pain and passion without judgment. So ummm yeah. Not going to hide that anymore. After years of feeling hurt because folks viewed my desire for connection as “too much,” after years of wearing the self-protective mask of “hardness” to prevent being hurt by people, I’m just not doing it anymore. All that shape-shifting is exhausting…and maybe even a little self-centered. I suspect I can even connect some of it to my battles with chronic pain, depression and stress.
So now I quiet those voices in my head that say I’m not enough. The whispers that say my search for deep connection in my friendships is somehow desperate can have several seats. And…I release so-called friends who can’t handle both my truth and vulnerability.
It’s probably cliché at this point for me to use a swimming metaphor but I am in the middle of taking these phenomenal lessons and *shrug* it fits. The truth is, I don’t want to be in the shallow end of the pool anymore when it comes to my relationships. I want friends who are willing to venture out into the deep end with me. I want to be that kind of friend.
The narrative I held onto for far too long is that brokenness precipitates rejection. If I revealed my pains and shortcomings, even if I shared too much of my dreams and triumphs, there was a strong possibility I would be rejected. That was the pattern that showed up regularly. What I know now is that any brokenness I may have is actually evidence of my freedom. I can be free from the fear of any single person’s judgment. I can be free from attaching my self-worth to someone else’s validation. And in that freedom, I can share my heart wisely…but without trepidation.
When we can share our brokenness with each other, it gives us whitespace. We become a respite for each other. It gives us room to be our authentic selves and opens the door to deep, intimate relationships. Bonnie Gray sums this up in her book rather nicely:
When Jesus sent the disciples into the world on a mission he knew there were people who would not welcome them. Jesus knows that rejection is part of our travels.
“Shake the dust off your feet,” he told them.
In other words, keep journeying until you find a home you can rest with on this roadway of faith. These homes are hearts of friends you and I can rest with. We can welcome each other. We can sit with dust fresh on our feet. Through a phone call. An email. Face-to-face.
It’s the whitespace of friendship. We can rest with each other a while as we walk into the stories God is uniquely writing in us. We can make room for each other. As we are.