dear hilary: when strength is hard-fought

Dear Hilary,

He hurts. I hurt. We play the game of who cares less: He is winning because I care too much, invest my heart too quickly. Still I do not tell a soul. I wrestle with sexuality, faith, self-respect – aware that this is unhealthy. I cannot fix him, I know. And I too walk through a season of brokenness and loneliness – I am not strong enough. 

Tonight I ache and before I know it, I have spilled my tears and confusion and fear all over the passenger seat of my friends car. He pieces the story together and asks me if I want his advice. I nod and he tells me that I need to get out of this relationship, that I am too good for him, that he does not want to me get more hurt than I already am – that my no will hurt him, anger him, alter the relationship, but in the end, he will respect me for it. 

Alone in my room, I absorb his honest words. I think about what it means to respect self, declare that you are worth more than being used. I think about how it is foolish to expect that I can fix other people or be their saviour, and I know they cannot be mine either. Because the broken cannot fix the broken as the blind cannot lead the blind.

Yet still I think of his arms around me. I fear that I am not strong enough to respect myself.

Love,
sexuality, emotions & other dangerous things

Dear Dangerous Things,

I was in France my freshman year of high school when I learned the word for wound in French: blessure. We were talking about the Normandy Beaches, about D-Day. When I think about things that hurt, when I think about things that ache, for some reason I go right back to the hallway just by the gift shop in some small museum in Normandy where my teacher taught us the word for wound. Une blessure. 

I’ve since looked it up, and in the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the entry for the word “bless” is this idea – to wound or to hurt. It’s from the Old French and the French. I don’t know how often we use it, or if anyone uses it at all these days. But it is there, in its quiet catalogued home, and when I read your letter for some reason I went back and looked at it again.

You have been blessed in just this way – injured. And your letter speaks that out and it is worth attending to. I am not anxious to speak the other meaning of the same word – the meaning that has to do with abundance, with gift, with praise, with being given a blessing. I think perhaps there will be a moment when this one blessing becomes the other, but that’s not for me to say.

It’s just for me to say that your strength does not depend on not having been wounded. Your strength does not depend on you being in top shape all the time. Strength is a mysterious thing. You have it by clinging to it. You have it by insisting on it, daily, in the small ways. You have it not by already having it, not by being without une blessure or even more than one, but by the taking of those things into yourself.

I encourage you think deeply about the conversation you had with your friend. I encourage you to attend to the parts of it that perhaps feel most wounding: that your friend has said you should alter the relationship. That your friend has said you will be more hurt by continuing. That your friend, whatever else has happened, whatever wounds live there, is telling you to go.

That conversation hurts, but I think it is its hurting, its clear-sighted pain, is the strength. Because you will not have strength to go before you go, and there will be no magical moment where you wake up and the wounds have disappeared.

So do not wait. Strength to go will follow your leaving. The healing will follow your binding up of the wounds.

I can’t know how or when or even if this wound, this blessing, will become the other kind. But I know that you will have strength to go by going, I know that you will find that in the first steps you take out from the space where you are hurting, out from attending to it, clear-sighted, there strength will meet you.

For I believe that God’s gesture to us is one of constant coming near. Nadia Bolz-Weber writes that in her book Pastrix – I remember underlining it over and over and over. “God is always coming near us.”

God is always coming near you. Constantly. In this, in the first step away, in the before-you-have-strength, in the strengthening, in the aftermath. In the blessing, and the blessing.

Love,
hilary

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