One of the most challenging but most significant spiritual lessons I have had to learn is that of relinquishment. This is not a new thought of course. I’m sure we have all been encouraged in some form to learn how to let go, to become enlarged in our capacity to cultivate acceptance. Some of you may share my use of the mantra, “It is what it is.” Nonetheless, while there is nothing new under the sun, some of these deep truths require consistent reminders. And perhaps, you’ve discovered as I have that learning this lesson never seems to end. To seem to learn it once is only just the beginning – there are deeper and deeper layers to uncover in just how much we love to hold on, to seek control, to solve, to fix, to manipulate, to want it our way.
I remember one particular session with my therapist. I was feeling incredibly frustrated. There were issues in my life that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many different strategies I employed, I just couldn’t seem to break through to experience change. It seemed so out of my control, so beyond my capacity to have influence over the outcomes. It was a place that sapped my energy, depleted my hope, and left me discouraged and cranky. My therapist looked at me and told me that I might need to accept that these things would not change. I was pissed. That was really not what I wanted to hear. To me, the idea of accepting that these things wouldn’t change felt like giving up, it felt like I was signing my ticket to hopelessness. If I wasn’t struggling against these things, if I wasn’t trying to change them, that meant failure – failure as a Christian, failure as a wife and mother, failure as someone who thrives on vision with exceedingly high expectations for myself.
And so I resisted this word from my therapist. I resisted it with everything in me. But the truth was, I was already exhausted – exhausted from years and years of seemingly banging my head against the same wall. And in my resistance and in my exhaustion it seemed the still small voice of the Spirit was able to gently draw me towards considering whether accepting the limits of my capacity and the capacity of those I was in intimate relationship with might be a gateway to the spiritual growth and peace that I was longing for. One of the things that I recognized was that my stubborn holding on to the ideal standards I’d created was energized by pride, which was energized by fear, which was energized by pain from my past – times I felt unloved, invisible, of no value. So while I told myself that holding on to these standards were all about my value – they were ultimately energized by my feelings of worthlessness. God wanted more for me – it just didn’t look like what I thought it would or should look like.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this part of my spiritual journey as I have prayed, reflected, and shared with our staff about some of the dynamics within the Generous Space community. I think Generous Space is a beautiful vision. I think the values and commitments of Generous Space are rich and life-giving, with incredible potential to draw us towards maturity and tangible spiritual formation. I feel a sense of excitement and passion when I witness this idea of Generous Space in action – when I see people loving each other across difference. Most mornings I wake up with a sense of deep gratitude: first for the ways I see such beauty and love in our GS community and then secondly for the fact that it hasn’t all blown up. I don’t really have a guidebook for Generous Space – though I unashamedly beg, borrow, and steal from other wise sources within the Body of Christ. There isn’t a clear map for what we are trying to embody together. We are finding our way together – and while there is something really beautiful about that, it also comes with high risk.
And while I delight to witness people incorporating humility, hospitality, mutuality, and justice in their interactions within the GS community, and while I see people trying to practice non-violent dialogue together, we all know that we are not a perfect community. Our values and our commitments do not guarantee that all interactions will be bliss. We don’t have a formula for some utopic interpersonal dynamic. Kumbaya is not the “song that never ends” in GS (for which some of us are actually pretty thankful).
So we have another ‘both/and’ opportunity. We want to both call each other towards our values and commitments and keep learning how to embody them more consistently and fully and we need to relinquish the perfectionism and control that drives us to push, or pressure, or demand something of ourselves, others, and the community-at-large that we may simply not have the capacity to give. We may need, at times, to accept the limitations of our capacity. We are living in the ‘now and the not yet’ and there are things that limit us. And these limitations, according to our scriptures, are not something to shame, frustrate, or cause hopelessness in us – those very limitations are portals to a deeper sense of God’s grace, a conduit to God’s blessing, and an entry point to understand the power of God in powerlessness.
In my experience, some of these limitations of capacity have to do with temperament, how we process information, how emotionally attuned we are able to be, implications of past trauma, mental health challenges, the autism spectrum, stress levels, high sensitivity and sensory overload, illness or auto-immune conditions that cause chronic fatigue and chronic pain. Maybe you have others you would add.
Many of us deal with these types of enduring realities in our own lives – and some of us are additionally dealing with such challenges in our relationships as partners and parents.
In our GS community this can manifest in unhelpful communication patterns, talking past one another, being oblivious to triggering others, seeking to control the outcomes, trying to fix things, offering unsolicited advice, pushing, persuading, convincing …. It is at best disappointing, or worse causes harm, when we rub each other the wrong way, when the limits of our capacity to embody the best of Generous Space threaten the sense of safety, unity, and love we all long for in the GS community.
In some communities that function with a bounded set, it’s three strikes and you’re out. Exclusion is the remedy to the limitations on our capacity. And the most vulnerable end up rejected, wounded, and with an even deeper sense of loss and grief. That isn’t how GS works. Shaming, pressure, exclusion are decidedly NOT the tools in our toolbox. Rather, we choose the long game. We choose private calling-in. Gentle reminders. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt that our limitations are not intent to harm or disregard for the other. We remind each other, again and again and again, that we are the Beloved. Love is sometimes the only thing we’ve got. We don’t have the easy answer, a quick solution, a fool-proof plan. I have found that even when the love I long to experience emotionally doesn’t seem attainable in the face of limitations, there is deep meaning in persevering to choose the love of commitment, fidelity, covenant. Faithful love isn’t weak – it is powerful. Choosing to keep loving, even when it is hard, is one of the ways we reflect being created in the image of a faithful and ever-loving God.
But, it’s messy. It can be frustrating. Sometimes it is deeply hurtful. This is the cost of trying to love each other across difference.
And we’re still figuring out how best to hold each other accountable to the values and commitments of Generous Space while accepting our limitations too. This can be really complex. Sometimes we don’t know if something is a legitimate limitation or if someone just isn’t willing to make the effort to choose love. It’s like the question I sometimes raise with my loved ones on the spectrum, “I don’t know whether this is the autism or you being an asshole.” In turn, they sometimes wonder, “Is this your high sensitivity and introversion or are you just being an asshole?” Sometimes we ask someone to relate to us in a specific way but they forget and repeat what we found hurtful in the first place. How many times do we give the benefit of the doubt? How many times do we let go? Don’t we matter too? Just who are the most vulnerable in our community – shouldn’t they be most prioritized? Sometimes these things just seem like a jumbled mess. Sometimes limitations are invisible. Sometimes a person who seems like they have a lot of privilege in our community actually carries deeper vulnerabilities that we don’t see. Add to that the reality of trying to communicate online, where we don’t necessarily know each other that well …. and my goodness we have a complex challenge on our hands!
Sometimes we need to take a step back. We need to prioritize self-care. Sometimes we need to choose to not engage for a while – not with haughty judgment or fearful avoidance – but recognizing our own vulnerability.
But my prayer is that, in this messy challenge of navigating our own and others’ limitations, we’ll keep the beautiful vision of Generous Space in front of us. That we’ll see Jesus in the midst of it all. That we’ll encounter God in each other and be surprised by grace. That we will co-create with God a response to the hatred, division, and injustice so rampant in the world around us.
Because we all long to be known, to be loved, to be valued. And as we reach out to get to know, to offer love, and to affirm value, we inevitably receive a gift – we are humanized in the process of humanizing another, we are dignified as we dignify another. We live into the divine image as we persevere in loving across difference.
My prayers these days are often that we would discover, both as individuals and as a GS community, the deep peace of relinquishment. Letting go of the shame, the fear, the control, the perfectionism, the rigid certainty, the judgments …. We may still have tension when we try to communicate with each other, the limitations may well remain … but we will be increasingly energized by a depth of love that exceeds our imagination. This is my vision and my hope for Generous Space.