Zeke has a friend coming for a sleepover. This is a common occurrence, no big deal. However, when I mentioned that this sleepover would be a screen-free evening, doom and gloom filled the air.
It surprised me. Recently we’ve cut way back on screen time, and it’s been lovely. Initially a bit bumpy, but a quick recovery. And great results: lighter moods, more focus, less arguing, everyone having a better time. Zeke has been onboard, all the way. His absolute dejection over a screen-free evening was a puzzle. We had a quick talk, and then I had to leave (to deliver another offspring to another sleepover, as it happens).
I got back home, took one look at Zeke, and saw that his mood hadn’t changed one bit. It wasn’t defiance. It was… Well, I didn’t know. I just knew it wasn’t okay.
Time for a talk.
It took approximately 43 seconds for the real issue to surface. His buddy coming over was excited to play video games—was, perhaps, counting on it. Had, perhaps, been led to believe it was a sure thing. Now the promised goods could not be delivered. Zeke’s adorable little face was crumpled in pain not because he cared one way or another about the screens, but because he didn’t want to disappoint his friend. Saying no, not meeting expectations, not being able to make his friend happy cut him to the core.
Ah. Here we come to the heart of it.
I’m never learning the lessons I think I’m learning. That would make it too easy, I guess. After all, what is there to fear about change if you know exactly what’s coming?
The change, the growth, whatever it is, it’s only scary because it’s unpredictable: How much will this cost? How much will this hurt? What comfort will be sacrificed? What effect will this have on my life? On me?
Of course, the potential for good is there, too: How much will this help? How much freedom will this bring? What pain will be healed? What burden will be released? What new truth will be uncovered? What gifts will be given?
You have to go in blind, though.
And when you’re blind, you stumble. You bump into things. You bang your elbows and you stub your toes and generally make a mess and collect a lot of bruises.
One of the deepest pains in changing, growing, becoming who you are, speaking your truth, living your own fucking life, is the pain that is not your own. It’s the pain you cause others.
When you’re stumbling around in the dark, you’re not the only one affected.
You bump into the people near you.
What is an inconvenient but necessary mess may feel like chaos to them. All your flailing and reaching and stumbling and trying to balance—all these attempts to keep moving forward on the path, to keep going forward one way or another—looks like something far more sinister to others. Sure, why wouldn’t it? You stumble in the dark, reach out, swing an arm around for balance—and when your elbow connects with someone else’s nose, the pain erupts. Whether it was intended or not, it hurts.
Pain is pain is pain.
What’s the solution? I don’t know. I don’t know how to be more graceful when stumbling my way through new territory, blinded by my own lack of experience. This is what learning is, sometimes. Maybe all the time. I pray for easier footing. I try to take smaller steps. But I will not slow down and I will not give up and I will not turn back. The only way forward is through—through the darkness, through the confusion, through the mess.
I do know a lesson that’s here for me to learn, a small dark gift to unwrap in a corner. However much I pretend or withdraw or try to separate, I care deeply.
I have lived most of my life avoiding this truth. I have kept myself at the edges. I have become comfortable with being on the fringe, at the outside, one foot in and one eye on the door. This has felt like safety, but it is self-protection. There are many excuses, but none of them ring as true as the deep resounding thud in my belly or catch in my heart.
I asked Zeke what kind of friendships he wants to have. Do you want to always have to make your friends happy? I asked him. He shook his head. No. Of course not. No one wants that. Sounds like slavery with extra steps.
But I don’t want my friends to be sad, he said. No. Of course not. No one wants that, either. But sometimes you have to choose who you’ll disappoint: everyone else, or yourself.
For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known.
-1 Cor. 13:12
Annie Mueller is a writer, reader, seeker of growth, and transplant to Puerto Rico, where she lives with her best friend and their four children. Her crash course in self-discovery came from experiencing job loss, financial devastation, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, and major surgery—all in less than a year. She writes about creativity, personal growth, and spirituality; runs Prolifica, a content management consultancy for small teams and solo professionals; and sends out a popular weekly newsletter about feelings and freelancing. You can find more of her work on her website.
Image courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto.