Word of the Week


There's nothing more painful than unmet expectations for your life. This is especially true when it comes to relationships.

Many months ago, I had coffee with a friend who told me the story about a dear cousin of his that stopped speaking to him one day. Cold turkey.

Though they'd grown up like brothers . . .

Though they'd celebrated life's biggest milestones together like their 40th birthday parties only a couple of years before . . .

Though he thought they'd play golf together until they could barely walk . . .

One day it all stopped. All the texting. All the phone calls. All the planned visits. No more.

You can imagine the agony that this separation brought my friend, especially as his efforts at reconciliation weren't received. And the questions, especially the late night questions.

"What did I do wrong?"

"What can I do to make it better?"

"Why would he treat me like this!?!"

So much grief flowed from his heart. I felt so sad with him about it all.

But then, recently I saw this same friend again. He was still grieved his cousin's absence, but it wasn't all consuming like used to be.

I asked why. He said one word.


[Detachment: the act or process of separating]

It's such a harsh word, so I inquired more. I knew how much he adored his cousin. How could he say this?

But he offered: "Oh, I'm learning that I can't make the old times come back again. But . . .  I can wish him well, even pray for him when his name comes to mind. I can be thankful for all that our relationship was, even if it isn't now what I want. I can still love him. But I have to let him go."

As he spoke, peace beamed through his face. You could tell he'd laid the burden down. My friend was drinking deep from the wisdom of detachment. I was in awe of his courage!

I came home from our meeting and found favorite books on the topic of detachment, Awareness: the Perils and Opportunity of Reality by Anthony DeMello. [I read Awareness several years ago when I found myself stuck in pain that didn't seem to go away  and it helped me so much].

I curled up on the couch I re-read this passage:

“Perfect love casts out fear. Where there is love, there are no demands, no expectations, no dependency. I do not demand that you make me happy; my happiness does not lie in you. If you were to leave me, I will not feel sorry for myself; I enjoy your company immensely, but I do not cling.”

I have to admit that when I first starting reading passages like this from DeMello's, I felt angry.

His straightforward style felt off-putting to my "help others be happy" way of pastoring and living. And I even protested to my friend who gave me the book: "Isn't attachment a healthy part of love?" (And it is! But not the only kind of love).

Yet, the longer I read about detachment, the healthier it felt to me as a practice. Why? Because DeMello is right. Love does not cling. For no relationship is ever static. Sometimes space is necessary in even the closest of connections.

Doesn't 1 Corinthians tell us that Love is patient? Love is kind and Love isn't self-seeking.

But so often we love to be loved. We love to receive. We love to be happy. So maybe this is why detachment is a spiritual practice.

Sure, we cherish those most important to us.

Sure, we keep an open door of welcome for any who would be a part of our lives.

Sure, we try to mend fences when hurt occurs.

But we let people go. We let them go because holding on tight does no good for their soul or ours. We let them go not because we've stopped loving them but because we've learned to love them more!

And as we do, we trust them one who is Love--  to be with them and to be with us.

Here's one of detachment's gifts: our relationship needs will be met too as we learn to live in the present!

1. Best piece of advice  I ever got about becoming an adult was- "Make good friends and keep them."

I ran across this quote last week from Anne Lamott and posted it on Facebook. Seems to be appropriate to share here too: “It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

2. In the same way, I recently heard Oprah say recently something to this effect "Some people don't have the oxygen to make up life's mountains with you." Some friends are just for a season. They don't have the oxygen to climb with you, and to make them feel bad about this is not fair to either of you. Keep climbing beside those who do. You might have to make new friends. You might need to rediscover friends from long ago,  but it is all good. The climbing partners are there. Keep your eyes open.

3. There's always time for relationship surprises. Henri Nouwen wrote of a now-famous conversation which helped him think about this concept: “While visiting the  University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, "You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work." Maybe that phone call or email or visit that you didn't expect today could be in fact your greatest gift to give the world today . . .  something for all of us to think about.

4. Friends can be the family we most need. I give thanks this week for one of my dearest friends, Kristina whom spent a lot of time this week visiting DC with her husband and daughter. Somethings never change like the fact that folks either think we're related or they mistake us for one another from a distance. It was fun to be called, "Kristina" this week again when a church member couldn't tell us a part. And to finish each other's sentences!

5.  To love someone, though is not to cling to them. Can I say how much I have loved the book, Awareness by Anthony de Mello. It's a text that I know is not new to the world (was published in 1990) but it has been the gift that has kept on giving to my life in the past month. Every morning de Mello and I have a date and it's wonderful! And he writes this: “Perfect love casts out fear. Where there is love there are no demands, no expectations, no dependency. I do not demand that you make me happy; my happiness does not lie in you. If you were to leave me, I will not feel sorry for myself; I enjoy your company immensely, but I do not cling.”

6. To love someone, is also to hold them close in committment. One of my favorite quotes about this, I blogged about this over a year ago, here.

7.  "You can only be as close to the heart of God as you allow your heart to be to others." A spiritual director imparted this wisdom to me years ago. It was a season of my life when I was wrestling with how much time I spent studying for school and how much time I allowed my daily patterns to be spent with a group of people I was growing very close to. Her words encouraged me that friendship is as much of a spiritual discipline as is prayer, quiet, service, etc.

8. Can pastors be friends with parishioners? Such is a question that is frequent discussed in my clergy circles. Most of my colleagues seem to have a different opinion about it usually based on their personality, family situation and church size. I've come to believe that while maintaining healthy boundaries is appropriate, it's a decision that everyone has to make for themselves. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

9. Friends are those who walk beside us and love giving the good gift of silence. Sometimes there are no words for the grossness of life that we are asked to walk through with each other.

And because one can't get enough of Henri Nouwen on this topic, here's another quote of his that I adore: "“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” from The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

10. True friends are those whom you tell the same story to at least 10 times knowing that when you need to tell the same story over for the 11th re-telling they'll be around to hear it then too. Who says stories only need to be heard once? Thank goodness there are those who can hear us into understanding!

Here's to hoping your life is filled with some moments to share today with those whom you call friends!