On Saturday I cut my finger.
It was the usual way: chopping kale, chattering away and not paying attention to my hands. When I sliced into the side of my index finger, I pressed the cut with my thumb and kept right on talking.
I guess I was hoping the skin would glue back together, the cells would fuse or whatever cells do, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. I squeezed the wound shut, the pressure numbing the pain. I didn’t acknowledge it right away, hoping if I just acted like my finger wasn’t cut, it wouldn’t be. Physical wounds tend to make me queasy.
Days later, it still throbs. Every time I think it’s fine, I take off the bandage and my puffy skin returns to a normal color, then I inevitably bash my finger on the side of my desk or while cleaning a dish in the sink and it bleeds again. As much as I want to use it as an excuse to stop working and washing dishes, mostly it reminds me that healing is a process I can’t rush.
On Sunday my friend cut me off.
I guessed something was wrong, we hadn’t talked in a few months, but we’re both in busy seasons of life and it could have been just one of those things. After a decade of friendship, you get used to the waxes and wanes. They don’t worry you as much, because you know you’ll eventually acknowledge them and tune your rhythms together again, and be stronger for it.
But not this time.
I heard the intention of care in her words, even though they gashed into me deeply. It came down to the fact that my life and faith are not fitting with her vision for my life and faith, so we are going separate ways for now.
I pressed my wound tightly for a few days, receding into my introverted space to grieve her words. I cocooned myself into the safety of books, cooking good food and going to bed early, and let’s be honest, probably drinking too much wine. I tried to compartmentalize and just get over it. But when I pulled off the band-aid too quickly, when I tried to pretend like it wasn’t a big deal and just move on like normal, it didn’t work. I started bleeding all over the place.
A week later, her words still throb in my ears.
It’s like that party trick where someone grabs the tablecloth and tries to yank it off without disturbing a thing, but the table settings spill everywhere. Except it was me spilling everywhere. It was my hurt, infecting my work and writing and conversations. And I could easily blame it on her.
What she did and said was hurtful, even if she meant goodness for me. But I have to acknowledge that these wounds of mine were there long before she added hers. I do enough spilling and hurting on my own, with no one to blame but myself. It doesn’t excuse anyone’s behavior, but it helps me to remember that sometimes we bashing into each other unintentionally, even while trying to do our best.
And I’m reminded again that healing is a process I can’t force.
I went to counseling last year. This in itself is nothing spectacular. I think going to counseling should be one of those routine, mundane things like getting your teeth cleaned. It should be insightful and helpful, and hopefully more inspiring to health than the free toothbrush you’re offered on the way out the Dentist’s door.
One thing I appreciate about the practice of counseling is that it is all about the process. Direction is helpful, but if you go in with the results mapped out and all of your outcomes plotted on a graph, you’re going to be disappointed. And a good counselor will probably gently take the planned Healing 101 syllabus from your hands and set it aside and tell you that if you are looking for sure results, you might as well play the lottery. For investment purposes.
This is what is so tough about healing, and about living, too.
We cannot control it. We cannot make other people understand or like us, we cannot willpower our cuts to heal. We have to look at these wounds, clean them as best we can, put on bandages, and wait. We have to be gentle with ourselves and diligent in our attention to grace for our hurts and the people who cause them. We have to accept that our healing may not look like anyone else’s or even fit our own expectations.
We have to learn how to set boundaries for ourselves in scenarios where people are hurtful, even if they mean well.
Maybe things will change and my friend and I will be reconciled someday. I wouldn’t put it past the God of Reconciliation to get involved in that type of healing. But maybe we won’t and we’ll both heal on our own, in different ways.
But the thing that I know for sure is that, as I tread cautiously for a while, I’m not quitting. We don’t have to stop using knives when they cut and we don’t have to stop building relationships when they hurt. We can recommit to careful usage, honesty, healthy boundaries, and willingness to walk out the rest.
We can seek deeper healing even as we tend fresh wounds.
[Photo: Victor Bezrukov, Creative Commons]