I had a dream last night that I was trying to get back in touch with an old friend. It’s one of those goofy aspects of modern life that we technically ARE in touch in my real waking life, in that we’re connected on facebook though we haven’t seen each other in years and years, or had a real conversation in almost as long. But I kind of know what’s going on with her, because, I “see” her.
In my dream though, I was following her around trying to get her to talk to me while she went to work, and interacted with other people in her life. And every once in awhile, she’d actually acknowledge me, and say, “WHAT? What do you want from me?”
“I just want to talk and be friends again.”
“It’s too late for that. You ruined it.”
“How? What did I do?”
“You don’t KNOW? Really? Of course you know. Don’t play dumb.”
But I really didn’t know what I had done to make her so angry. And the rest of the dream was intermittently scattered with flashbacks to possible occasions when I might have upset her.
Was it right after graduation when I took off to the East Coast and didn’t keep in touch with anyone? Was it back at my wedding when I was too preoccupied with my own happiness to hang out with any of my friends? Was it in those first couple years of having babies when I felt myself so superior to all my single friends?
Every now and then, in my dream, I’d go back and ask her, “Was it this? Or this…?” and she’d shake her head and say, “I can’t believe you don’t KNOW.”
In real waking life, my entire middle school experience was something like this dream. I never knew if a particular friend of mine was going to love me or hate me when I went into school in the morning. On the days she hated me, I’d spend the whole day in an anxious fugue, replaying everything I’d said or done in the past week that might have set her off.
The reality is, whether I had done anything or not, the guessing game was a way of making her problems my problem, of sloughing off her own insecurities and making them mine.
It’s one of my favorite things about being married, that my husband has never ever played this game with me–and it has alleviated the burden I feel when things go wrong in any of my extramarital friendships to have this stalwart beside me, with whom I never have to wonder how things stand. When he’s mad, I know it, and usually, it’s very clear why. He doesn’t have anything to gain by making me his yipping sycophant (Why don’t you love me? What can I do to make you love me?)
It’s a sadistic, emotional kind of warfare to withhold oneself from the people you love until they guess how they can serve you.
So I’m not sure why I imagine that this is a game that God plays with me.
Here’s the scenario: I get up every morning and say my prayers. I go to Mass every Sunday and sometimes more. I avoid sin and its near occasion. My life is oriented– to the extent that I am able to discern it– towards God’s will. And yet the goodies I used to feel–the personal affirmation, the spiritual insights, the feeling of being loved– do not come.
It puts me, sometimes, back into that state of anxiety, replaying my life trying to figure it out–What have I done wrong? What do I need to do to get the goodies back?
I need to be clear that this is not a state of suffering. There is nothing going wrong on the surface of my life, no external circumstances that I can pinpoint that yes, THIS is what is making me feel distant from God and unloved.
I read things, like Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in this morning’s readings (5:14-17) “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come,” and I wonder if it’s possible to be an old new creation–because it’s been a long, long time since I felt new.
I was thinking about this situation with my kids, how when they’re babies I know there’s going to be at least one year of my life where I am completely, utterly attached to them. It’s been six months since my daughter was born, and I haven’t left her except when she’s sleeping. At home during the day, if she’s not physically on my person, I’m at least working nearby. She cries out, I go to her, pick her up and cuddle her. I sit behind her until she learns to sit up on her own. She has no reason to question my love for her.
As the kids get older, there’s a gradual and continual separation that takes place. I’m still here, still present, but sometimes they come to me, and I have to put them off for a few minutes–hang on, I’m changing a diaper, or I’m talking to this other person, or I’m doing something. My love for them is just as strong as it was when they were babies, but I know they’re capable of doing without me sometimes, so I let them try to figure some things out on their own.
I look now at my relationship with my parents, and when I ask for help they typically say yes. They’re there for me for consultation and the occasional physical assistance. But sometimes they’re just busy. And I’m a grown-up now. The foundation is built. There are just diversions, but no wrong turns in this house. Unless I’m really wandering far from home, there’s no reason for them to intervene on my behalf.
If I were to go to my parents now and say, “I don’t feel loved by you–you need to offer me some consolation,” it would be the fabrication of a problem that doesn’t really exist.
So in the eternal scheme of things, I’m still a relatively “new creation.” But every new creation has to learn eventually how to stand on their own. I continue to honor my parentage, to visit and to love he who conjured me from dust and redeemed me with blood, but I don’t have to question what feels like his absence.
God doesn’t play games with us.