Right now, I have an old friend who is really hurting… and there is nothing I can do about it.
Well, that’s not exactly true. I could do something about it, but swooping in to “save the day” would mean re-entering into a relationship that isn’t healthy for me. Ever have one of those? Sometimes we can care deeply about someone but also know that we have a dynamic that brings one or both of us to a sunken place. Such is the case here, and as much as I want to put on my superhero cape, I know that for my well-being, I need to keep my distance.
Why is it so tempting to jump back into unbalanced relationships? What is it that keeps us crawling back for more? We know we would be better off without certain people, yet we just can’t stop ourselves from being drawn back in.
I have often heard it explained that this attraction comes from missing our own dramas. The stresses we feel and the struggles we endure feed our visions of our basic identities. We don’t know who we are without the pain, and as relieved as we are when we find ourselves pain free, we also don’t know how to live without it. After all, if I’m not the person in that hostile relationship or living in that abusive environment, who am I? The distress helps us feel alive.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about my old friend as I prepare for the High Holy Days because a major theme of the these days is “returning”. Teshuva is often described as “repentance,” but it actually means “to return,” specifically (in a traditional sense) returning home to God. In exploring these themes of regret and “coming home,” I find myself attracted again to that uncomfortable friendship. There is much to be sorry for in my behavior, and I hope my friend feels the same. That’s the repentance piece. And, in a way, being in the embrace of this relationship fills an identity gap and makes me feel like I’m “home,” maybe just not an ideal one. So is Teshuva asking me to return to this friend in order to try and fix both of our damaged souls? Is that what I need to do in order to get closer to Truth?
I don’t think so.
I believe the idea of Teshuva means quite the opposite. “Coming home to God” is arriving in a place, maybe for the first time, that encourages inner peace. How do we find our way home? I think when we can hush the chatter in our minds and the rapid beating of our hearts for a moment, most of us can hear at least a whisper toward the road less travelled that leads us away from dysfunction. As much as we would like to change those people (or even help them), we usually can’t and can only truly change ourselves. Teshuva is not about flying back into the eye of a storm, no matter how tempting, but about learning from our past patterns and not falling into the same traps we slipped into so many times before. It’s about saying, “Stop!” to ourselves, and not to anyone else. It’s about “coming home” to an emotionally healthy place even if we’ve never been “home” before. It’s about learning to feel alive without the pain.
I know, that in the long run, my friend will truly not be better off if I swoop in like a superhero and try to make the problems go away. My friend has to make it through a difficult time, and as much as I care, those burdens are not mine to bare. I have to be careful and restrain my instinct to “return,” because if I do, when I realize I’m participating in a draining drama again, I will have no one to blame but myself.
For these Holy Days, my personal exploration is going to be about my inclination to jump into situations that overwhelm me. My whole life, I have somehow stumbled into being in over my head, and I continually lose sight of the real prize… a healthy me. It may sound selfish, but if I’m not healthy in body, mind, and spirit, what use am I to my family, my friends, or the people I serve? This is teshuva.
If you are searching like I am, and don’t have a spiritual home for the Holy Days, I welcome you to join us as we walk through a “returning” together. For information about and tickets for Cool Shul’s High Holy Day services, click here:
This image came from the blog: https://karmawaves.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/blessings-roll-call-check-in-on-the-baal-teshuva-contemplation/