Sometimes it looks like the only “safe place” we can understand is the self-protected heart-space we keep free of outside influence.
Sometimes we extend the idea of “having good boundaries” so far we can no longer get out of ourselves and express the love of Jesus.
Meanwhile, God has violated the boundaries of space and time to come to us in Jesus. Today in the liturgical calendar, he is in the heart of Jerusalem teaching us how to live. Nevertheless, self-protection, self-discovery and self-protection seem reasonable to us. But those reasons rarely lead to strength, tenderness or faithfulness, just more self-ness. Stop the repression!
Your poor child
A woman who was abused as a child finally felt like she needed to cut off her mother. She was an evil woman who would rather destroy her daughter than admit her husband had abused her.* For years the daughter “set appropriate boundaries” and “took care of herself.” These are such basic recommendations from psychotherapists that they have become cliches.
She applied their teaching and definitely experienced more peace and less anxiety as a result of keeping her mother at a distance. But she did not become more gentle or experience much joy. She was supposedly loving herself, but the way she did it cost her the thrill of giving herself to another. To maintain her new defense system she had to continuously reaffirm the necessity of protecting herself. She was like North Korea, expending costly efforts to maintain big weapons while the heart of her country starved. Hardening her heart to her mother’s horrible life did transform her from a passive, frightened pawn. But the hardness also moved her toward being an angry, tough woman who, ironically, was willing to destroy her love rather than let down her defenses – a lot like her mother.
Our abusers have no qualms about remaking us in their image. Evil has no reticence about expressing itself through us. Jesus wants to stop their repression. Love requires we lose the ways we have been saving ourselves in the face of what threatens us and find our true selves in relationship with our Savior. Then we might even gain the strength to undo the evil done to us.
Love feels so risky to the abused
Our network talked a lot about this risky love last week, here and there. We are trying to figure out how to love and it hurts sometimes. We are especially afraid of abusers and evil people who don’t mind telling us we are fools to follow Jesus, who ignore us, or who aggressively impose their Christ-less ways as if they were moral, even while they tell us to not be so aggressive. We are tempted to be passive in order to not be a nuisance or to cut them off contemptuously, or become like them in other ways.
When I see Jesus in the center of Jerusalem today, teaching in the Temple courts in full view of people who are plotting to kill him, people who can’t see the peace he would bring to them, I take heart and keep learning the lessons of love. His objective is obviously to bless people, not just make sure he is not abused. He refuses to live in fear. He is not so dominated he maintains some semblance of peace instead of being his true self. To love is to be more committed to the other person than we are to the relationship, to be more concerned about their soul than with whatever comfort not rocking the relational boat might bring to us.
We need to honor the dignity and admit the depravity of the ones we love in order to truly love them. We cannot love if we distance ourselves or overlook the damage of another’s sin; neither can we love if we fail to move into another’s world to offer a taste of life. Like Oscar Romero, we might have to sacrifice personal comfort for the sake of helping another experience their own longings and need for grace. The risk to love like Jesus is worth it. We need to stop the repression dominating us and stop the repression of others to experience the freedom and fullness of self-giving love.
Yesterday was Oscar Romero’s martyr’s day. Let me leave you with a quote from him, since he inspires me to risk love like the Lord’s, even though I have been abused, even though I am afraid, even though others might be evil and I might prefer evil in some ways, too.
I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.
The church preaches your liberation just as we have studied it in the holy Bible today. It is a liberation that has, above all else, respect for the dignity of the person, hope for humanity’s common good, and the transcendence that looks before all to God and only from God derives its hope and its strength (Last Homily).
* freely adapted from The Wounded Heart