For the first time in my life, I lost more friends than I gained in the past year. But perhaps shocking for an empath like me, I don’t regret it at all. Contrarily, if anything, I finally learned the importance of setting boundaries for my own health and that of my family’s. In exploring the idea of boundaries with a therapist friend recently, I realized that I should not feel obligated to actively maintain relationships that cause me or my family mental, spiritual or emotional harm. Easier said than done, yes, but healthy boundaries are fundamental to overall wellness. And I need to be well to teach wellness to my children.
The courageous testimonies of close friends who have been transparent about seeking mental health help has motivated me to begin seeking mental health care for myself and my own family. Attending intake appointments for two of my children actually helped me realize how badly I need someone, other than my beloved spouse, to talk to about my feelings and experiences.
There’s a narrative in modern Christian culture that if you’re unhappy, it’s somehow your own fault and it’s taboo to seek help. This narrative says things like the JP2 quote taken out of context, “When you dream of happiness, it’s Jesus you’re looking for.” These words diminish people of faith and send a message that “If you’re unhappy, it’s because you lack faith or don’t have a close relationship with Jesus.” That’s toxic and wrong and evil, especially when such advice is given from a position of dominance or from someone who has not experienced oppression.
And yet, unfortunately, so much of the American Christian lens (Protestant and Catholic) stems from our Pilgrim/Puritan roots that preach a Gospel of manifest destiny and predestination which is NOT Christian at all. This worldview justifies violence against and oppression of others because of a belief system of being favored by God.
Christian Culture in the United States is inherently flawed because so much of it is founded not on the actual Gospel which preaches love and nonjudgment but rather an individualistic and heretical creed that justifies dehumanizing, appropriating, feeling superior to, and judging anyone “unlike” you, where unlike is defined as someone of a different race, creed or born with less privilege. It justifies saying or thinking someone is unhappy because of their lack of God, rather than realizing they have been cast aside to the margins.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “I would be a Christian if I ever met one.” When we read the Gospel, pray/meditate, develop a greater understanding of God and develop a personal relationship with God, we realize as humans we are one body and we are interdependent and responsible for caring for one another, as well as all of creation.
St. Paul wrote, “Do not be yoked with unbelievers” and over time I have come to realize “believers” in my life are diverse in creed identity—-Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Unitarian, pagan, Agnosotic, even Atheist . . . If my belief is that Jesus really is the way, the truth and the life, I want to be yoked with the people who are following his way of life by detaching from materialism and feeding the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned (although, not with covid), sheltering the homeless and the refugees (and for those who identify as Christian, remembering JESUS was also a refugee), caring for the widow and single mother WITHOUT judging or acting superior.
I do not feel yoked with the people who claim to be “pro life” but have no problem with the death penalty or immigrant children being locked in cages. White supremacy, patriarchy and systems of domination work in their favor and they won’t even be uncomfortable by speaking out against such systems. These folks wake up the day after the election thinking “Oh, now we can move on from the talks about politics and I can go on with my comfortable life.” But here’s the thing—we are not called to comfort. Jesus asks us to act and DETACH from comfort rather than to move on with no sense of responsibility or suffering from the oppression we contribute to when we are indifferent to simple matters of justice. That message from Jesus’ public ministry is clear.
So, here I am, going into 2021 with less friends but more energy to invest in my children and in meaningful, authentic friendships and chosen family. Authentic friends and chosen family listen to me, as I listen to them. Authentic friends should listen to you, as you listen to them. We mutually validate and respect each others’ feelings and boundaries. We lift each other up publicly and might have hard conversations privately.
This is not to say I would encourage “unfriending” people who don’t share the same lens, politics or creed. No. Not at all! True friends are bound to disagree. I’ve always enjoyed friends who look through different lenses than me. I can learn so much from their different experiences and perspectives. But let me be clear, because hey, hindsight is 2020. You don’t need to participate in systems or friendships that degrade and objectify you. You are a subject not an object. You are not here to be dominated and oppressed. Break free from your shackles. Rise up from your shame.
On this Inauguration Day, I have hope that once again we will share an ideal of justice and equality where my kids and your kids “will be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” And today at noon, I will be saying to my kids as Dr. King famously said, “Let freedom ring. Let freedom ring . . . Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last!”