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As a young teacher I was so committed to changing the world, I assigned, Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher as my students’ reading. I had bought into the myth I could show my students how to make the world a better place with their writing.

We can’t change a spouse, a friend or even ourselves, so what made me think my students and I could make a difference? Yet I have tried to fix people because I know exactly how their lives could improve. My advice pops out before I can stop it. What makes me think I know better?

But if I offered a listening presence, perhaps that kindness would echo through my friend to others and her eyes wouldn’t flash with resentment.

Now I’m not so sure it’s wise to set out to change the world. Psychologists tell us we can’t change others.Why should that be any different for the world around us? Why can’t we love the world as it is? Maybe we should merely listen and listen well.

Orthodox priest. Stephen Freeman in his essay, “You Barely Make a Difference and it’s a Good Thing,” says, “Feeding, clothing, visiting, etc., are very homely practices (Matt. 25)…They are all immediately at hand. The better world and making a difference is a conversation we should refuse to engage: it does not belong to us. Speak the truth. Keep the commandments. Let God make all the difference in the world.”

I’m Katie Andraski, and that’s my perspective.

If you’d like to hear me read this, click here

When I Offered Advice

We don’t make good gods, do we? But it’s so much fun, like playing an imaginary game with someone else’s life. It’s a sweet feeling too, like an absorbing video game where you make decisions in an imaginary world, and. you get to have control. But people’s lives are sacred and the path they take is their path.

Recently I offered my opinion about how I thought Lisa* should run her life. My shame was like stepping into a fresh cow pie. I lost sleep. She was angry, but instead of walking away, which is common among women when there is conflict, she called me out. I told her one thing advice can do is let her know what she really feels. If the advice doesn’t feel good, well you know what you think. I apologized. She said we were good. And I breathed a sigh of relief.

With Jessica*, as much as I tried to contain my opinion, I couldn’t because she was headed off a cliff. I tried to silence my advice barking at me, but Advice only barked more. When Jessica asked what I thought, I told her because I wanted to be helpful and needed. She received what I had to say, but I fear my opinion was more like a hammer than a glass of water.

All of this driven by my need to be needed, driven by my need for company and conversation.

*Made up names

When Friends Offered Advice to me

Several friends listened to my ambivalence about Morgen because she felt like too much horse. They thought I should sell her. because they heard my fear. So did I. But Bruce said, “No, absolutely not. You don’t sell her. You hurt too bad.” (My beloved dog had died and office politics had just about sunk me.) Morgen stayed put. Even advice that carefully listens to what a person is saying, pointing to what you both think is best, might not be the path you need to walk. I was a little afraid they’d not be happy because I didn’t do what they said, but they weren’t.

I’ve learned what a gift listening can be for a person. We are hungry for being heard without someone jumping in with a solution or spinning off on their own story. It takes being empty, perhaps breathing out all your own thoughts and opinions to find this kind of presence. But what a gift to be heard, to be seen, to be accepted. A person can lose themselves if not being heard goes on for too long. But these days people don’t even ask how are you because our lives are so crowded with dreams and work and family.

Here’s What I Did

It’s been intense loneliness that has driven my need to be helpful, bugging people who are still friends, grateful when they answered my instant message. Photini, in my last post says, “Do you know how hard it is to be shunned by women who used to be your friends? To not make the cut, to not be worth their time in their busy lives?” Well, that’s me. There’s an outer darkness, a deep well lined with cobblestones, quality to this. Because our families of origin have fallen asleep, every holiday, even the minor ones, can rub raw the awareness we don’t belong to anyone other than each other. I haven’t realized till I had lunch with a friend, in person, that I hadn’t seen for three years, how damaging the state’s response to the pandemic has been. We were told people could kill us if they carried Covid unknowingly. But my helpfulness has been born of need. I am grateful for the friends who received it as a gift, as weak and imperfect as it’s been.

Each time I’ve been in the pit, Jesus, one way or another, has reached down and pulled me out.

One day on Facebook, Nicola Jane Lairdon, a deeply insightful and devout friend, offered an insight that knocked me upside the head. She quoted Matt 5: 11 – 12. “How blessed are those who are persecuted because they pursue righteousness! for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. How blessed you are when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of vicious lies about you because you follow me! Rejoice, be glad, because your reward in heaven is great — they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”

As an American, I’m not supposed to take comfort in this verse because supposedly we don’t know real persecution. Though researchers have said loneliness can produce physical pain, and for a species created to be in community, being shunned can feel awful.

Nicola put a fresh spin on this “blessed” when she said, “It doesn’t mean people persecuting us. It means all the lies we tell ourselves. When we fight these lies and stand up to them we are pursuing righteousness. There is joy and blessedness in this fight, in turning our eyes away from the darkness and damp cobblestones and up to the light shining from Jesus. It means setting those lies on the river of the Spirit and letting them flow downstream into God’s presence. I learned about this river in an Inner Healing class I took two years ago. (Here’s the link to a short experiential happening in August, 2023. The Companioning Center offers these and other classes periodically.)

After reading what Nicola had to say, I imagine a river, the great river of Spirit and Life, and I wade into it. The water is cool, with pockets of warmth. I hear overhead power lines humming like bees, the towers straddling the land like defiant men. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. Sunlight flashes off the water. I brought Tessie here after she died. I took off her bridle. She trotted up stream away to God. Only this time I have leaves with words written on them. Need to be Helpful. Need to be Needed. Advice. Grief from Not making People’s Friendship Cut. And the big one: Loneliness.

I take each leaf and set it in the water. Each one twirls and floats and heads downstream. I have released them to the river of living water Jesus said would flow from my inner most being, meaning the Holy Spirit.

It only took a minute or so to imagine this. Since then, it’s gotten easier to set boundaries, to respect myself as much as my friends’. Bruce and I have been socializing through going out to eat with friends from church; through going to a dog show and dog training and talking about how best to make Omalola pretty; through talking to neighbors. Oh and going to Caseys for pizza and soda with Bruce.

Maybe rejoice and be glad is how we resist the chaos, how we heal from being so isolated the last few years.

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