"In the End, Only Kindness Matters" - Thank you, Jewel

Unfortunately, writing a blog about being a perfectionist does not negate the voice in me that wants each post to be complete in my heart and in my head before I post it. While there is something to be said about not just word-vomiting out there for all the world to see, I realize that my perfectionism may just be getting in the way of my writing...about my perfectionism. I'd like to share my story while it's happening, as I'm learning, in the middle of my process. That means that I may change my mind. I may later read my posts and be embarrassed by how unenlightened they may seem to me in the future. All I can say is, this perfectionist is willing to take the risk.
Perhaps that's why my post about no longer going to church created such a wave among the people I know and love, because most of us don't read articles by people who haven't landed on a conclusion yet. We don't speak in the dark night of the soul. We suffer in silence and speak again once we've come out on the other side. And then we do so with authority. It's a lot more vulnerable to put your story on the internet while it's still being written. 
But that, my friends, is exactly how my series on my current values began, with honesty. It's not surprising to me that kindness is the necessary follow-up topic. My definition of honesty includes vulnerability and a willingness to be wrong. It's about breaking down walls. But honesty, without being tempered by kindness, can actually have the opposite effect. I've seen many walls being put up in the name of honesty. It comes down to posture. 
It's not just about what I say or why I say it, but where is my heart in that moment? Now that I've been through a major job loss and identity crisis, I no longer assume that my life is secure, that the things I have are deserved or permanent. This gives me the humility to be gracious to the people around me. It allows me to share my money, my time, my humanity without being an asshole in the process. I don't assume I'm right, better, or safer than the person next to me. 
This is probably my specific church background talking, but I often felt that being right (having the right biblical interpretation and applying it) was way more important than being kind. That kindness meant communicating the truth we had no matter how offensive it may seem to the listener. If we love the people around us, that must mean that we need to tell them how fucked up they are, right? That's what God would have us do. 
But let's face it. It's not "good news" to tell the world around us that they aren't enough; they need to do more, be more, be better. That their choices are wrong, their political beliefs are against God and they're going to hell. 
I'm not saying that truth has no value or that there doesn't come a time when we have to say hard things (nor am I saying I still believe the aforementioned ideologies). Real relationship includes conflict. I just think our priorities are wrong. If our goal was mercy, the love and grace of God would pour out of us and I am CONFIDENT that it would change the world. 
So many problems in our world would go away if we spoke and acted with kindness as the goal. Often, I find our conversations and actions are motivated by pride (needing to be right or prove a point), fear (needing to be in control), or ignorance (an unwillingness to learn from others). What would happen if we looked at others as equally deserving as us? How would we treat the people around us if we knew what it was really like to be them? What thoughts would run through our minds when we witness a young mother with multiple snot-nosed kids in the grocery line cashing WIC checks or using food stamps? Would we think about how they're such a drain on the system? How they need to get it together? Or would we instead think for a moment about what it would be like to be that woman? How hard it must be to not have enough money for food? Or even more radical, admitting to ourselves that THAT COULD BE ME. We are all one moment away from being that lady. So, don't be annoyed when her multiple transactions take longer. Smile and be patient. 
The people around us need grace, not grief. The world needs more kindness, more mercy, more listening. And when I say "the people around us", I mean US. We've got to stop being so hard on ourselves so that we can extend grace to the people around us. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your neighbor. This is the work of God.

Living Honestly

Disclaimer: many of my discoveries living outside of the church environment are based on my specific church experiences, personality, personal hangups, background, etc. My posts are not meant to be a full reflection of what American Christianity looks like or what I think other believers should be doing. It is purely my experience.
Last week, I posted about why I no longer go to church. It was a big move for me and not surprisingly, I received a lot of feedback. One of the amazing things about this season of my life and the experience of sharing my story is that I am learning to receive all kinds of responses without feeling required to react immediately or to respond at all. This is why it has taken me 10 days to post. I'm learning to mull and live out of an incredibly empowering place that isn't reactionary. That being said, I'd like to thank each of you who read my post and contacted me in some way. There was a lot of concern and kindness coming my way.
After careful consideration, I'd like to take the feedback from a very supportive friend and share what patterns and values I am building into my life as a result of leaving church (as opposed to merely presenting what I'm not doing). Getting out of the church environment, I've been given more space to carve out my own personal values and live into them. (Some of this is a direct result of being in professional ministry, rather than just being a Sunday churchgoer). I'm no longer pouring myself out at church, which leaves me with much more energy for the very real self-work this season of my life is about. 
The first value that I have more space for now is honesty. Honesty is such an invaluable quality, and something that has required a lot of space and counseling for me to live into. Not because I am a big, fat liar, but because of my ministry baggage and the care-taking tendencies that ministry rewards, I completely lost touch with my feelings and thoughts. The ones I did experience were internally judged and put through the filter of what was God-approved or disapproved based on our particular interpretation of the Bible before I reacted to them. I could identify which thoughts were "temptating" or "selfish" or "Godly" and respond accordingly. When I took off the filters and began to listen to the stories of the beautiful people all around me, the thoughts in my own heart, and incorporate what I'd personally experienced, I found my place of honesty. And you know what? In my honest place there are a lot more "I don't know's" than there were when I thought I had an answer to most of the big questions. 
I find a beautiful correlation between honesty and vulnerability. If we're unwilling to be honest with ourselves, our relationships with others can only go so far. When we all have our guard up, conversation remains superficial because we feel like everyone else must have their shit together. Guess what? They don't. So they're either hiding it too or they aren't ready to see their own mess yet. That's okay for a time or for certain places. Everyone starts there and some environments aren't a safe place for vulnerability. But I live in deep relationship with those who are ready to see themselves and the world with the humility and grace that comes from knowing things aren't as black and white as we wish they were. We sit in the difficult reality that not everything that happens in our lives is a direct result of our choices. We acknowledge our lack of control. Let's face it. Shit happens. To everyone.
This is where community begins, with honesty. When one person lifts their veil, they're giving you an opportunity to lift yours. This is an act of huge generosity. This is the beauty of giving and receiving. In the church environment, I felt that giving was celebrated and receiving was shameful. (Let's pretend that I'm not tempted to rant about Christians shaming those on public assistance right now.) 
We cannot be honest when we view the world from a posture of always being the giver, the speaker, the one who knows. We are not in touch with our very real human struggle. We see ourselves as the ones who have and others as those who have not. That tragic perspective keeps us from being open. We are quick to speak but UNABLE to truly listen. I find this attitude is more pervasive in churches bent on engaging in American culture wars and politics. And I know without a doubt that I am not the only non-churchgoer who is vehemently turned off by it. We've got to embrace our humanity.
Living in "the world", I see tremendous value in receiving. You cannot receive the generosity of others if you aren't honest enough to show your need. It's a beautiful, frightening relief. Give yourself a chance to exhale. There's no reason why we all need to be independent. Independence is a high American value but to me, it creates isolation. We need connection! Instead of building higher fences in our backyards for "privacy," we should be engaging in the world around us.
Honesty requires an openness to being wrong, to re-think what you thought you knew, to listen to the stories of the people around you without judgment. It requires us to be willing to be uncomfortable. It gives us a chance to try to see things from another perspective, to walk in someone else's shoes for awhile. It also creates space for people to judge us, as we have possibly judged them in the past. Let people in. It's a fine line because I've let a lot of things in and I've also set some better boundaries by sending things out as well. The thing is, I get to decide what informs my values, my theology, and my faith, not my pastor, my husband, my church, or one interpretation of the Bible. 
I imagine living honestly looks differently for everyone. For me, it looks like not cleaning my house before people come over (unless I actually want to) and not apologizing if it's messy. No one wants to visit with a friend so they can see how much they don't have it together in comparison. And if I pour myself out cleaning before they get there, I'm not able to be as present in our conversation, really enjoying that time in relationship. What's the point of getting together then? To impress each other? I'm wholly uninterested in that. (This is also why I didn't wear makeup for more than a year. It's okay to show your real face). 
A big piece of living honestly for me was learning to say no. It begins with listening to my inner voice and then actually using it. I can't imagine how much of my self I've wasted on things I have no passion or gifting for because it was asked of me and I thought I should. The world would be a much healthier and honest place if we all did away with "the should's" entirely. 
I could go on and on about honesty. It's one of the greatest joys in my life right now. But I'll conclude with this: I've gotten some great feedback from writing this blog and I'm really enjoying the process. The most common reaction I get from readers is a commendation on my honesty. It takes courage to be honest (courage will definitely be a topic in this series of posts) and the world needs more of that. We respond to what we wish to see more of. The world around us needs our honesty, no matter how scary it may feel to lift that veil. In lifting my own veil, I've discovered that people a lot more alike than I ever thought we were. What a beautiful gift we give to humanity when we focus on our shared experiences rather than on our differences. This is the kind of giving that I can get on board with, not the guilty, rote or obligatory tithe, but the gift of vulnerability, the decision in the moment to lift the veil and to take a risk.