Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Getting Off This Guilt Train

I'm guilty for a lot of things: things I've done and shouldn't have, thing's I should have done and haven't. I know, I know, aren't we all?

What's crazy is I tend to feel guilty for things I have no control over.

For over a year I've been feeling guilty over the separation from a friend. This is someone I've known since 7th grade and had over the years found to be one of the greatest companions one could have the privilege of knowing in this life. She loved me on days I didn't love myself.

Things became distant the year after high school. I left for a year of college, immersing myself in a world where she existed mostly through letters, e-mail (back when it was brand new), and I think she may have visited once. I can't remember.

There was one particular e-mail where I think she may have tried to hint that something was not all right with her, though she never followed up on it. I put it out of my mind, as I was dealing with a few problems of my own. Still, when I came back to Salt Lake, we were still close friends.

Fast forward a few years.

I married a remarkable man, who has blessed me with some extraordinary children. We came through the death of our son and the passing of his mother stronger in our marriage and in our faith. We've never been what the world would consider rich, but there's always been enough money to help us pay our tithing, the bills, and keep our kids from running around naked (even if they would prefer that method!). Though my health went downhill in odd ways (Bells Palsy, skin rashes, depression) I was intensly happy with my life and the person God was molding.

My friend could say many of the same things. She and her husband were a little more well off financially, they have had some beautiful kids of their own, and a home built precisely to their liking. After many years of part-time participation she was able to graduate from college (for which I was infinitely jealous). On the outside her life looked marvelous. On the inside I discovered things were not so good.

Seeds of doubt relating to the church we belonged to had been sown many years before she came to me one day with the words, "I no longer believe this is the true church." Since that day, over a year ago, she and her husband have had their names removed from the records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed the Mormon Church).

Her reasons for leaving had nothing to do with her belief in the Book of Mormon. She told me she still believed it was true. I'll not go into those reasons as they are hers to declare, and I cannot share in her beliefs. I wrote her back, trying to tell her that I didn't understand. Things that made so much sense in my head seemed only to make her angry, and she cut off all communication, refusing to respond to my e-mails. I knew I had hurt her deeply. It took a few months until the Spirit told me it was time to write and apologize. I did so, and though she made a small effort for a few weeks, she eventually let go of our friendship.

Over the last year I've been angry about a lot of things, and sorry for so many others. I've been angry at the priesthood leaders who were supposed to help nurture and support her faith, instead of encouraging her in these doubts. I've been angry at her for shoving this huge thing in my face and then getting mad when I didn't say, "It's okay with me that you're rejecting everything I've ever been taught in my life." I've been angry at myself for going off to college when obviously I could have stayed home and helped her through everything so that she could stand here today feeling whole.

I've talked about this with my parents and my husband, all of whom say the same thing: you can't feel guilty about the choices she's made. But, I cry out in my head, I should have been able to fix things!

I'm a fixer by nature. Most of the guys I was attracted to were broken in some fashion, and I wanted to fix them (it's a miracle I came into marriage unscathed). So when I couldn't fix this, when she wouldn't let me fix this, I felt helpless. That feeling turned quickly into anger mixed with guilt. I understand there's no use thinking I honestly could have fixed things had I been home, and today I think I've finally come to understand why.

I was folding my boys' laundry when a small and simple truth came to me: in a fashion, I was set up. By her, by me, by forces we couldn't understand, it doesn't matter. Over the last year as I reevaluated our relationship I began to see she'd always kept me at a distance. Even when we seemed so close, that feeling was all from my end. I started to see where she'd do things to help keep herself separate from whatever our plans were. In my heart there could never have been a better friend for me to have, I just never thought she didn't feel the same.

Every once in a while she'd come to me, share a small portion of the hardships in her life, but to this day I don't know if she ever took my advice to heart. I realize I don't know a whole lot about this woman I've known for so many years.

Things became even clearer this morning when I saw her declaration of disbelief in the Church in a new light. The truth is she could have come to me years and years ago with her doubts. She could have kept me in the loop, allowing me to struggle through this with her. Even if she'd come to the same decision, I would have at least understood so much more of where she was coming.

Instead I felt blindsided. She came to me after the decision was made. She didn't want to discuss, or find different answers. She threw a bomb in my lap and didn't understand why I tried to throw the bomb away.

Later, when I apologized, she laid all the blame at my feet. My reaction had hurt her. I knew it had. But today I realized she didn't once acknowledge how I had felt. She said she lost a friend. So did I. She said she cried. So did I. But now I wonder if I hadn't lost just a little more. Since then she cut off all communication.

In any case, today I'm getting of this guilt train. My friend has made certain decision, even in how she handled things with me, and I'm done feeling responsible for things in this relationship I have no control over.

I still pray she'll look me up one day. I pray her heart will be softened enough to at least try being friends again. I pray my own heart will be ready and willing to receive any little thing she has to give. But I'm done feeling guilty for her decisions.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

Amen! Guilt is a difficult emotion. I just read about guilt and shame,
"guilt is feeling bad about what you've done and shame is feeling bad about who you are...shame is linked to depression..." Self Magazine, May 2008.
I have learned that friends come and go in different ways and that the coming, doesn't mean that we have the same contact as we once did. Each stage of life is going to come and go , just like friends.
I hope that I have done my friends right...but I've stopped feeling guilty about it. I struggled hard when I was first married, but now it's "Bye bye guilt" and maybe even bye bye friend, but I move on.