When the words fall forth in the conversation, the relationship comes to a screeching halt. The words lay bricks between us. They form a wall through which hands cannot hold, eyes cannot meet, and words cannot transform.
“You haven’t _______. You wouldn’t understand.”
insert any number of life-stages or experiences: served as a minister in a congregation, graduated from seminary, cared for aging parents, struggled with depression, experienced discrimination, been married, been divorced, had a child, had two children, had three children…
I felt the words the strongest when I entered into community with women who had children. It seemed as if there was a club of motherhood that was surrounded by women with bows that shot arrows of “you wouldn’t understand,” as if to protect the well-crafted and culturally-celebrated image of “the mother” who is ragged and worn, but a celebrated servant to the glory of her children.
When my belly grew for the first time, I began to witness a parting in the artillery. I no longer felt the arrows. Now the arrows were turned to invitations. My first arrived, and I was officially inaugurated in. An invitation into the club was nice, but I found that there were always further levels of initiation.
“You have an infant still. You wouldn’t understand.”
“You don’t have two kids. You wouldn’t understand.”
When the second arrived, I found more grace in myself for them. In hindsight, one child seemed like a piece of cake. No children seemed like vacation. What had once felt like an assault on my worth as a woman now became a tape that played in my own mind. The words were unwelcome guests that fatigue and isolation had let in. They were self-righteous arrows that lived right under the surface.
Underneath the surface, the words were in response to my frustration of all that I had not understood before I had entered this experience. “You don’t understand” became the verbal embodiment of my resentment toward my inability to prepare myself fully for current circumstances. The words are what we all seem to fling outward when we are facing our frustration with our own humanity. Limitations become the enemy. The person who does not sympathize with them becomes the target.
The words tell of how alone we feel. They proclaim that we feel trapped in our reality while the world makes demands within which we feel like we cannot live. When I feel that you are confused by my stress or my isolation, I despise my weakness, and I identify you as the problem.
With God’s grace, may we be women who are honest enough to mourn our limitations and aware enough to not turn them into arrows shot towards one another.
With God’s mercy, may we be women who do not fight loneliness with further weapons of isolation.
With God’s truth, may we be women who refuse to let the brick walls between us keep us from pursuing one another with courageous tenderness.
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. . . . Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:29, 31-32