In 1976, the core group community to which I was assigned as a seminary student regularly evaluated each member’s participation in the group. After listening for a while at our initial attempts, I said, “It seems to me that we’re being sticky sweet.”
I became known for that phrase and, during future evaluations, someone in the group would invariably remind us, “Remember, we don’t want to be sticky sweet.” The whole group would turn toward me, chuckling in unison.
Recently I sent an email letter to trusted friends to share the process my daughter and I are experiencing with her recent breast cancer diagnosis and my ponderings about the questions coming up for me.
I’ve learned not to ask “Why?” or “Why me?” or “Why us?”
Instead, when faced with a difficult life circumstance, I most often search for meaning with these sorts of questions:
- “What is this about?”
- “What am I to learn from this?”
- “What is the gift in this?”
- “Will I be capable of seeing/hearing/experiencing the gift(s) that emerge?”
- “What is the worst possible outcome?”
- “Will I be able to handle the worst?”
- “What if the worst is something different than I am imagining?”
- “How might ‘the worst’ be ‘the gift?’”
One of my friends seemed astonished by my ponderings. “Wow!” she exclaimed, “Most people would think it but not say it. You say it!”
To me, saying it is being real and honest. When I’m real and honest, I know where I stand with you … and myself!
Confession: Because I am an introvert and because writing is a spiritual practice for me … including writing my blog posts … I do real and honest better when I write.
The feedback that meant the most to me from readers of the piece I wrote about my son for “Sophia’s Table: Women’s Wisdom in Five Voices” and of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, were comments like this:
“You give voice to difficult topics in a heart-felt, vulnerable, and courageous manner.”
Love Is Not Always Sticky Sweet
Romantic love where you are swept off your feet and live happily ever after tends to be glorified. Though I’ve had an almost 70-year fascination with it, it is something I have not experienced personally.
At 10, observing the dynamics in my mother’s alcoholic-infested family, I longed for a happy, harmonious family. As I grew older, I hoped to fall in love with a man I adored who cherished me. We would go on to establish the family of my dreams. For many reasons, this “sticky sweet” version of love was not to be.
If I couldn’t have it for myself, maybe I could help others achieve it. Thus my career as a family and relationship therapist. In my training, I learned a lot about my blocks to loving.
My sojourn in a 12-Step program taught me a different kind of love … tough love … just the kind of love I needed to practice with a severely brain-injured son. “Sticky-sweet” only made matters worse. And so toughen up, I did.
Love in the Trenches
Love is the willingness to extend yourself for the purpose of nurturing your own and another person’s spiritual growth. ~M. Scott Peck
Since the early 80s when I read M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled. this has been my favorite definition of love.
In 2015, when my daughter’s disease progressed to the point she needed to move in with me, it is this kind of love that was called for.
The love that nurtures my spiritual growth is not “sticky sweet.”
Friends often remark that my caregiving and advocacy for Nicole is a sign of how much I love her. To me, it feels like fulfilling a responsibility. I’m good at advocating … it’s a skill I possess. Because she falls through the cracks of most systems, she needs me to do this. I don’t enjoy it and sometimes resent having to do it.
A new thought: Perhaps my willingness to do it anyway is love … is nurturing my spiritual growth. Hmmm!
Where My Spiritual Growth Is Nurtured
These are the areas where I am aware of extending myself:
- Hugging her goodnight … a kind of demonstrative love that doesn’t come easily to “not sticky sweet” or “warm and fuzzy” me
- Relaxing my “neat & tidy” lifestyle
- Refraining from making a big deal over dishes and silverware that still have dried food on them after my daughter does the dishes (a job she initiated taking on)
- Watching TV programs with her … negotiating to find programs I wouldn’t normally watch but can enjoy to some extent
- Spending most evenings watching TV (one of her few enjoyments in life) instead of activities I prefer
Withdrawing the Energy of Love
This week, I experienced a couple of “down” days. I have reason. In addition to my daughter’s diagnosis, my best friend and her husband are approaching the end of their lives in a faraway city. I gave myself permission to indulge the first down day.
But during the second one, I slipped into “poor me” and conjured up a long-standing resentment stemming from hurt related to Nicole’s father. From the outside, my behavior looked the same. Veg out on the couch and watch TV.
Except, that I withdrew the energy of love. I continued watching TV programs into the evening … programs I knew my daughter wouldn’t enjoy.
She said nothing. She just went to her room and turned her TV on.
By the end of the evening, I felt awful … an evening lost … an evening I could have enjoyed with my daughter. And then the unspeakable … what if we don’t have many more evenings to enjoy together?
I won’t be indulging the “poor me’s” again.
Love is the willingness to extend yourself
(Even when you are down)
for the purpose of nurturing your own spiritual growth
(the only growth over which you have any control)
and another person’s spiritual growth.
(perhaps by continuing to extend love even when you don’t feel like it)
Linda with a lot of help from M. Scott Peck