This week, Tim and I saw Fr. Greg Boyle speak about his new book, Barking to the Choir, but really, his speaking is simply storytelling. At the beginning, or end of a story, he might tee up the point he wanted you to get out of it, but not always. Sometimes, you just had to sit with the story and see what it brought up for you. The impact of his storytelling forced me to recognize how few stories I tell here on my blog any more. When the kids were small, I told a lot. It’s easy to tell personal stories when your kids are young, but as they got older, I tried to respect their privacy. Their stories are theirs to tell, not mine, even if I am the one learning the lesson. But after a while, I got out of the story-telling habit and then I kind of lost the nerve. There’s not much vulnerability involved in a story about how your three-year-old is driving you nuts, but grown-up stories, personal ones? It makes me sweat just thinking about it, so I rarely wander down that path.
But the stories Greg tells? Those are risky stories, heart-breaking accounts of abuse, foolishness, pride, stupidity, ignorance, frustration – much of it his own. Nobody comes out looking perfect, but everyone comes out beloved – understood, and held with tenderness. In all that they do, Homeboy Industries is working to create the “Kin-dom of God” here on Earth, a kin-dom where no one is left outside the circle of mercy, compassion, tenderness and connection, a place where everyone belongs.
One of my favorite lines Greg shared was that at Homeboy, they never use a bar to see how the homies are measuring up. They only ever hold up a mirror, so the homies can see who they truly are, and then help them to become that person. In the mirror, homies see who they are in the eyes of God, innocent, untouched, replete with unique skills, talents, personalities and experiences. In the mirror, they see how they are made in the image and likeness of the Divine and they begin to live out that truth.
I heard that line and could have wept.
Like almost everyone I know, I am a master at using “the bar” to see how I measure up and it seems like the world is always “raising the bar.” Honestly, it’s the only game in town: discover your shortcomings and fix them! According to “the bar” method, we are never finished, never satisfactory, never worthy of the title “Beloved.” But the stories in Barking to the Choir show over and over again that the only antidote to “the bar” is “the mirror,” the blessing and transformation that takes place when we see, and are seen, with the eyes of love.
Though I know the power of “the mirror” and use it as much as possible with my kids and husband, friends and family, when it comes to myself, I am quick to reach for “the bar” and the inevitable disappointment that comes along with it. I am so grateful for Tim, who counteracts my self-criticism, by patiently holding up the mirror for me, time and time again, even as recently as last week, when I found myself with it (the bar) in my hand, assessing my performance as a woman.
How had I been doing in the wife-department? Dismal
How had I shown up to our conversations? Distracted
How had our sex life been the last month? Dissatisfying
To be fair, we’d had a full house since mid-December with Kiko and Finn home from college, but on Saturday night, they were finally gone and Molly was out for the evening. For the first time in six weeks, we were alone… in our house… after dark… for longer than a half hour. We’d been anticipating this evening for so long! We drew a hot bath, lit candles, opened a bottle of wine. Let the romance ensue! We talked; we laughed; we relaxed and then… nothing happened, (at least on my part.)
Has anyone else experienced that awkward moment, where all systems are GO, but some critical part of your libido says, NO?
I stalled for a few moments in the cooling bath water, unable to find my way, emotionally or physically, to that place of intimacy and connectedness with my husband I had been longing for so badly. What was wrong with me?
Strangely enough, it was Fr. Greg Boyle who came to mind in that moment. Even after taking the time for romance, I still had “the bar” in my hand and was reviewing all the ways I hadn’t measured up as a woman, or wife. Those are pivotal identities in a healthy marriage, but they had taken second, or third (or last) place while I prioritized some other things going on in our lives. We need to do that sometimes, but after twenty-five years together, we know not to allow the “urgent, but not important” to run the show for too long. I also knew I was going to need some help letting go, so I said to Tim:
“Hold up a mirror for me, love. Help me see myself through your eyes on a night like tonight. Who am I besides a mother, seeker, teacher, writer, worker, volunteer, cleaner, driver, household manager? Who am I when I’m just me?”
And through Tim’s words, I began to see a reflection of myself again, this time through the eyes of love.
I saw an Ali who surfs and swims and stand up paddleboards, for the sheer pleasure of water on her face and sun on her skin and strength in her shoulders.
I saw an Ali who smiles often and laughs easily, who touches everyone she loves because she just can’t help herself.
I saw an Ali who loves adventures and food and a good drink and isn’t so worried about the calories.
I saw an Ali who isn’t afraid of sensuality, who is learning to embrace her middle-aged body, while also appreciating her husband’s.
I saw an Ali who knows how to stop trying to measure up, so she can relax and find herself “beloved” again.
I did not expect Greg Boyle (along with Tim of course) to be the one to solve my “roadblock” on Saturday night, though I think he’d be tickled by his presence there. But that’s the power of a great story. Not only does it enlighten you in the moment; it sticks with you for the long haul and shows up in radical places down the road.
My takeaway is this: When you need a better story, ask for it and when you hear a better story, believe it.
Allow it to disrupt the narrative you’ve been telling yourself, which probably features a bar you can never live up to. Make sure the new story includes the mirror of “kin-ship,” grace, and compassion, so you can see yourself in all your beauty, femininity, masculinity, and vulnerability again. Even the great doubters claim, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” so find a mirror that shows you who you truly are in the eyes of Love. Believe it and then become it.
And if you need some more inspiration, pick up a copy of Barking to the Choir, or get to a source of water and look inside – a natural mirror does wonders for your perspective!