My siblings, parents, extended family and friends sometimes used to tell me I didn't give them enough of myself. One dear relative commented resignedly that our relationship survived only because she had ratcheted her expectations way down.
And sometimes it seemed that I gave too much time, or at least too much worry, to my children and my husband, while still feeling I should do more.
I wanted love, acceptance and support from all of them, and I wanted to offer it back to them too.
What I didn’t want was to feel guilty so much of the time, to feel like I could never do enough. And I especially didn’t want to feel that I needed to keep all my relationships “even,” or to fulfill any given individual's expectations, in order to fend off hurt and loss.
I suffered most when I got into the mindset of living a temporal life and having temporal relationships, because from that perspective, my life seemed way too short, and my list of the things I ought to do so impossibly long. Yet no amount of rushing and cramming provided any relief or solution.
My relationships have functioned better since I exchanged my perception of the time I have “left” (limited? temporal? fleeting?) for God’s very relaxing and infinite eternal time—expressed in life as “right now.” I’m learning to stay in the present (eternity’s earthly disguise?) and remember that there’s no rush. Love isn’t going anywhere.
I’m also doing better now remembering that I don’t have to come up with all the answers to my issues about relationships, but instead can rely upon God’s surprising solutions and opportunities.
One other time-related thing I found most challenging in long-term relationships was always feeling stuck in the past. Too often, my good times with others got mired in past-oriented stuff–guilt and fear–guilt that I hadn’t been loving enough in the past, and so should use the present to make up for past stuff, and fear that if I didn’t give more or differently, I’d hurt or lose everyone.
My painful focus on past deficits (both real and imagined) in long-term relationships always pulled me away from happy, present-oriented, guilt-free interactions in the present moment. Whenever I was stuck in fixing the past, distracted by guilt, or remorse, or self-righteous indignation, I forgot about the good I could do and the fun I could offer right now.
Attempting to rewrite history—compensating, comparing, complaining—during the time I’m with my nearest and dearest is the very devil himself for me, the very thing that most pulls me away from my best self, my highest goals, my kindest heart.
Sometimes I even worry that the time I spend with my higher power or with casual acquaintances competes with my long-term relationships. As if my spiritual growth could diminish my value to my dear ones….
But it’s never been the amount of time I spend or don’t spend with them that matters most, but rather the worry, fear, and guilt that I bring to the present out of our past, killing off all the good present moments that could still be. It's those past-seated resentments, and the struggles to justify and rectify our imperfect past relationships, that separates us during the present moment–far more than our mutual histories, which aren't real anyway–they just don't exist anymore.
When I am focused on loving, appreciating, and enjoying my dear ones in the present moment to the best of my ability, it’s always enough. All I have to do is let go of the bad stuff arising from our long, past-oriented lists of deficits–of what I owe them and what they owe me. Whenever I focus on the past, my relationships go wrong. Whenever I let go of the past, my relationships go better.
So it's not the imperfect past at all, but my focus on it, which is the most insidious and subtle competitor with the good I have to offer my present relationships, whether long-term or short-term, whether we're talking about my relationship with God, or my relationships with all the people in my life.
Right now, both my long and short-term relationships are better and more filled with possibilities than they’ve ever been. I feel loved, accepted, valued, appreciated by them, and all these same feelings arise in me toward all of them in return. What could be better than that?
Surrendering my life to my higher power, and broadening my circle of loyalty and devotion (the circle comprising all I consider “mine,” “family,” and “near and dear”) to include all of mankind, has had the surprising result that it has increased my closeness to all my lifelong and long-term friends and relations.
Since I’ve begun to learn to let go of my own role and history-based demands, expectations, and resentments and to stay in the present, I’m finally beginning to see and learn and hear and respond to all the people who are really before me, here, now.
I’ve expanded my definitions of mother, father, sister, brother, husband and wife, children, parents, teachers, students, even neighbor and countryman, to include everyone I meet, everyone there is–and yet my long-term relationships haven’t suffered.
As long as my time and affections were limited to a small circle of special relationships, my energy on those few precious relationships was all about expectations and limitations. Now those special relationships are free to be about limitless giving and receiving.
In this crazy world, where so much that appears to be so is not so (and vice-versa) a move from the honored position of spouse or mother or sister or daughter, or even neighbor or countryman, to the formerly worthless position of “human being,” would be considered a radical demotion. Wouldn’t you think that such a diminution in honorific status must surely entail the loss of all privileges, expectations, attentions, and duties traditionally conferred upon the select group of people in each life upon whom long-term relationship status is assigned?
But when every single person in this world deserves the highest respect, honor, attention, help, kindness, giving, acceptance, and forgiveness, certainly my inner circle is also very much included. Am I likely to suddenly care about them less? Will my dear ones be relegated to sharing only the crumb that’s left of me after dividing myself into eighty gadzillion pieces, among pesky and pushy strangers who will push them from my life?
That was, in fact, once my own fear, my own source of guilt–that my devotions and attachments to my higher power and others would compete with my closest relationships, that I'd have to give them up, that love was an either/or thing: either I loved my family and friends, or I loved God and humanity indiscriminately, the one kind of love necessarily excluding the other.
But it’s the other way around. As long as you exclude even one person from your circle of love, as long as you leave one person in the dark outer space where all your fears are, your love will be incomplete, inadequate, insufficient. Fear and love can’t coexist. If you accept one, you have to let the other go. Love is all-or-nothing, wholehearted, undivided, if it is love at all.
All expressions of love are maximal. And love is a limitless resource, a bottomless well, infinitely renewable. You can’t run out of the love you have to give. There’s always enough. The more you give, the more you have to give. As Romeo’s Juliet said, “love is as boundless as the sea, and as full.”
My love of my higher power and my global neighbor make me better able to love and serve the ones closest to me. These days, I’m more present during the moments we’re together, more accepting, and more forgiving. And I spend far less time than before in conflicting illusions about past history or future fears.
Now that I find all of mankind lovable and worthy of forgiveness and acceptance, my dearest ones can relax, because although they'll always make mistakes just like me, they will always be enfolded into my all-inclusive circle of love, which includes mistake-makers…. They know they’ll always be lovable to me, no matter what.
Focusing on just a few people, I used to set traps for both myself and for those few I called “special.” For when I called someone “special friend,” they were suddenly heavily obligated to me, and we quickly got into the business of weighing out our giving and the receiving. When I called someone “mother,” I ran the risk of narrowing my appreciation for other potential sources of good, resulting in so much less of me for a mother to love, and so much less love for me to give my mother.
When I called someone daughter, how heavy the burden of my expectations for her to carry, and how hard for both of us when she loved others as well as she loved me. When I called someone husband, yet refused to take the rest of the world (metaphorically) into my arms to cherish and comfort along with him, I risked someday becoming a clinging, needy, frightened ghost from his past, with nothing but sad past comparisons and fears of the future, when I could have poured all that love and energy out into a thirsty universe, while he was also offering himself up to others as well.
These days, I try to greet each person I meet (whether a long-term friend or a stranger) with no thought of the past to drag us down, no burden of history or future expectations, no role-related duty or expectation or responsibility or fear or guilt that might hold us back from the present moment. Into that present moment I try to pour all the love I have, and for that moment, this person is my father, mother, child, sister, friend, teacher, lover, neighbor, countryman.
Nothing could be more out-of-control than my previous attempts to control my relationships. The only thing we've lost are the sad chains of history that we used to drape over each other.
I’m still sometimes very unreliable and unpredictable and inconsistent (i.e., human) in applying what I’m trying to learn. But I’m doing my best to always be right here and right now, and I’m far less likely these days to run away from my relationships, fight them, resist them, repel them. I no longer have any use for harboring or indulging in anger, attack, defensiveness or guilt.
Feeling closer than ever before to both my dear ones and to brief acquaintances these days, I know it’s because I’ve surrendered my life to my higher power, and remembering that I can only know and love his children as one, right now, in the present moment.