So, I’ve got these neighbors…….
Short and sweet: We moved in a few days apart from one another. Things went well for the first six months; then downhill.
Regrettably, four years later, I find myself occasionally perusing the local MLS listings because the strain has become very uncomfortable for me. I love my house and everything about it from its distinct 1960’s flavor to the gorgeous river running through my backyard. But because I feel that my home and my yard and my surroundings should be a refuge and haven, and because it is occasionally anything but that, sometimes I imagine that I’d rather give up my little sweet spot in the heart of old Sartell than to live with so much constant provocation.
Naturally, I’ve found myself dissecting this little mess trying to figure out where I might have gone wrong. And honestly, it didn’t take long. I know exactly what I did. Well… what I didn’t do.
When we first moved in, there was a series of compromises that I made because, well, let’s face it, I abhor confrontation. So the times my girls got their hair and back packs pulled on the bus and the times that their olders teased and hurt the feelings of my youngers, I said nothing. I mean, I tried to coach my kids through it, telling them about boundaries and saying “no”, but I never dealt with the monkey directly.
It was all pretty subconscious when it was happening, but looking back, I can clearly see that I truly thought I was being “forgiving”. That I was “turning the other cheek”. And while some might say that that is what I was doing, the proof that I was not lies in the fact that I had an incredible amount of resentment built up… which is, ya know, sorta the opposite of forgiveness and turning the other cheek.
Mercy is not what drove me. It was fear. Fear of confrontation. Fear of neighbor tension. Fear of unrest with someone living so close to me. Fear of saying how I really felt because “What if they didn’t like what I said about how I felt?”
Ironically, the fears that muted my feelings have turned into self-fulfilling prophecies.
A “yes” is no good if a “no” is not possible.
I remember the first time I heard that line. It took me a while to pull it apart.
A “yes” is no good if a “no” is not possible?
What does that mean?
It means that if I don’t speak up or face conflict or initiate needed confrontation because I am afraid, I have lost my “no”. And if I don’t have a real “no”, what good is a “yes”?
If “yes” is what I’m saying externally, but internally, there is a “no” being screamed at the top of my lungs, my “yes” is a lie. And the “yes” is not even mine to start with. If I can’t say “no”, then saying “yes” is merely cowardice.
So back when pig tails were being pulled on buses and when dogs were not staying in their yard and when their kids were using our backyard as though it were their own, I should have gone to the great lengths of establishing my “no”. Whether or not it made me scared and uncomfortable. Whether or not they liked what I had to say or actually cared about how their actions were making me feel.
And that doesn’t mean I needed to yell and scream. It just meant that I needed to face it and not hide from it.
A gentle but firm confrontation.
A clear boundary.
An honest and sincere “no”.
By the time I realized all of this and tried to establish a gentle but firm “no”, of course, the patterns of our relationship had already set themselves into place. Like the deep groves of a record that just keeps playing the same tune, sadly, now our predicament seems somewhat terminal.
I once asked my psychologist Keith if I would need to spend the rest of my life establishing “no’s” wherever I went, because holy bleep, that sounded like a lot of work. Thankfully, he told me that the test for speaking up or not was actually quite simple.
Is it any skin off your back? Because if it is, then you should speak up. You need to establish your own “no”. But if it’s not, then you can overlook it in love.
Now, if I find myself silenced because of fear, I remind myself that perfect love casts out fear. And that if I truly love this person, that love has to outweigh the fear I have of confronting them or sharing with them how their actions truly make me feel.
True forgiveness is setting something free. Totally cancelling a valid debt. So, unless I’m doing that (aka, “it’s no skin off my back”), the only appropriate action is to be honest about what’s truly going on inside of me.
And as an addendum, let me say that “skin off your back” situations really do come up in life. And they do not signify weakness or lack of “godliness”. They indicate that you are human. ‘Cause guess what? You are!
The Bible tells us to “be angry, but don’t sin.”
And that pretty much implies that our urge toward anger is not the real issue. After all, it was God who put those urges and feelings inside of us. They act as warnings and signals that action needs to be taken. No good comes from stifling those feelings. From stifling anger. Good happens when we hear the signal – anger rising up in us – and then we act. And then we speak up. And then we share how we really feel. And then we establish an honest, loving “no”.
I think we often get the horse before the carriage on this, thinking that somehow forgiveness comes before the anger. Or that the anger should not come at all. Or when it does, it’s something we’re supposed to “give back to God”… as if God wants it back! He gave us our emotions for a reason. And they are not things we can or should just hand away. Anger is the natural progression of being mistreated. Forgiveness is what comes after. Forgiveness can’t really show up if the anger never took place… if the automatic response toward mistreatment is muted.
It rarely happens immediately, and no matter what the books on forgiveness say, it can never be accomplished through force. Sure, one can force themselves into the mental and emotional homework of continually bringing perspective to the situation. But real, true, through and through forgiveness happens only when it’s really ready to happen. When the offense is so thoroughly integrated and worked through that the emotional charge has left. Sometimes this can happen right away, but there is no shame when it takes twenty years.
The good news about establishing your “no” is that when you have a real, honest “no” in place, it opens you up to be able to say “yes”. And THAT, my friends, is what “turning the other cheek” looks like. THAT is what forgiveness looks like.
I have the power to say “no”, but I am choosing, in my own right, to say “yes” instead.
A healthy person will hear your “no” and respect you for it.
Respect begets respect.
And when you meet someone who will truly not allow you to have your own “no”, walk away, baby. Walk away.
Ain’t no one got time fo’ dat.