'It seemed like you were distracted tonight, and when I was talking, you were somewhere else. I felt hurt and angry.' I didn't say this to my beloved, I said it to myself. Silently, before drifting off to sleep. When I woke up, I went running, and I thought about it some more. What was the anger about? Not connecting, feeling far from the one I love, feeling less important. What part of this was about what had transpired between us (or not), and what part of it was things I carry around with me - old wounds, childhood experiences, former relationships? Did I really believe that the person who loves me so much meant to hurt me, or was I just reacting to my own pain?
Feelings are indicators, not dictators. I think about how many times I have said, 'this makes me angry...' and realize that the end of that sentence was basically a command for the other person to stop it. If I am angry, then what you are doing is wrong, and so you need to quit doing that so that I will quit being angry. I realize, with shame, that this is manipulation: 'I will be angry until you do X.' I could keep doing that forever, demanding that the other person appease my feelings, and then wondering why we don't feel closer.
I've started to get curious about my feelings instead, especially fear and anger. When they come up, I question them, to myself. What is this about, what part of it is about me? What part needs to be discussed with someone else? And am I asking the other person to change, or am I asking them to understand me better? There is a big difference there, I think. Asking someone to stop behaving in a certain way in order to make me feel better is a big burden. Asking them to know me more by understanding my feelings isn't that hard, and it can draw us towards each other.
Following Jesus is starting to teach me about seeing others, especially the ones I hold dear, as the saints they are, my neighbors attempting to live their lives loving God and others, just as I am. This makes me see that just like I sometimes hurt others without intending to, my loved ones can cause me pain in all innocence. Sometimes without even knowing. And getting angry with them because I am hurt does nothing but continue to distance us. But acknowledging my feelings to myself, mulling them over, and then sharing them opens all kinds of doors.
By the time I get to speak to my beloved again, he beats me to it: 'I am sorry I was so distracted yesterday. I have been feeling so overwhelmed lately and I didn't realize it until I had time to think. I didn't mean to push you away.' 'Yes, I was feeling hurt by that, but I see that you didn't intend to be distant. Let's talk about what has you feeling overwhelmed.' Soon there is a whole new discussion about what is going on with each of us. And the original fear - that we were not as close as I wanted us to be - is dispelled by this conversation. It is a small miracle.
Common wisdom says 'never go to bed angry'. It's biblical, even. But I am learning this is not always good advice. Sleeping on my anger, or fear, or confusion, often leaves enough room for time and space and the Holy Spirit to help us each sort it out so that instead of taking our feelings out on each other, we are able to share them peacefully.
Love is our business as disciples, as humans even. I am grateful to still be learning it.