As a writer – or at least a person that attempts to write on occasion – I love words. I am in awe of the fact that one simple sentence can make someone’s heart dance and just as quickly shatter an illusion. I find inspiration in individual words and the way their meaning can undulate like a wave depending on its context.
About a year ago, I wrote a post talking about the meaning of the word “home”. Circumstances in my life had required me to move to a shared house and the definition I had created in my heart and mind for “home” didn’t fit this new circumstance. I was angry and hurt about where life – and God – had led me. While I didn’t blame God for where I was, I did feel confused about why I couldn’t finally rest in the definition of home that I had; why my life had to, yet again, be sent into upheaval like a game of 52 card pickup. I didn’t know where I was going to find the strength to yet again move forward.
Now here I am, a full year later, and the definition of the word “home” has changed again.
I have been lucky enough to find a new place that to lay my head at night and over the past three months, have worked hard to create a space that is an image of me now, not who I have been in the past or who I may be in the future. As lovely as this has been, it has also been a difficult process for me because for nearly 10 years, home always meant the place where my adoring dog was. The actual building or what the building housed didn’t matter. What mattered was that whatever door I walked into, my baby girl was there to greet me.
But now she’s gone.
And now, here I am in beautiful new place – a place she never even stepped a little white-tipped paw in – and I see her everywhere. I yearn for her to be at the door to greet me when I come back from work, I still turn to give her a piece of cheese when I made a sandwich, and I find myself wondering where she is or how her day is when I’m away. Her loss has broken my heart, but it has also done something else.
It has allowed me the chance to redefine what home looks like just for me. For the first time in my life, I am not worrying that someone else is going to dislike my choice of décor or that there isn’t a place to house knickknacks or heirlooms. I am not wondering what things I need to arrange to make it easier for my girl to get around nor do I have to worry about the bunnies that reside outside my door being chased or barked at all day long. No, this was not what I had planned or desired, but it is what God has given me for this time in my life and I have chosen to embrace it.
The thing that I have found as I work through this grief is that I – and I believe all of us – are often not willing to allow the meaning of the words and the importance they hold in our lives to change as they need to in order to adapt to our every growing and changing lives. We like things the way they have always been and spend a good deal of time and energy fighting the changes that come our way to help us grow.
Recently, I have seen this play out clearly and painfully with some friends of mine who are going through some similar “growth opportunities” where they, too, are having to redefine some words for themselves – words like family and love. In some situations, this is because of the blessings of marriage or children, but in some situations, this is because the current definition of what family or love looks like no longer fits the reality of the situation in front of them and they are angry, frustrated, and sad.
I get it. I really do. We go into situations with an idea of what they will look like only to be disappointed with the fact that our expectations weren’t met. We start a new job with an idea that the people we will be working with will be great only to find out that we don’t mesh well with them and struggle. We go into a new friendship thinking our new friend feels the same way we do about issues we feel strongly about only to find out they have very different views and we are forced to decide whether or not we are willing to accept those differences.
Or we get married and believe that marriage looks a certain way and that the person we married will either always be the same or that we will grow and change in the same directions as do they do because, after all, isn’t that what married couples do?
But that isn’t the case. The definitions of the words marriage and love must change with time but just because we accept this intellectually doesn’t mean that we don’t fight hard against the reality of the situation. We fight the need to allow the definitions we have created in our hearts and minds for these words – these relationships – to change with time.
How many times have you heard or said my spouse/friend/significant other isn’t the person they used to be? And how many times, when you’re expressing this thought, are you absolutely devastated or infuriated by that reality? It happens to me all the time and since I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, I assume it happens to you as well. The way I see it, this happens because we haven’t allowed our definition of who that person is – their role in our lives and the word we have attached to the emotions we have for that person to change. We want them to be who we imagined them to be from the get go. But that can’t ever actually be the case.
All people and all relationships must be able to change and grow and we, as loving, faith-filled people, must grow and change along with them. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily change in the same direction that they do, but it does mean that we allow ourselves to see beyond our own desires and needs and move in a direction that is unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable.
Here’s the bottom line.
Life is full of change – good and bad. Our jobs as members of this society and this faith community is to must allow the words that we use to frame experiences and relationships grow and change instead of putting them all in a big, black, margin-indented book and assume that they will forever be the same. God did not create us to live in a vacuum so despite the pain change can cause, we must trust that His plan for those changes is greater than the pain. We must allow those nearest to us to define themselves – their thoughts, needs and desires – as fluidly for us as we want them to allow us to for them. In so doing we allow the individual words used to describe a person and relationship to as unique as they are. Sure, there are only a few words in the English language that express what we refer to as love, but if we are gracious with the people around us, we will see that each use of that same word will reflect the specific qualities of the individual to which it is attached.
So as I spend this summer redefining “home” for myself, I pray that you also can find ways to redefine important words and phrases for yourself with the full understanding that these definitions, too, will change.