The other day a moment from my past popped into my head. It wasn't an especially pivotal moment or anything, but the impact is still being felt.
It happened quite a few years ago. We had lived in an apartment and gotten to know some of the other church members in the same complex. I didn't get to know anyone really well -I'm slow at making friends- but you know, I knew who they were and had a general sense of their character and whatever. And then we moved, and I only kept in minimal contact with a couple of the people I knew.
Fast forward a couple of years.
Opie was about 4 years old and I had no idea what to do with him. He was especially Dr Jekyl/Mr Hyde-ish back then. He could be the sweetest, most lovable, chubby cheeked cherub and then switch to crazed, destructo, demon child in a fraction of a second for very little cause. It was also when everyone was very young - 4 kids ages 1-5 young - which just made things harder.
For those who don't know the church we go helps people in lots of different ways, such as offering free counseling to those who need it. Like, real, professional, actual psychologist, counseling. Because it can be overwhelmingly expensive, and we had reached that point.
This is when IT happened.
I had to fill out paperwork in a church office dedicated to people who are applying for counseling. It was quite a bit of paperwork, and as I sat there I noticed that across the room another woman was also filling out counseling paperwork. And this woman used to go to church with us when we lived in the apartment. And we knew each other well enough to recognize each other.
Except that we didn't.
We both just ducked our heads and kept filling out paperwork, pretending there was no one else in the room.
And that was it. THE MOMENT.
It doesn't seem like a huge moment at all. But here's the thing - I remember thinking, "I should go say hi and see if she's doing ok, which she obviously isn't seeing as she's seeking professional counseling..." But I was too embarrassed and afraid. I mean, what do you say to someone in a situation like that? I would imagine the conversation like this:
Me: Hey, I haven't seen you in awhile. So I see you're failing at adulthood just as much as me. High five!!
Her: Hi! Oh yes, I am very much crapping out on this "being a grown up" thing and it's amazing!
Me: So, what are you here for?
Her: Marriage is insanely tricky, and right now I could flush all my husband's clothes down a giant pee-soaked toilet! You?
Me: That sounds familiar, but I'm actually here because I have no idea how to parent my own child and sometimes I fantasize about running away to a remote island where everyone's sterile!
Her: Oh yes, I've had that one. Well it's good catching up - I need to go yell at everyone in my house now.
Me: Me too, right after I grab dinner at Burger King for the third time this week. Bye!
Conversations rarely go that way.
I've found that talking about real problems makes people uncomfortable.
Have you ever noticed that when you do bring up a sincere problem in a conversation 90% of the time the other person immediately jumps to generalized statements of praise? Like if I had said, "My child is out of control and I think God made a mistake giving him to me" (which was a thought I had often at that stage of Opie's life), first of all I probably would've horrified whoever I was talking to, but they'd hide it and say something like, "But you're doing so great with him! And all your other kids are so well behaved! And your frizzy ponytail goes so well with your twitching eyelid! And wow, you are just, SO GREAT! But I need to go now, bye!" And I'd be left standing there feeling worse about my problem.
Aside from a handful of my friends, most of my conversations are void anything of real substance. But what if they weren't? What if we could let go of all the embarrassment and all the judging and just SAY REAL STUFF and have people say REAL STUFF back? Even people we don't know that well?
Not that I think all conversations should be a complain-o-thon because yikes, but if you're having a bad day and the clerk at the grocery store says, "How are you today?" You could say "It's not my best day" instead of the perfunctory, "I'm fine, how are you?" And then maybe you could even have a real conversation while they ring up your purchase of donut holes and Diet Coke.
Wouldn't it be better if we all felt safe to BE REAL?
Mostly though, I just want to go back in time to THE MOMENT and tell that woman hi. And tell her that it's ok to struggle with life. Because adulting is the hardest. And neither one of us should have been embarrassed to admit that, when it makes life easier and better when you know you're not the only one who has reached the point of filling out paperwork for professional counseling. And I think I needed to hear it that day too.