Avoidance: Six ways to find comfort in your suffering

One of my enduring impressions of last Saturday’s Comfort Retreat actually came after it was over. Ellen told me of an article she read about going to a party and texting to tell the host goodbye. I admit I have done this a few times, but I did not know it was a topic (as if every social thing a millennial does would not be a topic – it is a big blogosphere!). So, of course, I Googled it and found out that lots of people have been talking about  ghosting like this for the last five years. Here is one random sample:

[I ghost the exit] because people should only remember you as the life of the party, never the death. We live in 2015, where the text messages travel faster than comets through space and communication isn’t a choice, it is a function of existence. So you text, or call, or Kik, or whatever after the fact and say sorry, but when push comes to ghost, what’s so bad about leaving when you want to leave without the annoying bells and whistles?

All day at the retreat, some of us came to grips with the fact that it is very difficult to show up. We can ghost our life! The best defense mechanism of this generation might be avoidance, even stonewalling. A few of us could describe how hard it was to even feel when we had the chance. The other night when I was watching Nashville (Yes, it is still on, and yes, Scarlett still can’t get with Gunner effectively), Deacon asked Scarlett if she wanted a hug and she said, “I don’t want anyone to touch me or I will start crying and not stop.”She eventually folded into her uncle, but she was as conscious as a soap opera person can be about her avoidance habits.

Scarlett & Deacon - I love the relationship between these two. So sweet and genuine.

Avoidance wrecks things: self-awareness and growth, relationships, and the big one, knowing God.

God promises comfort. But it is hard to receive comfort when we are used to avoiding the potential suffering of not receiving the comfort we crave. We have reasons to ghost the Holy Ghost. Maybe God is seen as the great corporation in the sky who is perpetually beaming religious advertising at you which you masterfully avoid. Maybe God is seen as your helicopter parents who did so much for you, you have no idea how to do anything and you can’t stand more helicoptering. Maybe God is seen as just another obligation, like soccer practice, and you are just too tired of all that to lift a finger of attention. I got all these ideas from eavesdropping on blogs about ghosting parties.

The key to following Jesus might be summed up in one line from our theme scripture for the Comfort Retreat, 1 Corinthians 1:5: For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (NASV). That verse is very not-avoidant. So you might have checked out as soon as you started reading it. It has a point that is hard to hear if you can’t even tolerate awkward good-byes:

We suffer. Jesus suffers with us, even bearing our sins, and we suffer with Jesus, even receiving his victory. Suffering is either deadly or transforming for us.

Likewise, we are comforted. Jesus comforts us in our present situation, and we are having a foretaste of his present situation. We  can try to get comfortable in this world, but it is hard to settle for that when eternity is opened up to us.

But what if you are really good at avoidance?

Yes, you might have perfected avoidance. Chances are, however, that if you are reading this, you are more irritated by the stonewallers you love rather than irritating yourself. But if you are good at avoidance, what follows is a list of things that make you suffer and will cause you more suffering if you move through them rather than around them.  But just as the suffering threatens to overflow, the comfort promises to overflow even more. Step by step we get to the end of the journey, unless we avoid starting every day.

Here are six book-length suggestions in a few sentences each for finding a way to stop avoiding. I adapted them from a Huffington Post article:

Give up on denial as a means to stay safe.

 You might start with considering what your mind and heart are really telling you when you take the time to reflect — about you, about your relationships and about God. More important, go with your soul, where God not only challenges you to open your mind and heart, he gives you the motivation and hope to trust him instead of just aspiring to trust yourself and others. Not seeing things clearly will not keep you safe.

 Have healthy conflict

When people who are conflict-avoidant sense a possible confrontation, they become anxious and do whatever they can to avoid the situation and reduce their own discomfort. They may “walk on eggshells” to avoid discussing their needs or “protect” themselves or their partner from experiencing difficult feelings. It’s all too easy to stay in this comfort zone, maintaining the illusion that a relationship is functional when it’s not.

Admit you are needy

Since we have somehow been taught that self-reliance is the height of health, we fear being “too needy.” Some people want to please and care-take, pushing their own needs aside (often telling themselves, “I want to be there for him/her”). They fear becoming burdensome, difficult, or demanding. They have no respect for the mutuality Jesus thinks is normative, at least they don’t respect it with their behavior. They believe that being a “good girl/boy/friend” or being a good team mate means not asking much of their partners and, as such, they often ignore their own needs. You may have tried to get out of that box and been shoved back in, so go back to the part above about suffering and being consoled by God. You can’t solve your neediness without Jesus – except to avoid it.

Let God be in charge of transforming others

You are not the “special someone” who will cure your partner’s inability to commit by being patient, accommodating, loving, and emotionally available. Acting out all those good traits should be giving love because you are loving, not loving because you think you are Jesus. We comfort because we are comforted by God, not merely because we think someone will follow our example or should reciprocate. Perpetuating the drama of feeling good when you are loving but destroyed when you are judged for not being loving enough or good enough to love is like being addicted to something.

Suffer the fact that people will let you down

We will do just about anything to not be left alone. Many of us end up in a series of relationships that all end up with abandonment. So we avoid relationships, even with God. Instead, we should stop avoiding the self-awareness that could tell us why we keep replicating unhealthy relationships. Avoiding abandonment makes us focus on how bad or flawed we must be — even before someone leaves us, we are acting as if they will, which often causes them to do so. No one knows better than Jesus what it is like to be abandoned by those who loved him and by those who should love him and don’t. Those sufferings are flowing back and forth between us and the Lord. But so is the comfort.

Stop playing your part in the “drama”

Healthy relationships seem boring to a lot of us. If something is godly, we might sabotage it to get a thrill or just to perpetuate the illusion that we are “true to ourselves.” We might long for the passion and excitement of our youth and keep trying to get the drama back. But as the troubled thirtysomething marriages around us demonstrate (some of which are dissolving as we speak), long loves are not built on emotional drama. If you were a child raised by parents who could not suffer together and be consoled by God, you really need the replacement parenting Jesus is opening up to you.

I may have just caught up with “ghosting” (I heard the word but did not adopt it). But I have certainly experienced the behavior. An author in Elle even did a survey to validate her experience, which is similar to mine, so my experience has empirical data behind it! People ghost my cell, the church, our appointment all the time and sometimes they even get out of my party before I can make them say good-bye to me. (Best solution to that awkwardness: avoid the party, which has surely been done). I guess Jesus is the only Holy Ghost who doesn’t ghost us. It is a good thing he doesn’t need an invitation to our parties, and it is especially wonderful that he even stays to help clean up.

Subscribe to Development! Hit the “follow” button after you type in your email. Thanks for reading!

About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope, http://circleofhope.net , grandparent, church planter, peacemaker, comrade, spiritual director, psychotherapist, silence lover

Leave a Reply