I was the speaker at a service organization luncheon today, and after I gave my presentation on love languages and filling love/value buckets, there were questions. One man said, "My sister's son told her he was gay. How do you handle that?"
I was in front of a group of mostly retired men, some of whom had hinted at connections with conservative points of view. I was on the spot. I talked about how personal a situation that was, and how it was important before responding to consider the importance of the relationship and how to preserve it. And then another woman raised her hand and saved the day. Here is her story, paraphrased. It was such a beautiful analogy, that I asked her if I could share it. She agreed.
She said her son told her that he was gay. She said that first, she had to mourn that he wasn't going to have the life she had thought he was. The picture she had painted about what his life would look like (the one she had concocted in her head and painted out, with details like a daughter-in-law and a big wedding with her as the mother of the groom) was just that--a picture she had painted. She said in her process, she was able to leave that picture behind, and realize that her 22-year-old son needed to paint his own picture of what he wanted his life to look like. And if she wanted to be in it, she needed to accept who he was. She began to focus on all the things she loved about her son, and now, she says, his being gay is not what she would change about him. She wishes he might get a job, since he was recently laid off.
I LOVE that story! How many times in our lives do we paint pictures of how things are going to be--with our children, our spouses, our family members, co-workers, or friends--only to find out that we forgot to invite them to the painting party? And then, we get disappointed or frustrated or angry because they are not cooperating with the image we have painted. I think we all do that. The trick is to realize we are there, pick up the paintbrush, and hand it over to the other person to update the painting. If we stay stuck with our painting, we can miss what's going on in another room in the art gallery.
We may not be completely crazy about the new painting. Perhaps it's modern art, and we prefer impressionism. But, in our love for that person, and in the name of preserving important relationships, it's important that we find out as much as possible about modern art, and find what beauty we can in appreciating it, even if it isn't what we'd planned on seeing. Even if it's not our cup of tea.
This can also be a great exercise to do with oneself. What picture have you painted inside your mind about who you are? Is there anything that you might need to update? Let yourself off the hook for? Be honest about? Think of all the energy you could save not beating yourself up if your image of who you are and who you are look the same!
One last thought. Have you ever been to one of those paint you own pottery places? You purchase a blank piece of pottery and paint it, then leave it there to be glazed and fired and return to pick it up later. It NEVER looks the same when you pick it up as it did when you left it. The firing process changes all the colors. If you are attached to how it looked when you left, you're sure to be disappointed. But if you return with a spirit of curiosity and wonder at what the firing process has created, you are more likely to be happy with the result.
Life happens. Tragedy touches us. Challenges engage us. This is our firing process. What vibrant colors are in your life because of this that weren't there before? Look carefully, and celebrate.