Befriending our Darkness


“Non-violence requires that we befriend our own darkness and brokenness rather than projecting it onto another. This, in turn, connects us with our fundamental oneness with each other, even in conflict.”   Pat Farrell OSF

You may recognize this quote from a previous post (Thoughts on a Sad Day, published on Nov. 25, 2014.) Since I first read this quote, I have beenunhappy person pondering the meaning of “befriend[ing] our own darkness and brokenness.”  I have worked hard to uncover my own darkness and brokenness, but befriending what I have unearthed is another story.  And how does this process prevent us from “projecting it onto another?”

Is Farrell right in her belief that this process will help us feel connected with others – even those with whom we disagree and dislike?  Is it worth the sometimes frightening  journey to find out?  For what it is worth, here is where I have gotten so far in my journey of understanding.  I would love to hear about your experience.

Step 1:  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we become willing to look beyond the persona we present to the world and locate the fear, anger, loneliness, and abandonment that  spawned our facade of power and self-control.

Step 2:  In collaboration with the Holy Spirit, we begin the intentional process of discovery. For example, why do we have fear and anger and jealousy?  What caused/causes feelings of loneliness and abandonment? What false narratives are we telling ourselves about ourselves, about God, about the world around us that create these stories and feelings?

Step 3:  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we begin to do battle with these hidden “demons.” (Richard Rohr calls this step “shadow boxing”).  For example, one of my major battles is feeling abandoned when no abandonmentabandonment is taking place. Early in my life I was abandoned” in some ways.  My father was killed in WWII when I was a toddler. Because of her own loss and grief, my  mother abandoned me emotionally and at times physically. After much hard work, I have learned that this primitive feeling often rules me at times when I am quite safe, secure, and loved.   The feeling produces controlling behavior that is not pretty.  I can now recognize it and the Holy Spirit helps me take steps to move beyond it.

Step 4:  We begin the process of  befriending what we have uncovered about ourselves.  I think this means that we accept who we really are and love ourselves anyway.  This is no different from learning that a beloved friend has a mean streak and loving them despite that nasty side of him or her.

Befriending is the opposite of shunning.  It means to make a friend of, to support, to take care of or look after. Most of us are much more willing to “befriend” another,than to “befriend” ourselves. Befriending ourselves doesn’t mean that we allow the darkness or brokenness to remain and fester. In healthy relationships two people can tell each other when they experience pain or disrespect from the other – and go on living and loving.  In the same way, befriending ourselves just means that we look at our failings and brokenness in love instead of in disgust. It is the Golden Rule lived backwards:  We do unto ourselves what our best selves would do to another.  We love and take care of ourselves, including our mistakes. And we turn ourselves over to God to heal and transform us.

Step 5:  Now comes the beautiful result of all our hard work. When we have dealt with our demons, we don’t have to project on or assign them to another person. We can live authentically without blaming, shaming or pointing fingers. For example, if I am still living with unexplored abandonment issues, I will assume that others are guilty of abandoning me when they “ignore me,” “refuse” to meet my needs, or actually choose to spend time with another family member or friend, my fear will mask itself in anger or withdrawal or self-pity.  If I have “befriended” my little child and her fears, I will be less likely to revert to her coping skills and more likely to act in love.

The story Jesus told  of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32) helps us see how this works. The younger son left his home, disgracing his father in the process.  He went off to see the world and the world beat him up. Recognizing that his life was a mess, he decided to go home to his family. Also recognizing how he haprodigal son 2d wronged his father, he decided to renounce his sonship and become a servant. However, his father, who loved him no matter what he did, welcomed him joyously as his son. The older son, who had not learned anything about himself and his journey, could only respond out of his darkness and brokenness.  As Farrell would say, he projected his own neediness onto his brother and his father and, in the end was the loser.

Sydney J. Harris, journalist for the Chicago Daily News and later the Chicago Sun-Times has written:

“It’s surprising how many people go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you are not comfortable within yourself, you can’t be comfortable with others.”

“Befriending our darkness and brokenness” will, indeed, allow us to view others in the right (Christ-like) perspective – as fellow sojourners in need of understanding and deserving of at least an open-minded hearing.

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