by Maria L. Evans
“Apologies do not count when you shout them.”–from “The Journal of Best Practices,” by David Finch
David Finch is a man whose marriage is in big trouble–until he realizes he may have Asperger Syndrome. In his book, “The Journal of Best Practices,” he details how he re-tuned his normally distracting, disruptive hyper-focus into commitment towards saving his marriage. Because he takes things incredibly literally, he writes down instructions to himself in what he refers to as “the Journal of Best Practices.” Although this book can be incredibly uncomfortable at times (for a variety of reasons), his list, meant for himself, turns out to be pretty good simple advice for many of us during Lent, when many of us struggle with sorting through issues involving reconciliation and forgiveness.
Most of his notes to himself are short pithy sentences–things like “Be her friend, first and always,” “Use your words,” and “Help her with the laundry,”–in a way, not so unlike some of Jesus’ clearer instructions about forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus doesn’t mince words either–“Seventy times 7,” “Whenever you stand praying, forgive,” and “Love your enemies,” just to name a few.
What David Finch found out, though, after a time, was that no matter how simple the items on the list were worded, it could still become confusing, conflicting, and convoluted when there was no context involved. Even for someone whose mind worked in such a literal way, he began to understand (sometimes in hilarious ways, at other times in very painful ways) that there was a place where his meticulous lists didn’t work. It would cause his temper to flare and his wife to burst into tears or lash back. In the end, he comes to realize that it was as much the business of creating and understanding the context of his Journal of Best Practices, as it was the best practices themselves. He learns that relationships, particularly our more intimate ones, are about simply being present, and forgiving and reconciling when we are not present enough…or too present.
Likewise, when we take those pithy statements that Jesus says in the Gospel, and start to move them from ancient time to our time, particularly when they are in the middle of parables that we can’t fully understand the context of them in his contemporary world, those statements can at times run counter to our modern way of thinking about them. Jesus’ simple statements can seem conflicting, unreasonable in a modern context, or even harsh. We can find ourselves paralyzed in knowing the next best move to get to a place of forgiveness or reconciliation. It might even, at times, feel like the best thing to do is withdraw or hide from them.
We don’t have to be on the autism spectrum or know someone who is to appreciate that any of us, on any given day, can well be suffering from a sort of “relationship autism.” We are imperfect beings and even the most astute of us can find ourselves in that spot of lashing out, or having a conflict that we are taking in a very literal sense, when in reality we’ve missed all the cues that hint that there is really more to what’s behind the conflict than the conflict itself. It might be because we really don’t know and understand the story of the person we’re dealing with–their old painful triggers. We might be oblivious to our own painful triggers and need some work to excavate their history. It might be because we’re using a mode of communication that creates limits on our interactions–for instance, how many fights have we seen break out when we’re limited to 140 characters?
Likewise, being “too present” can be just as problematic. No matter how educational our own experiences have been in understanding the various mistakes in life, enabling or manipulating prevents others from making their own mistakes and “hitting their own bottom.” Sometimes our best-intentioned advice or actions, in truth, reveal that we are struggling with our own discomfort factor more than we are the other person’s problems or feelings.
No doubt, any of us can benefit from making our own “Journal of Best Practices”–but when the list becomes convoluted, it’s probably best to realize our best chance at forgiveness and reconciliation will be in the recognition of when we are “too present” or “not present enough.”
When is a time you struggled to find the balance in being “just present enough?” What did you learn from discovering your own “best practices” in life through the lens of the Gospel?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid