Emotional Spaghetti

The woman I spoke to when booking our trip to Italy had been there several times. She shared valuable nuggets of information that provided us an easier and more enjoyable trip. Since we decided to rent a car, one suggestion she offered made me laugh. She said, “Do NOT drive in Rome. If you don’t need a priest before you go, you will need one after driving there!” She was not wrong. It seems every Italian thinks they are Mario Andretti when they slide behind the wheel. (FYI: Mario Andretti was a famous racecar driver in the 70’s.)

My man Ron is not only a great driver, but also a wise one. We took the expert’s advice and rode the train in to Rome. After seeing the exceptionally narrow streets laid out like spaghetti that had fallen on the floor, we knew our travel agent friend was right. Thankfully, Italians drive on the same side of the road as us Americans, so driving later on from city to city on the highways wasn’t so bad thanks to our friend Siri’s navigation. Since Italy is “blessed” with numerous toll roads and roundabouts everywhere you turn (no pun intended), we became accustomed to hearing Siri calmly say, “At the roundabout, take the first (or second or third) exit.” We got it right most times, except those two times we didn’t. 

Yet, one particular combination of toll booth and roundabout quickly raised our eyebrows high and flew open our eyes. At least eight busy toll booth lanes merged toward one roundabout all at the same time. There must have been at least 30 to 50 cars all trying to get through the same opening. Only inches separated each car as we all carefully maneuvered this way and that. There were no lines on the road. I like lines! If someone had turned the scene on its side, we would have looked like sand falling through an hourglass. Arriving smack dab in the middle of all the chaos, Ron had no choice but to tighten his grip and courageously enter the gnarly fray of traffic. All I could do was keep saying, “Oh, my word!” over and over. We kept moving slowly, reminding ourselves of the exit we were supposed to take. Somehow, our shiny blue Fiat made it through without a scratch. Ron was becoming Mario Andretti!

My good friend remarked last week that it seemed as if Italy wasn’t just a sightseeing trip – it was therapeutic. I believe she was right. God spoke to my heart through Italy’s art and history, so that I could get a new perspective on (His)story and the masterpiece He is painting for my life. I’m convinced God loves to paint us a picture whenever He can. His object lessons always teach me things that are most difficult for me to understand. He knows the most difficult thing for me to understand is … well … me. 

Honestly, for most of my life my emotions resembled the chaotic wad of traffic at the roundabout. That gnarly mess didn’t always show on the outside. Sometimes, it sat in the pit of my stomach silently churning. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I tried to ignore it. I thought that maybe everyone suffered from the same kind of heartburn, and since they didn’t talk about it, why should I?

If you feel that way too, can I tell you something? God loves you too much to leave you that way. You may go along for years thinking, “I’ve got this. I can handle it. I’m strong, for goodness sakes!” But, eventually, God will allow you to feel the weight of more than you can handle on your own. You’ll keep trying to juggle all the trouble for a good while. Then, when it all comes crashing down on top of you, you’ll either get angry or depressed – sometimes both. You might even blame God. Even if you don’t get angry with God, you’ll get angry with yourself for not being strong enough to take all the weight. The more frustrated you get, the more tangled your emotions become. Tangled emotions often lead to depression, and depression messes with all your relationships. 

When a relationship become a tangle of raw emotion, boundaries must be set to preserve and help grow whatever love and peace might be left in that relationship. While there is much information available today on how to set healthy, appropriate boundaries, I’ve not found much on how to respond when boundaries have been set for us. I believe this is what God was teaching me in the midst of all the chaotic traffic. I needed to learn how to respond when boundaries are set for me. Truly, there is nothing messier in life than relationships. I’m praying that the experiences I’m about to confess will prove helpful to those who struggle with letting go.

My new friend might not have called them boundaries, but that’s exactly what they were. I had reached that overwhelmed stage. Messy emotions made me feel like I was drowning. And what do people who are drowning do when someone tries to save them? They often grab hold of the person trying to help and pull them under. 

However, good lifeguards know how to help without being pulled under. In other words, they establish boundaries. Some of their methods may seem harsh at the time, but desperate times call for desperate measures. What may come across as uncaring, rude, or unloving in a boundary-setting friend may be the very thing that allows them to offer the greatest help. 

I know that if you are the one hurting, boundaries, spoken or not, feel like rejection. They are not. They are just the opposite. Boundaries allow you time to assess yourself. It takes great courage to tighten your grip and willingly search for the appropriate exit from all of your emotional upheaval. It’s so much easier to just go around and around without ever looking for your exit. But, know this: before you can effectively love others, you must first love yourself. The only way to do that is to let God tell you. Read what He has to say. Believe Him. Talk to Him. No, don’t just talk, cry out to Him! Then, listen to what He says to your heart. No matter how difficult it is to hear.  

From the outside looking in on this kind of emotional upheaval, one might conclude that God doesn’t care. Oh, but He does! He knows each one of us. He knows how stubborn we all can be when it comes to letting go of our control. He knows exactly how much we can stand and how much it will take for us to finally give in and let Him render the aid we so desperately need. 

Satan will not be content with your progress, so expect him to throw a few darts your way. He will try to convince you that your friend doesn’t really care, doesn’t want to spend time with you, or that all the damage that’s been done in your relationship is irreparable. Sometimes, those things might be true. If so, then pray about how and when to exit the relationship graciously. However, the truth may be that your friend, like mine, established healthy boundaries out of an overflow of love. Respect the boundaries. Say thank you. Learn from your mistakes. Grow. Be patient with the relationship’s recovery. 

Remember, if the emotions driving you resemble a spilled plate of spaghetti, courageously step aboard God’s train toward the gnarly fray, and let Him do ALL the driving. He’s been waiting on you.

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!”(Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG)

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Donna Jackson

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