I remember, as a child, feeling loved and celebrated by my church community. My mom and her best friend cooked together at our church on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, where I met you 30 years later as you spoke at a homeschool gathering. My very Christian aunt Irma was unusually affectionate and showed me how to shower people with love, often in the form of squeezing their cheeks and exclaiming effusively, how delightful they are.
Yet by 2nd grade, when I realized religious people usually believe their religion is right and others are wrong, I decided religion wasn’t for me. That didn’t feel like love. And love was the only thing I could see as true religion. I’ve not missed Christian church one day since then, as mine is a life that is filled with spiritual depth, enormous beauty, and rich and joyful relationships of all kinds.
But there’s something I have missed, and that is the shared and deep passion that is sometimes felt inside a church, among the church community.
When I got to college, I wondered how I could find that same level of devotion. Surely, I felt love just as intensely as some people feel their religious God. What could I discover or create that might bring about a community that shares this kind of devotion together?
Now as a mother who homeschools her child, I notice the same theme is present. A few weeks ago it struck me that Christian families, who have long been a big part of the homeschool population, have it easier in some ways. They have the Bible. They have the scriptures that dictate what they teach. They know their kids will be taught based on the same core beliefs when they go to friends’ houses.
Not being religious, what would that unifying, core devotional element be for us? What is that thing that has us feel safe in each other’s company, trusting, deeply rooted together? Maybe it’s not that we have a meditation circle or something we actually praise or uphold in a religious way. What is it?
As I grow homeschool community in my town, for my daughter and our family, I offer my best attempt to define core principles that unite us. There are three.
The first is physical safety, teaching about poisonous plants, how to be safe near steep cliffs and making sure we inspect our bodies for ticks when we get home.
The second is emotional intelligence, honoring our feelings and the power they hold for us. When a child is afraid, confused, or lonely, they should be met with emotionally mature, gentle and attentive guidance to honor and help them move through their feelings. Children should be treated as equals to have something to teach us — lots of things actually.
The third is respect for our life support system, ecological respect, planet earth. What materials are our art supplies and toys made of? What kind of food do we eat and how was it grown? Respect for this beautiful planet we call home.
Somewhere in there, in all three of them, is the great guiding power of love. Perhaps it’s so big, given that it is the most powerful force in the universe, that it’s just too big to make into a guiding and core principle for our homeschool endeavors. Or maybe not. Maybe I just haven’t been bold enough to do this yet. But I simply can’t think of anything else that could bring about the devotional quality for non-religious people like me, more than love.
And so, I wonder.
As a child, I lived in a house where Conflict Avoidance was the primary communication style. I didn't learn how to argue. Arguing didn't happen in my house until one traumatic day, my parents were arguing and my mother left. From that point on, I saw her every other weekend. It sent me on a lifelong journey of studying communication. And to this day, I live in study of this rigorous and rewarding field.
Today I learned that even when we extend ourselves with courageous and kind hearted intentions, our actions can hurt people we deeply, dearly love.
Life is messy.
If you want to live with a big, bold, loving heart, you will make messes. You can't control this. Your heart will push itself outward, sometimes disregarding the laws of the world, and at some point you will really upset somebody you never, ever, in a billion years thought you could deeply upset. It's the last thing you would expect. Are you kidding me? says the rational mind.
Enter heart, again.
If you're fortunate enough to have people who will sit with you and talk things through, seize the opportunity. It's richer than gold. Go over there, to her (or his) eyes. That wasn't what you meant to have happen. Still, it happened. You are having a human experience and it is messy.
Apologizing for your impact does not mean you are kneeling before an unloving God who says you've sinned. Nope, nah, nizzle. Get over trying to protect your ego. You are valid, valuable, loved. Your feelings matter. And theirs do too!
Apologizing for your impact means you're humble enough to honor their feelings, and that you acknowledge an impact happened that you did not intend.
I am so glad to have been studying communication all my life, prompted by the gift of my parents' divorce. Every bone in my body wished intensely that my mom and dad -- who I adore indescribably -- could communicate more effectively. They were doing their best, and on that summer day, it was painful and messy. They didn't intend for it to be, and it was.
From here on out, if you have a child or intend to live bigger in Love tomorrow than you did today, simply accept that conflict is human and it happens.
You can choose to be afraid of it or you can choose to face it when it comes. You can choose to teach your child the myth that conflict is unnecessary or unhealthy, or you can choose to help them prepare for what is inevitable.
Tonight my heart got to witness the pain I unintentionally caused two people I respect and love. It hurt then, and it still hurts. My skin, eyes and heart feel raw. Rawness takes time to melt away. And that's OK. Right now I am more humble and strong than I was before this conflict showed itself. I have no regrets and enormous gratitude for friends who are brave enough, and who respect themselves and me enough, to stand tall through conflict -- however awkward and uncomfortable it may be.
Your child can find him/herself shocked by conflict at age 28, in a marriage with emotional abuse and unable to engage healthfully. Or your child can start learning now that conflict is normal, and we can become skillful communicators, empathetic beings, who aren't afraid to face the fire.
Lead the way.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.