By Rev. Laura Shennum
"I can live divided or bent
Conspire in my own diminishment
Or believe in the better world I've dreamt
That grows from inside out"
- Lyrics from Carrie Newcomer's song "Stones in the River"
One of the most difficult aspects of breaking covenant is recognizing our own part or what we have done by our actions to contribute to the brokenness. We get caught up in righteousness, equality, fairness, blaming, defensiveness, passive aggressiveness, all those emotions that keep us safe from being vulnerable. They help us protect the image we have of ourselves and protect our weaknesses.
It is a humble and vulnerable place to own our part. It forces us to acknowledge our imperfections. It puts us in a place where rejection is possible. It gives others power over our weaknesses. Knowing this, why would we ever want to do it?
By taking a thorough self-inventory of our actions, responses, and choices, then owning them in our relationship with another, we open ourselves up to deep spiritual growth. We no longer have the wall of excuses to protect us or the fire of righteousness to keep us warm. Instead, we are there with our soul bared and waiting to know if we will be forgiven or rejected. We have put the trust of the relationship in another’s hands. We also get the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and what type of person we want to be.
When we have realized what it is for us to own, we re-engage with the people where covenant was broken. We offer an apology, “I’m sorry," pause, then take ownership of our actions, feelings, and responses. We don’t just own our part and hope for the best. We also have to acknowledge what we will do differently. Otherwise, we just keep in that same loop of breaking covenant.
The final part is the hardest. Once we have owned our part, said we are sorry, shared our self-inventory, and listed the ways we will be different, we have to let it go and we have to let go of how others will respond. We have to be okay with baring our soul and know we have owned our part.
This is where it gets tricky, because we can get lured back into the feelings of being self-righteous so easily when we have the expectation the other person(s) will own their part as well. If we are in it to just get another person to list what they need to own, then we have limited the spiritual growth and faith formation we have set out to do. This part of the process is not yours to control and to truly grow, you have to be able to sit with whatever response you get.
May we each find the wisdom to do the work of recognizing when we have done harm, reflecting on our own part, and re-engaging the relationships where covenant has been broken.
Rev. Laura Shennum, Minister of the Cascade UU Fellowship, is a member of the PWR Healthy Congregations Team.