Years ago, a counselor looked me in the eye and confirmed that I had absolutely no nurturing skills. As much as that ticked me off at the time, I came to find she was right. Though I was good with kids, though I had friends, I didn’t know how to nurture. At all.
I grew up in something of a nurturing vacuum. It isn’t a surprise, really, then that I struggled with keeping relationships alive. I had nothing to give and didn’t know how to give anything to a relationship to nourish it and make it grow.
So my counselor told me to get a teddy bear. I was dubious, but decided to complete the assignment. I bought a cute little teddy bear with a bow tie named Henry. I held Henry a lot but soon thought Henry might be lonely, so I bought another bear named Sam. Henry and Sam were polar opposites, if teddy bears could be so. Henry had his bow tie, Sam still wears the same hoodie he came with. Henry is a very proper bear, represents the child who always does the right thing, follows the rules, and, if a real boy, would grow up to invent something spectacular from within his wonderful brain. Sam… Sam is represents the child who tends to get into trouble from time to time with grownups because he feels the need to see how far rules will stretch, how creatively he can pursue this stretching, and he makes the grownups face their rigidness with all these rules and patterns that Sam just can’t fit into.
I had to hold these bears a lot. I had to imagine that the nurturing they were receiving was actually making a difference. I had to suspend reality to break out of the box my brain was in that said there was no way I was learning anything from this exercise.
Then one day I realized I was holding the two halves of myself that warred with each other. Henry was who I was as a kid, the people pleasing perfectionist who walked the line set out before me by people who had planned out who I was going to be long before I was born. Sam was who I really wanted to be, but didn’t dare try to become, because a lot of things about what Sam represented didn’t make any sense to me.
I love both Sam and Henry. There are good aspects to each of them and there are bad ones as well. I had to find the combination of all these parts that make me… me. Then I had to find a way to nurture that authentic self.
I’m not sure that’s what my counselor was going for, but it happened nonetheless. I still don’t know what it means that I made both of those bears male. I still don’t know what it means that they were so different or that I felt the need to complicate the assignment with two bears. I may never figure that out, but that assignment was important for me in many ways.
I think I’ve learned to love fairly freely, as much as I’ve learned how anyway. I still have a long way to go, but I have improved greatly. I have had some sustained close relationships. I love more freely, regardless of what comes back to me. Sometimes I get loved back. Sometimes I get hurt.
It was recently that I discovered that though I fear rejection and hurt, I fear being loved in return more. I’ve experienced love in return and it’s a frightening, fearsome thing. It’s difficult for me to receive love, a love that will nourish me and help me grow, but grow I must, or I will not be able to keep raising the standard of how I love people.
Loving people…imperfect beings… is hard. Somehow I have to open the valve and let some of that love that I’m giving back inside if I hope to keep growing in my ability to love.
Guarding my heart so well… has led me to an empty place. I’ve been afraid of my heart breaking, but it gets broken anyway. I can’t protect it, only God can. God surrounds me with his love, so when my heart breaks, he falls into every crack… and heals me. I have experienced God in new ways when my heart shatters into so many pieces that only God can put it together again.
I have learned from the heartbreak, now I must learn from being open to receiving love. A new adventure for the new, authentic me.
A man asks his rabbi, “Why does God write the law on our hearts? Why not in our hearts? It’s the inside of my heart that needs God.” The rabbi answered, “God never forces anything into a human heart. He writes the word on our hearts so that when our hearts break, God falls in.”