Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Peacekeeping or Peacemaking

June 17, 2024

Carolyn Broughton

Thump, thump, thump. My feet pounded the dorm floor as I returned from the bathroom, moving quickly. I threw on my clothes, scrunched my curly hair, applied a quick dab of mascara and some ChapStick and grabbed my coat. “Ready?” I smiled brightly in the direction of my roommate, who was bent over a small mirror with a pair of tweezers, plucking at nearly invisible blonde eyebrow hairs. Pluck, went the tweezers. Several long seconds later, another pluck. Two more hairs, and she finally put the tweezers down. 

“Not quite,” she said calmly. I sighed, barely containing my impatience. Opening a drawer of lip gloss tubes, she chose one and began to carefully unscrew the applicator. Dipping it deliberately several times, she applied gloss to her upper lip with small, careful strokes, starting in the center and methodically brushing one half several times before starting on the other. My blood began to boil. 

“We’re going to be late, Jessica!” I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. 

“You go on without me,” she replied, beginning on her bottom lip. 

“Fine!” I left the room with a rapid swish, book bag slung over my shoulder, clumping loudly down the hall. My second year of college was not turning out as I’d anticipated. Good friends freshman year, Jessica and I thought it would be fun to room together. I was not prepared for the way living with someone reveals all the idiosyncrasies of personality and habit. Now, several months in, I was at my wit’s end to know how to get along with this maddeningly deliberate, vain, selfish, passive-aggressive, shallow … I caught myself. These thoughts were not generous, or kind. Sighing again, I stepped off the path to the cafeteria and walked to a nearby bench. Head in my hands, I prayed. Lord, I cant love her. Shes so different from me. She drives me nuts. I took a deep breath as a new thought struck me. Maybe I drive her nuts, too … 

That thought stayed with me as I ground further into the second semester of sophomore year. The highlight of my grueling schedule (one mostly self-imposed) was a weekly prayer meeting started by a favorite professor. On Thursday nights we met in the dorm chapel, and a student quietly played guitar while we sat on the floor together and worshiped. One night, after a particularly challenging week with Jessica, I found myself face-down on the carpet, weeping. I had reached the end of myself. My pastor’s-kid perfection was not enough, and I was falling miserably short. I despised myself for my ugly thoughts toward her, and yet I was powerless to change. I know I asked You to show me my sin and my need of grace, I sobbed inwardly, but this wasnt what I had in mind! 

As I cried, I felt a warm hand cup the top of my head. Professor Sam was stooping over me. He began to pray quietly, “Lord, let Carolyn feel Your love. Let her know how much You care for her, how much You value her.”

I sobbed harder. I had never felt less deserving of grace. And yet, with the warmth of Sam’s hand on my head, I felt the love of God pour down over my whole body and start to seep into my hungry heart. I’m completely loved, I realized, face mashed into the carpet, even though I’m such a mess. And suddenly, I saw my roommate in a new light. God loved her completely, too. I could at least try to understand what made her tick; maybe He could help me see her through His eyes.

I began to pray for the courage to talk to my roommate and started watching for an opportunity. A week or so later, as we sat doing homework, I decided now was as good a time as any. “Jessica?”

“Yeah?” She didn’t look up. 

“Can I talk to you?” She glanced at me, mildly surprised. “What’s up?” 

“Well …” I launched into a description, which quickly became tearful, of how frustrated I was at how hard it was to live together. I described her painstakingly slow routines, her lack of emotion, how I felt like I couldn’t get to know her because she never wanted to talk about anything at the heart level. She listened, staring at me with round blue eyes and an impassive expression. When I finally dribbled to a halt, she sat quietly for a moment. 

“You know, I can tell it’s you when you’re coming down the hall from the bathroom. Your feet are so loud!” she finally said, tone tinged with exasperation. It was my turn to be surprised. 

“Really?” I didn’t realize my tread was so heavy. “What else?” 

 “You never wait for me. I always have to rush. You don’t understand me, I don’t feel like you ever have time to just hang out, you’re always busy going somewhere with someone!” Tears sprang to her eyes. “I thought we’d have more time together if we were roommates, but sometimes I feel like you don’t even see me!” My heart dropped toward my shoes. I was driving her crazy. “And I HATE it when people are late, and even though you rush everywhere, you’re late ALL THE TIME!” She was shouting now, face scarlet. “Like the other day …” She reminded me of how she’d waited half an hour for me to show up at our lunch appointment, and when I finally arrived I had some lame excuse, and she’d felt hurt and un-prioritized. Unvalued. My heart beat fast.

This was uncomfortable, painful even. But I finally felt like we were getting somewhere. 

Slowly, we began to uncover the reasons behind our patterns. We named some values at play, like efficiency (me) and thoroughness (her). We shared how we felt when the other one did something thoughtless. We hugged, and cried, and then we asked God together to help us love each other better. He showed me that she wanted unhurried, quality time, while I wanted words that made me feel heard and seen. I longed for deep heart conversation, and she appreciated little inexpensive gifts that meant I noticed what she liked. I remember the first time I added a tube of lip gloss to my Target shopping cart and left it on her desk. I also began to watch the minute hand extra carefully on the days we were meant to have lunch together, rewarded by the happy smile on her face when she saw me approach on time. As we began to understand one another, we became able to show we cared about each other in ways that actually landed on each other’s hearts.

Being remade is not easy. Listening to how someone actually sees me or experiences me is one of the hardest things I have ever done. There is always an overwhelming urge to defend myself or to wallow in wretched self-pity afterward. Only encased in the love of God do I feel safe enough to truly receive the perspective of another. Only held in the gaze of the One who made me in His image do I find the courage to honestly admit where I need to change. As He gently retunes my inner motivations, relieves me of my selfishness, and redirects my efforts into more effective channels, I feel both undone (which sometimes feels a lot like failure) and simultaneously empowered. Loving and being loved is the sum total of what it means to be human. Learning to do it well is a lifelong journey. Courage is needed for all of it.

The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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