Last Friday, I went on a short women’s retreat through the campus ministries program at my school. The retreat had never worked conveniently with my schedule before, so I was excited to finally have the chance to go.
The focus of the retreat was beauty. The general idea of it was the same thing most of us have heard a lot of times: the image the media shows us is wrong, beauty isn’t determined by what you look like, etc. etc. It’s not a bad thing to be reminded of, especially since whether we’re conscious of it or not, the other message–that we’re not beautiful, that we’re not good enough–is constantly fed to us. Honestly, I was fighting to keep my eyes open during most of the speaker’s message (not because it was boring but because I was dead. tired.), but a couple of really cool things happened that night that are worth sharing.
After the speaker wrapped up her message, we broke into small groups to debrief. I knew one of the girls from a class I had freshman year, but I didn’t really know the other two girls in my group. Since we didn’t know each other well, it would’ve been really easy to dance around the topic of conversation, but we didn’t. Instead, we told each other the truth about things we thought about during the speaker’s talk and past experiences with friends and loneliness. This turned out to be so helpful. I told the group how during my sophomore year of college, I felt more abandoned and alone than I had ever felt in my life. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who’s experienced that, and I also wasn’t the only one who felt that way sophomore year. Other girls in the group brought up situations that many of us had also experienced at one point or another.
We were honest with each other. Honesty is something that’s become exceptionally important to me in the past month, and I’ve really been working on being honest with people in my life. (Important clarification: honesty ≠ no filter. I’m not going to say every single thought that pops into my head for the sake of being honest). Being honest is tough, especially in the short term, but in the long run it is so worth it. I’m in a communication and emotion class right now, and recently we discussed how victims of trauma communicate emotion. Studies in my book said that victims who wrote about their experience felt more distress in the immediate moments of writing than those who didn’t, but in the long term those who didn’t write about their trauma had a much harder time dealing with their emotions than those who did write about their experience. Honesty is a lot like that. Telling the truth, challenging as it may be, allows you to build solid relationships with other people. It allows you to be authentic and helps you address issues before they destroy what you have with another person. I know that a lot of people, myself certainly included, want to look like we have it all together, but the honesty in the discussion I had with those girls helped us to see not only that we don’t have it all together but that we’ve faced the same things. It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone, but you won’t know that you’re not alone if you can’t be honest with other people.
After the small group discussion we came together as a large group again. One of the chaplains talked to us briefly, and she mentioned how a lot of us want to change the world. She pointed out that while this is all well and good, maybe we should also think about changing our school, specifically by reconciling things that are broken here. This led to an opportunity to write both a letter to ourselves and a letter to someone that wasn’t at the retreat that night. I ended up writing mine to a person with whom I had a bit of a cold war freshman year. To say we had a falling out would imply that there was dramatics: tears, yelling, fighting, whatever. None of that happened. We just settled into this stony silence instead of talking to each other, which was a bit of an issue as we were living together at the time. While I’d like to believe I was innocent in this (mostly because I truly have no idea what I did wrong), I doubt that’s really the case. In our small group discussion, we brought up how sometimes relationships that seem toxic seem that way because of things we do or have done that we don’t want to acknowledge, and there’s no reason that can’t apply to the situation with the person to whom I wrote my letter.
I don’t know what will come of this letter I wrote, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. My relationship with this person is not one of my most treasured, but that doesn’t give me the excuse to not take advantage of an obvious opportunity for reconciliation. I think these opportunities should be embraced because, as a very wise person once said to me, “Life is about relationships,” and I think that applies to the important relationships as well as the ones that don’t matter quite as much. If something’s broken and you have a clear opporunity to fix it, you should. Would I have made an effort to reconcile with this person if I hadn’t had the letter writing opportunity on Friday? Probably not. But I did have the chance, so I took it, and I have no regrets.
Thoughts? Have you ever done something like this?