In the waning days of November, old years ago, I heard an insistent beat on my soul – Do not be yoked with unbelievers…Do not be yoked with unbelievers…Do not be yoked with unbelievers… It was the persistent clamour of many voices of unseen faces, from the moment of my waking, all through the long nights.
I thought I was going mad. What unbelievers? I threw the question wearily to the arid breezes that lingered in our home back then. Granted, I worked with those not of my faith. But they never darkened my door, much less my hours at home. Every minute home I gave my young children my attention. I was also battling a gray fog – I seemed to have symptoms of depression, stemming from an unresolved, ever-worsening abuse situation, and it rendered a bleak swell and ebb of anguish to my days. It was a life that was too full in some respects, but where were the unbelievers?
Like many others, I straddled several lives whilst living one. I was wife. I was mother. I was child and sibling. I was working woman and friend. Each one, not merely a calling or a facet of one single life, but a full life, crossing and intersecting others. Few private moments. Always at the beck and call of the needs and whines of others.
I had good friends, but there was one friend, in particular. Beautiful, wealthy, intelligent, wildly successful. Fun to be with. Catholic in spots and patches. Living a sham of a married life, wedded to her selfish mother whilst expecting her man to play butler to them both. Yet, she was a tender and empathetic friend, quick to support, with an uncanny understanding of who I was.
Other than my husband, she was the only other person who really knew me. Perhaps too much. Over the decades, she used the lure of a drowning victim to draw me away from my home, away from my husband and children, deeper and deeper into her murky world, lived in a constant swirl of fury, selfishness and frustrations.
But she was not devious. Not manipulative. She had a cross few experienced. Chained to a neurotic mother, unable to free herself to be the wife to the man she loved, my friend was indeed another victim. Her pride in her polished public image didn’t allow her to seek comfort in other hearts. Not even her husband knew what kind of mother she had. Her every pain instead found an unthreatening vessel in me she could fill.
Whilst my mother had no room in her heart for anyone but herself, my friend’s mother deeply loved her daughter, yet not enough to release her. Hence, we both had mothers who chained us to them and sought to destroy other lights in our lives, lest we shifted our worship elsewhere. And on that tundra of emotional pain and desolation, our troubled lives intersected, there, more than anywhere else.
When her husband gave up on the marriage and sought other pastures, my friend’s grief destroyed everything but her stubborn love for her mother. The ragged edges of her torment turned into knives she kept sheathed from her mother, but not from me. She knew I loved my husband and children more than life itself. She knew that despite my depression and personal wounds, my husband and I struggled to build a happy home for the young ones. Blinded by her pain, all she saw in my life was the light in my home that struggled against the odds to illuminate our shadows.
And in her pain, she yearned for even that weak light. Not to have a small share of it, but to take it all, and to take it away so I’d suffer the same, not be a step up on her. She was anguished with her life, wanting mine. Over subsequent months, she transitioned from friend to my child attached to my hip, her 30 to 50 text messages a day to me a stubborn, demanding constant through my work hours, meal preparations, family time.
She demanded my time, my prayers, and I acquiesced because I couldn’t bear that she suffer alone. It didn’t occur to me that there could have been a different way to deal with the situation – one that didn’t take both our sanities. I struggled with her cross and mine. I pounded at heaven’s door, but God was oddly silent. I grew exhausted and drained. Abandoned by God. Torn in a hundred directions. My placid husband began to express concern over the incessant buzz of the incoming text messages. I screamed that she was a dying soul I could not walk away from. It was not a Christian response to leave the drowning.
I didn’t realize there was more than one person drowning.
Then, one morning, it began. Do not be yoked with unbelievers. From sunrise to shadows. Do not be yoked with unbelievers. A warning called out from friends in a world beyond ours. I tried to shut the voices out, but they lived on like an invisible shadow, ever by my side. Desperate, I fell at God’s feet, broken, doubting myself. I emptied myself, in His arms I sought the counsel I was too vain to seek before.
Soon, I felt a new firmness of will take hold of me. I began to let hours pass before I answered her messages. And there was no guilt for that. Breathing came easier. I found minutes here and there to just sit and stare at the trees and do nothing. She caught on quickly and retaliated. Biting anger. Vicious.
One day, after a whipping I didn’t deserve, I came to my senses. I resolutely stepped out of the smoke of delusion that I was helping a friend in need. I severed everything between us, finally throwing off a yoke that didn’t come from heaven.
It’s been years. Long, long years where the floundering wick slowly strengthened. As this November day ages to its repose, I ponder this memory of old sunderance, and wonder why it has come back unbidden. I have not willed it back, for sure. There is no grief for the death of an old comradeship, ultimately sullied and bittered by the idolatry of self.
But there is epiphany. And it is searing. That mercy must always be blessed and inspired by heaven or it can be led astray. That human hearts can err in misreading the depths of someone’s pain, and in the manner of responding to the needs of dying souls.
But most of all, that saving a dying soul must never come at the cost of ours.