No-Shows: Applying a Spiritual Lesson to Personal Relationships

A great feast with friends!  Photos by Lorna Tedder, copyrighted

If I can learn a lesson spiritually, why can’t I apply it to the mundane?

If there’s one thing that will upset me to no end–that I’m trying to end–it’s a no-show in my “mundane” life.  If I have long-awaited plans with one of my daughters and she decides at the last minute to hang out with her friends instead, then wow, am I going to be pissed!   It’s not just about my very busy schedule, but more about how much I was looking forward to spending time with her. 

If I spend all week looking forward to a lunch date or movie date with someone and at the last minute (literally, sometimes), he calls to say something brutal just happened at work and he’s so entrenched in it at the moment that he either can’t or shouldn’t see me because his focus is still on the chaos there instead of on me where it should be,  then I’m angry.  Yeah, yeah,  I know he’s trying to spare me when he’s in a bad mood, but still I’m upset.  It’s not so much because I now have to make other lunch plans or rearrange my schedule, but because I was so looking forward to enjoying time with him, bad mood or not, because his bad mood doesn’t last when I’m around. 

In either case of a no-show, it brings out a strong, unfavorable reaction that can affect me for days.  And I want to be able to let go of that feeling much more quickly.

I don’t really have that problem when someone doesn’t show for one of my gatherings or spiritual circles, as I realized while cleaning up after the Lammas feast at my house.  Two of our members hadn’t been able to make it, and while I really wanted to see them, it was…okay.  In one case, I’d known for two weeks that she wouldn’t be able to attend.  And that was fine.

Why fine for spiritual events but not for more personal events?

Back in 2000, Maggie Shayne, Evelyn Vaughn, and I led an Open Circle in Washington DC at the Romance Writers of America National Conference.  It was very well-attended, but one of the women who’d really wanted to participate had a minor mishap on her way to the Circle.  A sprained ankle or something of that sort.  She had to sit out the event and watch from a distance.   It was at that point that Maggie passed along something to me that I’d heard for the first time but was reiterated to me in my own spiritual practice over the next few years:

Don’t be upset if someone isn’t able to attend a ritual, service, or group event.  You may not know the reason, but they aren’t meant to be there at that particular time.

As I’ve discovered over the years, some situation or discussion would come up at every single gathering where there was an absentee–that could not or would not have occured if the absentee had been present.    One of the first times I saw this in my own spiritual groups was in the spring of 2005, and I was dreadfully upset that a romantic interest of mine had not shown up that night and couldn’t be reached.  Later I found out he’d fallen asleep after an unexpected double shift at the hospital and had slept right through the gathering, but at the time, I really wanted him to be there.  As the evening wore on and only women showed up that night, I saw firsthand how his absence opened a door for a very meek attendee to express her powerlessness to protect her young son from the sexual predator she was (still) dating and her physical fear of angering the man.  The bulk of the gathering shifted to focus on getting her and her children to safe harbor.   Right time, right place, right mix of people for that conversation to happen.  Any other time, place, or attendee list and she might not have gotten the help she needed. 

I’ve since seen people with deep personal issues of their own not be able to make it to a feast and the solution to their problems come up while they were away. I’ve also seen people show up who shouldn’t have….they kept the rest of the group from getting the fellowship they craved, insulted me as hostess and leader, and destroyed any chance of a cohesive spiritual mindset that evening.  Then again, perhaps they were meant to be there because we got a chance to see their real motives and decide to remove them from our group early on.  I will never angrily demand to know why someone didn’t attend Circle, just as I never liked to hear my Southern Baptist upbringers judgementally demand, “And why weren’t you in church today?” without knowing or caring why not.   Most people who are no-shows at spiritual events are either not ready to hear what’s taught there, need to have an experience right where they are more than they need to be with me, or they unwittingly need to allow a doorway for someone else at the event to cross through.   Their absence creates a different envionment that might benefit others more than their own presence, just as with my predator-dating guest.

So I’m not worried about my  guests who call and tell me they’ve come down with the flu or have an emergency going on.  I can stop worrying that they’re okay and know that they are right where they are supposed to be.

But in my mundane life?  So much harder.

As for my sometimes no-show guy, I need to remember that there are some things that he has to work through on his own, with me nowhere around, in order to be a more whole and more healed person.  It’s hard when I so want to help him thorugh rough times and he wants to keep me away from his rough times.  I must remember what a gentle soul he is and that these absences are for his personal growth and not about me…except to the extent of being able to accept that everything will be all right.

As for my daughters, it’s about understanding that they are adults with their own lives and can schedule their social lives as they see fit.   It’s also about me remembering to make my own plans and them understanding that Mom has a life of her own and not always on a shelf at home waiting to be activated by their needs.   That part is a struggle, but the surest way for me to learn my lesson of not forgoing my own needs and plans.