Weve been friends for years, but in all that time Ive rarely seen Joanna happy.
The calls come late at night, or midday if her distress is greater than usual, although long-distance rates are higher then. We exchange pleasantries - how is my family, and hers - and sometimes theres laughter, but not joy.
Shes just turned 45, old enough to have it all figured out, she says, whatever it is.
But Joanna is far from depressing. She has a marvelous mind, a unique sense of caring, and a terrible background to overcome.
Her mother committed suicide when Joanna was in her teens, and a canopy of mental illness hung over the family like a storm cloud that wouldnt go away. She never felt a mothers love, and her father was too absorbed in his own pain to notice hers. Shes been told she is just like her mother. Often shes convinced she is.
By the time she thought she could trust me with her secret I wasnt surprised to learn that her only romantic experience had been outside the bounds of propriety. Shes ended the 18-year relationship her conscience and church told her was wrong, but she continues to ask, Why cant I just get over it? Her deeper agony is wondering how God can forgive her if she keeps wanting this person back.
Our latest exchange on this subject occurred last January, during a discussion about New Years resolutions. Predictably, as she had done so many times before, she resolved to stop longing for the relationship she once had. But her will is weak and her needs are great, almost as great as the demand she has placed on herself to live a perfect life.
I dont pretend to have the answers she needs. I just listen, and seek advice from those better schooled in therapy and theology than I. In the process shes comforted, and I learn more about the frailty of human nature - mine as well as hers.
Ive been thinking about Joanna a lot as this new year begins, wondering what it is that drives some of us to despair when the resolutions we have every intention of keeping are broken - again.
Correcting mistakes is the substance of a musicians life. If we consistently sing or play our music wrong, Im told, we have to perform it right at least seven times to erase the memory of our mistakes.
According to the musicians formula and my friends life expectancy, an 18-year habit would be mathematically impossible to correct. I dont tell her this, or anyone who is depressed over broken resolutions, to discourage the effort or excuse the behavior, but to put her determination and ours into perspective.
Joanna summarizes our conversation by asking, Are you telling me that its harder for me to overcome my wrong behavior because I did it for so long, and that the circumstances of my life made me vulnerable even though I knew what I was doing was wrong?
She thinks she understands - the last time we talked, anyway. Weve also talked about the God shes afraid wont forgive her, and the whole concept of salvation. We both know that Jesus came into the world to save us because we couldnt live up to our own resolutions, let alone Gods, by ourselves. Jesus would be a useless savior, we agreed, if there were a sin he couldnt forgive.
Joannas story might be a little heavy for such a harmless pastime as making New Years resolutions, but Im sharing it anyway. There could be other Joannas out there for whom broken resolutions are a cause for despair, rather than a determination to try again.
For all of us, when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41), its good to know that Gods resolution to forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9), will never be broken - and it doesnt take seven times 18 years to go into effect.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.