“I care too deeply.”
The answer I would give if you asked me to describe my greatest weakness. I care so much my insides twist at the thought of disappointing even a stranger.
I am the queen of pushing myself to the side to appease the needs of others. The empathy within me runs deep. To help others at my own expense is a strength and a weakness; it is nothing and everything.
Imagine the height of my empathy in a year when everything collapsed and careened out of control. My core was ravaged by the idea of caring for all of the pain in the world. When it became too much, I totally withdrew. I cannot face conflict when there is too much of it. It feels like exposing a wound over and over to a grain of salt, expecting a different outcome when it all just feels like pain. So I wrapped myself in the softest thing I could find, disengaged from as much as I safely could, and saved my empathy for the people I love the most: my husband and my kids.
That has been the last nine months in a nutshell, only in a rollercoaster of a pattern, with great months and incredibly hard ones.
Maybe you relate, maybe you don’t. Maybe this year has been pretty okay. Maybe this year has been the hardest of your life. It has been all out of the ordinary, right? And while I dislike the idea of change, I know this year is ripe for it. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I just want things to be normal,” only to realize that normal has changed completely, for now. It’s like traveling without directions, walking with a blindfold, wondering how to walk a path we cannot see without knowing where we’re going. I’ve been stopped for a long while, unwilling to move. There’s nothing special about today. But it does feel like the right day to take some kind of step in one direction or another.
Ten days of reflection is a nice way of saying I like to publicly process even though I’m a pretty private person. Processing how things are different compared to the way they were a year ago. My brain longs to say, “It’s nothing!”. But really, it’s everything. Nothing is the same; everything has changed.
As I was finishing up classes this past week, I had the chance to study Romans 14. It’s a chapter about the importance of not being a “stumbling block” to others. In other words, don’t do things that make faith difficult for others. In even better words (aka my interpretation), don’t be selfish.
One sentence in this portion of his letter to the Roman church has stuck with me for days. He says, “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love” (Rm. 14:15). In this context, some believers feel free to eat what they like. Others don’t. This isn’t so much an issue today. Most of us eat what we like without getting mad at each other about it. But we do have a habit of doing what we want without considering how it could impact others.
The thing about following Jesus is the longevity of it. Acting in love is not a choice we make one time. It’s a choice we make all the time. Maybe it’s just me, but there are days when I feel like we each have our own definition of what love is. Or what it looks like. We use the same logic to explain our differences in politics, ideologies, or behaviors. Until our love is God’s, it’s some lackluster version of it.
Nothing feels the same, but really, I think it’s better that way. What was normal is being unveiled, exposed for what it was. Much of the normality we experienced was fine. But why would we return to what was without being changed by all that has happened to us? Why would we guard ourselves against the light when the light is known for revealing what was left in the darkness?
Everything has changed. Today feels like the right day to acknowledge that it’s true. I fear change and what it could expose in me. But maybe what it’s exposed is what I need and what I needed to throw out of my sight. It frees us up to look around and see where we are, what stumbling blocks we’ve left in our wake. It gives us a chance to stretch our limbs and move towards those who need our love the most. God’s love.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing. But maybe it’s everything.