The Nobility of Crickets

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Aloneness. A bench. Sunrise. Winter. Beauty. So many metaphors for a heart that longs to hear from Him.

I was sitting with a friend over some amazing enchiladas and creamy jalapeño dip, and doing what we do when we get together – eating Mexican food and catching each other up on our lives and hearts. And inevitably we began talking about our pain. Because, if you are having an honest conversation with someone you love and trust, how can this not come up? Whatever we walk through becomes part of who we are – and if we show up authentically in relationship with another, our pain tags along. Every time.  And it was one of those moments when, as soon as I spoke the words meant for her, I realized that they for me also.

We were talking about the experience of God disappearing on us. Of feeling like He is nowhere near. Of feeling abandoned by Him.

First off, let us not dismiss the holiness of this conversation by feeling like we need to defend God or a particular theology. He is a big boy who isn’t threatened by our honest exploration of His identity and His ways – or our experience of His identity and His ways. Not to fear, accurate theology has a way of surfacing among open and seeking hearts. However, when we are uncomfortable with what we don’t understand, many of us have tendencies to offer pat, dismissive answers. (God is good, all the time…The Bible says so…It’s not about what you feel…If you just had more faith…You should…read more, pray more, work more, etc.) In other words, we sometimes attempt to ease our own surfacing anxiety with people who ask challenging questions, or questions we haven’t wrestled with just yet by shutting them down. The time to break open the Bible and discuss the theology that underlies our experiences will eventually come around – but only if we are open to this part of the process. When someone shares their heart (especially if it is messy), the first response should be compassion. Grace. Maybe a few questions to get the full meaning of what they are saying. The people of God, who are His hands, feet, ears to listen to, and shoulders to cry on here, should be safe places for people to bring their broken hearts… in all their messy glory because…

God cares deeply when our hearts are broken. And He wants us to bring our broken hearts fully to Him. If we hide the places that actually hurt (usually because of shame or fear of rejection – see paragraph above)… the experience can be sort of like having a very painful sore throat, yet when the doctor asks you what the problem is, you tell her it is your knee instead. The complication is that, a sore throat will often, eventually resolve itself. A broken heart…well, those don’t heal nearly as neatly or predictably. Why would we go to a doctor, and yet not seek help for the part of us that is actually wounded? 

We do this with God all the time.

In this evening of being together with my friend, how we were, where we were… letting it be ok to not be ok, to not have all the answers, to have questions and emotions that didn’t fit neatly in a box or that made us sound more put-together than we were… she said,

“When I pray, all I hear is crickets.”

Silence. Aloneness. Doubts about His love. Worries about being in His will or pleasing to Him. Wondering ‘what am I doing wrong’…or ‘what is wrong with me’? What follower of Jesus hasn’t had this heartbreaking, disorienting, at times terrifying experience? And somewhere in the conversation, after relating and empathizing, I said, in words I realize now were not entirely my own,

“What if some of the noblest work of God is found in the crickets?”

I’ve been sitting with this question for a while now.

What if learning to wait on Him, and trust Him in uncertainty is THE work He has called us to? Not a peripheral lesson of the faith, but a central one?

What if learning to be still and silent before Him is the royal road to deep satisfaction in Him? 

What if some seasons of silence actually contain amazing amounts of God-communication to us, but our skills with silence are so underdeveloped, that we have no idea how to understand or process it properly?

What if our incomplete knowledge of Him severely limits our experience of Him? 

What if the most loving thing He can do is to break our destructive theological paradigms by defying them? And what if silence is one way to do that? 

What if the crickets we may hear in certain seasons of our relationship with Him are not a sign of His distance from or displeasure in us, but instead a sign of His nearness, of His desire for us to have More, and of His transforming power at work in the deepest, most tender places in our heart? 

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Eccl. 3:7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak.

 

Living With “The Face”

I was talking with some friends of mine who have what we humorously called, “The Face”. “The Face” is how we described that intangible thing about a person that evidently invites people, sometimes friends, and sometimes people you don’t even know, to open up and begin telling you their stuff.  Sometimes their very personal stuff.  Sometimes at really awkward times.

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This photo captures a young me, learning something about the art of listening with a delightful German student.

There was the time when I was in the express line at Wal-mart – and the cashier began telling me about her upcoming second marriage and how she felt about it, how the first one didn’t work out, how her mother wasn’t being supportive… and I seem to recall something about tattoos.  Did I mention I was in the express line? Which is not exactly the place where long-term relationships form. One friend, a former airline attendant, told us about her many stories of, what she called, “Jump seat therapy,” where passengers sitting next to her on take-off or landing spilled their guts…and then walked off the plane.  She would tell them, “Buh-bye,” in standard flight attendant speak, and think, “Wow. I know waaaaaay too much about you.”

We also shared stories of how, in our circle of friends, we would end up in the deep end of the conversational pool, often without even trying, sometimes when we didn’t mean or want to.  And how sometimes, we sort of felt used, even by people we loved, even as we loved the practice of being authentic with each other.

In light of all this, I have realized how my love for people and really great conversation (Which is the basis of all of this.) has, at times, had the somewhat ironic effect of turning me into an even greater introvert. (As if I needed a push.)  The reason?  If it seems most every conversation holds the potential to turn into a gut-wrenching, tearful sob fest, well…some days it is just easier to stay home. (And, side note, I’m finding that this tendency can make people begin to avoid me – which, because I love people, is something I would like to avoid.) We then chuckled a bit, relieved there were others like us out there, and wondered what it was that regularly led people to pour their hearts out to us.  Recently, I think I named part of the reason.

One of the greatest gifts we can give another person is the gift of being present with them.  Of our undivided attention.   When we tell someone else, with our eyes, our body language, our facial expressions, the stories we choose to share, with a well-worded and timed question…that says “I see you.  I hear what you are saying, even beneath the actual words you are using.  I am interested in you.  In this moment, you are more important to me than my phone, than watching what is going on behind you, than me thinking about what I’m going to say to you next.  I am here with you. And I am listening.”  (My friends and I called it “The Face, but we probably should call it “The Heart” because that is a more accurate description of what it actually is.) Some have a natural curiosity and affection for people…and it shows up in their face and heart. Bumping up against it can be a powerful experience for some.  As I’ve met people with this gift, their presence, interest in, and affection for me often surfaces deep emotion in me too.

When we are seen, heard, loved…hearts open up.  No wonder deeply personal stuff sometimes comes spilling out…even if it wasn’t the plan for either of us. When I pay attention to how people normally interact with each other, I realize that this type of dedicated and focused interaction can be kind of rare.  I find this sad, because I think God created us to communicate this way much more often than we do.

And so the next question my friends and I discussed was, if you’ve got “The Face,”…how do you survive?  Because, as much as we love people and interacting with them,  it isn’t always appropriate, or safe for every conversation to descend to the depths of one’s soul.  Besides being potentially inconvenient or awkward, (or sometimes even dangerous) it can be exhausting.  And we realized that people who are good listeners, who have something to give, sometimes attract unhealthy people who may use them for their relational gifts.

Therefore, here are some thoughts on how to walk the line between being a good listener, an interested conversationalist and decent human being who loves and enjoys people –  and staying healthy and safe while doing it.

1. Choice: We should always have choice in where our conversations go.  If you feel like you don’t, it is probably a conversation you should end, or a conversational partner you might want to avoid.  Some people are relational black holes…and their gravity will suck the life out of you if you aren’t careful.

2. Mutuality: Conversations should be two-way streets, with both parties giving and receiving, talking and listening.  If they aren’t, it isn’t a conversation, but a monologue.  (Or a counseling session, which is a completely different thing.) Except in those periodic circumstances when it is appropriate for the conversation to be about one person and their needs, if you find your dialogue descending into monologue, you probably want to find a way to end it.

3. Learn to turn it off: I am learning that, just because I am interested, just because I know the right “next” question to continue a train of thought into deeper places, just because I may hear the emotional subtext sitting underneath someone’s actual words, it doesn’t meant I have to go there with them.  I don’t have to ask the next question.  In fact, it can be a very freeing and healthy thing to learn to turn my conversational radar off and just be in a moment with someone – without looking for or trying to control where it might go.  This, however means I must continue to learn #4.

4. Learn the joys of small talk: I am not a natural small talker.  Most of the time, I would prefer not talk at all, as opposed to talking about nothing.  (Over the years, Sunday mornings at church has ruined me in this area – we go there to meet with Jesus and each other in authenticity…and we waste the time talking college football, the weather and the last movie we saw…I digress, and mini-rant over.) I continue to learn that small talk can be a beautiful thing for all involved, and is in no way an indication of being a shallow person.  It may just mean I am a “person.”  And here is a big lesson…hours of pleasant and healthy small talk are actually very valuable.  They plant the seeds of safety, of affection, of learning about one’s life and relational style, so that if or when a deeper conversation comes around, we are both ready for it.

5. Think about the greater love: There are people in my life whom I love deeply, and to whom I want to give the first of my relational and emotional energy.  If I know my resources are limited, then it is irresponsible for me to give away to others, what belongs to those in my closest circles.  Sometimes I need to avoid or shut down certain conversations if I know it will drain away energy I will need for someone or something else.

6. Find your “life-giving cocktail” and drink it regularly.  If one wants to have meaningful conversations, one must first have something worthwhile to say. (Unfortunately, this is an often overlooked practice in our conversations.) What is it that breathes life into you, that generates substance, character, depth, ideas, curiosity and love for others? For me, over the years I have found the practices (or cocktail) of solitude (which is different from isolation), intentional reading, and exercise do this for me.  Afterwards, I want to be with people more.  (And people seem to want to be with me more too.) When I am healthier, there is more of me to offer.  I suspect each person has a different “life-giving cocktail.” My point is not for anyone to copy mine, but to find their own.  And drink it regularly.

As I write these things, I find myself a bit torn.  At times, the idea of strategically thinking through this part of my life can seem kind of cold and calculating.  However, I want to be the best me I can be and I want to be a blessing to others in my relational circles.  And, as I age, I realize have less energy, less margin, and less time left on the earth with which to work.  In light of all this, I must learn to be a wise steward and manager of all God has given me…including my “face”.

It Can Be Just So Terrifically Awesome! (Conversations About Cancer pt. 3)

(Part 3 in my series on what it is like to talk with people about pain and the awkward (pt 1 – click here), awful (pt. 2 – click here) and awesome results.)

I still remember talking with a recent acquaintance who knew Jeff had just been diagnosed with cancer. She innocently asked a question about his health and prognosis to which there wasn’t a positive answer. It was an awkward moment. And she handled it perfectly. She looked right at me, giving me her fullest attention, slowed her speech so she was very clear, and said from her heart, “I’m so very sorry.” Nothing more. She was slightly uncomfortable, but comfortable at the same time. And I was comforted – by her sincerity. By her honesty. She saw me. Heard me. Even though we didn’t know each other very well, she didn’t let the awkwardness keep her from acknowledging the gravity of what I had shared.

Good conversations, especially those between older and younger women should be immortalized.

Good conversations, especially those between older and younger women should be immortalized.

There was the friend I invited over to my home for dinner and we went into my office so we could talk. We’ve known her for years and she loves our family. It was the first time I was able to tell her our news.  She wept bitterly and gave full expression to her sadness for us. And I felt so deeply loved by her tears and the lack of shame in letting them go.

There was the friend in another part of the world I spoke to on the first day we heard Jeff’s initial diagnosis. The unexpectedness of our news squeezed a surprised and soft “Wow” out of her as she processed what it was I had just said. And, after a few moments, emotion washed through her voice as she simply and quietly said, “I am so sorry for you two.” As I sat there in shock, she then asked the right questions and allowed me to tap into her wisdom. She listened and counseled and did what older women are supposed to do in those moments. She led. And it was so great not to have to lead when it took all I had in that moment to just sit upright and keep breathing.

There were the crazy friends who, during one of Jeff’s stays in ICU, when things were so uncertain, drove a long way to be with me. They brought me food. Good food too. They let me talk all I wanted, made me laugh like only they can, engaged me in a real conversation…and then prayed over me as we all cried.  It was the ugly kind of cry too, with sobs and snot and running make up – the kind you only want to do in front of those who really love you.  And I felt very understood, cared for and loved.

Sometimes we do the carrying. Sometimes we are carried. And it is beautiful.

Sometimes we do the carrying. Sometimes we are carried. And it is beautiful.

There was the text message that asked just the right question at just the right time that saved me from going down a dark path. I wrote about it here. And I felt gratitude that someone dared to not let me go off on my own when I needed to stay connected.

There was the friend who doesn’t really hug very much who let me bury my head on her shoulder and sob. I know she was praying for me in my helplessness. And I felt the specialness of her gift to me, of her coming out of her comfort zone because I needed her. She put my needs ahead of her own. She even made me drink some water because she recognized I wasn’t doing well and couldn’t take care of myself. I don’t really remember how I felt in that moment because my nervous system was fried with fear and grief and unknown. But I wasn’t alone in it because my friend was there with me.

There was the older woman friend of mine who came and sat with me in the hospital, just to be present so I wasn’t alone in a moment when I really didn’t need to be alone. I didn’t have to talk if I didn’t want to, but I could if I felt like it. Even when I wasn’t sure what sort of emotional response I might have and that made me very nervous about another being with me, it felt very safe. And good.

There were the phone calls from friends I hadn’t seen in years, but had to talk with me. There were the emails and texts from around the globe from people who know and love both Jeff and I. There were the personal visits from those who had to really work to get to where we were but came anyway. In all this I felt…so grateful that friends didn’t let time or distance or fear or awkwardness keep them away.

It turns out, many many many of the conversations I have had about Jeff’s cancer have been awesome. Not in a “ha ha, hey, let’s throw a party” kind of way…but in a deep “we are here with you” kind of way. I haven’t had to be alone, either in my heart or in my outer world. These awesome conversations have been about more than just the exchange of words – but the exchange of love, relationship and presence. More than encouraging, but soul-defining. A blessing. A gift I get to keep the rest of my life. Who knew? That in the face of so much pain, there would, at the same time, be so much joy? Treasures hiding under the muck.

From these friends I’ve learned so much about communication and connection. About love. About how to listen. About what it feels like when another approaches my pain – and how to do the approaching… especially in those fragile, tender moments when a heart is breaking.

No wonder God wants us connected to each other, in authentic community and relationship. To not hide, to open ourselves to one another in all its messiness and hang out there – by the roadside together until the hurting one can get up and walk again. Offering grace. Taking turns taking care of each other – because each of us will be the hurting one at some point.

And I feel so grateful to those who know how to communicate, how to be human, how to be compassionate…how to stay with someone in pain and not run in fear or from the awkwardness. My interactions with them haven’t always been neat and clean and pretty, but they’ve always been real.

And the best part? Those friends always brought Jesus with them. And that is always an awesome experience.

Pr. 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Pr. 25:11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

It Can Be Just So Terribly Awful (Conversations About Cancer pt. 2)

(Part 2 in my series on what it is like to talk with people about pain and the awkward (pt 1 – click here), awful  (today) and awesome (up next) results.)

It was one of the many, many times I’ve been sitting in a hospital waiting room while Jeff was in a major surgery, and I was talking with one of the many, many people who have visited me during these times and tried to bring comfort. And while I was grateful for the effort, it went horribly, horribly off the rails.

As he sat down, he began talking. And talking. And talking. (Let me preface this by saying I’m a pretty good listener. A decent conversationalist, able and willing to do healthy give and take. This story isn’t about me wanting to monopolize a conversation but about what was appropriate considering the situation.) At first, given our context, I couldn’t believe he didn’t really ask me how I was doing or feeling, beyond just the obligatory greeting. So the first time he took a breath I decided to try and volunteer some of my story. If you know me or have ever read this blog in the past, then you know I am kind of honest about heart and spiritual stuff. I didn’t go all Job on him, lamenting from the darkest places of my soul, but I was describing something of my fear and weariness and grief – as I thought was appropriate for a hospital waiting room. I assumed he would be interested and able at least to let me say what I needed to say and at least, tell me, “I’m so sorry.”

Um, I was wrong. He looked at me, not with rejection, (thank goodness) but with confusion. Like an actor must on stage when a fellow actor deviates from the script. He had no idea where to go or what to do with what I had just said.

So he began doing what many… so many have done with me in conversation when the topic of my husband’s cancer and what it has done to our lives comes up. He continued talking. And talking. And talking.

After a few tries to join the conversation, I just stopped talking to see if he would notice. He didn’t. For well over 30 minutes. At first it was sort of comical. I thought I was having an out-of-body experience, wondering where the hidden camera was. And then it just started to hurt. Because I was having to listen to him when I should have been given the gift to talk. Because I actually needed my intellectual bandwidth to manage my own stuff and he was taking it from me. Because in a moment when I was supposed to be loved, I wasn’t. And it hurt.

My guess as to what he was doing? I have several theories. First, he could have been trying run out the clock on our conversation – and by not giving me space to talk, he was avoiding having to go to an uncomfortable place spiritually or relationally. Second, he may have been working with the good intention that keeping my mind busy, off my circumstance and a few moments of distraction would be helpful. (I’ve been surprised to realize that many pastoral visits seem to operate from this mindset.) Third, he may have thought that his words were actually helping, that in that moment what I really needed was more input to help me process my pain. Fourth, he could have just been terribly un-self-aware, not paying attention to how I was receiving him and clueless about what I might have been feeling or needing.

I suspect there is another, more-common-than-one-might-think reason as to why he so epically failed in the comforting category, however. And it is a reason I have experienced often as I move through conversations with people about my husband’s cancer and what it feels like for me. I think I scared him. Oh, not me directly, but my situation. Because if God loves me and I’ve been a relatively faithful servant of his for years now, and He could let this horrible thing happen in my life…then He just might let it happen to him too. Or to someone he loves. And that can be a very scary thought.  A paradigm-shifting, theology-busting thought that many aren’t ready to handle. A God who lets (and might even cause) bad things happen to those He loves.

And so I find myself periodically confronted with people who hurt me with their words, who shut me out of the conversation about my situation (ironic) because they are afraid of where things might go. These people refuse to let me communicate honestly about how I am doing and feeling by saying things like, “Let’s just focus on the positive.” (meaning, let’s not talk about the negative possibilities) Or, “I know God will heal Jeff.” (which shuts down whole streams of conversation ) Or, “It will all work out for good.” (again meaning, let’s not talk about the negative possibilities) While I appreciate and value faith-filled positive folks, what I’m talking about are the times some are unable or unwilling to participate in conversations that don’t follow a specific script. They seem unable or unwilling to believe God might just defy their expectations in this situation and break someone’s heart. And that He would still be loving in that moment of profound pain and disappointment.

Then there are the people who want to talk about things like God’s glory and what a gift it can be to  suffer for Him. (They are almost always young folk, without any real suffering or significant life experience behind them.) They quote lots of verses or a book they’ve read – and often go into preaching mode instead of conversation mode. (Which works in the pulpit…in the hospital waiting room or coffee shop? Not so much.)  In their head-lead desire to be theologically accurate, they end up being heart-less, rejecting the very Biblical imperative of being human and compassionate. (For the record, I know God is good. I know most circumstances have the potential to bring about some good. But there are days I don’t feel very good about it all. If theology can’t meet me here, if it can’t allow God to be sovereign and me to be human at the same time, it is lacking.) They hide behind an impressive theology because they are afraid of a God they can’t understand or put in a box. And they are afraid of those who challenge their paradigm.

I am learning compassion for those I meet whom I scare – and I am learning to be patient with the multitude of words that come forth from their mouths, unchecked by their brains and uninformed by their hearts. I know they are trying to help and do what they know to do. But sometimes, I just need to get out of the way because a conversation with them in the wrong place at the wrong time, like a hospital waiting room, can be just terribly awful.

Pr. 10:19 When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Job 6:26  Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?

It Can Be Just So Terribly Awkward – (Conversations About Cancer pt. 1)

(As I’ve been talking about Jeff’s health and our circumstances with people for a while now, I think I’m ready to write a bit about what the experience is like, to have pain in my life and to have conversations about it with others. This is part one.)

I feel kind of sorry for many of the people I’m relating to in my life right now. Because as I’m going through various conversations with them, I have a choice to make. At what point, if ever, do I mention, “My husband has cancer.” ?

Just for the record, I’m not one of those over-sharers who bares uncomfortable truth out of context, with terrible timing, throwing very private, personal and valuable information to anyone who unfortunately happens to cross my path. In fact, at times  I can be a slightly socially awkward introvert, who waits a while before opening up. I am ok with listening first, asking questions of the other and sharing healthily… if it is safe, appropriate, if I’ve read the other person well enough to guess that they are indeed interested and it is the right time. (FYI – it isn’t always safe or appropriate, I don’t always read people properly, not everyone is interested and it isn’t always the right time.) For the most part, I am comfortable with myself and even when things get personal,  I’m not a bad conversationalist.

The conundrum comes when I realize this person will be in my life for a while and Jeff’s and my situation will eventually come up. How to tell them, to introduce the information for the first time? If I bring it up too soon or botch the actual words… before they get to know who I really am…maybe before I’m emotionally ready to release such personal information…they may retreat. I don’t blame them for being unsure if they want to commit to anything more than just a superficial relationship with one whose life is going to be so very messy. On the other hand,  if I wait a long while to share, after we have actually become friends or it is obvious I’ve had the news for a while, they may justifiably ask, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” How on earth do I make this easier for them? For me?

Because that moment when I actually say the words, “My husband has cancer,” can be just so terribly awkward. It is not an emotionally neutral statement and there are so many the unspoken implications that go along with it. Where exactly does a conversation go after that? And who leads after this point?

For some, it can be an emotional moment, especially if they know Jeff, if they already care about me or my kids, or if they have a similar experience in their background and more fully understand the weight of what I just said. Some have cried or gotten choked up with me as I’ve told them, which is powerful. I am almost always touched deeply when this happens – I don’t find this awkward at all. It is just that in these moments, I realize that, while I’ve had time to process the shock and grief, the other person hasn’t. So sometimes I get thrust into that also-awkward role-reversal moment of having to offer comfort to someone else about my grief. I’m ok with this and fully understand how we get here. But sometimes it still doesn’t seem quite right.

For others, they don’t know what to say. Either because they themselves are socially awkward around heart topics and don’t want to say the wrong thing. (Which is totally ok by the way.) Or they may want to ask questions but aren’t sure just how to do it or if it is appropriate. Sometimes there can be long awkward silences I am expected to manage because I am the only one in the conversation who seems to know what to do next. For the record, I appreciate these people, because I know they mean me no harm. In fact, I don’t mind subtly coaching them on how to handle me or others like me. I usually don’t even mind leading the conversation from here based the other person’s comfort level and needs in the moment.

Then I’ve had some conversations where the other person wasn’t really listening and didn’t hear what I said… either literally or metaphorically. Or they were so unsure of what to do that they pretended they didn’t hear me. (This has happened more than once.) These are truly awkward moments because they usually go on with the conversation as if I just said, “My husband had a burrito for lunch.” And I’m left to figure out where things drifted off to the surreal. I just mentioned cancer and they are back to talking metaphorical Mexican food. I dared to get vulnerable and go to the deep end of the conversational pool, entrusting them with something valuable from my heart… and they ran, screaming for the shallows, leaving me treading water, wet and alone.

Fortunately, awkward doesn’t kill. It is just uncomfortable. Sometimes it leads me to question myself and my relating abilities, which isn’t always a bad thing. A little more introspection and self-awareness can often be quite helpful in learning to relate better to others.  Sometimes I let it hit me in my self-worth, which is pretty much always a bad thing. Or, I wonder if staying connected in my outside world is worth all the work it takes. (Hint – almost always, when I consider hiding, it is dangerous.)

Ultimately, creating congruence in my life between my inner and outer worlds, between my heart and my relationships – working the discipline of appropriate honesty rather than secret-keeping – is very worth the effort. The pain of talking about A when my heart is breaking about B…well, I suspect if I did that long enough, unlike awkwardness, it would eventually kill something inside of me. Secrets create a powerfully destructive duplicity. And this is much more painful than an awkward conversation.

Awkward passes. Thank you Jesus. So I’ll keep at it, trying to figure out how to do that for which there is no real instruction manual. Trying to learn conversational graciousness, kindness and gentleness – and walk with others well as we learn to communicate about important things during an important season of life.

Pr. 12:25 An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

 

“I’m Not Unaffected By This” (Being Human pt. 9)

Recently I was in a conversation with an acquaintance and something happened that caught me off guard. A little background… This person isn’t a long time friend. Our relationship is a relatively new one, so when I talk with him, I am more of an unknown quantity than with y’all who have known me for years, either in person or via blog. And it was a situation where the content of the conversation wasn’t really up to me. It was one of those sort-of-forced-sharing times, where a topic that is deeper than normal small talk comes up.

This particular day, it was safe and it was appropriate, so I decided to go there, to bare something of my soul and share a somewhat complicated story of how God had recently worked in my life. But this time, contrary to my normal modus operandi, I didn’t have all my storytelling ducks in a row. I missed parts and messed up the sequence of events. I talked in sort of a quiet monotone, which is very different from my large group speaking voice. I even looked at some rough notes I had scribbled down and read part of it verbatim. I wasn’t trying to wow him with my story. I wasn’t trying to teach anything. I wasn’t test driving an idea to use in a later teaching time or blog post. I was just taking the opportunity before me to release a little pressure on my soul and communicate from the heart with someone sitting right in front of me, someone who had really asked how I was doing.

After I finished, this acquaintance had a stunned look on his face. Initially, I was very concerned that he was about to reject me or my story. His response landed powerfully on my heart. He said, “Deanna, I’m not unaffected by this.”

As I thought about his meaning, I realized that he had just told me something very important. He was letting me know that my story and my life had power. Its effects were rippling across the table to where he was. It wasn’t that I was trying to do this. It wasn’t that my methods were the most effective. It was that God had inhabited my story and energized it. And when I took a chance to share it, He used it in the life of another.

As a result, I’ve spent some time thinking about the role God plays in our stories. Sometimes we throw our words around as if they aren’t really powerful, as if they were ours to own and control. Yet sometimes God claims what is His – our stories and our words, our personalities and the style in which we talk, and He gives it more power than it has on its own. He applies it to another’s heart. He uses us to affect them.

This is the part of communication that is outside of our control. We can prepare for it. We can pray for it. But we can’t command it to happen. Sometimes God makes our stories more than just OUR stories. Sometimes He reclaims them as HIS stories.

Being human means we have stories. We hear stories. And they affect us. Or not, if we choose to close our hearts down and be unaffected.

Being human means we can choose to enter into this messy part of our humanity with others – by sharing our stories and by opening ourselves up to being affected by their stories. Or not. I am thinking these days about how to allow myself to be affected. And how to be available should God choose to use me to affect others.

How Do You Not Get Emotional? (Being Human pt. 8)

Recently, I was on a tour of the CNN headquarters – a perk of hosting out-of-town guests. I got to spend time in the control room before a segment went live and briefly talk with a director of the news and some of her colleagues. She wasn’t a maker of the news, just an observer, gatekeeper and communicator of it. She has worked at CNN her entire career, doing almost every job behind the camera at one time or another. What a fascinating person! Question-asker that I am, I started with, “What was the biggest breaking story you were ever present for and got to cover?’ That was an interesting discussion, especially as one of her co-workers was present the morning of 9/11.

In light of that, the next question presented itself quite naturally. I asked, “How do you not get emotional doing what you do?”

Immediately, she and at least three different people in the control room answered emphatically, “Oh, we do!” Then, the director went on to point out something in the room I had missed. Boxes of tissue. Everywhere. She said they don’t get to look away from all the horrible things of this world. The child murders, natural disasters, injustice, tragedies… Yet they still have a job to do. Observing, gatekeeping and communicating stories. Often with tears rolling down their faces.

I’m getting a little emotional myself while writing this because…over the years I’ve ended up talking with a lot of young women. And some not-so-young. About stuff. Life. Their stories. Their pain. I wish I knew exactly how it happens. It isn’t that I want to stop this. Obviously it is a part of who I am – meeting people right where they are and walking with them a bit till they get where they are going. Wherever that is. But sometimes my life sort of feels like I’m in a great big control room, and all these screens are displaying what is going on in the world. And like the employees of CNN, I can’t look away.  I have to stay engaged, involved in the stories being played out not just before me, but in the lives of people I know and care about. And, like the employees of CNN, I am coming to the conclusion that not getting emotional isn’t an option. I just have to keep tissue nearby and handy.

Because I’m not unaffected by what I see.

I sometimes meet Vulcans out there – those people who try to disengage from their feelings. They have all sorts of reasons why their life-strategy is best: controlling their emotions lest they control them, leaning into rational analysis, embracing logic and rejecting the inner world of the heart, both in themselves and others. There most certainly is a place for some of this – and I’m speaking as a recovering Vulcan myself.

Yet…

Our humanity, where God chooses to meet us, is intricately connected to our emotions. Yes, it is messy. Yes, it is at times uncontrollable. Yes, it can make us vulnerable to pain, to the whims of others…to our human-ness. But to deny our inner world is to deny a basic part of our humanity… which denies Jesus a powerful place to meet us. 

Like the CNN employees, I am coming to realize that not getting emotional is not an option. Not a healthy one anyway.