“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.