I find myself standing in the awkward space that exists after the conclusion of my formal scholastic education. I am facing the ambiguity about how I should proceed into the world–armed with what I’ve learned, sensing how much I have yet to learn. I really wish that there was a magical land called Clarity where all the citizens just existed in the full and complete knowledge of their purpose, potential, and personal limitations. I would like to move there and be the mayor of that land, but the wise people I’ve surveyed have gently and lovingly informed me that there is no such nation to be discovered in this life.
All I know for sure is that Jesus said, “Love me. Love your neighbors. Love your enemies. Hold nothing back. Do this with all that you are.” This is the only truth that transcends all of life’s potential circumstances.
We love because He first loved us. I like to think of the love of God like a bottomless pitcher that pours out into all of us until we are overflowing. God loves us so much that He insists that we get to experience love for others and from others. One of the biggest graces I’ve known is the love of others–acquaintances, dear friends, family members–who look into my helter skelter angsty heart and say, “Hey, you’ve got goodness in you. You’re not doing this life thing wrong. Don’t give up, dear heart. Don’t collapse in the face of uncertainty.” When I think of these souls, I always think of Sara Groves words: Life with you is half as hard, and twice as good.
This week’s discussion is a retelling of the ways others have created safe harbor for me and voted “YES!” to me when I felt like voting “no”. These are the people who have taught me how to show up for others.
1. State the obvious. I once received a letter that was titled “Things You Already Know, but Need to Hear Anyway.” My friend Gina took the time to write down observations she had made of my character. She filled a sheet of paper with statements that spoke of her faith in me and belief in my potential. Gina’s words caught me by surprise. I did not already know what she had to tell me, but I desperately needed to hear it. I find that I forget that I am lovable everyday, but I never forget why I love the people in my life. I assume that others know how I feel about them. Gina’s words fanned the little ember of hope in my heart that there was goodness in who God made me. I’ve never forgotten this act of love, even though almost eight years has gone by since Gina handed me that letter. Maybe there is someone in your life who needs to hear about the goodness you see in them!
2. Leave space for the struggle. Brené Brown is a research professor of Social Work at the University of Houston, who writes about the power of vulnerability, courage, and empathy. I saw an illustrated short of her thoughts on empathy and was reminded of the healing power a friend’s patient company can hold. Sometimes I experience a wave of anxiety when I am confronted with other people’s pain or fear. I want to be helpful and loving and encouraging. I want to take away the burden that they are carrying and I feel helpless in the knowledge that I cannot. Sometimes the most encouraging and loving words we can hear are, “I hear you. I see you. You are safe. You are loved. I will not try to solve your problems. I’m just going to sit here with you and let you feel whatever it is you are feeling.” Maybe there is someone in your life who simply needs the gift of your company.
3. Follow up. Last week, in the midst of a conversation with my dear friend DeAnna, I confessed that I had a hard day. I am currently taking a ceramics class at my local community college, and throwing pottery on the wheel is not as easy as Demi Moore makes it look in Ghost. I have loved everything that I have learned about clay in my ceramics class–it’s a really beautiful redemptive medium to work with. After a day of several discarded pots and sarcastic comments from my classmates, I saw my flawed approach to throwing a cylinder as a metaphor for my flawed contribution to all things beautiful and redemptive. DeAnna heard me, empathized with my hurt feelings, and offered me encouragement. And THEN she followed up with me the next day!! I was so grateful for her ability to be present when I was vulnerable, but I was surprised and moved when she remembered me the next day. Three simple words: “How is today?” made me feel seen, heard, and safe.
4. Take notice of growth. I am trying to make friends with the concept of change, because as it turns out, it’s a constant companion in life and a prerequisite for growth and redemption. Change is daunting and uncomfortable because it’s always accompanied by the entrance of the unknown. It takes great courage to embrace change with love and faith. Witnessing others grow is one of the greatest privileges of living life in community. When I see witness others foster resilience and face change with grace and hope, it reminds me of the amazing effects transformation can leave in our lives. What a shame it would be to miss out on these things. I have the sneaking suspicion that Change will always remain scary and hard. What a privilege it is to have the opportunity to remind each other that it can also be beautiful and good!
5. Champion other people’s dreams. There are endless amounts of variation in human beings. How beautiful and spectacular to be a part of such a vast and diverse collective! How comforting and inspiring to know that there is goodness that can come from every strength and skill! Be a yay-sayer instead of a nay-sayer and celebrate the attempts people make to grow and learn and pursue their dreams. Everyone experiences, at one time or another, how difficult it can be to foster resilience in the wake of failures. Maybe if we choose to be invested in each other’s hopes and dreams, we will be armed and ready to supply encouragement when it’s needed and have hope for each other when the state of affairs seems hopeless. Maybe we’ll get a glimpse of what Paul describes in his first letter to the Corinthians when he talks about the Body of Christ. Maybe we’ll see a little bit of the Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.