“She felt everything too deeply, it was like the world was too much for her.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have felt like that. I’m a deeply empathetic person. I can’t help but put myself in your situation when I hear your story.
My education in International Studies filled my head with four years of statistics, research papers, and projects about wars, child soldiers, human trafficking, poverty and oppression. Perhaps it was this concentration on all the ills of the world that pushed me into a place of hiding from all the pain. It was all just too much. I didn’t watch the news. I just couldn’t to handle it. Hearing details of murders, rapes, genocide and war, babies without families and children being abused weighed heavily on my heart and I didn’t know what to do with it.
So I avoided it altogether. I read headlines of major world and national events so as to keep from being completely ignorant, but I would rarely click on actual articles to read through the details. Details painted too clear of a picture, adding to the weight and leaving me feeling either helpless or with a strange sort of survivor’s guilt. Why is the world so unfair and what could I possibly do? Why was I born here and blessed with so much while others lack even basic human necessities like food, clean water and a safe place to lay their head at night? It didn’t make sense.
So I ignored it.
Until recently when I actually clicked through to read the full story. I allowed myself to feel the pain. To let the weight of it press in heavy on my heart. Sadness, anger, and frustration filled up my soul to the point of overflowing, spilling out in words onto a page. Flawed and raw. But I was no longer a passive bystander. I had invested my heart in the issue. I was uncomfortable and agitated to action.
And then something else happened. I was unable to move on with life and forget the tragedy of yesterday. My investment of time, thoughts, and emotions continued. The dam I had built against the waters of empathy and compassion was breaking down and there was no stopping it anymore.
There is a cost to caring.
It costs us our comfort.
It costs emotional energy and time.
I think this is part of what I was afraid of. I knew that caring and allowing myself to feel would cost me some of my freedom. It’s much easier to focus on my world. To focus on my life and my stuff and what I want to do. Caring costs us our selfishness.
It’s easier to build up protective walls around ourselves. It’s easier to let our hearts grow callous. To limit our thoughts and conversations to simple politics. It’s easier to pick someone to be angry at or blame than it is to be broken with compassion and moved by love.
We read the headlines to inform our minds but rarely let it inform our hearts. We depersonalize stories into statistics and we give people labels instead of names. Democrat, republican, drug addict, prostitute, homeless, rich, stupid. Labels allow us to attach varying degrees of value, justifying our lack of caring. And society agrees with us.
Yet when was Jesus ever in agreement with society? Did he pick up the first stone to throw at the woman caught in adultery? Did he treat Zaccheus with contempt? Did he roll his eyes at the woman desperate for healing or recoil in disgust as the lepers drew close?
He was moved with compassion to action.
He consistently imparted worth to those whom society had cast aside. He embraced those even the church had rejected. He sought out those whom the rest of the world deemed unworthy of love and dignity. Each and EVERY life held value in the eyes of our Savior.
We’re called to mourn with those who mourn. We’re called to enter in to the pain of another person. This isn’t an act of our intellect, but of our hearts. We have to allow ourselves to feel. Not a passive sympathy, but an active empathy. Compassion that moves us.
We are dealers of hope to a world desperately in need of a new perspective. We are light and life to those living in darkness. We can be a voice for those who do not have one in the world.
We may not have all the answers but we have access to the one who does.
Our love may run dry and our compassion be limited, but his is limitless.
The weight of the world may be too much for us to bear, but he has already overcome the world. And he’s looking for partners who will open their hearts and let him fill up whatever they’re lacking so humanity can be healed, restored and reconciled.
A Franciscan Benediction
May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God’s creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor.