Amidst the poetry that is cooking dinner, cleaning crumbs, kissing sweet sticky baby cheeks, breaking up fights, wiping smears, giving bear hugs, teaching character, giving baths, hunting for missing socks, and rewashing the load of laundry that sat in the washer too long, I have these extremely fleeting moments where words start pelting my mind in waves. It’s like the dusty whirlwind of my head settles for a millisecond, and in that millisecond, the 5,000 thoughts that have been disjointedly floating about the ether of my mind that week emerge in harmony, and words and themes and meaning pound together faster than I can seem to write.
In today’s moment of clarity, dinner was bubbling on the stove and the kids were playing legos unusually quietly, which was sure to only last a few minutes, so I seized the moment to write as fast as I could….please bear with me if it’s more than a little incoherent! 🙂
Today I was listening to one of my favorite podcast channels, At Home with Sally, and today’s episode really stuck with me. It was about instilling a heart of character in our children, and in one particular section, she was talking about teaching children virtue, on recapturing the hero heart, and teaching our children to love that which is noble, true and virtuous. Because we live what we love. She referenced all the hatred and division in today’s world, how the rise of social media communications makes it so easy to put people down and disrespect others, and how we’re raising a generation of young people who are losing the virtue of respecting that which is human. And that as long as we think we’re better than others, we are unable to honor them. How honor, giving worth to someone else, is a really big deal.
She talked about how she had recently been approached by a homeless person on the street, how she had looked into his eyes and smiled, and how he reached out his hand to hers and squeezed it, and she squeezed it back. The story wasn’t meant to be prescriptive about whether or not we should give money to the homeless, but instead was meant to be an example of how quickly we tend to look away from other human beings. She said her family shares a conviction that whenever they see people, they try to always look into their eyes and offer a warm smile. When we see people and look in their eyes, we give people value, she said. She talked about how every person is made in the image of God and she wants to honor the image of God in them. She treats others as holy because they are created by the hand of God.
I LOVE that. What a great reminder.
The idea of consciously honoring people, extending kindness and grace to them, then directed my thoughts to some recent circumstances in my own life.
It randomly directed my thoughts to a conversation I had with my husband recently about a dear family member who is desperately struggling with addiction. This person has made some really unhealthy choices, choices that continue to hurt me and others. If you’ve ever loved someone who has a deadly substance abuse addiction, you KNOW as I do that it feels like you’re living with a constant open wound smack dab in the middle of your heart. There’s never closure—you feel like the person you once loved has somehow died, and yet someone else has taken residence in their body, almost as if a ghost is living there, not the person you once knew. So you never truly get to grieve the death of that person you used to have a relationship with and instead are stuck trying to somehow manage the constant barrage of conflicting sadness, anger, sympathy, frustration, compassion, and visceral pain of watching someone you love slowly kill themselves, and there’s NOTHING left that you can do because you’ve already done everything humanly possible.
It’s especially hard if such a person is family, because the pain becomes VERY personal, and bitterness and deep hurts set in and slowly wear away the lingering shreds of compassion, kindness, and grace. It’s only natural.
And it becomes even harder if said person then comes down with cancer…for the second time. And they’re alone and need help. But you don’t really have a relationship any more. And you just have no idea what this relationship should look like now. Is it the right thing to continue guarding your heart by shutting that person out? Is it the right thing to start engaging with that person again, even though your heart is getting beat up in the process? What on earth does it look like to love a person who is engaged in hurtful behavior, while having healthy boundaries and protecting your own sanity?
I have been deeply struggling with this for weeks ever since the news came that the cancer is back. What should I do now? What is this journey going to look like? My heart has been in knots and I have had more than a couple nights of very ugly, gut-wrenching fits of weeping over it, weeping yet again over all that has been lost, weeping over all the unknowns now. Weeping and feeling so unsure of next steps. It’s like I keep giving and giving, and continue to get disappointed. I’m not getting the result I want and I’m so frustrated and hopeless and just…tired.
My husband spoke some really wise, clarifying words. He said, “I think we really need to show grace to this person for as long as they live.” And I had this sudden surge of peace and conviction. Yes, I think I need to surrender to the idea of grace and honor right now. With boundaries as needed, of course. And I have to slowly piece out what this will look like, because I don’t yet have all the answers.
And here’s where this connects to this morning’s podcast (told you this might be incoherent!):
How often do I give my time, extend kindness, show grace, only when it seems worth it or when I’m getting the result I need. Let me go a level deeper. How often do I have expectations for my generosity, my giving of grace and time and kindness and ministry, only to be disappointed with the result and have a knee-jerk response to throw in the towel? I’m left feeling drained, and then resentful, and then a teeny tiny bit of high and mightiness just *might* creep up in the recesses of my heart. ewww
How often do we think to ourselves, ‘what good does it really do to buy this person on the corner a meal–it doesn’t solve the problem. What’s the point.’ How often do we not make eye contact or engage the person in the grocery store checkout because, well, who has time to be friendly and acknowledge another human in the checkout line, or in the elevator. I’m so guilty of all this.
We live in a culture where the only measure of success in life, relationships, education, etc., seems to be a certain level of measurable productivity, some quantifiable output.
And when we extend kindness, grace, time and care for others with a spoken OR unspoken specific expectation, some specific measurable way of knowing if that interaction was successful or not, it sets us up to feel constant disappointment. But I do it all the time, really without realizing it I think. Giving grace is giving unmerited honor and favor to others. And if we can somehow shift our mindset, with the goal of being nothing but a blessing to someone else, giving them honor simply because they are valuable as a human being, because they are created in the image of God, I think it sets us up for more wholeness and less chance of being constantly emptied and depleted.
Don’t get me wrong, we are human and will naturally feel the sting of rejection and hurt. We’re not robots after all. It’s healthy to feel periods of sadness when we’re hurt or let down by others. I’m not suggesting we bury our emotions and just live in a happy world of fake glitter and butterflies.
What I think I’m saying is that if we go into every situation thinking “I’m going to give/invite/show grace etc. to such and such person so that hopefully they will do/become/change to (fill in the blank), and then they don’t, we will constantly live our lives hurt and disappointed and feel like nothing is worth it. This goes for missions, this goes for loving our kids, loving our spouses, loving our difficult family members, loving the people on the street, engaging the neighbor who has an entirely different worldview than us.
Just stop and think about HOW OFTEN we have this subconscious chain of thought, that someone doesn’t thank us like they should, or someone just keeps hurting us and won’t ask for our forgiveness, or they never come around to seeing things “our way” and we throw out hands up in frustration: “I’m done.”
If we can change our end measure of success from one of expecting a certain behavior to instead one of showing kindness and honor simply because that person has inherent value, then I think the scales change. It untethers our ability to honor and give grace to others from their reactions/responses. I think it could be freeing in a way.
Caveat: If someone is physically or emotionally wounding us, there is definitely a time and place for having boundaries and protecting our hearts. Every person must evaluate that differently. I don’t think we have to subject ourselves intentionally to dangerous people with no regard for our spiritual and emotional health. But if someone is hurting themselves and making poor life decisions, even if it’s really painful to watch, or is a different faith from ours, or a different lifestyle, or a different worldview, or whatever, and we only extend grace and honor in hopes of achieving a certain response or change in that person for it to seem “worth it” to us, then we’re going to be constantly drained and disappointed.
I’m praying to be a better conduit of grace and honor with no strings attached. Or less strings at least (baby steps 🙂 ). Simply because people are inherently valuable.
It’s really hard sometimes.
But I hope to work on it alongside my children. Whether it’s as simple as taking time out to buy a meal for a homeless person and sharing with them about how that person is valuable, or modeling for them how to say hello and smile and make eye contact with the checker at the grocery store because that person is valuable, or being kind to that person who was loud and rude, I hope to model to them that we extend honor and grace not to teach that person a lesson or to necessarily change their behavior or achieve a certain outcome, but simply because people have value because they are made in the image of God. And that is ALWAYS enough reason to extend honor, grace and kindness.