After a couple months of wondering around in fuzzy-mindedness towards the God I had previously decided to give my life to – glossily sliding around spiritual conversations with skillfully placed B-school cliches, always readily available, and without much effort, at my fingertips – this is their nature, these cliches, verses and phrases – they take little effort, they are designed to get one out of a tough spot. No need for empathy towards a needy soul or somewhat reckless wisdom inspired by the Spirit, kneading you in and out of tough places. This is the most fragile procedure you could decide to endeavor upon; choosing to feel a depression that isn’t your own, weeping with tears that belong to someone else, mourning for grief that you never had to choose to feel. Being with them, souls side-by-side, feeling the same despair, together. Bearing burdens. The incredible healing comfort of the messy meshing of people. Together.
This type of interaction is hard. It takes work. It involves self-sacrifice of simple comforts to engage fully with a struggle that someone else is inching through. It’s not comfortable, and it shouldn’t be – if it is, you can doubt whether you’re giving the other much comfort at all. And while I used to feel pretty passionate about this, the place I have been in for the last several months has been one of utter selfishness and disregard for the souls of the immortals walking with me.
I remember days where I would, for lack of a better word… Swim – through people’s backstories, frontstories, dreams, wonders, imaginations, journeys, hopes and fears like a marathon. This was God. I am naturally selfish beyond what I could ever describe. Anyone who really knows me knows this. Any ex-boyfriend would tell you this and so would probably most of my friends from high school. But for the joy of relating to another human – what I believe we were designed to do, even when the relating is over soul-crushing heartache, alive and well in this world – I was sometimes able to put my selfishness aside and enter into another’s heart. Stand side by side, holding hands, and walk deeper into sad places. And people did the same with me.
Others have given cliches and scriptures with no knowledge of my heart. And I have done the same to others. I have absent-mindedly looked over another’s soul, seen the bruises, the wear and tear – I’ve looked into their worn out eyes, and just panicked. I’ve panicked and thought, “How can I make it out alive?” And so I have thought of the best Bible School cliche I could think of, sometimes in the form of a Scripture, sometimes an encouraging line, something about God, something about hope, something about trust, something about the future and about life being short and about Heaven. I gloss over. I have no idea where their bruises have come from, whether or not they need surgery, and where – and yet, I hand them a band-aid. They smile, say thanks, eyes still dead, conversation over. I made it out alive.
“Hey, I did my part,” I justify. “I reminded them about God. I talked to them. I did all I could.” But of course, a very real doubt lingers.
I came back to God today. It wasn’t anything spectacular. I wrote in my journal for the first time in months, scribbling away a mess of thoughts that were taking up spots in my brain where good things are supposed to exist. I asked Him to prove that His burden is light. That was my main prayer. Because up until now, it hasn’t felt light.
After getting this off of my chest, though, I’ve realized – what is more heavy, really – entering into fellowship with another person’s soul, bonding together through tormented experiences, relating to one another in the cesspits of life, crying, maybe screaming, maybe feeling uncomfortable, but eventually reaping the rewards of a shared understanding, hearts that are connected, the experience heaven kissing earth in relational goodness that must be as pretty damn close to the Trinity as we can become, or..
Spouting out shallow cliches without ever knowing the other person. Feeling something missing in relationships but never knowing what, exactly. Feeling no freedom to be ourselves, to be broken, to be depressed, in anguish, confused – because we will only be shut down with the particularly heinous brand of Christian-esque positive thinking, being told “God is still good,” when a relative dies and “you need to trust Him,” when you are sinking helplessly into a particularly dark cavern of gut-crushing depression. Hearing Bible verses to meet your supposed needs, although they miss the mark every time – and being made to feel unspiritual because quoting Scriptures, playing worship songs on repeat and repeating mantras like “Keep your eyes on Heaven!” and “Jesus loves you, just keep your eyes on Him,” just aren’t doing it for you.
Jesus never asked us to randomly quote Scripture and cliches at each other to make each other feel better. Not that there is no place for Scripture – obviously, I would never, ever argue that. Conversation can be dictated by Scripture, and by the Spirit. But sometimes, the Spirit may lead you to have an entire conversation with someone without ever quoting Scripture. Sometimes, the Spirit may lead you to simply cry and ask questions with someone in need. Sometimes, the Spirit may just ask you to simply shut up and listen.
This principle is shown most clearly in Galatians 6:2 – we can’t ignore this! “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” I love the Greek Commentary on biblehub: “The mutual bearing of moral burdens is the mutual, loving participation in another’s feeling of guilt, a weeping with those that weep in a moral point of view, by means of which moral sympathy the pressure of the feeling of guilt is reciprocally lightened.” This is fulfilling of the law of Christ! To be sympathetic, empathetic, compassionate, loving, understanding! To pursue, and to care, deeply – and to ask questions sincerely! This is healing for us as Christians, and absolutely essential for life!
There is a rule of thumb throughout the book of Proverbs, which basically demands we speak good words in season. This must be taken to include Scipture, encouragement, etc. But how will we know which season someone is in if we do not hear their hearts? If we do not ask questions and learn about them? If we act haphazardly, more often than not, we will quote something at them that will make them feel even more alone.
I understand that this is not something that people usually do purposefully. It is a high calling to engage in the hearts of others. It takes time – much more time than quoting Scripture – and effort – much more effort than a Bible Study.
But I want to rededicate myself to this practice, because without it, I really think life is empty. Human relationships will not work without empathy. And we cannot accomplish this task without Christ – it is an other-centered type of love we are talking about here, one where we put all positive thinking and self-preservation to rest, and choose to feel bad in order to help someone else survive.
This is a high calling. But it is one that is absolutely essential.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15