“The wisdom of the Desert Fathers includes the wisdom that the hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self – to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.” Barbara Brown Taylor
My eyes now see suffering everywhere. I think that is partially due to my eyes being closed for so many years. Hiding. Shut down. Turned away. Afraid. But then something happens to wake us up. An invitation to open our eyes. We don’t always say yes to the invitation. (the invitation usually comes through pain and suffering) The familiar feels too warm and cozy and safe – even if it is stealing our life away.
But if we do say yes – if we are willing to brave opening our eyes – it is shocking. There is so much to see. I think deep down, I knew that if I ever opened my eyes, then I wouldn’t just see but I would have to feel what I saw as well. Feeling is a part of seeing. Maybe feeling is more what we are avoiding. Because as I awoke, I hurt. That’s just the thing I was trying to avoid. Pain. (As we open our eyes, we also see Joy! But for this blog I am focusing on our struggle to be present with pain and a brave choice to ‘be with’each other in all the varied challenges of life).
As I began to thaw – to wake up – I began to cry. Since I had been shut down for 45 years, tears were a rarity. The surprise was how soothing those tears are – how they feel like suave and cozy socks to my heart. Slowly, over years, they became friends that I welcome.
The waking up process gifted me with an evolving level of presence. My early life was a survival level of dissociation. So, presence was very foreign. But as I evolved – I also could see that presence and seeing is a gift – not only a gift to me (I get to actually be more alive) but a gift to those around me. I’m realizing that all each of us really want and need is to be seen. To be seen and have our life validated. Love. Brene Brown shares“I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort,’ but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’” When it becomes ok to feel my own hurt – then I can sit with you in yours as well.
We are made from the very beginning with the need to be seen. It is survival to have human connection. Infants must have a connection with an adult. If a baby is not ‘seen’– even if all their food needs are met – they cease to thrive and can die. From birth through our whole lives – we need connection with another human being.
In Genesis, we read the story of Hagar, an Egyptian slave of Abraham and Sarah, who was running away from being abused by Sarah. Hagar, alone in the desert, encountered God, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me, “for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”Genesis 16:13 Hagar’s problems were not solved but she was seen and that made all the difference.
We want to be seen. “See me!”we cry in so many different ways. Social media gives us the impression of being seen. Desperation to not be alone but feeling too wounded to engage in community, we will settle for pseudo relationships which leaves us still feeling isolated.
A good friend and I hadn’t got to connect in awhile, we had much to share and catch up on. We both were wanting to be seen and be heard – so we were talking over each other, and I’m not sure there was a lot of listening happening and therefore neither of us went away having felt validated and seen. Another friend of mine shared the story of when her daughter was about four years old. The little girl was trying to communicate with her mom while mom was busy on a project. The mom kept telling her, “I’m listening.” The little daughter persisted and finally, grabbed the moms face, holding her mom’s face in her hands and looked into her mom’s eyes and said, “I need you to listen with your eyes!”
When we are wounded by someone, often all it takes for healing is to feel heard and seen. My husband and I lead a small church and we had made a decision that affected a family in a way that was hurtful. There was a miscommunication and the relationship was in jeopardy and would have been lost. But a moment came where we were able to actually listen to our friend and hear their pain and hurt at our decision. The problem didn’t have an easy solution but we were able to see each other on a deeper level and healing began to happen.
The last 10 years my close up vision has been declining. So, reading glasses have been my constant companion – well, they needed to be but where DID I leave those darn things. I refused to wear a chain to keep them around my neck, which meant I’m always looking for them. Well, I finally got tired of looking for my forever lost glasses and I was ready to actually See all the time. I ordered progressive glasses. Here is the thing – when you wear readers, you don’t wear them in the bathroom when you are getting ready or in the car when you are looking in the mirror. So, when for the first time, I had them on while doing my makeup – yikes! Where did all those wrinkles come from?! Shocking! I had no idea I was that old. It can be painful and disturbing to See. (Ok, in the whole scheme of hard things – wrinkles may not be at the top of the list.) But there are moments when the story is too hard to hear – more pain than I want to know about – that’s when we want to run or shut down. Because if I cant fix your pain, then what do I do with it? All there is to do is to feel it with you – “to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice”, Romans 12:15. And that’s where the rub is – We don’t want to feel pain – yours or mine. It’s especially hard to seeand not try to fix if it’s someone close like a family member. Everything in us wants to take the pain away and figure out some way to speak into their plight. I don’t know if there is any struggle stronger than letting go of trying to rescue and to choose to just Be with a loved one in pain. But it is so worth it to do whatever we have to do to take care of our own heart in order to just be present, which makes us a safe place.
If we can meet in a place of mercy and compassion – be brave and choose to feel – and realize that I can’t fix you and you can’t fix me – that the gift we give each other is in the seeing – then the world doesn’t look quite as harsh and lonely – we each have hope.
“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’” – Brené Brown
“What we have most in common is not religion but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get – in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing – which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up. Paradoxically, the point is not to see him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.” Barbara Brown Taylor