God, forgive me for when I lack empathy,
when I jump to making talking points out of tragedy,
when I forget the pain of community and family,
when my voice is louder than theirs.
I fell for the romanticized, destructive idea in both church culture and pop culture that we must constantly “love and forgive and give away,” a sort of martyr-hero syndrome that guilts us into perpetual generosity.
I spent too many years consumed by the “sacrificial radical love” model of Christianity, which required that I pour out more than I had—but it only scooped out my guts and left me bitter and resentful and exhausted.
To love must include truth, wisdom, and boundaries. Sometimes it means distance. It means knowing when to rest and recharge and to embrace our limits. It always means to have grace for yourself, too.
And to love is not enabling, pampering, coddling, or letting someone off the hook—or it wouldn’t really be love at all. There’s a way to help others that really hurts them because it only feeds into their harmful patterns.
For those who have been abused or traumatized: Forgiveness doesn’t mean friendship. No one should ever be rushed into forgiveness, not for the sake of “getting right with God.” Not for trying to look like the “bigger person” or “because it’s the right thing to do.” We need to recognize patterns of unrepentant abuse and gaslighting and manipulative language that will only guilt-trip back into a vicious cycle. We can never mindlessly open the door again on an abusive relationship. You have the right to say “no.”
God does redeem the evil, yes, but God is for the victims, for the abused, for the survivors, too. God is for the exile, the foreigner, the despised, the despondent who crossed the Red Sea. God is for you.
It’s a crazy incredible thing to be in a place where people slow down and listen, where they hear your whole story and let you paint your full heart in the air.
I was telling one of my fellow hospital chaplains about life lately, about my health problems and secret panics and suddenly about a billion other things, every humiliating and painful and neurotic moment that had been twitching over for the longest time, and I didn’t realize how much I had bottled up in my neatly wrapped fortress. My chaplain friend never judged, only nodded, never flinched, stayed engaged. She then prayed for me, a really beautiful prayer, like cool water for bruised purple hands. And I wept. A lot. Quietly, but inside, loudly. It was a little embarrassing. But something shifted and settled and became still for a moment, like the leaves of a tree coming together after a strong wind, a momentary painting. I left lighter.
Later I visited a patient who had nearly died from a brain bleed, and when I offered prayer, the nurse grabbed me and said, “Me, too.” I took her to the side, and she whispered, “Cancer. I might have breast cancer, and I’m afraid, chaplain. I’m so damn afraid.” She clenched her teeth and tried not to weep, but I put a quick hand on her shoulder and she wept anyway. She talked. I listened. There was nothing for me to say but to be there. And maybe nothing had changed—except we were made light somehow, and together drew something bigger than us. We drew colors into the gray.
There are still places, I believe, even in a busy and unhearing time, where we can draw free. I hope to meet you there, where we are not okay, but less gray than yesterday. I hope to pray for you, that we become bigger.
You can really do the thing. You can really achieve the dream and pursue your goal and find recovery.
But it has to start with one thing. It has to start with letting go of a lot of other things.
Maybe that means your current group of people. Or one person. Or some late night habits. Or the thing you keep throwing money at. Or an ideal version of yourself that’s just impossible.
None of that is easy, I know. I have this habit of starting new stuff and then I quit halfway through. It’s because I look sideways, seeing what everyone else is doing. It’s discouraging. “I could never be that good,” the little voice says. Everyone else seems better. More witty or charming or articulate. I’m missing “it,” you know, the elusive charm they were born with. So I stop doing all the things. “They’re already giving the world what I can barely do myself,” is the voice that keeps me down.
I have to let go of comparison.
I have to let go of some romanticized self.
I have to let go of the fear that I won’t be well received, the fear of silent response, the fear of crickets and tumbleweed.
You can do the thing. It starts with letting go of fears, habits, harmful people, bad advice, even beliefs we once held dear.
You can really, really do the thing. The stuff that hinders can be shed.
Are you there, too? Is there anything you need to let go of? Anything you did let go of which changed it all for you?
A little typewriter therapy:
I’ve heard this too many times.
“You will never be enough. You will never be okay. You will never be successful. You will never be happy. You will never be picked. You will never be loved. You will never be forgiven. You will never be trusted. You will never be friends again. You will never be at peace again. You will never be at home again. You will never be better.”
I know it’s a lie most of the time. But in the moment, in the worst of every downward spiral, there comes the voice that says “never.” It’s an irretrievable vacuum, like the lights are shutting off behind me and I’m getting chased by darkness. Getting nevered is to be exiled.
I had a math tutor in fourth grade who used to shout at me. “You will never be smart enough for this.” He made me write the Pythagorean theorem hundreds of times, until my hand was swollen, though I wasn’t sure how it was helping. For months, this tutor kept yelling how stupid I was. My parents never found out. I still think about this all the time.
I have had to grieve when “never” became true. Sometimes “never” does happen. Loss happens. All change involves loss. All loss is change. I have had to welcome “never” with a bitter embrace. I don’t like it. I still don’t.
I think there are times I must refuse to believe “never.” I have to know when to pick those battles. I have to fight that voice.
Are you dealing with this, too? What does it look like? Sound like? How do you get free? How do you fight this voice?
If you’re breathing, you matter, because you matter to the One who gave you breath.
Art by worshipgifs