…and the fight to remain tender hearted.
Yea…again with the strange titles…I just have to keep going with it at this stage. So my little input about meat, first of all. I do enjoy meat occassionally although I LOVE vegetables (I sometimes feel like people make it into a competition between the two). So my daily diet doesn’t consist of meat but it is a weekly treat. And how do I like my steak, you may be wondering…. pink and a little bit of blood wouldn’t phase me either. Some tender piece of meat that doesn’t have the texture of rubber or make your jaw hurt from all the chewing. It may still moo and I’m ok with my food talking to me. HOWEVER, what I think more importantly about is the condition of my heart and here is some background into that, as well as how I still experience the tension between being tender hearted and not becoming hardened by circumstances, people or even myself.
I guess my family would have always called me ‘sensitive’ as a hormonal teenager and I don’t think it was ever meant as a compliment. At least, I never took it that way, maybe I was too sensitive over being called sensitive or something like that… In fact, I equally used it as an insult to my brothers when arguments became heated. As I write this down, it dawns on me that I don’t think that that was a good use of the word ‘sensitive’. Why have we been using it as a negative comment? Yes, being sensitive can cause you not to view situations as they truly are or quickly take people up in the wrong way. However, with all good qualities comes struggles with that. If you think about it though, being sensitive to your environment and others can be a huge benefit. It can help you recognise needs when words haven’t even been spoken. It can catch you mid sentence before you say something that will tear someone down. It can give understanding to why so and so reacted in that way and it can give you compassion towards others. A few months ago, I was heartbroken over how I was treated by someone and one advice that really stuck out to me was from the lovely Cheryl. She told me that it was ok to feel angry or hurt, it was ok to have feelings about it, but not to lose the tenderness and become hardened and bitter by it. And that can be a reoccuring struggle as we experience various hurts and disappointments throughout our lives. How do we keep soft when what we really want to do is build a stone wall for defense and fire rockets at any thing that could potentially hurt us? How do we have compassion when we have given people a chance and the results aren’t so lovely? How do we keep tenderhearted when relationships have been breached? How do we keep from bitterness when we see others seeming to thrive as we experience those hurts and disappointments?
When I was in college, I think I had a little bit of an identity crisis. Who was I? What did I want from my life? I always saw myself as ‘this’ but now it’s not quite looking like ‘that’? What is going on and how come it is not unfolding how I thought it would? I faced disappointments and hurts that came from my actions and from the actions of others. I experienced unforgiving peers and couldn’t forgive myself most of all. I started to build walls and I closed myself in them. I genuinely thought I didn’t deserve to ever have a friend again (until some time later I came in contact with Aoife but that is another blog post…). Within these walls, I recalled back to the days of being called ‘sensitive’ and after spending so much of this time crying, I decided tht that wasn’t me any longer. I was hardened and had become tougher after this. I was also miserable and a lonely mess. I had been known as someone who wore their heart on their sleeve but now not one single person knew what I really felt inside because I wasn’t going to tell anyone. There were still loving family and friends surrounding me but I chose to close myself off and I take responsibility for that. I genuinely thought that no one understood what I was going through or that they would be disappointed in me if I expressed what I was really thinking.
I still feel some of this at times but my actions are different and I do open up to others. Life isnt exactly what I thought it would be.(Please read When We Limit Imagination, if you get the time) In so many ways, it’s absolutely better especially when I realize that I get to live in such a beautiful country and have breathtaking views shared with others every day. In other ways, I would have loved if certain things didn’t happen or I could have avoided certain friendships or people, but with all of that, the only thing I can control is how I react to these situations and that is the most crucial as it determines whether my heart will be tender or tough.(read When The Heart Is Healing for more on this)
So amoungst my little idenity crises, there was another element that put me under the heat. My brother Josh and I are pretty close in age with him being two years younger than I. We are also good friends and hung out even when we were in college, so much so that people thought we were dating…which is probably not something I should really be sharing with the world. ANYWAYS, when I was going through this time in college, our friendship broke down too. Josh wasn’t so sensitive to me (and his wife now teases him about his lack of..) and I was becoming more of an ice queen ( I want to use another word, and I’m sure you can guess what that is. It rhythms with itch). I was in such a mess and he seemed to be thriving. Off to America he went to Bible school and within a month or two, he was engaged. I was happy for him and so delighted that I was the first in our family that he shared it with but my heart was breaking. I guess I simply felt the stark contrast of what a mess I was and how he seemed to have everything together.
This is the comparison game of which I’m currently reading a book about, and I’m sure another post will follow on this subject. When I was at the Acheson household the other week, I was reminded of how siblings want to make sure everything is equal. The cookies we baked had to be counted and equally distributed. Even though, I’m the grown up and think that I get to eat however many I want! Perhaps we grow up thinking that life will be like that but come to find out pretty quickly that it doesn’t quite work out like that. The cookies life gives us are not distributed equally or not at the same time. But that’s alright because although my cookie may be chocolate and yours peanut butter, doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Why am I always relating everything to food.. . back to steak…
This was all the family’s topic of discussion for majority of the time. I felt like everything that had to do with me was a disappointment to my parents and everything to do with Josh was to be recognised with happy celebrations.( which it should have been recognised. These steps are awesome!) It’s kinda crazy how this was implied in recent times; when my brother in-the-moment spoke of a particular topic of conversation that involved me that carried a disappointment for my family while his subject or news brought …again celebrations. I mention this not as a martyr complex or to paint my brother in a bad light (because he is of no fault) but to explain the differences of then and now. To take responsibility for my actions, to show others how dangerous my reaction was to myself and my relationships and also to recognise that I’m learning from this with a different response than before.
So back to a few years ago. I decided that I wasn’t going to cry over this because that would mean I was being sensitive and crying doesn’t change anything. So all I can do, is get through the hype of the wedding and get on with my own life. Talk about mixed emotions, I wanted to smile while joining in on the wedding festivities and seeing my brother become a husband but overwhelmed with a deep sadness and sense of loss. I was the opposite of tender hearted, I was becoming calloused and filled with a great anger ( I guess at myself and life). I felt like I couldn’t explain what I was going through because people would be horrified by my thoughts. I mean I shouldn’t have been too concerned about what I looked like because I was doing a fine job of showing a very miserable and bitter person to whoever came across my paths. I know I hurt people in the process and I was a very hurt individual too. I could go into more detail of ways in which I allowed my heart to become colder but will stop for now. You get the picture.
It’s hard for me to write this as I still am afraid that people will think that I’m a heartless monster. My pride wants people to think I’ve got it all together but I suppose no one really does, so who are we fooling? Maybe, someone out there reads this and gets it. If it simply helps us to understand one another and how to live with thankfulness and not bitterness, well, I’m alright with that too. I still struggle with not becoming calloused. Over the past year and a half, I know that God has taken a ‘heart of stone and made it flesh’ (Ezekiel 36.26) and I pray that He continues to as life brings both pleasant times and times of disappointment. Before, I bottled everything up, I didn’t even feel like I could express my thoughts to God, even though I knew that He knew what was already there. He knows my standing and my sitting , as it says in Psalm 139. Instead now, I try to run to Him with my thoughts and allow Him to comfort and heal, as opposed to trying to cover up open wounds with useless band aids. I was trying to be tough in an unhealthy way and like a tough piece of meat all I got was a lot of chewing, no nourishment and a sore jaw. God says he makes His people strong and He gives them peace in Psalm 29.11. Real strength and real peace. Being strong doesn’t mean that you can’t cry or express your feelings. It means that you can and as you release them over to the Lord, He in return gives you peace. You become more like Christ, you are softened to love others and put their needs before your own. He gives you His perspective on situations even if your sensitive feelings scream something else, like ‘it’s not fair!”. I write this to encourage others not to allow hurts or disappointments to harden your tender heart. Here are some ways in which I would suggest how to do so. It keeps me on track as well, because sometimes the temptation to hold on creeps up .
1. Run to God. Pour out your heart, with every emotion and thought. He already knows and He will be your solace, strength and wisdom through it.
2. Be open and honest with yourself and with others about how you struggle. Let’s llead a generation that is passionate about being real!
3. Use your sensitivity to think about others, and try to imagine walking in their shoes to better understand them before you brush them off.
4. Don’t fall into the trap of comparison when it seems as if others are thriving while you are hurting.
5. Don’t let bitterness creep into your conversations of which can be so easy to do! Don’t entertain it as a guest at your table or in the quiet of your thoughts.
6. Don’t lose your tenderness so that others can experience Christ’s love for us, despite living in a world hostile towards him.
I feel like I should also add here. That I do shed a tear…quite often. If it’s not for myself, it’s when someone is sharing their struggles. I would usually roll my eyes at my mother or Ally for being very much a tear shedder. But I know I can learn from them too. I’m so thankful for my brother and sister in law, they are my dearest and closest friends. I’m also glad that Josh has a sensitive wife. It makes me want to point the finger, laughing and say ‘See, the joke is on you for calling me sensitive all those years, cause now you have one around you for the rest of your life..’ Obviously, I would say this without any bitterness.I also feel like I should mention that my parents aren’t horrible people either, in case it came across that way. This was how I felt at the time and that’s why it is important to tell others how you feel so they have the chance to provide insight and clarity.