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If you’ve been reading the meme’s that I’ve posted throughout the week, you’ve seen that quite a few of them have to do with patience. When I first saw these Lenten quotes about patience I was a bit . . . what? What does patience have to do with Lent?
The more I think about it, the more that I realize that patience is a huge part of Lent.
Lent is all about awaiting the coming dawn. Waiting, to put it simply, is not my strong suit. I want it now. No really. NOW would be better than later.
But that isn’t always the case. Waiting and patience give us time for preparation. Preparation can make the difference between success and a failure. I know this, but I’m still not very good at waiting.
Lent is also a time of turning into the light. It is a time for us to remove what stands between us and God’s light. It is a time of helping us remove what keeps other people from seeing God’s light in us.
Quite often that requires patience. Patience to take care of what ever it is in us that keeps us from being Christ’s hands on earth. Patience to listen to what the other person has to say, because until we know what is in their hears and their minds, we very often have no clue what they need.
Patience. It is a key part of empathy.
Patience. It is most truly something that I need today.
Looking at some of my old yearbooks, I’m struck by something — the number of times someone has written, “Thank you for listening.” One of my eighth grade friends called me her psychiatrist. Several high school friends note with embarrassment some of the topics they’ve obsessed over, but say they feel better having been heard. I guess that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To be heard? To be thought of as special and worthy and listenable?
Pope Francis, in an interview about The Year of Mercy in the Catholic church, talks about “the apostolate of the ear,” the ministry of listening to others and giving them needed reassurance that they have been heard. This is a ministry that anyone can be a part of; it is not limited to clergy. When we give people space to pour out their feelings — even if we don’t agree with them, even if we think they are wrong — we help them. We might even help others, too, by helping to obviate anger and frustration that might boil over in ways that are destructive to the community.
This practice benefits the listener, too. In opening our ears, we are opening our hearts (even if it’s only a crack), and allowing ourselves to be changed by what we hear. It is the start of compassion, which feeds into the infinitely powerful grace of mercy. Maybe what the world needs now is “love, sweet love,” but what people seem to need most is empathy.
So I’m putting the call out to all of you introverts out there: Join me in the apostolate of the ear. Let’s face it, we don’t much like talking anyway, so why not provide a service that costs us nothing and might save someone’s life? Unheard frustrations, anger and sadness can roil up into a hurricane — they can even lead to war. But once heard, those wounds — like the words that describe them — are exposed to air and can finally heal.
It’s easy to get started. Just open your ears.
As so often happens, something happened later in the week that would bring this conversation to mind.
During a swim meet, I was chatting with one of the other moms. She said something about “just wait ‘til these boys get a taste of the real world.”
I’m not sure how much more reality most teens can take. As I looked down at the deck, I saw the boy whose father was killed 18 months ago in a traffic accident. There were the twins whose mother died of breast cancer and the brothers whose parents are divorcing but can’t afford to live apart so they’ve divided the house.
“High school isn’t easy.” I didn’t want to air other people’s issues but I had to say something.
“Look, they don’t have mortgages or have to work all day,” she said.
“No, but they have shelter in place and school shootings. And bullying and gay bashing. Do you know how many gay teens a year attempt suicide?”
“Anyone who takes that way out is defective.”
Defective. That was the word that pushed me over the edge. I would like to say I took a deep breath and said a little prayer. But I didn’t. In my mother’s words, I got on my high horse.
I will never ever agree with what she said, but I do get the irony. She has no empathy with high schoolers and I have no empathy with her.
And I’ve been beating myself up about it for days. But that’s pretty ironic too.
I made a mistake. I’m kind of defective that way. That’s why I need grace. And those boys need grace. And so do all the moms, dads and coaches. Because we all mess up and, far too often, we completely fail to empathize with each other.
Fortunately, even then we can turn to God. We can pour out our hearts and bemoan our failings. We can rant and rave and fuss. And, in the end, in spite of our defects, His Grace will be there for us all. Thank God.
Many years ago, I worked in an office for a healthcare company. One of the perks of working in an office is that there is usually a break room where you can sit with your colleagues over coffee and just shoot the breeze. It’s a nice break in the day and it can be a palate-cleanser between hectic projects.
So one day, I was working my way from the break room table to head back to my office, and I tried in vain to squeeze past the lady sitting in the chair at the end by the wall. Ever so slightly, I grazed her shoulder as I passed, and she spilled a bit of her coffee onto the table.
“Sorry!” I said. “Let me get a paper towel.”
“It’s okay, I’ve got a napkin. No biggie,” she said, and went back to her morning paper.
A male co-worker, also sitting at the table, said to another person, “But she’s not even…”
He didn’t have to say it, but he was thinking, She’s not even heavy. How did her hips not make it through that aisle and cause a minor spill?
The other person, a middle-aged woman responded, “Well, it’s not about weight, it’s about grace.”
Oddly, I wasn’t offended, even though this woman was, of all things, the communications manager! She should have known better, perhaps, than to say something right in front of me that might hurt my feelings. As a matter of necessity, I’ve developed something of a thick skin through my years here in the garden state, where the passing of the man who played Tony Soprano led to the state flags being lowered to half mast.
I’ve also instituted a personal policy of not being hurt by anything others say, as long as it’s “factually accurate.” This is a phrase we used in corporate communications so often that I truncated it to “faccurate.” We could fend off a lawsuit if the claims were not faccurate. We could put out a press release with documentation of what was faccurate (according to us).
She was right. I wasn’t a ballerina. There’s not a bit of gracefulness in my gait – even more so now that I’m on the mend from an MS exacerbation.
The thing is, we all knew the communications manager was one of those people, as we say in Jersey. Not a bad sort at all, but (as we also say in Jersey) if it’s on her mind, it’s out of her mouth. You get used to people who function this way and work around them, the way you give more latitude with the language to people from other countries. Like Simon Cowell, they seem unfettered by things such as tact or sensitivity, but most of the time, they’re speaking the truth.
I realized that tact just wasn’t her department. It wasn’t her grace.
Everyone has a gift of connection that bonds them to others, and for some, it is empathy. For others, like this woman, it’s effective project management. She could take an enormous project and break it into manageable bites. This makes everyone’s job easier; we all know what we need to do and when it needs to get done.
What’s your grace? For me, it seems to be listening to stories. I know this happens to Lori and SueBE too, and it may be because our friends know that we’re writers, but it happens randomly with strangers too. Offering support and encouragement doesn’t seem much of a ministry, as compared to going overseas on a mission, as one of my favorite bloggers, Ang of Faith Sweat & Tears is doing currently. But it is a grace note on a chaotic day. Another favorite blogger, Debbie, speaks of grace finding us where we are, and just as we are.
I think I’m being faccurate when I say that grace is what is holding the world together. We rely so much on God’s grace that we may forget it’s a gift that never leaves us, even when we give it away. Grace shows up everywhere when you start to look for it. Look around today. Where do you find grace?
There have been things in the news lately that make me question my theory that everyone deserves a second chance. I don’t want to put in links to the news stories that I’m referring to because I prefer not to focus on the madness.
It’s not good vs. evil. It’s not us vs. them. It’s hope vs. pain.
During my recent hospital stay, I realized that when you’re in pain, nothing matters but relief.
We may focus so much on the pain that we forget hope even exists.
I think that pain may be preparation for purpose. It may be that what you learn while wounded in the trench is an education in empathy. A crash course in compassion. When the pain is finally lifted, you’re able to share your experience to help someone else on the same path.
This morning, I focused on the pile of bills and the persistent pain in my life, and prayed, quite melodramatically:
Why is this happening, Lord? I cried. Where are You?
Later in the day, I had an appointment with an agency that provides resources for low-vision patients. Two very pleasant ladies showed up at my door; one of them was blind herself, and she tapped the step in front of her with her cane. At first, as with anyone I don’t know, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to open up to them.
Before I knew it, we were chatting like old friends. As it turns out, they were people of faith too. They shared some of their own struggles and I realized that this was the answer to my morning prayer.
Where are You?
Right here, child.
Wherever two or more are gathered in My Name – even if they’re not talking about religion – I am there in the midst of them. They didn’t have to quote scripture or baptize me with holy water. They encouraged me. They offered me the sacrament of their own experience. They listened.
Then my physical therapist came for our weekly appointment. She’s pure positive energy with a knack for healing. No matter where the pain is, she zeroes in on it like a laser beam. I want to say that she massages my foot and leg – that is, if “massage” is French for painful kneading of muscles that results in my muttering expletives at her in French! – but she’s the reason I can walk at all.
So this crew of caring showed up and, even though they aren’t missionaries or pastors, they ministered to me. Even in the face of pain, hope seemed reasonable again.
Angels appear in many forms, and sometimes, they come right to your front door. And they may even bring answers to prayers and unexpected blessings.
Last week, Pastor Carol quoted the Reverend Christopher Keating in her sermon. “Entitlement keeps us from living as thankful people.”
When she said this, a murmur rippled across the congregation. Later that day several people posted about it on Facebook.
That comment has echoed through my soul all week long.
When we believe that we deserve something, we cannot be truly grateful. After all, why should we feel grateful. Its ours. We earned it. Having it is our right.
How then do we justify that we have so much when others have so very little? Honey, we don’t have to justify it. Haven’t you been listening? We DESERVE it. What’s to justify?
I’ll tell you what we have to justify. Our attitude.
It’s bad enough that we feel entitled for having so much, but we tend to extend this attitude to the less fortunate. We have what we deserve, and so do they. If they would only apply themselves, get off the dole and work, they could turn their lives around. We deserve what we have and they have what they deserve.
Not only does an attitude of entitlement block gratitude, it also blocks compassion. With so little compassion, how can we love each other as He told us to do? Isn’t that something that they are entitled to? It is, after all, in the Bible.