Tuesday, February 23, 2016

“There is a lot of pain in the world”

I don’t remember when I first said this, but it occurred sometime in the miserable and long winter of 2013-14. I was working through my own stuff and a few relational missteps over the past few years. Through the daily examen and work with an exceptional spiritual director, I was asking myself daily, “where is your tenderness?” as an intentional habit to transcend my enneagram 8 sin tendencies. In the midst of this, my eyes are being transformed to no longer see others as incompetent or absent but acting for survival amidst the depth of their own pain.

In other words, my own broken eyes need conversion. My own survival practices recognize people’s inability to be present to themselves and others as incompetence; I do this for reasons I am yet to fully understand (it’s my personal culture, to borrow from Edgar Schein). My Jesus question, “where is my tenderness” is an act to be transformed form the inside out. The question teaches me to see and hear differently – with converted ears and eyes.

Once I began to see with eyes of tenderness, I recognized that I was starting to wake up. I realized that I had been asleep to myself and the world for too long. The journey of waking up is a journey of discovering with curiosity and wonder. I started to notice my own body, organs, and even emotions. This self-discovery was also a pathway to more fully understand the world and God. The waking up leads me into the world with God’s grace and compassion. This move to tenderness turns me away from being angry and disappointed with people. The compassion gently forces me into conversion. I suspend judgment as I recognize that people remain asleep because of the pain they have experienced over years and years of trying to survive. This is intentional work, and it is a labor, yet the labor leads to freedom, rest, and shalom.

Friends, the world is largely asleep, for there is a lot of pain in the world. We all walk the earth inattentive to ourselves and to others; we remain asleep. Being asleep results in blaming others, scapegoating, apathy, distraction, and multiple other attitudes and behaviors that are actually approved status quo behaviors. When we begin waking up, we will see others who are asleep and may find ourselves initially irritated with how absent the world is from itself. Yet being present [attentive] to the path that began to wake us up, we begin to recognize that the world is sleeping because of the pain so many of us feel but are trying to avoid and ignore.

When I began waking up (and I am always fighting to stay awake to myself and others), I recognized that people need tenderness and compassion. I realized that people are in pain and in need of grace, for which God has befitted God’s people to be agents of grace (ambassadors of reconciliation). When I say, “there is a lot of pain in the world” it reminds me to engage FIRST with compassion and empathy before judgment and suspicion. This is a rather difficult task for me on some days. Additionally, it is teaching me to be compassionate and empathetic to myself (which is even more difficult for me on most days). And by the way, engaging with compassion and tenderness is more often an act of silence than otherwise.

** I am teaching the annual Leading Christian Communities course at Western Theological Seminary. I ask them to read a chapter of Ruth Haley Barton's book, Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership, each week and respond to a prompt that integrates the book with their own lives in leading. This is the seventh time that I have taught this course with this book and now feel that I need to re-enter the content. I will be responding to my own prompts each week and posting them online, as I ask them to do. This is a response to Chapter 4.