Gratitude and the Cursed Gift of Empathy

If you’ve talked to me for more than ten minutes, you will know Will and I have a deep (I mean deeep) love for Friday Night Lights. Sit with Will and me during an episode, and you’ll get a whole other experience-all in a moment, we look over at each other, bodies still, necks tilted, tears gushing, escaping from the ducts to the cheeks. I mean, there have been times, where I admit, messy cry has occurred. From this show. And from movies. And sometimes, even from a story of someone in our church community that is hurting, lost someone dear, experiencing some kid of ache that puts in me a fierce feeling of need to hug and hold and comfort. I am, what some may call, a feeler. 

Now, this is a newer thing for me-this feeler thing. I’ve kept my tears pretty locked up (note: not my emotions, just my tears. Another story for another day). But something about becoming an overnight mommy, to losing the boys, to the fighting for them daily, to the exhausted, wounded, soldier I’ve become–these travels have taught me to sometimes, most times, let go of the control and let the tears flow. Let the ugly fall. Let the sadness sink in, and feel. Feel what can’t always be expressed with words. Feel what deserves to be heard–because, sometimes, our strongest feelings could be God’s very heart in us, exploding for justice, peace, love, longing for heaven on earth, mourning the truth that heaven will never touch earth until Christ’s return. 

And I am glad for the feelings. I am dedicated to learning to grieve, learning to endure the steps of full feeling, because I want to be a whole person, who can sit and cry with you, and who can attempt to understand what you are feeling, or (sometimes better yet) sit with you and admit my lack of knowing, so I just be with you…

But there is a danger to this cursed gift of empathy. Because, there are times where I let myself feel the full range of emotions I’m truly feeling, and I forget to say what needs to be said (what, as Ann Voskamp teaches, precedes the miracle): Thanks. Sometimes, I am so focused on breaking the bread, pressing my thumbs in, preparing for the tearing of the body, so fixated on the ripping and the crumbs falling, that I fail to lift my head and breathe thanks. I am drowned with devastation and wounded-ness, and I am told this is good to let myself feel these things. And friends, I tell you-it’s good to feel these things. 

But our hearts, and minds, are tricky, deceived, tired creatures, that, much like toddlers (or teens), need daily reminders to train them up in the ways of faith and gratitude. Just like I have told Rex every day for the last two years (that’s over 700 times, friends) to rinse his plate before putting it in the dishwasher, I must let the word of God remind me each day to say and experience thanks. Beyond my feelings. Training my heart to bear grateful fruit is necessary in my state of despair-because maybe, the miracle isn’t getting what we so desperately want and pray for, but the miracle is just this: that I can rise in the morning and sing, with brokenness in my melody. The brokenness doesn’t disappear, and the situation is still full of despair, but when I pause, and raise my head to say thanks, I can stare at the breaking bread as it passes, in full reflection of it’s reality in contrast to what is my reality-what is God’s reality. 

And as I lift up my head, and open my hands with thanks, I let the tears stream, because I remember that I was not made for here, and we were not made for here, and the longings are good, and the pain is real, and now, as I train my mind and heart and mouth, I can remember the sweetness that resides with the bitter of the portion I’ve been given.