How do you tell them you’re tired? That your smiles aren’t as real as they use to be? That, most days, you have to make yourself show up.
This isn’t suppose to happen. Not to us, not to people who are the ones who hug you when you’ve come back after your last relapse. Not to people who are grace-givers and hope-peddlers.
This isn’t suppose to happen.
But it does. It has and I don’t know what to do with my tired heart and pretend smile.
In the early days I held a little distance between us, between me and the residents of our facility, aka: addicts. I watched and listened and let God soften my heart. I walked carefully into this new ministry, this foreign world on home soil.
I walked through the first few years a bit dazed by it all and unsure of where to make my place. Some of the men called me mom, adding to my unsettled feelings. I wasn’t out to be their mom, but I smiled politely because I was learning.
Time passed and I let the tears fall when one didn’t return home because now I was happy to be called ‘mom’. I wanted to make this place a home where they can know love and grace and mercy and that love and mercy don’t exclude rules for communal living.
God was using this community of residents and staff to show me the real ‘amazing grace’. This was compassion and mercy and love and they will steal your heart and leave you empty and tired with no more tears to cry for the next one.
We pull away, we take vacation, we have creative endeavors, we do all of the things that should keep us healthy and our souls fit for caring one more day. But now, my tears are from feeling numb to it all.
Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labeled: Compassion Fatigue
Where is the renewal of my soul?
One of the perks about our ministry is the competent counselors on staff. What could be better than a licensed mental health counselor, just down the hall from my office? I told her I’d lost it. I’d lost the passion and energy and that I had to make myself show up.
She looks me in the eye, listening to my words as well as my heart. Her voice softens and she asks me, again, ‘What about you? You’re a nurturer but are you taking care of you? What are you doing that’s for you?’ You know I am, Marian. You know I’m taking a photography class and that I write. You know I do those things for me.
She pressed on, ‘ But who are your friends? Your girlfriends? The ones you do things with, not your husband, your friends?
Ah, yes. The ones who live in other states. Those friends? The story gets complicated and our talk grows quiet as she knows I’ll walk out her door and nothing will change.
We are wired to tend to the needs of others while ignoring the weakening pulse in our heart. The bible is full of verses about putting others first and serving the least and how the last will be first in the Kingdom. These verses of works walk hand in hand with the faith on which they are built. One without the other is dead so we carry on until we slowly die on the inside.
There is that one verse. The one I like reading in the Message, the one that makes me think of music and the ocean and the graceful rhythms of both.
It’s as if Eugene Peterson was reading my mind when he wrote this paraphrase:
“Are you tired? Worn out ? Burned out on religion?”
Well, yes… yes, I am.
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Sometimes keeping company with Jesus looks like a phone call with a friend, a heart to heart with my sister or laughing at an 8-year old’s jokes. These are life breaths to suck in deeply, slowly, and hold, ……..then the release, exhaling slower still . The renewal comes in the release. Always in the release.