The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Yesterday, I received another rejection email from a potential employer. Nearly four months have passed since I left my last job, and if my recollection is correction, this is the longest I've gone in my adult life without some kind of employment. Currently, the US unemployment rate is 4.5%. That sums up to over 7.2 million people in the same boat as me. We each have a story, and clearly, we aren't alone. But as I've shared with my closest friends, unemployment as a state of being feels like a very lonely existence, full of doubts, fears, second-guessing, and frequent moments of isolation.
After sharing the news of not getting the job yesterday, I received a lot of love and positive responses from friends. The most frequent response was "There's something better out there for you." I don't disbelieve that. Yet hearing it doesn't change what I'm currently feeling: defeated and deflated. Thanks to a great mentor who knows the Enneagram inside and out, I've had it drilled into me that, while I am unique in some respects, I am not unique in many others. Feelings like despair, fear, hopelessness, frustration, doubt, and so many others are universal human experiences. And so, though my heart feels alone, at least my head knows otherwise.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares ― Henri J.M. Nouwen
Waking up this morning, I felt broken, sad, and incredibly discouraged. Again, very common human emotions, ones that so many of us share. Thinking back to Sunday, to Easter, and to conversations I've had with my closest clergy friend, Paige, I couldn't help but remember how many conversations we've had about the Incarnation, about the reality of Jesus joining us in our fleshly experience. The act of God putting skin on is one of joining, of empathy in its truest form.
As I reflect on my friends' responses to my unemployment and mental health struggles, I'm hit with a deep sense of gratitude and thankfulness. Knowing I have people who deem me worthy of being loved, supported, and believed in is a powerful experience. I don't often know how to respond, partly because the truth is I don't always believe I really deserve it. I know plenty of others who share this struggle, and getting past the hurdle of believing ourselves to be unworthy of love, affection, , support, and so many other experiences is a grueling task. Yet as a chaplain, I've seen firsthand what effect reminding someone else of their Belovedness can have.
Empathy isn't just something that happens to us - a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain - it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones ― Leslie Jamison
In my own theology, Jesus was not forced to join us in the flesh. He chose to. He made a conscious, deliberate decision to come down and become one of us. He knew it would be a painful, gut-wrenching experience, and he made a choice: it's worth it. Joining humankind in its pain and sorrow, in its joy and hope, was something he deemed to be a worthwhile endeavor. Anytime we choose to join another in their experience of heartache, grief, disappointment, or one of so many difficult emotions, we make the same choice: it's worth it. In doing so, we become yet another Incarnation of the Son of Man. We embody the Truth of the Gospel: in the eyes, mind, and heart of the Divine, we are worth joining.
So as I go through the rest of today, between yoga, getting used to my new vaporize (as a means of quitting cigarette smoking), watching some TV, listening to music, and whatever else I end up doing to occupy my time. I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for being there for me and with me. Even more importantly, thank you for reminding me that Jesus, my Jesus, is there as well, not only in Spirit, but in each and every act of kindness you offer me.
photo credit: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes (via Flickr)