There are a lot of things we universally share as human beings, and sometimes I think we forget that. We get so bogged down and ignorant to each other because of all the— (this’ll ruffle some feathers) —dumb little stuff… we lose sight of how much we have in common. Littles remind me of that. And one of those universal things that all humanity groans and aches over is the need to feel heard. My nephew Max will sometimes repeat something he’s said until he feels he’s been heard, someone’s listening. That got me thinking… how often do I feel internal turmoil and pain because I don’t feel heard? Sometimes that feels like the root of a whole myriad of struggles in my life. And the beautiful thing is, no matter who’s listening or not, there is one who will always hear us. Hearing doesn’t necessarily mean instant action on his part though… or total overnight overhaul of our circumstances. But I don’t always want my situation fixed, most of the time I just want the comfort of knowing I’m heard. And that’s enough.
We speak so often about what we want, and how we want the people around us to be toward us. It’s all too easy for me to sit here and say, “man… I just want [insert person here] to actually listen to me,” and yet it’s just as easy and likely that there’s someone across town thinking the same thing about me. And is it right for us to go from that thought to “I’m going to be for others what I wish they’d be for me.” Isn’t that just the same selfishness under a different format? Pursuing a form of character in the hopes of expectation that it will be noticed and reciprocated? What a sad and dark path that leads down.
How about, instead, we say we’re going to be the listener for others simply because this life is hard and it beats us up and stomps us into the pavement every single day. How about we choose that, just to add a little light around us. Not for our own gain. Not to get others to do the same for us, or to make ourselves appear to be these “Mother Teresa” kinds of people. But just because it’s needed and the right thing to do.
What a difference it makes in this life when someone is willing to sit and listen. Again, we can’t heal each other. Brokenness trying to heal more brokenness is just a breeding ground for more pain, fractured living, and collateral damage. But brokenness can pull up a chair, pour a cup of coffee, tune in and listen. Brokenness can nod, affirm that it sucks, furrow its brows at the appropriate time, validate the feelings associated, and cry with.
I think at the core of our struggles, each of us just wants to feel heard. We don’t necessarily want someone to step in and fix our circumstances as much as we want someone to just say “Hey, I’m sorry… that really sucks. But you’re going to be okay.”
Because when we really look at life, can any of us actually change each other’s circumstances? Even the ones we’re most closely associated with. Even those things we’re actually involved in. The closest we can get to having an effect on each other’s storms is preventative at best. But even when we’re being as proactive about the storm shelters we build to protect each other from ourselves, we will still out of our own depth of imperfection bring trial and pain to the lives we dabble in. The best intentions still have the ability to cause harm. And I think each of us knows this deep down, and with that knowledge in mind just wants someone to listen. I think we secretly known the mayhem we can bring to each other if we cross from helpful listener to messiah complex helper.
Finding clarity in this concept last week was incredibly painful and breathlessly beautiful. Every relationship I’ve ever driven into the ground had a messiah complex attached to it in some varying degree, turned expectation of reciprocation, turned total collateral damage to everything around me. I had to come to accept that the pain I’m feeling right now, while it’s valid and hurts like hell, was largely caused by my own brokenness. I hurt. Yes. And I hurt because of the actions of others, the broken promises, the expectations set not by me but by them, the affirmations up until the end, the things said to calm my fear of abandonment… all have since felt revoked. And that hurts. It burns so deeply sometimes I feel like I won’t make it through the day. But their actions were a response to my actions, and those out of my own fears and insecurities. Actions and behaviors that are not me, things contrary to my character.
Admitting that, owning that, was like dissolving into water. It’s one thing to take responsibility for the things you’ve done that have harmed others. It’s a totally different thing to accept that the hurt you’re feeling because of someone else is there because you forced their hand… you hurt yourself. That takes a whole different grade of humility… one that’s bitter at first.
The slippery slope comes when we come to that acceptance and decide that we’re supposed to be condemned because of it. That turns into a whole different mess all together. Somehow we have to accept it and release it simultaneously.
So we own it, we accept that we harmed ourselves, but we also recognize that this doesn’t excuse the actions of people who you feel hurt by. And it doesn’t invalidate the hurt that you’re feeling. It’s a very strange dichotomy that we navigate in this subject, between accepting that we forced their hand to act a certain way in response to our harm, and yet not excusing or justifying their actions that followed.
The clarity gifted to me on that subject is that at the end of the day we are responsible for ourselves. For our own processing, our own healing, our own walk. It isn’t for me to take the mirror and aim it at anyone else, no matter how broken and hurt I’m feeling. But it is for me to sit in front of that mirror and say “okay, these are things that I’m struggling with, things that have hurt others and have hurt me, and I want to change them.” And the rest is out of my control. There is literally nothing I can do to fix or solve the situation… there’s no apology or amount of “I’m so sorry” that would heal or change the circumstances. I am entirely powerless over that. I find freedom in being able to shrug my shoulders with that knowledge. I have done, and am doing, what I can. And that is all I can do.
To hope or expect someone else to step into this mess of me and fix everything would be perpetuating this cycle. But I can hope that someone will listen, will nod, furrow their brow, cry, sip their coffee, and validate that my feelings are human and that I’ll be okay. This mess, all of this hideous beauty, is for me and God to sort through. And in the midst of it I find great peace and comfort in being able to sit and listen to others as they need… not for my own gain, but simply because it’s needed.