This past week I spent several days attending a focused retreat called “Boundless Compassion.” It was facilitated by a wonderful woman named Joyce Rupp, a member of the Order of the Servants of Mary. Joyce has years and years of experience in the realm of compassion. She is a sought-after teacher and leader in this arena because she lives compassion so openly and readily.
It was a joy to sit with Joyce and the other participants as she encouraged our hearts and helped us to respond to the invitation of Jesus to reach out to those who are suffering, all the while remaining aware of our own brokenness, vulnerability, and need to receive compassion.
Here is a prayer written by Joyce:
We turn to you, Compassionate One, trusting that you will restore our loving kindness when it is depleted. Guide us in knowing what is required and needs to be surrendered. Place within us a strong hope that you are there with us whenever we choose to be with those who are suffering. You are our strength and companion of love. Thank you for moving our spirits toward ever deeper, fuller and more enduring kindheartedness. Amen.
At one point in the retreat Joyce showed us a video with an excerpt from Sue Monk Kidd’s book, “When the Heart Waits.” In this particular part of her book, Sue tells a story of a time when she was at home busying herself with many things to do. Her kids were also busy…watching a cartoon on TV. Suddenly they heard a thump on the glass window. A bird had flown directly into the glass and hit the ground.
Sue and her kids rushed to the bird and surmised, at first, that the bird was dead. But the bird was only stunned. Sue knelt down and held the shocked and wounded bird in her hands. She stayed there for a fairly long time – still, quiet, simply holding the bird. That time of stillness taught Sue a profound lesson about the way we sit in stillness with others. It’s such a compassionate posture to maintain:
…to sit with one who is suffering
whether it is physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual.
“The bird taught me anew that we’re all in this together, that we need to sit in one another’s stillness and take up corporate postures of prayer. How wonderful it is when we can be honest and free enough to say to one another, ‘I need you to wait with me,’ or ‘Would you like me to wait with you?’” – p. 144
You want me to do what?
After the video was over, Joyce Rupp asked us to spend some time alone. And in our time of stillness, Joyce encouraged us to write a letter to ourselves. Did we see ourselves as the bird that is being held? Did we see ourselves as the one who is holding the wounded bird? Regardless, write a letter to that person.
This was an interesting exercise. Honestly I’ve never done anything like this before.
Write a letter to myself?
All I can tell you is that as soon as I started to write my name, “Dear Adam,” I noticed a stirring in my soul.
I’m not gonna share the whole letter with you, but there are some parts I’d like to offer. Maybe – hopefully – my desire to share will meet your desire to receive.
You have come through so much. You were broken for sure, but what a grace you received when you finally asked for help…
You must’ve noticed the way God was caring for you – through others – because you eventually recognized that within your heart you bore the tenderness of a wounded healer, and now, by God’s grace, you are here…
Please remember, Adam, that your desire to hold others in their suffering must always be paralleled with your own desire and ability to be held, to be cared for, and to simply be still in the presence of the Holy One.
On Asking For Help
Asking for help is seriously one of the hardest things I’ve learned how to do over the years. I hate it. And wouldn’t you know, it’s the thing God keeps inviting me to, over and over.
Asking for help reveals my neediness, my weakness, my frailty, my vulnerability. I actually landed in the hospital a couple months ago because of my lack of ability to get help. I had severe back pain and nothing was taking it away. I didn’t want to go to any number of people who could help me. I kept trying to deal with the pain, or make the pain go away through medicine. But that plan of action only sent me to the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. “Too much Advil,” they said. Yep. That was a very real, very costly result of my unwillingness to seek help.
I fully understand this shadow side of me – the false self that resists being fully known. There is a difference, though, between mental understanding and actual surrendering.
It was the beginning of transformation when I started to place myself squarely in the river of God’s faithfulness and grace, especially in the disappointing reality of my own unfaithfulness. Since those early days of surrender, of learning how to ask for help and actually receive it, I have discovered the joy of partnering with God’s Spirit to move toward people and communities where my authentic self can be invited to the table of intimacy – that place and space where, if something good can happen, it will.
There are times when we really need help, like when I needed help with my back…and another time in my life when I needed ongoing help dealing with depression. Fortunately I was able to receive the help, the medication, and the care I so desperately needed.
Then there are other times when we need to simply “be,” and in our being, our souls are restored.
Where are you on this spectrum of giving and receiving, loving and being loved, holding and being held?
If you need help, please seek it out. There are people who are capable of coming alongside you and providing the compassionate care you so desperately need. There is no shame in saying “I need help” and then following a path toward healing and recovery.
If you sense that right now you just need to be held, then who’s holding you?
Do you allow yourself to be still enough, to be honest enough, to let others come alongside and simply wait with you? No pressure to try to fix you. No pad ‘Christian’ answers to your deeper questions of faith, of suffering, of doubt. Just someone who can hold you in your broken frailty and entrust you to the slow and steady work of God…
someone who is compassionate enough to help you grasp this deeper reality…
It is actually God who’s holding you.