Tag Archives: compassion

99. Sensitive (Empathy, Lent 40)

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It was a very long time before I discovered there was a kind of person called an empath, who took on board other people’s emotions, often bodily. It was also a very long time before I found the term HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). Both these terms have helped me to have a deeper understanding and compassion on the way that I am. Before this validation, I always felt I was odd, stupid, too sensitive and emotional, ridiculous even. But now I know that there are lots of others like me who are attuned to feelings and emotional atmosphere, to the crack of heartbreak in the air, to the words not spoken, to the fear in a look or an almost unseen tremble, who cry easily and painfully for their own wounds and those of others. HSP validation has helped me with who I am in Christ. And this gift (for such it is) has helped me to be a better writer and artist, a better poet, and I hope, a better lover of God. For empathy, love and understanding are linked to creativity and imagination.

Easter Saturday is a good day to indulge those gifts and those tears, and imagine myself sitting in the garden outside Jesus’ tomb, or with the women who loved him, or with the men who had been scattered, each one confused and grieving. The knowledge they will have tomorrow is ours but not yet theirs, and sometimes empathy asks us to sit in the garden with those who do not yet know what we do, and feel their pain.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017, photo from Pixabay

N.B.  I’ll be having a day of rest for Easter Sunday. On Monday we’ll be looking back at what we’ve learnt about empathy over the Lenten period, and then we’ll be going back to contemplative photography to go with learning about different ways of seeing.  Happy Easter!

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96. Passive Aggressive (Empathy, Lent 37)

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I remember a counsellor during my divorce mentioning almost casually that I was passive aggressive. I was stunned and really hurt. This is one trait that people seem to really loathe in others, was I really doing that? Well, maybe. But looking at this with self-compassion I can see that for me (and maybe for many people) when it did occur, it was a self-defence mechanism. I couldn’t come out and say what I actually wanted to, for fear of confrontation or of being emotionally or physically hurt. So the comeback came indirectly. And then this becomes a habit, especially when we are living with fear, that is hard to break.

I have worked really hard with God over many years to try to be far more honest with those around me about my hurts and grievances. It has been very tough for me, as I was trampled emotionally for many years. I didn’t even realise that my pain was seeping out of the cracks in this way. So now when I twig that other people are doing this, my first instinct is to have compassion, and try to help them say what they really want to about what they really want to, when they do, rather than feeling they need to go all around the houses and back again. Because another thing that self-compassion has taught me on this one, is that it is an exhausting way to go about things!

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 photo from Pixabay

95. Analytical (Empathy, Lent 36)

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I am terribly logical and analytical. One of my best subjects at uni was key criticism. I can pick a hole in an argument from a hundred yards away. I played Mr Spock in our sixth form review. But I know that it can seem annoyingly pedantic to others. I sometimes catch myself correcting people (this often annoys me more than it annoys them – I cringe). Or I explain why what they are saying is based on a false premise, and get that look, or that Facebook response. You know. I can be the class boffin. And yes, this is related to the intelligence I bared my soul to you about yesterday. But maybe my self-compassion here is warranted too, because there is a lot of ragged, lazy thinking out there, and so I hope these skills are useful, especially in Christian circles, where proof-texting and shoddy logic is rife. Fortunately, my logic is not cold, and sits very happily with my figurative, story-telling side. I love using both in my reading of Scripture. Realising how well those two parts of myself team up, I’m really pleased I decided to have empathy with myself on this character trait now. I had started to wonder, in this opinion-driven age, if it were an anachronism. I feel better now. Thanks.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

94. Intelligence (Empathy, Lent 35)

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I’ve always been very bright. It has, at times, been a quality that has made me feel very visible, or even odd, and certainly frustrated. I struggled to understand why other people couldn’t grasp what I was saying, was horribly bored at school, and found myself trying to think of shorter words for things (especially with boyfriends, who did not seem to like my brains very much).

Although it is a wonderful thing to have, it also made me seem older than I was and people would assume I was emotionally mature as well as intellectually clever, when actually this was not the case. And just because I was clever didn’t mean I was practical. I could write a great essay on physics, but fail to get the back off a plug.* Perhaps the worst thing of all was that cleverness became the one thing I could rely on, my one gift, the source of any and all pride. So when after university I got terribly ill and succumbed to brain fog, barely able to put two words together, unable to read or decipher signs, I struggled with my identity. Who was this daft, slow, mixed up aphasic? Well, she was me too.

And when I began to recover my clarity for short periods, and then God presented me with the task of writing, what should I begin to lean on again but my intelligence? It was bound to happen, and having had to live without it for so long I wasn’t going to give it up very easily. And yet, that is exactly what God asked me to do. I had to give him my one specialty. He didn’t want, it seemed, for me to write plots with more smarts than Billy, or to dream of the Booker Prize. He wanted me to write from the heart. I remember a prayer time vividly, where I had to hand my brains over. I metaphorically watched them crack off from me, the way ice falls from a glacier, and saw them drift off on a flow of water.

And because I did that, because I gave them up and let them go like he’d asked me too, he returned them to me. But just as it is when we give him our hearts, and they return renewed, so my intelligence seemed changed. It had an entirely new focus and character. It was like my cleverness was not about me anymore. Not about making me look good, or feel superior, or special, nor any of the things it had, perhaps understandably, meant to me before. Now it was like my mind was living for God as well as my heart. I feel much happier, more integrated about this. When I use my intelligence now, it is to aid my readers understand my meaning. If I use a big word, it’s because (and only because) it is the right word to use.

I look compassionately on my school girl self, desperate for praise and trying to scramble to stay at the top of the heap in something (Lord knows it was never going to be P.E.) with her big brains that didn’t know what to do with her or where to take her. She was only doing what the world told her she should. And the me of now can have compassion on my current self as well, especially when I am misunderstood, or folk think I am being wordy or precious. It’s okay to use my God-given brain, and it’s especially okay to use that God-given, given-back-to-God, God-re-given brain, for the things he had planned all along.

* This endearing (to others) and infuriating (to me) trait continues. I just had to ask my (also very bright) husband to help me take a new camera case off its cardboard mount. Failure took me ten minutes, success for him, five seconds.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 temporary photo copyright Oliver Postgate/BBC

92. Apologetic (Empathy, Lent 34)

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For this last week of Lent I want to take a slightly different tack and explore how to have a little more empathy with myself. I’m going to look with kindness at qualities I have that I’m not that comfortable with, or that get in the way of compassion and growth.

I’m always saying sorry. I am one of those people who, if you bump into me, will apologise profusely. Or at least, I used to be. Recently, I think because of the support of my very loving husband, I’ve started to stick up for myself a bit more. But constantly apologising is a rather English habit, and even more ingrained in those of us who grew up dreading being told off.

Sometimes it is easier to take the blame for something than to run the risk of causing any kind of conflict. It can be a placatory gesture too, and those of us who do it imagine that other people find us more agreeable and pleasant because of it, whereas in actual fact, they are more likely to think us foolish, or to gauge us as easy to take advantage of.

I used to think it was Christian to be like this, but now I think that there is a big difference between being conciliatory and being a doormat. We are all learning new things, and perhaps it is good to be patient with ourselves as well as with others, as we round those curves.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 (photo from Amazon)

60. Turning the Tables (Lent 1)

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During Lent I’ll be trying to expand my empathy circuits by looking through the eyes of those with very different viewpoints to my own. I am not sure yet how this will affect my accompanying photography, it might be a little less spontaneous for this season. This remains part of our year-long topic of contemplative sight. Understanding others and widening our outlook is such as important part of spiritual seeing that I wanted to take longer over it than our other subjects.

Like one of my favourite literary characters, Granny Weatherwax (from Pratchett’s Discworld series) we are going to do a little borrowing. Granny puts her mind in another creature’s, and goes wandering in the world, leaving her body looking comatose on the eiderdown. Those who have popped round for a bottle of pig ointment have sometimes mistaken her “elsewhere”-ness for having passed over, and so she took to wearing the above sign to avoid further misunderstandings. I want to show how it is possible to take a short “borrow” of someone else’s mind set in order to develop compassion and understanding.

A word of warning to myself and my readers, though. We must be aware that in doing this, we are bringing our own prejudices with us. We are never going to be able to cast our own lens out, it will remain present. But we can nevertheless explore unknown territory through the eyes of another, even if the vista is still tainted by our own viewpoints. It’s a bit like trying to understand why someone else’s favourite dessert is Baked Alaska, when our taste buds are longing for apple pie; it does take a force of will and a resignation that we aren’t going to get it completely. To try is a worthwhile goal and will teach us a little something, I hope.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

 

76: Wanting to Die (Trigger Warning)

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I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.” Job 7:16 NLT

In my own experience, determining to end your own life is such a traumatic place to be that it does not last long. You either take action, or some level of hope or love intervenes so you don’t go through with it. Having made the decision one way or another for sure is in itself fairly liberating. But choosing life is a big and brave thing to do. It means that you decide to carry on knowing that it is going to be painful, and this is incredibly tough.

Most people who go the other way and fail in their attempts are glad to fail, and frequently see life as gift from then on, but having deep compassion on souls whichever way they go having reached rock bottom, is really important. Knowing what it feels like to want to end everything, I have nothing but empathetic heartbreak for those in that position, and do not presume to judge.

I do counsel continuing because I have faith. Not that life will miraculously turn around and be suddenly wonderful, but that time is indeed, however worn out the cliché, a great healer, and the smallest amount of love, when you are able to either give or receive it, can make life worth living again, in, through and despite any other pain.

In my own life, it was, strangely, the numbness and emptiness I felt at that “now or never” point that made me stay. I was free in that moment to make my own decision. Angry at God for not coming to my rescue, I found that he was trusting me to choose life for myself. And I’m very glad that I did. One of the things that brought me back from that precipice was knowing that I couldn’t hurt my parents like that. Because of course, every untimely death has other victims, and the nightmare of the “what if?s” and the “If only we’d s” will likely plague those who love us for a very long time to come.

But after that decision is made, the really hard work begins. Discounting suicide, we may then have to come to terms for quite a while with living even though we feel like we want to die. We feel hopeless and disconnected to life, cut off from joy and completely unable to see any viable or worthwhile future. It is incredibly tough. This kind of overwhelming depression can last many years, as it did for me, and it is usually healed by small degrees. But take heart my friends, because it IS healed. God may not arrive in a thunderstorm as he did in the face of Job’s utter hopelessness, but he will arrive if we ask him to, and he may be so gentle with us that we do not even realise he is there for a long time. But I am quite sure that he was for me. Every buttercup that summer was a bright sign of his love, and every worried look from anxious parents a mirroring of his care.

When we are broken at the core, the work of holy restoration takes into account our fragility, and takes its own sweet and kind time. Meanwhile, we breathe in and out and we pray, and we hold on to anything around us that is good, knowing that this is of God. I have been rescued by inches, as if pulled slowly from quicksand, and the ground feels a little more solid now, enough to share these things with you, and to know that I am, as we all are, loved beyond measure.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

If you are feeling suicidal or just finding it all too much, please do ring the Samaritans in the UK on their free to call number: 116 123   They are fantastic listeners and there for you if you are having a tough time. You can also email or write, check out their website here http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

 

Photo from Pixabay

23: Sulking in the Sun

23 sulking in the sun MF imelenchon

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” Jonah 4:9 NIV (But please do read the whole of chapter four if you have time.)

 

So, having explored what self-pity is not, in my last few entries, I wanted to try and give an example of what it actually is occurring in Scripture, and poor old Jonah is the victim I’ve picked. Now I am quite an expert on self-pity, having mastered it slowly over a number of years and then having been (mostly) released from it.

I can recognise now that the hallmarks of self-pity are that it is prolonged (though we often dip in and out of it), that it becomes an attitude we live by, that it is almost entirely self-centred, that it smacks of an attitude of entitlement or of self-loathing, and that it twists the facts cleverly to make everything look as though we are at the centre of a vortex of unfairness.

In short, self-pity is permanent sulking. It is our ego throwing a toddler tantrum every time something doesn’t go our way and imagining rightly or wrongly that the world is out to get us. It is all encompassing and often even manages to defy logic. We have persuaded ourselves somewhere deep inside that nothing can go right for us and that the world is not giving us the fair deal we deserve.

Jonah is the daddy of all sulkers. He sulks himself onto a ship, he sulks himself into being thrown overboard and after being rescued miraculously and performing his prophetic duty like a pro, then reverts back to sulking, even about the success of his mission. I told you this is what would happen! is the gist of what he says to God, in one of my all-time favourite Bible verses: “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3 partial NIV)

Jonah is such a practised sulker, he can even take offence at God’s goodness whilst praising him for it. And even though he knows that the city will be spared, he still storms off and sits in the desert “to see what will happen”. He was sent to Nineveh to ask the people to repent and they did. Instead of outward compassion, Jonah displays the giveaway characteristic of someone stuck in the rut of self-pity: he turns even his own successes into failures. Believing that the Lord relenting makes him look foolish is more important to him than thousands being saved from death. This is an ego in extremis. And yet, I have great sympathy for Jonah. I relate to his sufferings, so much so I even wrote a short book about him (yet to be published).

But the thing that lifts my heart about Jonah is, that even sitting in the sun sulking, God is patiently trying to teach him compassion via the lesson of the plant he sends and then withers. The Lord is trying to show him a way out, trying to help him understand the heart of the God he serves, which, (another mark of self-pity) actually Jonah already knows, and judging from the verses I quoted, better than most. He is just choosing anger over compassion because it is easier, because it is ingrained and because his own heart isn’t ready yet to be freed from the stranglehold of ego. The only thing that can perform that kind of often slow emotional and spiritual surgery is love, and God is there with him and us, writing the book on it.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

22: Target Practice

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Will you never look away from me,

or let me alone even for an instant?

If I have sinned, what have I done to you,

you who see everything we do?

Why have you made me your target?

Have I become a burden to you?” Job 7: 19-20 NIV

 

When Job speaks these words he is beyond rock bottom. He’s had everything suddenly taken away from him: his children; servants; livestock; livelihood; reputation; health. He has nothing left but his God, so he speaks out his anguish. The truly amazing thing about Job is that he never curses the Lord, despite even his wife advising him to. He only asks why, because the wisdom that has been handed down to him says that disaster has befallen him as a punishment, and yet he knows that he has not sinned. Even the religion that he has practiced all his days is no comfort to him, it makes no sense in the face of his huge suffering. All he has left is what he knows in his heart, that God must be good.

He is hurting and broken and sick, and wants to be left alone. He wants God to avert his eyes and let him die. No wonder he feels that God is using him for target practice. He wants the pain to end, he wants to crawl into a hole and be done with life.

As with Micah yesterday, I want to point out that this is not self pity. It is a normal, reasonable, grief-stricken reaction from Job to what is happening to him. It should pull at all the heartstrings of our compassion and make us want to come and sit silently on his dung heap with him and help him keep the vigil of tears and outrage and broken-heartedness. Instead of which of course, Job is visited by friends who do not know the value of silence or understand his suffering. More on that another day.

The feeling of being targeted is a horrible one. We can be targets for bullying, insults, mockery, lies, abuse, perjury, theft and assaults of all kinds. When these things happen we too might want to crawl away and hide, even from the eyes of God. But as the psalmist tells us (Psalm 139), and as God declares to Jeremiah, there is nowhere where this is possible. “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.(Jeremiah 23:24 NIV)

The answer to Job’s first question is that God will not leave him alone. God never leaves us alone or turns his eyes away, despite all the times it might feel this way. The difference between wanting to hide from God and wanting to be his dwelling place is really one of trust. None of Job’s questions are answered the way he (and we) want them to be. For the answer is not theology, not a detailed explanation of why suffering exists or why it is visited on some of us in bucketloads, nor does God present Job with a neatly packaged understanding of his own life and its errors and hardships. No, God’s answer is not explanation, but encounter. He shows Job who he is. It is, perhaps strangely to us, all he needs. It makes sense to me that seeing, hearing and experiencing God’s majestic goodness leaves us able to trust him, and live without those reasoned, helpful answers that we long for. God’s presence is overwhelmingly enough and more, and it shows Job that he is a target only for the love, faithfulness and mystery of God and his holiness.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Cartoon by Gary Larson, which I had to use, as it fits so well, but I’ve no idea where to apply for permission, since his work is so successful all over the net, I will hope to be forgiven this once. If you haven’t come across him, do check out his work, he is my favourite cartoonist ever. 🙂

137: Canopy

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A covering of grace; fragrant prayers rising from those standing by, holding their hands out in holy harbouring, cottoned hips brushing gently. A lifting breeze, wafting the satin roof, filling her empty sail with healing winds, carrying cares onwards to the compassionate sunlit gaze of fresh waters. A veil between two worlds, thin as a butterfly wing, is this mantle of intercession, this gossamer woven of well wishes, hanging over her head. Untouchable now, sheltered and sustained, transported into wounded palms, fronds fluttering up and down above her, undulating waves of love.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015