Recently I was gravely ill… I heard my mom use that adjective with someone a few weeks ago when explaining what I had been through. Heavy, burdensome, hard to bear – these are all ways to define the root of the word, and all things I am experiencing. Mostly the “hard to bear” part lately.
When you think about things that are hard to bear, what comes to mind? For me, I look around the world and there is a never-ending supply of things that are hard to bear… war, starvation, environmental destruction, sex slave trade and so on. Honestly though I don’t have to look that far, because right in my own backyard there are things I see and experience that are hard to bear. Illiteracy, unemployment, addictions of all kinds, loneliness, and spiritual wastelands in so many people I meet. It is hard to bear. But we bear all these things – and then some – don’t we.
What’s hard to bear
We bear that fact that we are lonely and don’t tell anyone. We bear the weight of the death of loved ones and smile for the world that we are OK. We bear the heaviness of being trapped in meaningless jobs or loveless relationships because we need to keep a roof over our head and think that what we have is better than nothing. We bear the load of emptiness that plagues our hearts because we have come to believe we don’t matter. We bear the pressure of thinking we aren’t good enough, and if we do more or be more somehow that will make us lovable and “ok.” We bear the overwhelming cloud of staying closed off because “I don’t want to bother anyone” with my heaviness, or intimacy is so terrifying I would rather be alone then let you in to see me in all my glory and ugliness.
We bear the cumbersome guilt at the end of the day knowing we could have been more compassionate, loving or open. We bear the burden of shame heaped on us by others who treated us dishonorably, to the point that we have become numb to the cries of others when they shout “I need you” or “please help me.” We bear the grief of being so shut down emotionally, so afraid of our feelings, so terrified of being vulnerable that we can’t even say “me too” when someone says, “I love you.”
It has been hard to bear that last one. It happened several weeks ago, as I lay in a hospital bed, saying good bye to a dear friend who had come to visit. As he left I offered those sacred words, “I love you,” and got nothing in return. Not even “me too,” which is a pretty catchy two-word phrase for those who are so uncomfortable sharing how they really feel. Getting no response simply added to the weight I was already bearing.
I was coming out of a two and half week hospital stay that included a week of being “gravely ill,” which is another way of saying I had been so ill at one point I was “dancing with the veil,” and my soul was contemplating a “grave” of its own. I know that sounds blunt, and that’s how life is sometimes. What I recall in those other places I visited while not fully conscious I think is termed “near-death” by science. I was “near” a lot of things. It has also brought me nearer to a few things I hold so dear – including what it means to “belong” to each other.
When I said “I love you” and got no reply, my mind immediately started rolodexing all the ways I thought I wasn’t lovable in about 3 nanoseconds. Never mind the lifetime of other ways that had been demonstrated and the myriad of experiences that continue to show me how loved I am. For a moment I was transfixed on what was is so hard to bear in life – that indeed I have done things that I thought made me unlovable.
Sadly we have become a society that is obsessed with, and dare I say addicted to, self-help. Self-improvement represents a $10 billion per year industry in the U.S. alone. Those who buy self-help books will purchase another and another, creating a continuous stream of self-help investments in the form of books, manuals, workshops and retreats. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for each of us becoming more aware of our internal dialogues, healing our wounds, and basically trying to be little bit happier in life – to know how loved and lovable we are. I just think maybe we’ve become consumed with it. We have gotten self-centered with all our self-help “help.” Seems hypocritical to talk about self-help this way, given the nature of my own work, but that’s OK, I can talk about myself – I’ve self-helped myself enough to learn how to do it. 🙂
In our zeal to help ourselves, to rid ourselves of demons and to know we are lovable, divine, perfect, whole – whatever you are searching to experience, often means removing everything that gets in the way of knowing that. The irony is that there is no end to the things that get in the way. Windows get dirty, iron rusts, plants come and go, and humans can be especially good at getting in the way! We want to clean those windows so we might see life and ourselves more clearly, right?. And how do we clean those windows? For me very simply. Express yourself.
We teach what we need to learn
When we express ourselves it’s different than just thinking. Notice the difference between thinking I love you and saying I love you. Expressing ourselves helps us live, it makes things real, gets everything out of the way. Ever heard the phrase, “we teach what we need to learn?” Same principle with expressing ourselves. We express what we need to know. The catch to this little system is that we don’t always express ourselves in ways others can hear what we are truly saying, because everyone else is cleaning their windows too, and maybe not stopping to actually look through the window.
For instance, think of the last time you were triggered by what someone said or did. It could be a big trigger, or very small. Maybe an argument, even shouting, name calling, tears, or perhaps just silent suffering. As you listen to their words that caused you pain echo in your mind, guess what? They were saying two things. “I can’t love you right now,” and “Someone please love me.” The first thing seems obvious. If someone is mad at me, or frustrated or even has decided to not be in relationship with me, it simply means they aren’t in a place to love me right now. It doesn’t mean they never did, or never will, it simply means they are not able to demonstrate it – “I can’t love you right now in a way that makes sense for you.”
Now don’t read too far into that. Put down that self-help book, and stop thinking so much. That’s what it means – period. Just acknowledge who and how they are being. PERIOD. It is in NO WAY a statement of value about you. But we have gotten good at taking it on, years of practice I imagine, of listening and being in the presence of someone else’s shortcomings and making it mean we have failed or if we were ________ enough, they wouldn’t be acting this way. Like I said, it’s practice. They are expressing themselves to us in a way that is not very graceful or in the most inviting way, but always in a way that if we follow our heart, stay present, we can be a catalyst for each of us knowing we are loved and lovable.
Countless times throughout my life I have been the person screaming, “I can’t love you right now!” I know this, I am not immune to the things that dirty up my windows. I have been unfaithful, unmerciful, unwilling and unwise, but I have never been unloved. Put down that self-help book, and simply acknowledge the times you have said or done something that was really saying, “Someone please love me!” Do you honestly think we act in ways that are lacking compassion and kindness because we want to? Of course not, we have simply forgotten we belong to each other and desperately need the person in front of us to love us.
Somebody please love me
To speak out loud the ways we have been less than our shiniest self will not make it come true, it simply gives voice to what you already know, but think that if you say it someone might “really see you.” EXACTLY! They will see you. They will see ALL of you, and be able to love you even more. You knowing you are loved will shift from simply being an idea or notion embedded to the embodiment of that which you seek from all those self-help avenues. Our goal is immersion in our human condition, not excellence, so that we might stay as alive for as long as possible. The longer we stay with what’s alive, no matter how uncomfortable, the more we will experience that we have never been unloved.
What about the second thing? “Somebody please love me.” I have to remember whatever someone is expressing of themselves, it is all in service to coming back to that incorruptible spot that is God, that is the center of love – IF there is someone around willing to stand and hold that space while I find my way back. In case it wasn’t clear, THAT’S YOU – and me. The more hurtful our words and actions, the louder someone is screaming “SOMEONE LOVE ME!” It becomes a demand, not just a request. So what are we waiting for?
I have challenged people over the years, probably my family and those closest to me more than anyone else, to just love me. And no matter how many times I demonstrate I am unreachable, unsure, shut down, cruel, distant, unfair, and even had days I thought I was unfit for grace and blessings – guess what, I have never been unloved. And neither have you.
Whether you know it or not, there’s a thread of belonging that lets us know we are loved and lovable, and in the storms of life that thread gets cut. Sometimes someone intentionally cuts it – but do we let it go? The next time someone is expressing “I can’t love you… please love me” do you cut that thread, or do you set out to mend it? Because we are never done mending and braiding that thread that is connected to that incorruptible place of grace. We are always the weaver and the woven one. To hold tight to that thread is the first step toward answering the plea “please love me.”
When someone says, “I love you,” respond. Please. They need to hear it, they need to connect to that thread of life. We bear so much in life that is heart-wrenching. Let’s become a world bearing the weight of knowing just how lovable we are. Go find someone and be willing to speak out loud the times you have expressed yourself in challenging ways – it cleans your window. Then let them know you have seen when they have been broken, distant, selfish, unteachable, and they have never been unloved. It takes no special training, degrees, certifications or special knowledge for your heart to find that thread and share it because that thread of belonging is seeable in the light of being. So go be.