If you are alive in 2022, your heart is heavy. Just when we think there can’t possibly be one more global crisis, there is. Just when we think we are emerging from the ashes, we get pushed back down. In the last few weeks, I have been thinking about the visual of concentric circles as it relates to all the things that people are carrying. I am not sure I am sharing a new learning per se, but definitely a thought that I am having with more frequency in my adult life. Sharing with y’all in case you are processing similar ideas these days.
Concentric circles. If we start big to small, we can imagine all sorts of things that may be in the outer rings- racism, sexism, homophobia, and general hatred; a global pandemic that we have been living in for two years- one that has devastated more families than we can wrap our heads around; a new war – an invasion of an independent country and the heart wrenching reality that our brothers and sisters in Ukraine find themselves in. There are a lot of big, tough things that affect us all. For some, these outer circles are felt acutely, because of individual circumstances or proximity. For others they are there but feel a touch out of reach. I empathize with Ukrainians but the deep, acute pain of living in a war zone and wondering if my kids will make it through alive is not something I know personally. What I have been learning the last couple of years, though, is that what feel like global issues for me at times, affect me. There is compounding stress, a feeling of sadness at times, even when I haven’t experienced the trauma directly. It’s this feeling, sometimes just out of grasp, of despair or heaviness. It’s there- in the background at times, but it’s there.
As we come in from the outer circles, and everyone could create their own, based on where they live and what they are attuned to, we get to the inner circles; while I think there are likely dozens of inner circles, in my mental model, for simplicity, I will say there are two. In the outer one, just before the smallest circle in the visual, are heartaches that we carry more personally but that still aren’t quite at the individual level. A friend that is going through a divorce. A neighbor who lost a loved one. A colleague who is struggling with health challenges. An aunt that is suffering from mental health challenges. These are situations that we feel deeply in our heart, we bear the pain in some way, even though the pain is different than if we were going through that same grief or pain or struggle. For some of us, this is the feeling of “mourning with someone” and really feeling the depth of a friend’s pain in our bones. We carry it. We can’t fix it and that is hard. We try to be a good friend, recognizing that sometimes just a text that says “I love you,” is all that is in our grasp. The inner-outer circle is a painful one and yet, there is still a deeper level of pain.
The very inner circle is our own pain. And even when it isn’t visible to others, we all have it. This is the pain of an addiction, a death of a family member, a sickness that has no cure, infertility, marriage challenges, relationship failures, a child who deeply hurts and may forever. It’s the pain that perhaps only a few people know about – those in our inner circle if you will. It rises and falls, sometimes visibly, sometimes hidden in the shadows, but it is always there. Depending on the season we are in, we may feel like our inner circle is bombarded with difficulty, or we may feel like we are living in a reprieve, almost holding our breath to be in the liminal space that is often between one valley and another. The complexity and pain of the inner circle at any given time may be weeks, or it may be years.
If you are reading and thinking, well isn’t this the most depressing post ever, I hope you will stay with me. I do have a point, if only a small offering to give today in March of 2022.
While God was very clear that we would all have trouble in this world, he was also very clear that people were one of the main ways that we were going to make it through said trouble. The very nature of our God – three in one- speaks to the power of relationships. The fact that our beautiful world doesn’t just have breathtaking skies and radiant sunsets, unique animals and roaring seas but rather humans, real human people that can be and do and love, is a testament to part of the solution God gives us for all this trouble.
So here is what I have been thinking of lately. Even though we are all feeling the heaviness of the world these days, our inner circles feel and look different from one person to the next. Some of us are in a season of intense grief or even crisis; others are in a season of flourishing or pure delight- things seem to be operating on all cylinders as they say. (I should probably use a metaphor I understand but you get the point.) I think one way to love our neighbor is to use the capacity we have when our inner circle is feeling good, to love on those whose inner circles are a little harder to manage. A phone call, a card, a text, a meal, a carpool, a ride, an offer to serve, a way to give of your gifts and resources. I imagine if everyone gave out of their love when their personal circle felt light, that they would then receive love from others when they were in a season of pain or heartache. Ebbs and flows of giving and receiving, an interwovenness of lifting people up and being held up by others. I think sometimes even within a day, we can both give and get.
I think my offering is this. If you have a little in your cup today, pour it out. You never know who may need it. If your cup is empty, I pray that a friend (or a stranger) recognizes that and fills it up a little for you.
I have been loving Father Richard Rohr’s daily meditations this year. A reminder from one in February, in which he is recounting the words of Desmond Tutu:
God has created us for interdependence as God has created us in God’s image—the image of a divine fellowship of the holy and blessed Trinity. . . God has created us to be different in order that we can realize our need of one another. There is an African idiom: “A person is a person through other persons.” I learn how to be human through association with other human beings. …
I was watching the news the other night and the newscaster was reporting from inside the walls of an orphanage in Ukraine. He was talking to an eight year old boy, I think his name was Demetrius. With the horrific sounds of war raging around them, the reporter asked Demetrius if there was a message he wanted to send to people in the U.S. His simple, yet profound answer: “I want a family.” The invasion of Ukraine wasn’t any less real to Demetrius than to other children in Ukraine, and yet his most immediate need and deepest desire – family. Feels right for an eight-year old. Demetrius, like us all in some ways, holding multiple circles, all at once, longing for love and connection.