"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."
-Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
I sometimes check an app where people are encouraged to leave their secrets, things they wouldn't tell others. After many months of listening to people's stories in this hidden way, I can say that the driving force that is at the root of all their stories and my own, is the longing to be loved, known, seen, heard, cared for.
These whispered fears, adventurous stories, and shame-filled confessions may not be my personal experience, but I too weave my own life's narrative with the yarn of this deep longing for love. I can't help but feel this strong inner connection with the rest of humanity, for we all struggle, rising and falling, in this arduous search for an eternal love, often getting short-circuited into a situation that promises love but cheapens us instead.
How God must have compassion on our human hearts, so gullible to the flashing promises of love's allure. After all he created us for Love (capital L), forming our hearts with his own hands. His own heart has been broken by our longing for a "god" other than the One who tenderly bends over us in compassion. His son's heart knew the bitter tears of rejection and isolation, the fire of desire and dreams, the soothing comfort at the presence around him of those he loved.
Some of the situations whispered about on this app would arouse in any of us the deepest compassion: the shame and suffering expressed by those who have experienced abuse, abortion, rejection and loneliness in the most difficult of situations.
I want to cheer for others who tell their story: "I've been a month without cutting." "This is my first year anniversary of being sober." "This is my child's first day of school. I chose not to abort her and I am so glad."
People around us are whispering their stories to us all the time. Too shy to proclaim their need or their success, too fearful of ridicule or shame, incredulous that anyone would even care, the people around us leave clues of their desire to be noticed. And we can so easily miss these clues. It's easy to look at a social media app and flip through the whispered secrets of people's lives. What would be different if we could respond to the clues all around us that people are leaving in real life?
I have to admit I often miss them. My attention is on my own needs, my own longing to be seen and heard. My drive to finish something important to me. And I can't see. I am deaf to the beating of the hearts around me. Perhaps I'm too tired to exert the energy to show another the compassion I long for myself.
We are all struggling to get what we feel we need. We find what we long for when we give it away.
There are five powerful ways to give love away and find the love we're looking for:
1 - Listen with your whole body. Look at the person who is speaking. Lean toward them. Hold yourself quietly. Don't interrupt except to say, "Yes." "I see." "Yup."
2 - Be vocal about your appreciation. Make a habit of telling people what you appreciate about them as a person. "I love the way you …" "I'm so grateful when you do …" "You make everyone smile when you …"
3 - Ask someone to help you. Use that opportunity to get to know them a little more and to share something about yourself. Your vulnerability will encourage the other to feel comfortable sharing with you.
4 - Be observant and sensitive. Ask someone if they are okay when you notice that they are a little down, or quieter than usual, or you notice something else has changed in the way they present themselves.
5 - Practice showing your love on your face. Imagine if you couldn't speak and you had to communicate your concern or interest entirely with your facial expression. Practice and you'll see how much you are able to communicate without a word. And sometimes with our words, we don't communicate the intensity of our compassion unless we pair it with the visible expression on our face. It's the difference between a casual, "Are you okay? And "I really want to know, are you okay?" And yes, I am ready to stay here to receive your answer.
When you give this love away, you will find it coming back to you.
[Kathryn James Hermes, a Daughter of St. Paul, is the author of the best-selling book Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach as well as a number of other titles. She works with individuals online at pauline.org/heartwork, and her newsletter can be found at pauline.org/sisterkathryn.]
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