This is a title of a book by Anne Lamott, the subtitle of which is “The Three Essential Prayers.” I recalled this wonderful book when pondering what to write about Tuesday morning yet had a total mental block that prevented me from writing at all. That is until a simple phone call transformed my day.
A dear friend’s mother-in-law, with whom she was extremely close, died unexpectedly – news I learned on Facebook actually. For some reason I can barely write someone Happy Birthday there much less a message of condolence. I was feeling rather self-absorbed and found it easy to offer up the usual excuses: “I’m not in the right frame of mind… She probably won’t want to talk . . . and I won’t know what to say.”
And then, I just called her anyway.
She answered with a quivering voice and I immediately questioned whether I should have called. Hesitating, I asked her if she wanted to tell me what happened, and she said she did. I listened and we cried together. I didn’t know her husband’s mother, but I do know loss. So empathizing I could do. I then asked her permission to read aloud a passage by Frederick Buechner I had encountered earlier that morning. She said yes and understood without judgement when my tears blurred the words so much I had to wipe my eyes to read them:
“It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.”
I love these words, and they did relate to telling the “secret” of our grief. We went on to talk about other things including a relationship with someone who had hurt her which was transformed when she asked God’s help in the matter. She wrote about it privately which, in itself, became a prayer, light flooded into heart, and she was led to ask herself one question: not what that person could do for her but what she could do for that person.
Our crying turned into laughing and her text later affirmed the whole experience: “Still feeling joy from our phone call…” and the blessing – as it so often does – had traveled both ways. Our conversation had sent light streaming into my own personal struggle – one that started with my being “too sensitive’’ which can lead to great empathy – a good thing – yet it can also lead to, well, not so good things.
Some time ago, I watched a TED Talk about highly sensitive people given by Elena Herdieckerhoff. Although I don’t particularly care for labels, I’m hands-down an “HSP” as she describes. If you are too, take heart. And if you live with one, take heart. Here’s her insightful summary if you’re wondering what it’s like to be this way:
“I invite you to imagine living with all of your senses on high alert. You also have a vivid inner world where all of your emotions are magnified. A sadness is deep sorrow and a joy is pure ecstasy. You also care beyond reason and empathize without limits…”
Apparently one of the biggest indicators of HSP’s is that fact that we cannot watch violent or scary movies. Bingo! (I hope my children are reading this and will gain new understanding.) Another indicator is we have overactive minds, not to mention overactive imaginations. Yet another indicator is that when someone else cries, we taste salt – per an old Hebrew saying. And though it feels like a “curse” at times, it really is a blessing. Or can be.
It may be a “curse” for those closest to you, however, because when you have been hurt, you want the other person to hurt as much as you do – and you may punish them in “small” ways for an impossibly long period of time. This is not helpful. In fact, it can be destructive. Here’s another insight into sensitive people written by Irish pastor Ken Baker:
“Sensitive people are the most genuine and honest people you will ever meet. There is nothing they won’t tell you about themselves if they trust your kindness. However, the moment you betray them, reject them or devalue them, they become the worse type of person. Unfortunately, they often end up hurting themselves in the long run.”
In conclusion I would like to suggest that it’s the “little” things that have the greatest impact no matter where you fall in the sensitivity spectrum – and just like in the practice of yoga, the smallest adjustment can yield a huge shift.
Here are some little things you can do if you’re “stuck”: pick up the phone to call a friend; smile at everyone you see; actively listen; think of someone else first; go outside (my personal favorite); breathe; cry and laugh in the same day; say I love you again and again and again; say Thanks; say Wow! . . . and when you’re out of “good ideas,” raise the white flag and say “Help.”
Because The One who has been waiting for you to ask truly has the power to transform your situation – and one thing is certain, if you do your part He WILL do His.