“Being a blessing can be seen when we mow our neighbors yard, when we volunteer at the soup kitchen, when we scrub graffiti off the local shops walls, when we care for single moms, etc. But being a blessing is not actually about activity – it is all about responsiveness. It is about responding to those around you, which requires listening, which requires showing hospitality, which requires creating space in your life, which requires a posture of openness to others. We can fill our schedule with doing nice things, with volunteerism (which is a good thing), with activity. But this doesn’t mean that we’re truly being a blessing. Responsiveness is all about the other person whereas activity can often become about me. The opportunity to respond rarely happens when we want it to, it happens in the middle of life, in the middle of chaos. Activity happens on my own terms, within my planned schedule, and in a context that I’ve chosen. Responsiveness demands that we’re willing to stop what we’re doing to be present for someone or something else. Being responsive kind of sucks. It’s hard. It requires much.” – Blog post from “Musings from the Ground Up,” by Ryan Woods – posted on 4/29/2012
Throughout my life, I hated that the one word that often described my life was “busy.” Busy planning activities for the family, planning activities for the church and youth group, planning meals for the Home Communities, organizing events, scheduling, helping, doing, running . . . and as I reflect, I have to confess that being busy doing good things was my way of being in control. Sure, there are worse choices – but since I was not connected to me, my feelings, my story, the present moment or, unfortunately, to you – I had to keep the pace fast to stay ahead of my ginormous feelings and story that really wanted to be seen and heard. And as author, Richard Rohr, says “how you treat yourself is how you treat others – how you love anything is how you love everything. How we operate inside ourselves is how we operate outside ourselves. Love is of one piece.” Observe yourself and you will see that this is absolutely true.
So, as I have been on my journey towards surrender, presence, and more authentic connection with my world, Ryan’s words were powerful for me as he spoke of living in a place of responsiveness. But I’m pretty sure to live in a “responsive” place requires that I’m not in charge. That I don’t schedule the heck out of every day – that I allow for margins (those chunks of time on either side of appointments and commitments) so there is time – time to listen, time to be available, time for spontaneous hospitality, time for us.
The neighbor knocked on the door. We share a fence but are on different blocks. We talk over the fence in the summer but during the winter (as it was then) we don’t have contact (unfortunately). But he came and knocked. He wanted us to know that his wife had cancer and was just placed on hospice. He was timid and spoke softly, but he told us that their freezer was full at the moment but there would be needs as time progressed. And there he stood, being vulnerable, asking if we would be responsive. I had to fight off all the guilt because I didn’t already know that she had cancer. What kind of neighbor am I? Here they were suffering, and I didn’t know. I think guilt murders “responsiveness”. And I was determined to not allow guilt to win. My husband went over later that day to get contact information and check on needs for this moment. When he returned home, he told me that the other piece of their story is that their daughter had just died two months ago and then they discovered his wife had cancer. My gut ached. Guilt started hitting me – “they lost a daughter! And I didn’t know!” Man, someone else’s pain can so quickly take a turn and become about me. Shame ran into the picture with a club, not just beating up my choices, but attacking my identity. “I am so self-centered and uncaring. They have been hurting all this time. Their child died too – our son, their daughter. And now he is saying goodbye to his wife with the devastation of his daughter’s departure just moments before.” Let me make something real clear: shame is of the darkness. Shame is evil and wants to destroy us. Guilt is about what we have done but shame attacks who we are. It must be cast out every time! And so as I cast out shame and extended compassion to myself – because we are all flawed and distracted . . . then – surprise – gratitude had space to peek into the story. He came and he knocked and invited us into their story. Their freezer was full he said, so others have been caring for them. But for a moment, it was our turn.
So, I went over the next day with some dinner. Her hospital bed was in the living room. And I sat and listened to them share about their adult daughter that had died. I had to choose several times to consciously not go back to a shame place but to actually be in the room and allow this to not be about me. She was dying. Be here Bren. And then she asked me to brush her hair. “Would you fix my hair?” She had long gray hair that was in a tangled ponytail. And as I began trying to untangle and brush, I realized that because of the chemo, her hair was falling out and I was holding a portion of her hair loose in my hands. So, I suggested a braid and she was delighted. I think her delight, though, really was about being seen, being touched, about connection. I wasn’t there long, but long enough. She died 2 days later.
Responsiveness. As, I read the excerpt from Ryan’s blog, one morning recently, I was reminded again to be available in a posture of openness as I go through my day. I then headed to work. At one point in my work morning I had to get something out of my car, and I noticed a young man standing in the middle of the parking lot between my car and me. I was on a mission (evidentially, responsiveness was not the mission) to get my project out of my car and get back to work. So, I again walked around him (seriously, Bren?) – but as I got close to the building, his posture sunk in. I looked back at him, observing how he slowly, painfully, was walking through the parking lot. He had a brace on one leg (one just like Ryan wore when his leg was paralyzed) and he was laboring to walk. I thought, “Bren, why did you walk right by him?! This is crazy! I just read about having a posture of openness. What were Ryan’s words? ‘Responsiveness demands that we’re willing to stop what we’re doing to be present for someone or something else.’ I should go say hi to him. I mean, he was right in my path and was just standing there saying in essence ‘I’m here, I’m open to connecting with another human being,’” and as I am talking to myself, I am watching him laboriously hobble over the pavement, getting further and further away. I went into the building thinking I missed my chance to be “responsive.” No, I say to myself! I can reclaim this responsive moment! I turned around and went back outside and the young man was down the street by now. Did that dissuade me? No! (okay, now I’ve crossed over from being “responsive” to being a little bit of an obsessive creepster)I pretended to be taking a walk down the street, literally almost stalking him at this point, and finally caught up with him and as I awkwardly walked by him, I tried to engage him in conversation. I made a pathetic attempt to validate his hard work in walking and asked if he had been sick. He said it was from an accident … and our deep moment of bonding ended. Yeah, that was completely awkward and disturbing and definitely had the creepy vibe. Okay, so perhaps this “encounter” was really about me – again. I’m pretty sure that responsiveness is not about chasing a guy down the street. It might be about a bigger story being told. A story where, fellow human beings pause in the middle of the chaos of life and become available to one another. Where beauty happens in a moment because I choose to let go of controlling my world and I notice and value you.
“Jesus referred to this kind of stuff as the kingdom of God breaking into the world. Some just say we are learning to be nice. Whatever verbiage you use, the idea is that these kind of moments remind us of how we are intended to live, of who we are intended to be, of what life together is supposed to be like.” Ryan’s blog 4/29/12