I used to teach college English before Magoo was born. Once she was born, I went to teaching one or two night classes for a couple of semesters before it got to be too much, and I took a hiatus.
I remember how things changed after she was born. Without any real conscious effort on my part, how I related to my students changed.
I was a young teacher at that point in my life, and I always conducted my courses as such. I wasn’t overly formal. I tried to have fun and make jokes. I would get my students on my side by being friendly and encouraging but relatable. My philosophy was always that if you can get students to like you, then they’ll work with you rather than against you. You can reach forward towards a goal together rather than trying to drag them along behind you.
I still had that philosophy after Magoo was born, but I no longer saw myself as being the young, fun teacher. I started to see myself more as the nurturing type. I think I started to mother them. Which was probably ironic as my students were still only a couple of years younger than I was, and a considerable number were considerably older.
I remember laughing at myself one night as I let them all go a few minutes early because of snow starting to fall. I made them all promise to drive slowly and to exit the campus from the street with the stop light. I cautioned them about driving too fast and getting tickets. I told them to get home safely.
Honestly, I think they are lucky that I didn’t make them all text me when they got home so I would know they made the journey safely.
I think I always saw myself as someone who wanted to help people, but once I became a mom, I started seeing myself as someone who wanted to nurture others and make them feel safe and loved and comfortable and welcomed. I guess you can’t do that the majority of your day with your kids and then just turn it off when your surroundings change.
And I guess that’s how I approach life. I like helping people. I like being the person people talk to. I love making people feel heard and understood and appreciated. I love making people feel special to me.
And I also like making sure people around me know they have a safety net. I have a prayer list a mile long of all the people I pray for each day. I have a mental list of people I want to check in with and check up on.
I guess it all boils down to my belief that one contribution I feel I can make to people is to let them feel heard and to give them a safe place to be heard. I don’t cook meals well; I can barely offer childcare because of my own full house; I don’t entertain well or solve problems well.
But I can listen.
And so I do.
But every now and then a strange thing happens. Some times I need to talk. Sometimes I need to be heard.
And then the alarms start sounding. The panic rises. I feel my heart start to pound; my hands start to shake. I start to feel myself distancing from things. I gave up smoking many years ago, and so as a substitute I pick up yarn, or I hop in the shower. The only two things that give me space for my mind to wander.
Sometimes I’ll actually take the bold step of reaching out to someone. But that just makes matters worse. The hours of panic that follow that barely make it worth it.
And it all boils down to one thing.
It’s easy to be the listener. It’s secure. Sure, sometimes I’ll worry about what to say or how to say it, or I’ll second guess what I did or did not say. But in the end, it’s a safe place because you are giving and expecting nothing in return. There’s no debt. No deficit. When I am giving, I am fine.
But when I ask to be heard or when I need to be listened to, that’s a whole different story. Then I am asking another to give, and oftentimes, I have nothing to give in return. I’m asking someone to tell me that I am worth their time even if they aren’t receiving anything in return. I am sharing my brokenness and my neediness and my wounds, and I am just doing it all on the hope that they will be gentle.
I think God tries to give us challenges to take us out of our comfort zones, to teach us that we cannot rely solely on ourselves, to use the fire of trials to whittle away at our rough edges and our insecurities.
And sometimes that really sucks.
Growth is good, my friends. It’s important to learn to trust and be vulnerable. It’s important to admit you can’t do it on your own.
For all of you.
For me… not so much.
For me, I am perfectly content staying where I am, stagnating if need be, so long as I don’t have to go out on a limb and trust.
I like to think that I am open about my weaknesses. After all, I post them on the internet day in and day out for anyone to read.
But that’s me taking my weaknesses and trying to use them to help others.
To take my own weaknesses and ask others to help me find healing?
So I guess, God, if you are reading this, I would just like to say that you have a tough case with me. You want to teach me to be vulnerable and open and as gentle with myself and my soul as I try to be with others. It’s a noble task. I’m a hard case.
But I kind of hope you win on this one.
Drowning photo available from Shutterstock