Early on in my vocational career, I was on staff with a ministry organization. I was hoping to plant a church, making some music. I was around a lot of people, and a partner of mine, a friend, someone I knew who I was working with, described my overall posture as that of an ambulance chaser. They intended to point out that I tended to lean into difficult situations. That I wasn’t causing drama. But as he put it, “If there’s a bleeding wound somewhere, you want to go patch it up.” Their hope and intention wasn’t to insult me or disparage my character, so much as it was to point out this tendency in me to, maybe, overextend myself, that while it’s a good thing that I want to help, while it’s a good thing, that I actually do care. Both of those things are true, they were true, they’re true now. I really do care. And I really do want to help, just because I care. And just because I want to help doesn’t mean it’s my business. Probably more important than that was this, they were pointing out that I was wearing myself out, from emergency to emergency, from dire situation to dire situation, I was drawn to places and to people that needed a lot of help. I’ve returned to that memory about that conversation somewhat frequently since the beginning of the year because I recognize in me I’m tired. And maybe you resonate with that. I look around at the world immediately around me, or a few steps away from me much less on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, and it can be kind of overwhelming. Maybe not kind of, it can just be overwhelming. If you are someone who actually does care, if you’re someone who really does want to help – right now is a heck of a time to be alive. Because on the one hand, the consciousness we share about what’s going on in the world, the world around us, or even the world, two worlds over from where we live, can facilitate a sense of connectedness that we are in this together. And on the other hand, sometimes.
Let me rephrase that far too often. Not just the amount of information available but how it is made available can make it seem like it’s not enough to care where you can care. It’s not enough to help where you can help. You can apply the best of your energies to the small corner of the world where you can be effective and wise. You have to care about everything and do so well. And if you do not care wisely and well and effectively about that which is popping in the moment, you are part of the problem. So that if you spend the best of your energies to make your small corner of the world better and more beautiful for the people you’ve been given to, and then have nothing left over for the causes the world around you is screaming are important today. You have missed. And you are part of what’s wrong.
And so I’m tired.
And maybe you are too.
So I don’t share this reflection, this confession as it were, because I want to air my dirty laundry and hope that you find empathy with me instead. I wonder if you feel something similar. I wonder if you feel tired, and not tired because you’re the kind of person who just doesn’t have space for other people, not tired because you’re the kind of person who has over other people’s stories—tired because you really do care. And you really do want to help, and you’re doing everything you think you can do to the best of your ability, and you still feel like you’re getting judged and you’re failing. We are now in the season of Lent. It’s the season that I look forward to and celebrate and dive headfirst into every year because it’s a reset for me. And it’s a reset for me because it is a season in which I celebrate, lean into, and practice my limitations. I limit my drinking. I limit my eating. I limit the time I spend in certain places. I actually intentionally practice living as a limited person. And after all these years of practicing my limitation in the season of Lent, part of what I’m coming to realize is that my limitations aren’t a problem. My limitations are part of what it means for me to be whole. And when I judge myself for being limited, for not being able to care about everything wisely and well, when I treat myself as if I should be able to overcome my limitations so that I can be more productive, more caring, more present in more places, what I actually do is I diminish my humanity, and I diminish the person I actually am, which includes, and is defined by my limitations.
So, this Lent 2023, my hope and intention is not simply to practice limitation the way have often practiced limitation. But as I practice, and lean into, and in fact, celebrate my limitations. I also practice what Henry Nouwen calls the ministry of disappointment. I will be bummed to find, at the end of myself, that there are things I wish I could care about more completely that I simply can’t, that there are ways I wish I could help. But I simply won’t be able to. I’ll be bound to disappoint other people who really do wish I cared about the things they cared about the way they care about them.
And I won’t expect them to care about my corner of the world. And the things that I care about the way I do. See, I don’t want to feel tired anymore, the way I have felt tired, because the work I have to do in the very specific place I’ve been planted is just too important. And the people that I’ve been given to that I can actually care for wisely and well are just too important. And the help I can offer and the places I’ve actually been planted is help I can offer because I’ve been planted here. And I don’t want to be too tired, or too distracted, or too demoralized to do the work that I can do the work right in front of. Because I’ve spent all of my energy worrying, and being sad, and disappointed and kicking myself for not being able to do more. So maybe no one ever called you an ambulance chaser. The way I was called an ambulance chaser. But maybe you resonate with that feeling that man you care. And boy, you really want to help. But you don’t want to be so damn tired all the time. So that you can offer the best of your energies, your time, your efforts, your wisdom, your life. To the places where you can make an actual difference, make an impact, and make the kind of change you’re designed to make. Consider joining me this Lent and practicing in some way shape or form your own limitations, and re-envisioning, re-embracing yourself as the limited person that you were created to be planted in a particular place at a particular time among a particular people. So that it might be with you and with me as it was and is with Jesus, the Christ. Born to Mary and Joseph and the town of Nazareth, and his brother James and his small group of friends, that he spent a particular amount of time with him in that particular place. And because he attended so well and so wisely to that which was right in front of him. The whole role changed.
Links For Justin:
NEW Single – Let Go
NEW Music – Sliver of Hope
NEW Music – The Dood and The Bird