Yesterday, there were countless moments that required us each to act, and today it was the same. This is true of every twenty four hours as we encounter each other, as we raise small children, and as we face the world.
There are factors in each interaction that tip the scales for us toward one bent or another. Will we be calm? gracious? kind? Or will a moment of frustration mean we’re sharp or impatient? Are we tired, achy, not feeling well, having a bad day? Are we just weary of things everywhere requiring some kind of emotional response?
I think we’re all growing weary of circumstances that draw out bold emotions lately. The world is still so beautiful, but it calls us to face new and hard realities every day as of late. There is heartache everywhere. Evil seems like it’s running rampant, and it can feel like our hands are mostly tied.
The news just keeps coming, and whether we don’t think it gets to our core after a while, we’d have to be unfeeling not to bear the impact of the current state of world affairs.
So when a little person needs attention, or a spouse is juggling his or her own baggage from the day, or a stranger is feeling the same kind of raw that the rest of us are, what are our options as we interact?
Even as I type this, our littlest is upstairs begging for someone to come and “be by her,” over an hour after bedtime began, and I’m feeling tested in the patience department. How do I best act in this moment? I want to be selfish, but I don’t know that that’s the best thing for anyone…
Honestly, my first M.O. these days is to feel frustrated. It’s bedtime, and I want to be writing, not tending to little ones anymore for the day. In this space, where so much else demands emotional balance lately, I’d prefer to ignore it, or to be mean about it, or to pass it off to someone else. But my reacting in any of those ways is unhelpful. It exacerbates the issue. Nobody wins.
I figured that Eloise’s crying and desperation upstairs just now were kind of a test as I’m writing about this very thing, so I conceded my stubbornness and irritation and went upstairs. She didn’t really need anything except a little affirmation, which required all of three minutes and my ability to respond lovingly as her mom. Even on the worst days, I ought to be able to navigate three minutes. She is still awake upstairs now, but peaceful and calm as I type. This outcome is better for everyone. Plus, I’m not sitting here with major mommy guilt about being selfish and inattentive, which is a bonus. 😉
The thought I’ve had all day (and one that was reiterated for me just now) is that we have the choice of being reactionary or responsive in every moment of the day. Every single one. Whether it’s a simple, small thing with the kiddos or another heartbreaking news story that has us reeling with anger, sadness or deep seated hurt.
Responsive means we’re taking the time (and probably a deep breath) to think about what we do, what we say, or how we act…before we offer ourselves to someone else in any way.
Reactionary means we’re likely acting out of emotion, in a hurry, or without consideration for how our words and actions might add or detract from the situation.
In my experience, responsive usually ends in a positive result of some kind, while reactionary often instigates even more heightened emotion, causes hurt feelings, and feeds misunderstanding.
Though it usually draws more energy to approach something or someone in a responsive way, the feedback is far more likely to move things forward instead of back. Reactionary moments almost always set me back instead of encouraging myself or anyone else down a positive road.
I have so grappled with wanting to respond to the events of these past few weeks–the heart wound that keeps opening up again and again all over the world and in our own backyards. In the face of evil and hatred, what is the right thing to do or say that will move any of us forward? What will bring glory to grace and love, instead of giving evil an even greater foothold?
I cannot pretend to have answers to many of the world’s problems these days. I cannot stop evildoers from doing evil, just as much as I can’t keep someone from choosing hate over love because of skin color or background or race. I so deeply wish I could.
I can’t offer every refugee a home. I can’t feed every hungry mouth. I can’t bring world leaders to the table for real, effective conversations that move everyone forward toward peace.
But I can change the tide in my own spaces: in our home, across town, down the street.
I can choose to be responsive versus reactionary. I can let thoughtful conversation and prayer flow from my mouth, instead of vitriol or frustration or anger.
When our children need me to support them, I can be supportive instead of crabby. I can choose them over myself, even in tiny moments, throughout the day.
I can build up instead of tearing down.
If we think that we don’t tear each other down one comment, one eye roll, one Facebook post at a time, we are sorely mistaken. If we think that a loving response makes no difference at all, we haven’t considered how much someone else’s loving response has mattered to us.
If we become so weary and worn down by our own circumstances and the circumstances of the world around us, and we react out of exhaustion or selfishness instead of responding out of empathy and love, we risk heaping coals on an already flaming fire than desperately needs putting out.
I cannot go into physical battle against the evils that terrorize human life and infuse fear into the world. But I can absolutely go into spiritual, mental, emotional battle with my choice to be responsive or reactionary, countless times, every twenty four hours.
The world needs more listeners than talkers right now. We don’t even need to open our mouths to love each other well; sometimes, it’s almost better if we’re quiet. And the beauty in this is that quiet is restorative. Just as we rest and our sleep gives us fuel for the next day’s contents, quieted hearts allow us to make space for more careful responding and less careless reacting.
How can we make space, even once a day, to quiet ourselves? To listen, to pray, to meditate on what is lovely? It might seem like we can’t afford to make space in the busyness and stress of life these days, but the truth is, we can’t afford not to.
Tomorrow is Monday, and we begin another week. We can’t possibly know what circumstances it will hold. But we can know how we hope to respond to them. Like a ripple in a pond, one gracious act begets another. I think there’s hope and peace and wisdom in that possibility.
grace to you this week as you seek to quiet your heart and to respond out of love to the people and places where you can have the greatest impact first.