Caregiver: Having a Soft Heart in a Hard World

My entire life, I have been the “mom” friend. You know, the one friend in the group who is the voice of caution, the advice giver, the “wise” one. This has always meant I am placed in the position of caregiver, whether I like it or not.  I am relied upon to be there when friends and others fall, and to be the one who they can come to when times are rough. These are duties I have always been happy to attend to. However, this title has also often meant lots of hurt in relationships, acting as what I felt was a weakness in my personality. I have found myself in relationships where I am considered the “mom” reach a point it becomes a one way relationship—me taking care of them, constantly, with hardly anything in return.
When my relationships seem to morph into these sorts, is when I always disdain being a caregiver by nature. I begin to resent these relationships because I feel like I am giving so much care, pouring my entire heart into this human connection, and receiving little to nothing in return. I ache because I want so badly for these people I love, to love me the way I love them in return. I love so deeply and completely I want to feel the same from them. I can’t even count the number of sleepless nights crying, feeling weak for loving like I do, sobbing to my mom, asking underneath tears why I love too much.
As a disclaimer, I said before I have always loved these duties I am given in these relationships, so some of this is brought on by myself. But there has always been a part of me that questions myself, asking why, just why do I have to care so much, pour so much in, love so much when I am not guaranteed that these people I am giving my heart to will love or care for me the same way in return, and in reality often don’t.
These questions have often been the reason I have known ended friendships. I start to hurt so bad that these people aren’t loving me like I expect them to or care for me like I expect them to, so I push them away and claim I can’t do it anymore.
However, I have been lead to the realization that this is not my duty. It is not my duty to determine how others are supposed to care for me or how they are supposed to love me. We are sinful beings incapable of delivering to one another the type of love and care we need. In fact, my desire to make these people “love the way I love” is a kind of greediness.
As I contemplated this topic this week, I began reading Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst.  It was here where it was reveled to me the true nature of these desires of wanting people to love me the way I “needed” in return. TerKeurst tackles the topic with these self-examining words,

“We must respect ourselves enough to break the pattern of placing unrealistic expectations on others.  After all, people will not respect us more than we respect ourselves,” and continues, “No, it’s not wrong to need people.  But some of our biggest disappointments in life are the result of expectations we have of others that they can’t ever possibly meet.  That’s when the desire to connect becomes an unrealistic need.  Unrealistic neediness is actually greediness in disguise.” (page 45 of Uninvited)

I love to paraphrase that, but I don’t think it could possibly fit the topic at hand better. I have come to the following realization: It is merely my duty to care and love to the best of my ability all those around me. To remember that I sin and they sin, and that breeds hurt no matter how complete your human love or care might be it is not enough. But this heart that I possess is not a weakness, it was created by God and given to me to be a caregiver and a deep, deep lover. So that is what I will do.
But then, I am still left with the inherent desire for human love and care.
Don’t get me wrong. I have several relationships where I am cared for and loved beyond measure. But regarding those relationships where I would question if that is the case or not—I can release my unrealistic expectations of others and rest soundly. I can be contented with a peace in my heart that can only be known by understanding that I am loved for and cared for by the ultimate caregiver, by the ultimate lover, Jesus.
So as I sit here and contemplate my heart’s varying feelings and desires I can find a comfort in knowing that the God of the Universe, who is love, sent His son, to show His love for me, to show His care for me, to make me clean. All in a fashion that I could never even attempt to wrap my mind around, because the nature of Jesus’ care and love is beyond human comprehension. All I can do is accept this gift of grace humbly and learn from it how to love others.
His love and care reaches so far beyond that of human beings’ capability, including mercy and grace that no human can deliver, that only his love and care can present.
With this I challenge you to examine your life and find the areas where you feel that you are being let down and recognize that God is using that in your life to help you realize something bigger in His plan and recognize His deep, deep care, love, and provision for you, that will never fall short, that will never fail. 
 
The LORD your God is in your midst, 
  a mighty one who will save; 
he will rejoice over you with gladness; 
  he will quiet you by his love; 
he will exult over you with loud singing. 
                                                      Zephaniah 3:17
                                                     (emphasis added)

Big Magic and Saying Yes

Crisis.  That is the only way to describe what I have been feeling lately.  I have been desperately confused about my place in this world.  This is nothing new to me– I tend to have these at least once a year, but this one is coming at a time that is very difficult to see the outcome.  In the past when I have experienced these crises I have been sheltered, at home, under age, and reliant upon my mother to pick up my pieces and tell me everything is going to be okay.  Now as I am experiencing this, while my mom is a phone call away, I am legally a goddamn adult who has to make decisions on my own and she and the world are making sure I am aware of that.

Everyday has brought a new thing to worry about.  Am I at the right college? Am I pursuing the correct major? Am I so messed up I should just give up now? Am I ever going to be successful? Am I happy? These questions haunt my every waking hour anymore.  So, I finally realized that it was time to confront this crisis head on for the first time in my life, on my own.

I picked up the book, Big Magic, by the author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert and my life has been forever changed.  Big Magic, is a self help guide, and I am not even going to hide that fact, despite my tendency to judge every person I see who reads a Chicken Soup for the Soul willingly. Big Magic, is a guide to embracing creative living and having the courage to accept inspiration as it comes.

I knew this book was going to change my life within the first five pages. Gilbert tells a story in the first chapter about poet Jack Gilbert (a man who would become a recluse and come out every ten years to slay the world with his poetry) who was a guest professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, when he spoke to a young woman who wanted to pursue her dream of being a writer.  He asked the woman this question: “Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” That last line, “The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes,” is one of the most meaningful lines I have ever encountered in all of my days.  I realized that all of these things that I worry about, could be solved if I just had the courage to dig within myself to uncover these treasures that can change my life.  Everything that I could need: my creativity, my hard work, the Holy Spirit, all dwell within me and are there for me to tap into at any given moment, to pursue all that I could ever need and want, to give me comfort in times of need and to make sense of this wild world.

The book goes on to speak on the power of creativity and inspiration, as Gilbert treats them as almost individual entities that are outside of your person, as things you must accept consciously or they will in fact pass you by.  Her candidness about life and inspiration is refreshing as she debunks the idea of having to be a sufferer in order to make beautiful art.

“My suffering takes this whole thrilling and gigantic universe and shrinks it down to the size of my own unhappy head.”

Big Magic, has inspired me to purse those things that I have always desired, it has inspired me to pursue them fearlessly, as I know there is a possibility, no, a likelihood that I will in fact fail, probably epically, but who the hell cares? If I am doing it because I love it and for no one else, then why not do it for the hell of it? Why not stick my neck out there and start writing fiction like I have always wanted, or pursuing photography more seriously, or blogging for heaven’s sake.  I am in this for me, for the possibility that those hidden treasures inside of me that have been hoping all my life that I would say yes, do hear me– I am saying yes.