Sue Monk Kidd's ( author of The Invention of Wings, The Secret Life of Bees, and other novels) early writings appeared in Guideposts and other books and magazines addressing spiritual topics. One of my favorite pieces of her writing appeared in "Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life," November/December, 1990, The subject of the bi-monthly publication was "Compassion."
Sue described an experience when she was 12, visiting a nursing home with her church youth group. She wanted to go swimming with her friends on this particular day close to the end of summer, but her mother made her go to the church event.
Sue first visited an elderly woman whose appearance saddened her - "the worn down face, the lopsided grin, the tendrils of gray hair protruding from a crochet lavender cap." Sue gave the woman a bouquet of crepe paper flowers.
"The woman looked at her and said, "You didn't want to come, did you child?
The words stunned me. They were too painful, too powerful, too naked in their honesty. 'Oh yes, I wanted to come,' I protested.
A smile lifted one side of her mouth. 'It's ok,' she said. 'You can't force the heart.'"
My Own Heart Experience
Many years later, after reading the article in Weavings, I had a similar experience. When I was employed as a speech pathologist at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis, I worked two weekends a quarter. I worked an eight hour day on Saturday, but Sunday, I could keep my pager on, and only go in if there was an emergency.
One particular Saturday, I was tired, I wanted to stay home and dreaded going in. When I reached the hospital, checked the stack of patient folders left from Friday and started making my rounds. Most of my patients were on the neurology floor.
Entering one gentleman's room, a stroke patient, I introduced myself and explained what we were going to address. He looked at me and said, "You didn't want to come in today did you?"
He shocked me into reality. How could he know my thoughts - that I really wanted to be home spending time with my teenage daughter?
I stumbled for words, just like Sue did, and finally said, "Oh, no! I'm glad to be here."
What betrayed my heart? Was it something in my facial expression or demeanor that conveyed my true feelings? Even though he'd had a stroke, he was able to perceive what I did not want to express.
When I walked out of his room forty-five minutes later, I remembered Sue Monk Kidd's article.
I couldn't force my heart. My face had betrayed me and the compassion I wanted to convey to this patient as well as to all my other patients that day was empty and gone. I was dishonest with God, with myself and especially with a patient I wanted to serve.
The Rest of My Day
Walking up and down the hospital halls seeing patients the rest of the day, I asked God to take my weariness and give me strength so I could be present and focus sincerely on each person I encountered. I did receive energy as the day progressed and felt the return of heartfelt compassion which I usually brought to my work.
When I drove home reflecting on the day, I realized I needed to be honest with God before I left home especially on the Saturdays I worked, in order to have a heart ready to give care that would honor God, despite what I was feeling. Putting "myself on the shelf" for the duration of my work is attainable with God.
For your Reflection
1. Have there been times when you didn't want to go or do something, personally or professionally, but had to? What was your experience?
Prayer: God, many times our feelings surface in ways that prevent us from being as sincere and compassionate as we desire. Sometimes we do have to force our hearts, to go through a day when we are overcome with our own struggles, desires or fatigue. Help us remember Jesus' words, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy and I will give you rest." Hold and carry our hearts and give us strength to complete our tasks until we can rest in you. Amen.