My transplant experience gave me a gift that, today, I would like to return. Usually, I’m thankful for it, but recently it has grown so heavy that I feel like it is breaking me.
I’ve been watching My 600 Pound Life a lot lately. I watch it while I am riding my bike in the basement or walking on Robin’s dreadmill. Yeah, I call it that because I dread that torture device.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, it’s about people who have totally lost all self-control when it comes to eating and exercise and have grown so large that they can barely function. Eating is the only thing that brings them any pleasure.
Fat hangs off their legs like large sacks of gelatin making it nearly impossible to move. Their bulk is so great that they can’t drive or even fit in cars. In the last episode I watched a woman’s 21-year-old son working to shove her into the back of a seatless mini-van. I feel so bad for them but I watch to motivate myself to pedal a bit harder and walk a little longer telling myself, “I am never going to be morbidly obese again.”
But, this isn’t an entry about weight loss or obesity.
My transplant journey changed me. It intensified my senses of empathy and compassion. I’m even wondering if those parts of me have been over-sensitized or over-activated now. Is this healthy? What do I mean?
I think, before my transplant journey, that my top priority was in achieving goals, making progress and building. My heart for others was alive but I was able to keep it in check. When someone was making bad decisions or facing difficulty I could empathize but it didn’t consume me. I could turn it off.
But now, I can’t. Or, at least, I haven’t learned how yet. I can still speak the words and do so often, “not my circus: not my monkeys.” It used to work. I could walk away and not really think much of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still can get pretty calloused when I encounter people who are unwilling to try to change their circumstances or those who feel like everyone owes them something. I still have little patience with those who are unwilling to fish and lots of time for those who want to learn how to fish.
But, it’s the others that I am having trouble with now. It’s the young couples I suddenly care so much about and the people hitting walls in their marriages. It’s the family being buried by battles with chronic illness and the women who can’t find the strength to break out of abusive relationships. It’s the friendless, the lonely and the disconnected that I can’t seem to shake.
I guess I don’t want to shake them. Or, maybe I do. I don’t really know.
Weight. This week I’m feeling like those people I watch on My 600 Pound Life. I can’t clear my mind, my heart aches and I even wonder if these bags are weightier on me than the people facing crisis.
Not my circus; not my monkeys. Not my circus; not my monkeys. But I can’t seem to escape the sound of the calliope in my head. Its sound resonates when I try to sleep and distracts when I try to focus. I see the red and white striped canvas tents even when I try to push them out of my mind through reading, playing a video game, watching mindless television or putting ear buds in.
Empathy. This experience has changed me. It really has.
Children run to me now. They never did before. I’m talking little children, not the teenagers I have always connected with as my students. It’s weird. Robin and I were visiting a church one Sunday after helping with their vacation children’s program a couple summers ago when a tiny, 3 year old girl spotted us from her place on the aisle near the front. Her smile took over her face and she came running to us. That’s nothing new. Children always have loved my wife. But she came running to me and threw her arms up for me to hoist her up. She wrapped her little arms around my neck and squeezed. Robin and I looked at each other and shrugged. Weird. But that happens a lot now.
Robin thinks kids can somehow sense that I value them now and am not going to turn them away. I used to play with children for a few minutes but then scoot them away because I always had something “more important” pressing on my time. Now, there’s nothing more important.
I guess that’s it. My transplant journey has left me with this saturating sense that nothing is more important than people. That’s a good thing, right?
If it’s good then why am I feeling suffocated? Why do I feel, even right now, that there is a 50 pound bag of cement pressing on my chest? Why could I not push that young mom out of my head last night when I tried to sleep and why was she the first thing in my mind this morning? Why can’t I let go of the woman facing abuse when she refuses to do anything to accept help? Why is my mind searching so frantically for answers for the handful of couples in my life right now whose marriages are in danger? Why is my list of people I want to connect with longer than the number of times available? The weight is almost crippling. Should it be?
Last night my wife asked me, “what are we going to do about your stress level?” I don’t know, but we both know that I need to find coping skills. I need to learn how to better manage these gifts of empathy and compassion before the weight cripples me.
This morning I turned to doing what I normally do when I have no more ideas. I looked at the ancient book that has shaped my life and I tried to see how Jesus lived. I came across the mention of His compassion a few times. Mt. 9:36 puts it simply, “He was moved with compassion.”
Charles Spurgeon says that the Greek used an entirely new word to describe what Jesus was feeling. No other word could properly fit His emotion so a new one was coined which literally meant a deep emotion that He could feel wrenching down to the gut level.
“I suppose that when our Saviour looked upon certain sights, those who watched him closely perceived that his internal agitation was very great, his emotions were very deep, and then his face betrayed it, his eyes gushed like founts with tears, and you saw that his big heart was ready to burst with pity for the sorrow upon which his eyes were gazing. He was moved with compassion. His whole nature was agitated with commiseration for the sufferers before him.” ~ Charles Spurgeon
Yeah, that’s it. I think I get a certain level of that now. It’s nowhere near what my Jesus experienced but it is certainly new to me.
I like the post-transplant me better than the pre-transplant me overall. This new empathy, this new level of compassion is, I am sure, a good thing once I learn how to cope. I’m just not doing very well with it just yet.
Like the people in My 600 Pound Life, I’ve got to learn new habits and take new steps to get this under control so that this weight stops crushing me.
How? I don’t know yet.
But, I’m open to advice.
As pastors we can’t fix the brokenness we see. But like you, we care very much for those in pain, those who suffer and are hurting. We cannot fix the situation, only Jesus can heal, restore and renew those who are suffering. But we can accompany them in their journey. This is the serious work of a pastor. This is the calling pressing on you. Is it a bad thing – no. It is a caring thing. How to relieve the stress, more time on the tread mill and bike. It works for me. I have been spending a lot of time in the gym.
I hear you! I try the same but there are so many hours in the day. I find myself putting off my workout to squeeze in another breakfast. I get a call and my prayer time goes out the window. My times of escaping alone to the mountain mean I have to say no to someone. I hate that but burnout is not the answer. I know it but am having trouble living it. Ugh.
I feel I can empathize with you, Scott, but also do not know how to fully cope yet. Like you, I like my post-transplant self compared to pre-transplant and not just because of the health aspect. I feel a deeper emotional connection with people and am really moved by what others go through and some of the many inequities and unfairness and want to do more than I can. I also believe I received my transplant for more than the simple reason of saving my life. God chose for me to live. I’m still not hearing clearly what it is He wants me to do with this wonderful gift.
I do know this – I find great comfort reading your posts. Thank you!
Thanks,Sue. Like you, I feel that pressure not to waste the gift we’ve been given.
Peace, old friend… Be at peace. The Holy Spirit is still on the job, stirring heats, moving minds…. changing lives. Advice? Remember the yoke. You don’t have to do all the pulling. You CAN’T do all the pulling. Matt 11:28,29. Take My yoke (mine, not yours) upon you… and you shall find rest. How does that work? You put on a yoke and you get rest? Seems contrary…
Be compassionate, be like Jesus, the Prince of… Peace!