When American Airlines Flight 11 struck the first trade tower in 2001, I went back to bed. When I awoke several hours later, the second tower had been struck and what I slept through was undeniable. Last week, while listening to recordings from the day, I reflected on my emotional transformation since and how my resistance to being moved might have dried up the fruit in my life.
Let’s rewind a few years before my son Wade was born. Ask my immediate family or closest friends to describe me. They might say I am warm or empathetic, that I care deeply for those close to me. They might also say that in spite of these qualities I am not particularly demonstrative or affectionate and that, come to think of it, I rarely say I love you. You might receive an occasional love you, but the “I” would be absent, giving the phrase a casual, careless expression. They may also note my aversion to crying and heightened discomfort with public affection or vulnerability.
Various life experiences encouraged me restrain emotion. If I had to cry, I would do so in private. I cared deeply for the people in my life, but there was a limit to what I publicly shared or revealed.
It’s much safer, much easier to not be moved. The more extensive your armor, the less likely you will be shamed by emotion. This was my main objective – to not be shamed. To that end, I constructed a defensive armor from variety of materials – cynicism and skepticism being two of my favorites. They shielded me for years. You have seen people cry during a movie, or lift their hands in worship. Both are examples of the type of behavior I avoided.
But after years of living in preferred stoicism, I changed. I would like to tell you I proactively decided to pursue greater maturity on my own, but as with most transformation, I was compelled.
Wade breached my defense the day he was born, leaving in his wake a broad entry point for all other events and relationships to follow. You may think parenting changes you, that’s no surprise. But what specifically caused the transformation? Perhaps it’s the biological change. My body is permanently altered in shape and physiology. Though at best the organic is only a partial explanation. Could it primarily be that the knowledge of my heart is altered and that my relationship to the world has shifted? Now the world has a target line to the most vulnerable part of my flesh.
I was not cold-hearted as I may sound. I felt sad like others when reading the news, hearing of an abused child or a family displaced by war. I perhaps even felt empathy and a call to prayer, but I remained separate, as if looking through a telescope at a distant star. Now I read the same stories and see my son, feel the staggering burden of a mother’s love. It is tender. It is terrible. Each story transports me – it is my child, my friend, my community. My throat tightens in protest, but my eyes soon blur with tears.
I can’t fight it anymore. I can no longer contain the sorrow and the joy in me! And why should I?
I look to Christ as the example for all things. In the gift of His life, we see that God allows Himself to be moved! And further, He does not hide His joy or sorrow from us! The journey from Godhead to man is our example of astonishing vulnerability. Through it we see God is not stoic or hard-hearted. He chooses to be intimately familiar with our heartaches. The Psalmist assures not only does He see our tears, He keeps a record of each one.
If God allows me to move His heart, I honor Him when I allow myself to be moved. If his own glory does not keep him from joy or sorrow, how can I permit my own pride to do so? I see now that in restraining my own heart, I was restraining the heart of God.
I will not lie. If you see me cry, I likely will be fighting embarrassment. But I will also be remembering my God, allowing the tears come and hoping that for someone near, they might hint of the one God with a heart to be moved.
When He saw the throngs, He was moved with pity and sympathy for them, because they were bewildered (harassed and distressed and dejected and helpless), like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36 (amplified)
Hearing from you – did having a child or another experience change how you care for others, or show your care?