Friday, August 20, 2010

noah-moses and empathy

We just moved so we are meeting many new people. Think of the last time you met someone new. How did that conversation go? I have noticed that frequently within two minutes of an introductory conversation it starts: the comparisons and judgements, the defensiveness and rationalizations. I’ll type a few facts about myself that come up in convercsation and see how if any of those kinds of thoughts come to your head: Hi my name is Britt. I have nine children, I homeschool, and I haven’t eaten sugar in almost seven years. Has it started yet? Are you questioning your family size, or mine? Are you defending your diet or the education of your children? Please don’t. PLEASE don’t. I’m not looking for an adversary, or a competitor. I need a friend.

When I tell people these basic facts about my life I hope they understand what I call the Noah-Moses principle. Moses should not have built Noah’s ark and neither should you. Join me in a thought exercise. Imagine Noah and Moses talking together. This is the first time they have met and they are likely discussing the miracles they are most famous for. Can you for one minute imagine them fighting over bragging rights for the best way to traverse impassible bodies of water? Can you imagine Moses leaving the conversation thinking about how he has never understood those boat-building types and wishing he had found someone more like him to talk with? It sounds cartoonish doesn’t it? Ridiculous and humorous, yet we do it all the time. We don’t wish we knew how to build a boat or part the seas…but we do wish for and question the missions and circumstances of others.

I first learned this concept a few years ago. At the time my twins were one. They were my sixth and seventh children. It had been a challenging year for our family. While our extended family was dealing with cancer, parkinsons, paralysis, open heart surgery and other major issues…we were dealing with sleep deprivation. Frequent and random interruptions of sleep are used to torture prisoners of war. The bring on weakness, helplessness, disillusionment and depression. Sleep deprivation is standard fair for parents of infants. About the time my twins turned one I went to a meeting with a group of women. A lovely lady was sharing her recent experiences with us. She had found her mission in life and in amazing ways she was changing the world. She and her daughter had gone to Africa on a three week adventure to help refugee children there. Her slides were stunning and inspiring. The need of the children was obvious. Her experiences led her to ask us in humility to help meet the specific needs of the children; we could go with her, or gather supplies or donate money. As she was speaking with all the passion and heart she could muster I felt a still small voice whisper…have another child. The voice did not tell me to go to Africa, though I would have loved it and there is much to do there. I was not told to fulfill her mission anymore than Moses was told to build an ark. The spirit saw through the beautiful details of the presentation to the principle..God loves you, God has a mission for you. You will be needed to do something amazing and impossible to bless his children.

Just like Moses and Noah, God may ask us to do something impossible. Fear can effect our ability to rely on the Lord to accomplish what He wants us to do. Fear may lead us to scurry about relying on the wisdom of women (even great ones). There is a definite logic that would lead us to NOT do what is so very obviously impossible. Lack of self worth may lead us to forget that God knows us and has a specific plan for us. It may not look dramatic or exciting. It may not be more or "better" or measurable at all. It may not be what we want to do at all. It will be God's plan for us. If Noah had built the Jaredite barges he would have been in trouble...the principle there wasn't even boat building. It was and always has been that the Lord prepares a way for us to accomplish all that he commands us. He does not help us accomplish what He has commanded other people to do.

Now what if the Jaredite barge builders, the Nephite boat builders, Noah and Moses all got together? Would Moses feel left out? We all like to be with people who have similar missions, similar circumstances and similar beliefs. It’s both motivating and comforting. Yet it doesn’t take specific circumstances or experiences to takes a heart and listening ears. Or in other words, what I call the empathy principle… You don’t need to give birth in an elevator on Christmas eve to have empathy for others.

Two years ago I gave birth to a baby in an elevator. Dramatic, exciting, crazy! At first I hated to tell people about the birth because their reactions tended towards that extreme. I was the side show circus act fit for reality television. My feelings about the birth were far from those that would enjoy that voyeurism. I felt my body had betrayed me and endangered my baby. I felt such overwhelming fear and heartache surrounding the situation. I was in shock that I had gone through the experience. I had reoccurring nightmares as my mind tried to make sense of the birth. I felt very angry and very alone. I had many symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome..from what some people saw as a dramatic, crazy and exciting experience-oh and SO easy to have such a short lucky.

I found a lot of understanding and healing from two fairly unlikely sources. Around that same time a friend had a homebirth. Unlike the peace and simplicity she had experienced surrounding some of her other births…this was an extremely long, difficult and painful birth I don’t remember all of the circumstances but I do know that what struck me was that we were feeling very similar feelings. She too felt betrayed by her body, a lot of anger and shock. She also felt misunderstood as she tried to explain her feelings to others. Our situations were fairly different, but I felt she understood me.

I also felt that Jesus understood me. I have always felt that jesus understands women even in our most female circumstances. He offers to the world life eternal and they refuse. He has been misunderstood and abused. Some people see him as weak and a sort of door mat. More appropriate to my current situation was the Atonement. I wondered at Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemene and how his Apostles couldn’t wait with him one hour. I wonder if he worried that his body wouldn’t be able to do what he needed it to do. I know he asked to “let this cup pass from him”. I felt that Jesus understood me. In my dreams I slowly began to see angels surrounding my husband and I in that elevator. I can still feel that comfort.

The understanding and empathy I sought did not come from people who had experienced a Christmas Eve elevator birth…yes Christmas Eve. Isn’t that dramatic, exciting and crazy? Maybe reading this you have felt some empathy for me. You can share in my emotions even without sharing my experiences. Think of the most salient experiences in your life. They may involve pain, love, sorrow, loneliness, fear or helplessness. Those words probably don’t even begin to describe the depth of what you experienced. Those experiences can either separate us or unite us. We can choose to honestly say that no one else has ever really experienced exactly what we experienced, or we can open our hearts and recognize the emotions we feel in the hearts of others despite their wildly different circumstances.

The next time you meet someone I hope you remember the Noah-Moses principle and the Empathy principle. I hope it helps you develop a friendship where you might not have. I hope it helps you pursue your mission and encourage the efforts of others to do so. I hope if you meet me you will not focus on the differences that could separate us and instead take the time to make a friend.


Robyn said...

Awesome post, thank you so much!

Being A Mother Who Knows said...

I don't know you and you don't know me, but that was a great post! Thank You. Passing on the link to a friend or two. Hope you don't mind.

mama said...

Thanks for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It is meant to be shared.

Christine said...

You don't know me either, but thank you for sharing this post. It is beautifully written, and so true! I know I will think of Noah and Moses the next time I'm tempted to compare myself to others. :)