I keep trying to worm out of being a servant of Jesus.
So, should I visit my mother-in-law, who is in the hospital? Jesus says yes, that is on the list of things I should do. No question about it.
But what if I really don’t like her very much? Jesus says to love your enemies.
What if I just intend to visit? Nope, doesn’t count. He’s pretty firm about this.
And I say that isn’t fair. It doesn’t take my feelings and needs into account. She’s really not that easy for me to be around. It isn’t her physical sickness that is the problem. It is her life-sickness, and I don’t mean the fact that she is dying. I mean the fact that she never lived.
I’m not very good around people with problems. Sadly, that is a lot of people. I can barely put up with my own problems, much less carry someone else’s. I have taken classes on how to be around sick people in a healthy way – a way that is safe for them and for me. I still don’t know what I’m doing.
Sometimes sickness isn’t just germs. Sometimes it still spreads anyway. Sometimes a person’s mental sickness can drag you down just as surely as a drowning person is a danger to a lifeguard.
I “hide” people from my newsfeed on Facebook who are very needy and broken. I can’t read about their constant boyfriend troubles, or addictive behavior, or sinus headaches. I think, save the whining for something real, like a broken leg or a divorce. Constant complaining isn’t something I can handle.
If a friend is constantly saying how drunk they are or how they couldn’t stop themselves from eating a whole bag of Lay’s sour cream and onion potato chips and two Oreo Blizzards from Dairy Queen, they get hidden. I don’t want to read this. Because the next posts are always about how sad they are that they have gained weight, and they don’t have a boyfriend, and they feel miserable.
I can’t watch people drown.
It reminds me too much of myself.
I remember those days. I remember feeling lost and stuck in that cycle. I remember feeling like life just happened to me, that I was a passive agent. I remember not liking myself very much.
I’m grateful that I started to wake up and take care of myself. I’m grateful that I learned what it took to build up my flame.
I’m far enough into my recovery that there isn’t a great risk (there is always a risk, don’t fool yourself) of a relapse. Recovery isn’t just about getting over abusing drugs. It is about getting over abusing the gift that is life. Not exercising, eating poorly, feeling like life just happens to you – these are all addictive, mal-adaptive behaviors. These are all ways of not dealing with the situation at hand, and the situation is life.
Someone who is new into recovery can’t really go into a bar safely. Someone who is long in their recovery could go in for a bit, but there is still a risk of taking a drink.
Being around needy, broken people is my bar.
I want to fix them. I feel helpless watching them fail and fall. I offer advice, and they don’t want it, they ignore it, they get angry at me. I want them to be free of their pain. I want them to live.
My addiction is sometimes named codependency. It manifested as not taking care of myself. I smoked pot so I wouldn’t feel other people’s pain. I had started to take it into myself, to name their pain as my own.
Some people would say that my problem is that I’m empathetic. How is that different from codependency? If I feel that your feelings are my feelings – that isn’t just empathy. That is a lack of boundaries. That is codependency. Even if the other person isn’t “dependent” on a drug, you can still be codependent with them. If you feel like you are responsible for their feelings, happy or sad or in between, then you have a codependency problem, not an empathy problem.
Mislabeling someone as an “empath” just delays the healing, because the disease is misdiagnosed.
So back to whether I should visit my mother-in-law.
I want to rescue her, to give her healthy attitudes towards death. She’s dying, really. She may or may not have come to terms with this. I doubt it, having noticed her prescription for an anti-anxiety drug recently. Sadly, that is the Western medical way of dealing with anything – there’s a pill for it.
I was the one who counseled my Mom on death, who talked her through it. I was her midwife for death. Thankfully, God had lead me to read certain books the year before I needed them, before we even knew she was going to get sick. Thankfully, I had the balance in my head and in my life that I could talk her through how to land this plane that is life – how to land it safely on the ground and not crash.
Because that is what this is.
So many people fly through their lives on autopilot. They get in, and they go where everybody else is going because they haven’t thought about it. They do what everybody else is doing because they haven’t thought about it. Then, when things get so real that they can’t ignore them anymore, they go up to the cockpit and learn the pilot is gone.
They have to fly the plane themselves. And they don’t know how. They’ve spent their whole lives letting someone else fly their plane. Now it has gotten real, and now they are on their own.
They often freak out. Sometimes they manage to figure out how to work the radio and call for help. Nobody can fly their plane for them, but they can talk them through how to do it, as long as they are calm and focused.
Sometimes they have enough energy to fly on their own, to fly to safety. Sometimes they have enough energy, enough power, to fly anywhere they want.
But sometimes, the plane is almost out of fuel, and they have to land.
Death is landing. You can either do it easy or hard. You can coast in gently, or you can crash and burn.
I had to do this for my Mom. I had to talk her through this. I had to be the person in the radio tower. I had to because I lived with her. It affected me. Her freaking out spread a foul odor throughout the house, colored the air, set off air-raid sirens.
But this lady? I don’t see her. She isn’t here. I’d have to go into that battle-zone. I’d have to voluntarily enter into that lion’s den.
And she hasn’t called for me.
She cries that I don’t visit, but not to me. Other relatives think I should visit, should “make peace”, but she hasn’t asked me to visit. They don’t say anything to me, but to my husband. Nobody is talking to me. But that makes sense, because nobody has been listening to me all along anyway.
There isn’t a war. I just can’t be around this madness.
Over a year ago, when she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, with a year at most left, I asked her what she wanted to do.
Her answer? “Live”.
I said “Of course, but that isn’t an option. Say you were going to go on a vacation for a week, and there were all sorts of things you wanted to do, but only time to do ten of them. You have to pick what you want to do. Your time is limited. Think about what are the most important things you want to do, and do them.”
There is a difference between being alive and living.
Her answer? She wanted to decorate the house. She’d spent her whole life decorating her house. There were over forty cans of paint left over – gallon cans – when she and her husband moved from Georgia to here.
I gave up.
Over seventy years old, and she has nothing to show for it.
What else does Jesus say? “Let the dead bury the dead.”
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