Her name is Ferida. She lives in the Spanish style house at the end of my street with her husband Charlie. They are are both in their 80’s, and Charlie’s health is declining; thus, they don’t participate in our weekly neighborhood curbside gatherings. (Those are a real thing. I live in present-day Mayberry.) Until last week, my relationship with Ferida consisted of the pleasantries exchanged while getting the mail or the happenstance of walking in or out of our houses at the same time.
Last Tuesday night, there were emergency vehicles at Ferida and Charlie’s house. The other neighbors and I discussed the trucks at our Wednesday curbside gathering. None of us knew what happened; and we all agreed that someone should walk over and see if everything was ok. I waited for someone else to volunteer. It was close to dinner time and my spaghetti pie wasn’t going to make itself. More than that, I wondered whether knocking on Ferida’s door would open my eyes to a new person to care for—someone I couldn’t unsee due to our close proximity. Did I have room in my schedule—or my heart—for that?
As a strong two on the enneagram, I’m a helper and a connecter by nature. I pride myself on being able to form deep relationships with people—sometimes to my detriment. I take on too much. I say “yes” because I feel like I SHOULD. I offer to help when I don’t really have the time; and I feel people’s pain deeply. Oh, how deeply I feel things.
I’m getting better about managing my “twoness” as I get older. I’m learning to prioritize the essential over the urgent and giving my family, friends and their burdens over to God, rather than trying to shoulder them on my own. Still, developing a relationship with my elderly neighbors seemed like a step backward in my tidy schedule management as well as a potential tax on my emotions.
Long story short, another neighbor volunteered to check on Ferida and Charlie, and I (in true Two form) walked over to check on them with her. That visit opened the door for a series of visits with Ferida this past week.
As it turns out, Ferida needs very little from me, other than someone to sit shoulder to shoulder with her and help her sort through information and her emotions related to her husband’s impending death. As it also turns out, the heart that I didn’t think was big enough to hold one more person’s pain expanded just a little to let Ferida in. After Sunday night’s visit, Ferida looked at me through tearful eyes and said: “Thank you for helping me process this information. I think I just needed someone to listen.”
I won’t lie, I woke up yesterday feeling depleted. Not just from supporting Ferida, but from a week—maybe even a couple weeks—full of connecting with people. People I legitimately love. People I would give the shirt off my back if they needed it and who I willingly give my time to. Unfortunately, I think I’ve become so good at connecting with other people that I’ve forgotten how to connect with myself.
In their book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath say that connecting with others requires two things: responsiveness (e.g.- validation and caring) and openness (e.g.- vulnerability). I’d add time and availability to that list; and I’d venture to say that the same principles that apply to connecting with others apply to connecting with ourselves (e.g.- self-care). We can’t nurse our own emotionally depleted souls back to health unless we do the following:
Acknowledge the problem.
Understand the cause of the problem.
Make time to fix the problem.
Here’s what this looks like in practice:
1.) Acknowledging the problem: I’m exhausted. I feel like I never have any time to do the things I love because I’m always doing things for other people. (This is pretty much the siren song of Enneagram twos, by the way. Please don’t take pity on me. I’ve done this to myself.)
2.) Understanding the cause of the problem: I’ve told myself that the world—or at least the people in my world—NEED me. That their lives will fall apart if I am not there to HELP them. While I genuinely LOVE helping other people, the problem arises when I start to derive my self-worth from the helping. Lately, I’ve not only derived my worth from the helping, but I’ve become resentful of the very thing that’s “supposed” to bring me satisfaction.
3.) Making time to fix the problem: Notice that I didn’t go straight to “fixing the problem.” For people like me, who value connection, our calendars can be so booked with volunteering and meetings and coffee dates and helping, helping, helping that we often need to clear our schedule before we even have TIME to helping ourselves. For me, making time to fix the problem means making time for myself. Clearing my calendar for a week to do things that I enjoy—for no other reason than the fact that I enjoy them.
Fixing the problem also means connecting with THE ONE who gives me life and remembering who I am in Christ. I am loved, and I am worthy. Not because of what I do or who I help but because I am HIS CHILD. As Brian Frost, the pastor of the church I attended in grad school, once said:
“Jesus, not my productivity, is my justification.”
The older I get, the more I realize that when I take my eyes off of Him—whether that’s by focusing too much on others or on myself—everything falls apart. This doesn’t mean I won’t keep checking in on Ferida or that I’ll stop trying to connect with people I love. It simply means that on weeks like this one, when I feel my body and soul growing weary from all the doing, I need to pause and redirect my focus. The biggest help I’ll ever be to othesr is in pointing them to Christ.