“I’m tired boss…. Remember that from the Green Mile?” And his look said the rest. Now what? Toward the end of my time in ministry, I can remember standing in the back of the church building as worship was starting. This guy, who I’ve always deeply respected, looked me in the eye and quoted these words from the Green Mile. I wanted to encourage him to keep going – that empathy and compassion matter – but I didn’t have it in me. He was right. Grizzly Adams was my childhood hero for this exact reason.
I remember the sincerity in his soul as he spoke these words to me. He spoke almost not really to me but just out loud and I just happened to be standing there to absorb them. They remind me of the words that, perhaps, Jesus himself might have uttered in prayer to his “father in heaven”.
Shame requires we hurt each other in order to protect ourselves. It also requires we feel pain from others that was, perhaps, never directed at us. It requires we take things personally and then lash out, get even, shell up, or run and hide. Shame’s goal is to get us to quit and to isolate because we just can’t stand the pain any more.
There’s a question for which I don’t yet have the answer: how, in the midst of this reality, do we choose to be kind anyway? How do we choose to offer grace and empathy and forgiveness and compassion when every evidence suggests it simply isn’t doing any good? After all, even Jesus healed 10 lepers – only one of which ever came back to say thanks.
As an atheist, this is what drew me to Jesus even when I didn’t believe he actually existed. I suppose I still struggle with that whole “believing” thing :). I saw in Jesus what I think it’s supposed to look like to be truly human. There was an ability to absorb this pain and get back up and keep giving a shit. Somewhere I saw a person who believed that not only does being kind, compassionate, and empathetic matter, but that it might be the only thing that matters. I think Jesus called this “the way“.
This is my continued and only resolution as I stare into 2021. I want to embrace a life not dictated to me by my psychology but by my desire to do what matters despite the outcome. In short, regardless of my ability to “believe” in Jesus, I resolve to embrace my will to live like him.