Even in second grade, at just eight years old, I was quickly learning that I was wired differently than a lot of my peers. I can remember watching my little class mates tease that "naughty boy" at recess, and upon seeing the hurt in his eyes, pain would surge through my body. When tears threatened to spill onto his cheeks, tears would also threaten to spill onto mine. I felt weird for me, but more than that, I felt hurt for him. And so, I stood up for him - over and over and over. And for some reason, my peers never turned their cruelty on me, but my defense of the boy never really diminished their cruelty on him either. I remember being that little eight year old girl, laying in my white twin bed with the gold embossing, and not being able to sleep at night, because I would think about this boy, and how much he must hurt every single day that he was in school. I was so sensitive to his pain.
That day that I walked into the classroom, like every other morning, I had a plan. I walked over to the boy and touched his shoulder. I whispered, Can you try to be a good boy today, to listen to Mrs. Figary, to obey? Please?? If you do, I promise that I will play with you at recess. I guess, that day, my pleading must have worked, because I remember playing with him at recess - or having him chase me around the playground while trying to kiss me - while I squealed in mock protest. From that day forward, I whispered that plea to him every single morning of the remainder of that school year. Some days it worked and some days it didn't. Regardless I continued to empathize with him and feel for him, and everyone else around me.
That was the year that I discovered that God had created me with a bleeding heart. I was eight years old. I didn't have the words to understand, but I had big feelings and extreme empathy for people around me - adults and peers alike. I was sensitive, and I cried easily - mostly for the hurts of others. I was a moody child because I was intuitive about the feelings of others, and would literally take them upon myself. It's a lot for a child, so at home I would sulk and my pendulum of moods would swing wide and far. The emotional distress of other people was a lot for me to handle, and I did not always know how to process that. I also did not entirely understand that not everyone felt things the same way that I did. I always had a circle of friends, and I was never bullied or mistreated, but I often felt different - like an outsider - and I quickly learned to build up walls to protect myself from being suffocated in empathy and feelings. I felt misunderstood a lot. I was so aware of my surroundings, and of the feelings and emotions of others, that many times I had to close off my own feelings in order to protect myself from being completely overwhelmed. At times, when I felt too much, I pushed relationships right away - closing myself off completely. This destructive pattern followed me into my adult life.
It has taken me over 30 years to really begin to understand the way that God has hard wired me. I am learning to embrace the title bleeding heart, and truly that does define me well. Through the adoption process of our youngest son, traveling to a third world country, falling in love with a street boy and a country so different from my own, I have begun to see how purposeful God was in the way He created me. My bleeding heart was not an accident - it's not a mistake, a disorder, or a weakness in itself. Yes, absolutely there are weaknesses in me, because of the sensitive way in which I am molded. I have to give those weaknesses to Jesus every, single day, but I don't have to give up my bleeding heart. I don't need to be fixed. I now know that this extreme empathy that God tenderly put inside of me - that ability to empathize with underdogs, with hurting people, with the marginalized - that ability that I have to ache right alongside a person that aches, is a gift, and every step along the way in realizing this gift has been preparation for my future life in Ethiopia. This awareness for the needs and feelings of others is being fine-tuned for purpose in the Kingdom. The excruciating sensitivity to the people that cross my path is necessary for what lies ahead.
God has been pursuing me for years into a beautiful heart-relationship with Jesus. He has been refining me, and teaching me to invest my sensitive self and deep emotions into the Kingdom. It has not been an easy journey. The hurt has run deep, the feelings consuming at times, the pain of being misunderstood intense, but it is a journey that I have needed to take. Yes, I am a natural burden bearer, but what I have had to continue to learn is how to bear those burdens by unloading them at the feet of Jesus. Compassion is all about entering into someone's pain, but slowly I am learning not to stay inside of that pain and how to hand it over to the One Who promises a light yoke. (Matthew 11:28-30)
The Kingdom needs all kinds of people. The Kingdom needs me and my bleeding heart. Little by little I am learning to embrace that truth, and embrace who I am in Jesus. I don't have to give up my bleeding heart - there is space for all of me - for such a time as this.
How about you?