I remember finally reaching the checkout counter of our neighborhood Blockbuster Video one Saturday evening (I know, I’m dating myself). The place was packed and I had waited at least 20 minutes in line. People around me were getting very cranky. I told the clerk how impressed I was with her calm demeanor in light of the circumstances. She told me she had been trained to pay attention only to the person standing in front of her at the moment; there was nothing she could do for anyone else. Funny which memories stay with us. I must have needed to be reminded of this that day.
I’m the oldest of 4 girls, each born 2 years apart to alcoholic parents amid loads of domestic violence. I tend to feel responsible for way too much. Once, at a conference, I stood holding a noisy door ajar rather than let it repeatedly interrupt the presenter. It just had to be done and no one else did it, so it was up to me. Someone said, “Oh, you’re a gap filler!”
I’m also someone who gets a bit overwhelmed by all the suffering in the world. It’s a short hop from gap filler to save the world. I think I find this verse helpful because it helps me focus on what I can do rather than all that I can’t do:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
By Emily Dickinson
The poet understands that when it comes to finding meaning in life, quality matters more that quantity. She isn’t aspiring to save all hearts, ease all aches, help all robins; just one. We must be honest about what we can do deeply and completely. Housework can be performed with a lick and a promise but loving a child demands much more focus and determination. Loving a hurting child demands even more of us. They can’t easily receive what we have to offer. They may not even recognize it when we are offering exactly what they need.
Do you find your heart big enough but the day just too short? What do you do to monitor your limits? Who will give you a gentle nudge when you have over-committed? Are you careful to know that you are offering what is needed rather that what is easy for you to give? Are you taking good care of yourself? Are you spending time with friends who are healthy and supportive?
Forgive yourself for not being able to fix everything. Focus on what you can do well and do it. This is what love looks like.