Understanding approaches slowly, but it arrives all at once.
Since I was a kid, I have had an affinity for certain people who didn’t quite align. I remember helping out at vacation Bible school as a young teen, and I was drawn to the kid (maybe kindergarten age) who was already the “difficult child.” I immediately liked him, and I spent more time with him than with any of the others.
As an adult, I have found that same element in myself drawing me toward certain people. In adults, the “difficulty” looks different. It’s the ones who can’t make themselves think the same way as the majority, who can’t find their fit in traditional churches or accept the expectations society puts on them to be someone else.
A few years ago, watching Silver Linings Playbook, I identified one of the significant elements as mental health challenges. I gravitate to people in my life who don’t fit the mold of what we are told is “normal.”
In recognizing this characteristic in myself, I began working as a back-up at a group home for teen boys on probation for a variety of possible offenses a few years ago. It felt right. Once again, I was with the right people. Not all of them had mental health diagnoses, but the behavioral element was there. Instantly, I cared about them. I wanted to give myself to them. There was some kind of need they had that I felt compelled to meet.
I no longer work there, but now I work full time as a “Parenting Consultant,” which is a nice professional-sounding title that is supposed to point to training and supervising parents who are involved with DHS Child Welfare for allegations of abuse or neglect. It’s just right, once again.
It’s not difficult for me to see past the “safety threat(s)” present for each family and instead look at a mother or father, a person who has hopes and fears and a story and loves their children. Finding that this job is a good fit, I decided to go back to school, and I’m working on a master’s degree to be a counselor.
I’ve understood there was something in me that clicked into place in relation to certain people, but I haven’t fully been able to pinpoint exactly what it is I connect with in these people. Until just recently.
I was reading something (and honestly, I can’t figure out what it was because I have been just inundated with reading the last couple weeks), and it was one of those moments when I had to put the book down, let the dust settle in my mind, pick it back up, re-read it again, and then ponder. Whatever it was wasn’t necessarily that profound or insightful on its own, but it made something in me click into place.
I had a word for that quality that made me pay attention to some people more than others. It wasn’t mental health or bad behavior or nonconformity or even marginalization, though those are often present.
The word resounded in my mind like a gong, and that underlying thread of my history became clear to me. I am drawn to people in pain.
With that realization, I look back to a moment in high school when I was with my youth group at a big conference in San Diego. During one of the worship/prayer/music times, my youth pastor approached me and told me he felt he was being given an idea. In our setting, we would have used the word “prophecy.” Maybe you would use “intuition” or “prediction” or “word from God.” Whatever it was, and whatever we want to call it, he told me he believed I had the gift of healing.
He followed it up by asking me to pray for healing for someone there who was experiencing chronic headaches. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, but I prayed for them. I have no idea if their headaches stopped or continued or got worse, and I never will. The topic of healing never came up again, and I mostly forgot about it.
Now, though, I’m left with wonderings. I wonder what it means to be called to be with people in pain. I wonder if a gift of healing carries more possibilities than solely physical ailments. I wonder what I might learn from reading the gospels through a lens of Jesus healing people’s pain. I wonder what there might be to learn from other people who have experience with pain or from cultures who understand healing more deeply than we do in American culture.
Another point of contact for me is my Enneagram designation of a 9, a peacemaker. If you don’t know the Enneagram, it’s too big to try to explain here, but it’s a system for understanding different personalities and the good and the bad and the challenges and strengths and ways to move forward.
One of the characteristics of 9’s, for good or bad, is that we are driven to act for others. In contrast with 2’s who are driven to do for others in order to make them happy, 9’s are driven to do for others in order for those others not to be upset. It’s a bit shameful for me to think of. I don’t like to think of it like that, but there it is. Our priority is to avoid turmoil, within our own minds and between people and in our environments.
I think the negative and unhealthy version of that is a 9 who is spineless or stands for nothing or is people pleasing or is almost nonexistent so as not to ruffle any feathers. I think though, that maybe this realization about myself is the positive side. I am driven to alleviate pain and make peace in the world, to foster understanding and heal emotional and relational wounds.
Much of the time, when I write, I write about things that have grabbed me and spun me around until I have landed in a new direction. This time, I feel like something grabbed me, but I don’t quite know where it’s taking me. Maybe I already understand as much as I need to; I am already working in my job and pursuing a degree that fits, after all. Or maybe it’s just the beginning, and I have worlds left to discover.
Maybe you have something to teach me, some additional insight to contribute or some experience to share. If you do, I’ll receive it gladly.