Who fills you up?

September 14, 2009 | 44 comments

A while back I was on the way to an event and suddenly became on fire with the idea of showing Christ to the people who would be there. I know that’s something I’m called to do all the time, but for some reason on this particular morning I experienced a moment of clarity where I realized just how beautiful and powerful it would be if every one of us who considered ourselves Christians went through our days just showering everyone around us with the love of God. My mind flashed to all the saints who changed the world around them with little more than the joy and peace and love that people experienced in their presence (St. John Vianney came to mind), and I was filled with inspiration.

I walked into the house ready to just bless everyone’s socks off (as we say in the South). It was a playdate-type event with three other women and their children, and when the hostess answered the door I greeted her with a beaming, warm smile and thanked her for hosting.

The hostess, a woman I’d only recently come to know named Sharon, didn’t really smile back. There was something odd about her body language, as if she were in the presence of someone she didn’t want to be around.

There were two other women there, Samantha and Charlene. All of us had originally met through the same organization, but the three of them had seemed to really hit it off and had become close friends; occasionally they’d invite me to their events as well, such as this day. As I got settled Samantha and Charlene were engrossed in a conversation and greeted me with brief nods when I said hi.

The entire time I was there I just didn’t feel like I fit in. Sharon continued to act a little wary around me, and Samantha and Charlene kept chatting and laughing at inside jokes without bringing me into the discussion. At one point I had gone outside with the kids, and when I came back in the three of them were talking about starting a women’s sports team. I was thinking of how I could explain to them that my sport of choice is walking to the mailbox and therefore I wouldn’t be able to join them, but they never did invite me. By the time the conversation opened up for all of us to chat, about an hour later, I was feeling defensive and irritated. I ended up acting stand-offish, passing up opportunities to connect with any them by speaking in mostly one-word answers.

Now that I’m removed from the situation, it’s not hard to see that it was clearly just some kind of misunderstanding on my part. I mean, if they didn’t like me, why would they have invited me over? If nothing else, I didn’t even know them well enough yet to have done anything to offend them. Though I never have clicked with any of them the way they click with each other, other than that one day they’ve never acted towards me in anything but a friendly way.

What is interesting about the situation, though, is how their actions (my perception of them, anyway) impacted my big plans to show Christ to the world. If you could have seen a video of my own body language throughout the morning, you would see it change from warm and open to cold and withdrawn. By the time I left I was hardly giving anyone eye contact, had my arms folded across my chest and a tense, plastic half-smile on my face. In the end, they saw very little of Christ from me that day.

A few days after that playdate, I heard some news about Sharon and Charlene. It turns out that Sharon had some serious personal problems that were coming to a head on the day of our playdate, and I found out that Charlene has been battling a medical condition for years that had been really getting her down lately. I immediately thought of the way I’d felt on the drive over to meet the group that morning, now knowing that at least two of them were in bad places in their lives and could probably have used an extra dose of warmth, and it occurred to me:

That probably was the Holy Spirit giving me a special prompting to shower them with love that day!

But I didn’t. And for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about why.

I eventually realized that the problem was that I was requiring love from them first before I could show them love in return. I was dependent things like smiles and feelings of inclusion to fill me up, to give me confidence and strength. And when I didn’t get it, I withdrew.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized I do this all the time. If any of the people I encounter on a daily basis — whether it’s strangers, friends or family — are less than welcoming to me or do anything that I perceive as rude, whether I’m correct with that perception or not, it impacts the level of love I am able to show them. For example, it was a big part of what was responsible for the uncharitable assumptions I made about the woman in my recent movie theater post, as readers rightly pointed out in the heated discussion that followed.

What I’ve learned from all this is that having the desire to show Christ-like love to the world around you isn’t enough; to actually do it, you must first stop needing the world to give you something — anything — first. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with appreciating the good feelings that come with pleasant social interactions, or even kindly letting people know when they have done something hurtful, but it’s when we (“we” meaning “I”) start deriving our strength from other people that it becomes a problem.

Lately when I’m in situations where I’m tempted to withdraw because of awkward or tense social interactions, I ask myself, “Who fills you up?” Meaning, to whom am I looking for the strength to love in this situation? The world, or the Source of love himself?

44 Comments

  1. Emily a.k.a. Smoochagator

    Wow, Jennifer, I can really relate to this. Often I figure that if someone's going to be rude to me, I'll just be rude right on back because they "deserve" it. As one of my friends often says, "Be better than that!" I know that God's calling to love our neighbor has nothing to do with how the neighbor treats us.

    It's good that you're examining these actions, but remember to look forward and not back! Next time you see any of these ladies, give them a triple dose of love.

  2. qualcosa di bello

    i reached a similar point recently that came to the surface during spiritual direction & my director recommended the litany of humility. it is working on my perspective in some pretty amazing ways…

    http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/humility.htm

    God bless!

  3. Josephene

    Sometimes I think it's fear, for myself, when I don't act in the way I am being called to act (to show Christ's love): a responding smile or warmth from the other person is like a smooth path to sharing Christ's love; it makes it easier to make myself vulnerable by loving as Christ has asked me to. If I don't get that smile (but the reverse), I am scared off and get defensive and cold ("they clearly don't deserve what I have to offer.")

  4. Bethany Hudson

    What a wonderful reminder, Jennifer. I needed to hear this.

  5. Barbara C.

    This is something I've been struggling with too, lately. About a week ago the weekday gospel reading was from Luke 6 when Jesus says we should love our enemies because even sinners love people who love them.

    You make a good point about how important it is to rely on God's love to see us through so we can see Christ in the less-than-friendly person in front of us.

  6. Christina

    I do the same thing, all the time. If I don't feel accepted I close off and withdraw.

    On occasion I've felt God's call to be warm and caring, and when I do I immediately pray for an extra dosage of Grace. Even then I usually reject the Grace and struggle to give half a smile, but He's working on me and I feel a lot more confident in His Love now.

    If you know you're loved then you can more easily shower love on others who don't love you first.

  7. Jenee

    oh Jen, sometimes I feel like you're talking right to me! I would have done exactly the same thing. I often withdraw from a situation when it's not exactly the way I need it to be…when I'm not getting what I think I need from other people.

    I'm very new in my journey with Christ. It's amazing and it's the best thing I've ever done with my life. I'm so happy to have found your blog. It always gives me something to think about.

    Lately, when I get stressed, instead of freaking out, I ask myself 'How much does this really matter? How would God want you to handle this situation?'

    Now, I can begin asking myself another question 'Who fills you up?' when I am faced with wanting to withdraw from uncomfortable situations.

    Thanks for being so open and willing to share!

  8. Amy

    I love this post. This is so "me" and something I would do. But I will think twice next time. Thank you for that.

    (Also, do you know of an audio Rosary that is good? I'd like to have one to do in the car. Is that even appropriate – to do it in the car?)

  9. deb

    Oh that humbles a sensitive woman here, I am so like this always. I try to rationalize it , but it still comes down to the same thing. Even if I'm still upset or unnerved I still must find the strength to be the "better" person. Shine some Light. It isn't easy , but thanks for sharing and letting me know I'm not alone in this.

  10. Amy

    I wish that I could identify more with the Jennifer who wrote this post, but unfortunately, I feel more in sync with the Jennifer who felt rejected at the play date. I would love to feel so filled up with the love of God that I could continue to be positive and loving in situations where the positive and loving sentiments weren't being returned, but I'm not there. Cheers to you for the progress you've made!

  11. sarah haliwell

    I can see the kindness and generosity in your thoughts, but I think you're being too hard on yourself. You may be Christian but you're also a human being! It's very difficult to feel good about yourself (which is the source of our ability to love others) if they are treating you very rudely. And these women were rude.

    In my opinion, the lesson to get from this experience is that, even if you are having a hard day (as your hostess was) being kind and polite and loving to someone else will spread that love, and touch their hearts, and bring it back to you. If they had even smiled nicely at you, all your loving spirit would have poured out as you had intended.

    It's very easy to be polite and loving to a rude shop assistant or neighbour. But to be invited into someone's home and then have everyone act as if they dislike you and exclude you – defensiveness is a healthy response.

    Now that you have information about why they behaved so badly, you can let that Holy Spirit shine through by forgiving them, inviting them to your home, offering them any help they might need.

    Sorry for the long comment and for what is probably going to be an opinion completely against the tide! πŸ™‚

  12. el-e-e

    Insightful as always! I can totally relate to this, too. (The, uh, first part of it, when you closed off and felt unwanted.)

  13. kelly jeanie

    Wow, this post really spoke to me. I do love your blog on a regular basis but this post…amazing, thanks so much. This is something that I've been struggling with in all my relationships.

  14. Kingdom Mama

    Ummm, yeah. Yes. That's all I have to say about that.

    πŸ˜‰

  15. Nicole

    I realized today, as I emailed my husband encouraging him to read your post today, that I have been reading your blog since the beginning of your most recent pregnancy and I have never left a comment. With three children under the age of 5, your blog has become a daily devotional for me. It always provides me with something interesting to think about and a reminder to turn to God. Also, as I am not Catholic, it has helped me understand more about Catholicism, rather than only the negative sound bites of what it means to be Catholic, that so many of us have been exposed to.
    Thank you.

  16. Anonymous

    ahhh…you are so right. I am personally working on not taking things too personally. I tell myself not to be so sensitive. I can't tell you how many times I've acted on bad information. I think someone is rude(maybe they are) but often there's something else there, something going on in their lives. I am trying to get over myself and it's humbling and liberating at the same time. I feel stronger too. Doesn't St. Paul say to put on the armor of Christ?

  17. green mom for Jesus

    right on!
    our commitment to serve Christ should not depend on the outward actions of others, which many times will be to the contrary!
    God bless you. Thanks for this article

  18. alison

    thank you for this!! this is something I need to hear over and over again. hopefully one of these times it will sink in.

  19. Shelly @ Life on the Wild Side

    Wow. You have such a way of getting to the heart of the matter. I'm so glad I read this today–I needed it.

  20. Libby

    I have been so frustrated with that in myself lately! Thank you for articulating it so well, & confirming that it really is something about which the Holy Spirit really wants to get my attention!

  21. Elizabeth

    this is exactly what i needed to read today. thank you!

  22. Cheryl

    great post!

  23. brian carlson

    My more recent and deeper understanding of this is that we humans are rather heavily programmed to "do unto others as they do unto us," which is what makes Jesus' command that we "love our neighbors as ourselves" revolutionary and counter-intuitive. This revelation has been particularly useful in my fourth grade classroom, since I've realized that children tend to do to others as they have been treated. They incorporated the "golden rule" into their class contract last year, giving me a platform to riff on the idea quite frequently.

    I think it's really hard to love our neighbors when they don't seem to be reciprocating, but wow. Wouldn't that be a Jesus-y thing to pull off every once in a while!
    Love,
    Erica,on her husband's i.d.

  24. Kim from Canada

    Jennifer, forget Oprah – you are every woman! As the other commenters are saying, I sooo connect with this testimony. And, like you, I want to correct my actions by reacting to the Spirit when He speaks to me.

    Showing the love is very important for those who have never experienced it. This is something I have to work on daily (hourly).

  25. Jennifer G

    Once again, you're speaking directly to me. The Holy Spirit really uses you to set me straight.

  26. Roxane B. Salonen

    Hey girlfriend! I feel like I can say that now for real, since we've actually sat down and dined together — even if it was on catfish and onion rings. πŸ™‚ (Wish I could have a chance to do that over again — I would have eaten more of it!) Jennifer, you've hit on something really important here. And honestly, I think writer types are particularly susceptible to this. We are all cut from a similar sort of cloth. Well, at least most of the writers I know are deeply feeling, sensitive folks. Though it aids in our being able to express ourselves in our writing, it can make it tough sometimes as we navigate through relationships. I have had to work super hard on this, as many here have, and think I will never master it, but, I've come a long way from where I used to be. Whenever I start going down that road of doubt, I think to myself, "You are a child of God." I take a step back and remember that it's most likely something beyond me that is causing the odd feelings. I try to own up when I might be the cause, but if it's not making sense, it usually is NOT you at all. Then, back to "I am a child of God," because I know God's love for me will melt away any doubt if I allow it to. Try it sometime. Now, having met you in person, I can't imagine anyone snubbing you unless they really did have something else on their minds. One final thing: I don't think it's altogether wrong that you didn't employ your bubbly self. It's okay to respond to our environments in the way that you did. It's okay to feel out the setting and respond accordingly. I think the key is to not go down the path of doubt. Always, remember, you are a child of God and God knows of your beautiful heart. And of course, all those in your midst are also sweet children of God, and in need of His mercy.

  27. Jess

    Thank you, Jennifer, for this post– just what I needed to hear.

  28. Nadja Magdalena

    I have been noticing the same tendency in myself lately. I began noticing it after watching something on Mother Teresa. I think it was easy for her to love lepers and the unloved and destitute, as they, for the most part, were so grateful. Much harder for her to love politicians and world figures who merely saw meeting with her as a photo and publicity opportunity.

  29. mrsdarwin

    Just to play devil's advocate for a moment: The duty of a hostess is hospitality. Perhaps you personally were called to respond to all situations with smiles and openness, but a) if the hostess was not feeling up to making others welcome she could have canceled the playdate, and b) to "triangulate" someone out of a conversation, intentionally or not, is rude. In a social situation which has been limited to four invited ladies, it's just a bit unconscionable to make the conversation so exclusive.

    You are right that as Christians we're called to radiate Christ's love in spite of circumstances, but another takeaway might be when we invite people into our home, we have an obligation to make those people feel welcome or at ease.

  30. Anonymous

    I have always been hypersensitive to rejection–my whole life. That resulted in me being pretty shy and withdrawn when I was younger. As I've matured, I've realized that almost every time I thought I was being rejected, it wasn't about me, and that I probably should have cheerfully ignored all of that. What's the worst that could happen? That someone could actually BE rejecting me, and I could be cheerfully ignoring it. That's a good thing!

  31. Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this post. The situation you stated happens to me all the time!! I always feel awkward and that others don't care for me and feel rarely invited to happenings amongst my friends. Then I feel left out and as if I don't count. But really, these are my own issues, not other people's. it is not their job to fill me up and make me feel worthy. It is my responsibility to look to Christ and be filled up with Him and his love for me so that I might reflect it to others. I have completely withdrawn from things in my parish because I feel like an outsider, I must change the way I think.

    A friend once said "IT IS ALL ABOUT ME!!" And it is about ME and how I react to others and NOT about how they react to me. I cannot control them and I don't know what is going on behind the scenes for them. I cannot portray what I THINK they are feeling onto myself as I cannot know what they are feeling.

    You have been a messenger from the Holy Spirit today, thank you for sharing this.

    God Bless you and your family,
    Jennifer (in Kingwood)

  32. Jodi Bash

    This is simply fantastic awareness and advice for all. Thank you.

  33. Christian Soldier

    Having moved to the South recently, we've met a lot of new people over the past year. This same situation has come up a lot for us. (So superbly written and layed out btw.)It's so easy to think for a second that it's all about you…but so often people are going through their own drama, they havn't even noticed the impact they've made. Everyone so self absorbed…I think it's in our nature. Sometimes when people appear rude or standoffish, I realize later that they were just as apprehensive and nervous as I was. I've told myself recently to reserve judgment until the third time…usually the person turns out pretty rad.

  34. Anonymous

    " you must first stop needing the world to give you something — anything — first"

    Kablam! You nailed that one!

  35. NC Sue

    Jennifer, I have had the same struggles – and WOW IS IT FRUSTRATING! So although I can't give you a first-hand success story, I thought you might enjoy hearing this from Therese of Lisieux's autobiography (Story of a Soul):

    Formerly one of our nuns managed to irritate me whatever she did or said. The devil was mixed up in it, for it was certainly he who made me see so many disagreeable traits in her. As I did not want to give way to my natural dislike for her, I told myself that charity should not only be a matter of feeling but should show itself in deeds. So I set myself to do for this sister what I should have done for someone I loved most dearly. Every time I met her, I prayed for her and offered God all her virtues and her merits. I was sure this would greatly delight Jesus, for every artist likes to have his works praised and the divine Artist of souls is pleased when we do not halt outside the exterior of the sanctuary where He has chosen to dwell but go inside and admire its beauty. I did not remain content with praying a lot for this nun who caused me so much disturbance. I tried to do as many things for her as I could, and whenever I was tempted to speak unpleasantly to her, I made myself give her a pleasant smile and tried to change the subject. The Imitation says: β€œIt is more profitable to leave everyone his way of thinking than to give way to contentious discourses.” When I was violently tempted by the devil and if I could slip away without her seeing my inner struggle, I would flee like a soldier deserting the battlefield. And after all this she asked me one day with a beaming face: β€œSister Therese, will you please tell me what attracts you so much to me? You give me such a charming smile whenever we meet.” Ah! it was Jesus hidden in the depth of her soul who attracted me, Jesus who makes the bitterest things sweet!

  36. Karen Walker

    Hi Jennifer,
    Just wanted to stop over and thank you for visiting my blog and for your lovely comment.
    Karen

  37. Anonymous

    This reminds me of something St. John of the Cross said.It was to the effect we should never think about other people, good thoughts or bad thoughts. We just think about God and our relationship with Him. When we run movies in our heads starring people we know as the villian or the hero we impinge upon their freedom. I think we start to view them as objects that we somehow control. I think St. John was on to something. Thanks for this post.

  38. Shannon

    Consider it one more gentle reminder that "It isn't always about ME."

  39. Marian

    What an honest post. What a great reminder. I can definitely relate. I kind of wonder if introverts who need a little extra encouragement from *somewhere* are stopped by this a little more than extroverts.

    This post reminds me of this:
    "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" ~ Matthew 5:46-47

  40. Kristen Laurence

    This is a beautiful reflection, Jennifer.

  41. Kelly @ Love Well

    So true. So very, very true.

    This is a daily struggle for me. When I start with my well filled up, I can splash out love from God. When I start empty, I'm always looking for others — who can't fill my well, anyway — to pour into me.

    Ain't no way for anyone — especially a mama — to live.

  42. Sarah

    This post really spoke to me. Just today I encountered a girl in a class I was teaching, and I was convinced that I felt a hostile vibe from her. I was perplexed and offended, and though I was not rude to her, I purposely avoided eye contact. I also withheld the warm smiles that I gave to the other students.

    It never occurred to me that maybe she was struggling with something that had absolutely nothing to do with me, and maybe she needed Christ's love lavished on her right at that moment.

    I'm praying this lesson will stick with me when I encounter another situation like this.

  43. Marie

    Watching my kids do exactly what you are describing I've figured out (I think) why *I* do it — it's just a social survival skill. Most of us have figured out that looking like the eager one in the room can make us look less marketable. People figure they can make friends with you any time and they spend their capital on the hard-to-win-over folks. Especially with girls, if you respond to being excluded with a big display of asking to be let in you are likely to be excluded even more.

    I think that considering the needs of the other people in the room like you are talking about is not just the right thing to do, it's the only thing that can get us out of the instinctive pecking order games we tend to fall into.

    Thanks, as always, for the post.

  44. Anonymous

    I can relate to this too. I really want to be holy and Christ-like to others, but I always seem to fail in my attempts to be good. I've realized that I'm probably too weak to make any progress by myself, I'm too weak even to do little things for God. So I turn to Mary and I say, "Mary, I only have this moment of prayer to speak to you. There's a good chance that I'll neglect later to say my Rosary, to think of God at all, or to do good things. So I only have this moment today to pray, and I offer you my desires, such as they are, to be holy, to do good things, to please God. Do what you can with my desires, Mary, because this is all I can do."

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