Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. –Romans 12:15
There’s a guy two tables over. He’s eating by himself.
His wife died last year, and this is the one fun thing he does each week. He goes out to Village Inn on Friday nights, and orders the catfish dinner. And as he eats each bite he tries to be happy. He jokes with the waitress, but I can tell it’s an act.
This lonely man, by the way, is a figment of my imagination.
I mean, yes, there’s a guy eating dinner over there, but I can’t tell from here if he’s happy or sad. I can’t tell if he got the fish or a stack of pancakes.
I can’t tell squat! But that doesn’t stop me from soaking up all kinds of sad vibes that probably don’t even exist.
It’s a little game I play called “runaway empathy”. Ever play it? It’s where you turn your receptors on soo high that you feel the feelings of everyone around you. Sometimes I’m right, and sometimes, like tonight, I’m mildly out of control.
I mean, I really am quite empathetic. It’s one of my gifts. I couldn’t tell you what color shoes you’re wearing, but I bet 8 times out of 10 I could guess how you’re feeling today.
What can I say? Some people are good at noticing details–I can read auras.
There are plenty of folks who are like this. Maybe you. Somehow in our development we just learned to hone that skill. Or maybe we were born to be sensitive like that.
I don’t really know where it comes from, but as a pastor, it’s a skill I can use. Teaching a group, counseling a troubled soul, running a staff—empathy serves me well, except when I overuse it at Village Inn. Or take people’s emotions too personally. Or even feel someone else’s feelings instead of my own. These are things I have to watch out for all the time.
This is one of those standard examples of having a gift from God, and then using it poorly. Can you relate?
Maybe you command air-tight reason, usually to your benefit–but when it comes time to be intimate with a loved one, you just can’t shut your brain off. Runaway logic.
Maybe you’ve got the quickest, sharpest tongue, which is good for a lot of laughs, but when it’s time to be serious, you’re just plain tone deaf. Runaway sarcasm.
Maybe you’re an expert at free-living, at the detriment of order. Runaway chaos.
It’s actually a very good and healthy thing to emphasize your strengths. They will take you far in life. But stress, anxiety, negligence and arrogance can take you past your natural limits, into something quite unhealthy.
Whatever runaway gifts you have to keep ahold of, remember that regaining your focus on God will quickly reframe things. Remember, Jesus used his gifts carefully and responsibly, and he made time daily for recharging.
My dinner at Village Inn was a wake up call to dial it back, and that was good for me.
I took a deep breath, and watched the guy as he left…
It looked like he was smiling.
Have a great week,