The Curse of Caring




Recently, a good friend of mine who is a psychologist–we’ll call him Dr. S–solicited volunteers for a diagnostic questionnaire he had put together. Curious, as ordination required me to take almost every available test during my discernment process, I agreed and took the test. I put it out of my mind until a couple days ago, when in my inbox appeared the results. Scanning it, I immediately wanted to accuse him of wicked magic because, frankly, Dr. S. is really good at what he does and I was suddenly looking at myself in statistics form.

Let’s be honest. A blog like this is really an exercise in narcissism. I post my (mostly) learned thoughts on subjects and send it out into the interwebz, putting links on my Facebook and Twitter feeds hoping people will read my musings. I have a small, but regular following. Mostly people I know, or who know of me because of my ministry work. I do assiduously attempt to deconstruct this ego in order to be clothed in Christ . It is tough to do, especially when God has given one an emotional makeup like mine.

According to Dr. S’s analysis, my Affect Intensity (how I feel things) is high; my positive and negative are both high, but my guilt is off the charts. Like, crazy high. Like I should be Jewish or Catholic high. Dr. S writes,

Your affect intensity was high across most subscales. This means that you respond to the world around you with more emotional intensely than most people do. In other words, this means that what most people believe to be moderately stimulating in feeling, you tend to experience as highly stimulating. You scored high in both positive and negative affect, meaning that you likely experience both positive and negative emotions crisply and can be subject to acute bouts of strong euphoria, as well as sadness, depression, or fear. It is vital that you consider working on lowering the amplitude of your affect to stay centered and calm. People with a high affect intensity profile are subject to cyclothymic patterns of feeling (the roller coaster of highs and lows). 

So, basically, I am kinda like Yoda in that I feel the emotional and mental pain around me in acute ways. But here is where it gets interesting. I score really low on the Mindfulness scale, which means that I feel stuff but I can’t always sort out what it is in the moment. Which is why I am sometimes a real asshole on Facebook or email, because I have all these feelings and I don’t pause to process and I just shoot off at the keyboard. Because I don’t like conflict, I rarely shoot off at the mouth, unless it is a justice issue. And then I have my Jesus cape on and all bets are off.

Why do I share this, other than a desire to be like and understood by people, which is another pathological need I am addressing in therapy? I share because it is Lent, a time when we Christians enter into the fullness of myriad emotions. We stand at the cusp of Palm Sunday. A day in which we lay down our cloaks or wave our palms, a day in which we shout or sing along with the stones because the Prince of Peace is making his way into Jerusalem at the same time that Pilate, with his earthly powers and methods of death, is marching in the other side of the city. Lent, the time when we prepare ourselves for the upper room and Gethsemane, the foot of the cross and the sealed tomb. It is a time when we are to feel.

But what is emotion without awareness? What is the good of feeling if we are not aware of that which we experience? On Sunday, we will be told by Jesus that no efforts of human beings could stop the stones themselves from singing; that Creation itself cries out for peace and love, compassion and justice. Let us not be so overwhelmed with our own feelings that we do not pause to understand what God is saying, what God is directing, what God is revealing.

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