The Drain of Discernment

Some people call us empaths, intuitives. Biblically, we are said to have the gift of discernment. Still others chalk it up to wisdom. Whatever you call it, there exists in some people the innate, intangible ability to discern, to sense and perceive truth, motivations, emotions, and even sometimes the paths of other people. Not psychic abilities, not a parlor trick, but a genuine, God-given ability to recognize and empathize.

Before I knew what it was, I had this gift of discernment. As a child I knew immediately who I did and did not like, who I trusted, who was putting on a show. I felt others’ sadness deeply and mourned with them long after parting ways. I sensed their anxiety and insecurities. I bristled at their manipulations. I felt an intense connection with animals and more often than not spent birthday parties talking with my friends’ parents. I didn’t always like every one of my parents’ friends, and people who wore masks did not appreciate that I could see through them. In all, it made for a very, very cynical kid.

As an adult who now recognizes and trusts in this gift, I’m exhausted.

I’m almost the very definition of an extrovert. I absolutely love being around people, draw my energy from crowds. Yet I crave alone time. I thought it was because I’m a stay at home mom and it’s really freaking hard. I thought I was one of those ambiverts or an outgoing introvert. I could not figure out how I’m both energized and drained by human interaction to the point of irritability, fatigue, even sadness. Then I realized it – I’m tired because it literally does drain me. To be constantly searching others for their emotions, their motivations, to be hyper aware of subtleties and sideways glances. I’m never just around people, I feel people.

Sensing others’ emotions and manipulations can really make someone skeptical, disillusioned, even pessimistic. That’s a hard load to carry, and often it’s carried alone. I’ve been accused of being judgemental, harsh, bitter. I’m not perfect, and I definitely wander down those paths sometimes, but when you voice your doubts about someone you tend to look like a jerk. When you don’t fall for shows it’s impossible to wear rose-colored glasses. I’ve felt so strongly before that certain people were not who they presented themselves to be that I’ve doubted myself. I’ve examined my motives, reasons. Was I jealous in any way? Had they slighted me? Do they wear Crocs regularly? I couldn’t put my finger on my uneasiness, especially in comparison to seemingly everyone else’s adoration. Once I even approached a person and apologized to them for the feelings I had that prevented me from developing a relationship with them. And you know what? Every single time my gut was right. Even the person I tried so hard to like, the one I embarrassed myself by approaching and apologizing to.  Every time, every one, they showed themselves to be toxic, harmful people. These alarms going off inside, the gut feeling, the voice of God, they were all discernment, and though I often stood alone in my feelings, I stood in truth. Questioning someone’s motives when you’re uneasy around them doesn’t make you any more judgemental than locking your front door does. But it does make you look like a pretty harsh person to others who don’t have the same sirens blaring inside.

So it gets lonely. It gets sad and hard to be the one who naturally mistrusts some people.

It’s also really sad and hard to empathize.

I love people. Genuinely love people. I want the best for them. I love to help, love to encourage, love to hug. Don’t get me wrong, I like my space and alone time and get really flippin’ frustrated in parking lots (where the worst of mankind always manifests), but I love people. I like talking with them, laughing with them. I cannot go anywhere in public without being drawn into conversation with a stranger. I earned my degree in counseling because I feel so called to help and get the most incredible rush from being able to do so. I can’t always offer my time, I can rarely offer money, but I can offer my empathy… and that mess is draining.

What a privilege to share in life’s greatest emotions with others, but what a struggle to also feel them. I would never wish empathy away, but I do wish for a nap after a particularly heavy conversation. I do wish I could watch movies about injustice or grief and not feel such overwhelming guilt. The feelings are deep. They don’t compare to what someone is going through, obviously, and I would never tell someone I knew exactly how they felt, but what I do feel is intense. Trust that if you have shared your struggles with me, I am feeling a tug for you all day. When I tell you I’ve been thinking about you or praying for you, it’s genuine. Taking on others’ pain, sadness, even joy means taking on more emotions than you yourself would normally feel in a day. You feel enough for one person and then some. I cry way more than I’d like to admit, and sometimes just from how overwhelming all the emotions are. It pulls from you, in ways that cannot be measured. Attempting to explain this fatigue can get you a lot of eye rolls and heavy sighs. It’s tough to explain just how much it pulls from you to care so deeply, but oh, what a wonderful gift it still is. While our hearts run the risk of hardening towards others because of mistrust, they remain tender with this concern we experience.

Ah, our hearts. Such tricky things. We straddle the line between doubt and empathy, using our energy to constantly evaluate those around us – though such feelings aren’t really quantifiable. We’re not ranking, we’re not judging, we’re feeling. And those feelings guide us to a position of silent power that can all too easily be used to manipulate. Our own hearts have to be examined regularly. We feel things others don’t, we know things others don’t, so we sit with this information and are faced with the question of what to do about it. Do we warn others? Do we approach them? Do we just avoid this shifty-feeling person? Or do we use these feelings, this “knowledge” to our advantage? Too many use the ability to read others for their own gain. They sense the relationships of the people around them and play them off one another. They pick up on the egos and the insecurities and hold onto them like poker cards. They lie with incredible ease and skill, knowing just what to say and how to say it. Because of the connection to others’ emotions, they can truly mean the untruths they tell, convince the trusting others. We must keep watch over our own hearts, that whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing.

I haven’t researched it and I haven’t asked others who I know observe with discernment and empathy, but I have a theory about us: we’re beacons.

Those people I speak with when out running errands, they approach me. Every time. I’ve tried listening to my iPod, I’ve tried taking kids with me, I’ve tried Resting Jerk Face, and still I am approached by any and all kinds of people, chomping at the bit to share their stories and struggles with me. I’ve asked for years, how do they know? What about me draws them to me? Why, after a shift of seeing hundreds of people come through their line, did this cashier choose me to share her broken heart with?

It’s the empathy.

Because we all feel. We all experience emotions. And something about those who can feel the emotions around them calls out to those who are too overwhelmed to feel them alone. I remain convinced of my Father’s love by this, that He has placed people around us who are equipped to share the heavy load. These gifts we have were placed with purpose and intent. Some sing, some write, some do math, some speak, some dance, some paint, some teach, and some feel. It is a gift not just for ourselves, but the people around us. It can serve to both protect and heal, warn and serve. The people who need us will find us, and the people who don’t convince us will remain guarded. We can’t quantify this gift, we can barely prove it, yet almost everyone around us can recognize it enough to react to it.

So we find ourselves drained, emotions and doubt and anxiety and conviction having pulled so much from us. We can feel like we’ve lost ourselves, given away so much of ourselves or taken on so much of others. After 10 hours of sleep emotional exhaustion can still remain. The inability to turn off the radar, the intuition, to remain in a state of vigilance, it creates a state of emotional tenseness, always taut, always waiting, always feeling. We’re watchdogs. It can feel like more is taken from us than we freely give. We don’t often have the luxury of optimism to energize us, because this very surreal gift keeps us firmly planted in realism. And realism tells us we’ll be tired again tomorrow. We must seek out opportunities to be alone, to process these emotions, to be granted reprieve from feeling everyone in the room, from being sought out and so heavily relied upon. We must give ourselves rest, find others who pour in as much as others siphon. We must recognize the toll discernment takes on us and actively protect ourselves from becoming emotional roadkill. As you acknowledge this gift you have, acknowledge the impact it has on you. You know, since with great power comes great responsibility. Go forth, go feel, go rest.


Where Did My Fun Go?

Last week I had a quick conversation with friends, a few of them I’ve known for years. We were joking about this, laughing about that, when one of them said, “I remember the exact time I realized you were funny.” He described a time when I was, indeed, very funny, because let’s face it, I can be a hoot. We laughed at the memory of it, I gave him a hard time about how he’d known me for two years (!!!!!) before that occasion when he finally noticed that my jokes were good, and we went on our merry way, me with that I-just-spent-time-with-adults glow.

Later that night, it hit me.

He’d known me two years before he found out I was funny. Granted, I hadn’t spent every day of two years with this friend, but surely I’d made some kind of wise crack, right? It’s kind of my thing, after all. Had my jokes been bad? Did my timing miss a step? Did I stumble into some bad lighting? (Clueless reference.) No, I realized, that wasn’t it. My humor had been fine, it was me who wasn’t. Because every time I’d been around that friend, every encounter we’d had over those two years, I’d had my kids with me. He hadn’t seen me be funny because he’d seen me being a mom.

He hadn’t seen me, he’d seen the overtired, hypervigilant, herding, correcting, feeding, deep-sighing version of me.

Every encounter I’d had with this friend had not been me at my best, or my most comfortable. I hadn’t felt free to joke because I’d been bound by fatigue, schedule, mentally keeping track of how many packages of fruit snacks I’d already let the kids have. I wasn’t fun, I was frazzled.

So when did I lose my fun?

Did it get lost underneath the pile of unmatched socks?

Did it stay in bed when I had to get up so many times in the night?

Did I lose it when all the articles popping up made me aware of dry drowning and how I had to observe my kids for every second of an entire week after they submerged their heads in water?

Did the fun get lost between the lines of ingredients I read, both fearful of the allergens that could harm my children and trying to make sense of the latest ones I’m supposed to avoid?

Maybe I lost my fun when defending parenting choices became a part-time job for us all, when it suddenly took as much time to stand up for ourselves as mothers as it did to research alternative methods to what we’d been doing, since that latest article just detailed why we’ve been doing it so horribly wrong.

Did it feel left out between doctor appointments, cancelled date nights, trips to the schools, refereeing siblings, scrubbing stains out of brand-new clothes, price-matching brand-new shoes, or cleaning more pee than any 3 small humans should ever be able to produce?

*whispers* Was it delicate and I accidentally washed it with the towels?!

I wonder if it’s stuck between the pages of one of those books I started but haven’t been able to finish.

Maybe it’s in the backpack I’m pretending isn’t stuffed into the closet, still full of locker contents from the end of last school year.

I hope I find it when I’m purging for the next garage sale.

My fun could very well be shivering in the back of the fridge, either trapped in a dish of leftovers or wedged between the long-expired ingredients I bought to try a Pinterest recipe.

Is it an early bird and I’ve just missed it? Is it away and I haven’t been able to visit? Is it in the dust, the crumbs, the dish water, the lint trap, the mulch, the soot, the empty photo albums I’ve yet to fill? Could it be in my instrument I haven’t played in forever? Could it be in the gym clothes I haven’t seen in too long?

I’m not sure where it went, I don’t know how to find it. But I won’t stop looking now that I know that it’s gone.

Because as much as I wish my friend had known my humor those two years, I wish my kids had seen it more.

I’m going to chance that it’s in the bucket of water balloons I’m about to unleash. Or maybe in the fort we’re going to build. Perhaps I’ll find it in the extra laughs I’ll make time for after bedtime has passed. Maybe it will show up if I don’t rush dinner. I hope it comes back if I watch that movie with the kids. I’m even willing to roll the dice on it being lost somewhere in Minecraft. It’s not on my schedule, so I’ll stop looking there. It’s not on Facebook, or Instagram, or even on Pinterest. It could be in that mess I haven’t wanted to make, the project I haven’t made time for. It might be in the dirt, in the mud, in all the things I’ve found imperfect. It’s not in my laundry or I would have found it by now, so maybe it’s in a place I haven’t been in too long – or a place I’ve yet to go.

Wherever my fun went, I’m determined to find it. My kids deserve more, I deserve more, and dag nabbit, I’ve got some great jokes to share.