“Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away.” — Mark 4:5-6, NRSV
An exceptionally special person in my life shared an article with me, which you can find here. The article regards empathetic people, people able to really grasp how a person is feeling and thinking. Most people have some level of empathy, and whether or not it is your primary way of dealing with others or not, this article is worth the read. Empathy, and caring for others in general, is a draining place to be in. Odds are, you know what it’s like to be a giver. It can be rewarding, powerful, and somewhat addicting. In fact, it can be tempting to make our lives all about what we put out into the world, which, while well-intended, leads to a severe loss of self.
In the world of faith, it is no different. The quote above is from the “Parable of the Sower” in Mark 4. In this parable, Jesus is addressing the various responses to the Gospel that we still find today. The article my beloved friend shared with me made me think of this parable, specifically the seed that fell on rocky ground.
Why is that?
Well this particular instance of withering is characteristic of many people who are too busy reaching out to develop any depth of soil or rootedness in their lives. Why is this important? Roots nourish the plant. They reach deep into the nutrient soil far below the surface, supplying the plant with the energy, growth, and the ability to healthily grow and be sustained. Even when the season changes and the weather turns harsh, the plant can retreat into the soil, back to the roots, until the time comes to reach out again.
In life, we are called to “bear fruit”, yes (Mark 4:20). We are called to reach out to others and care for them as we would like done for us (Luke 6:31). However, if we don’t gain depth, develop roots in our lives, and take the time to make sure we are healthy, we won’t be able to do that to the degree we want to. We will give and give and give until there is nothing left and we become defined by the uses we have for others. When times get difficult, when it becomes hard to give, our shallow sense of self will cause us to wither away, as Jesus says in Mark 4:17. Even though Jesus is referring to remaining faithful in the face of persecution, the application still works for the situations in which our failure to be nourished eventually chokes out our ability to be a nourishing presence for others.
Sure, we might be able to give, nonstop martyr-style for a good long while. However, that giving will lack the transformative depth, quality, and sustainability to truly make a difference in our lives that the lives of others. The same truth for empathy and self-giving is true with practicing faith. It doesn’t matter if you read the Bible a book a day for a year if by the end of that time, you’re sick of doing it and don’t even know how to live what you’ve read. It doesn’t matter if you go to church every week, multiple times per week if you don’t take the time to personally develop your faith in a way that complements that community time. It doesn’t matter if you go build houses in a foreign country in the name of Christ if that is the limit of spiritual development you allow for yourself, burning out in a matter of a few short years.
In all of this, the truth remains the same: in order to sustainably show grace, compassion, and love for others, we must first be able to receive the grace, compassion, and love we are offered by God, by others, and by ourselves. What does this look like?
- Develop sustainable spiritual habits that nourish your soul. Reading a chapter of Scripture in the morning and evening, praying two or three times a day, meeting with the Church once a week, serving regularly, going on a spiritual retreat by yourself to recharge, all of these are possible means by which you can remain spiritually rooted in God and your place in the story of His love.
- Make sure that you are mentally healthy. Everybody needs someone to talk to, and sometimes, dishing to your friend over cocktails just won’t do it. There is no shame in seeking out professional mental help, even if you “feel fine.” It is a place where you can literally vent about anything and everything by someone who is not going to judge you. It is also a great place to discuss your worries, your concerns, and to develop a plan that keeps you in the healthiest place imaginable so that all of your relationships and endeavors function as highly as possible. God wants you to be equipped to handle all that faithful living involves, and that includes having the mental capacity and health to know what you need in order to better serve others.
- Make sure you are as physically healthy as your situation allows. There are many things out of our control, but having some sort of regular physical care (whether that means gym workouts, sports, walking, regular doctor visits, sleeping 10 hours a night, or a healthy diet) is key to being able to healthily manage your own life along with the concerns of others when needed. Not everyone can exercise conventionally, I get that, but making sure that you, in some way, are taking care of your physical needs will ensure that you are strong enough to handle life.
- Maintain boundaries. There is absolutely no shame in saying, “No,” as the article I was discussing earlier points out. Including the concerns above, you have a life which God has given you to enjoy and maintain, which means that sometimes, you will have to know when to back out of “giving mode” so that you can soak up the nutrients you need. Whether that is time with family, friends, your counselor, your Bible, or your weight set, there is no shame or selfishness in making sure that you take time to charge your batteries. No one has the right to obliterate or transgress your boundaries, and if they can’t understand that, it’s their problem, not a problem with you.
In order to give effectively and meaningfully, we also have to be able to receive the spiritual, emotional, and physical nutrition God intends us to have. If we are going to live impactful lives, we have to have the roots to sustain us, and those don’t come except through radical self-care. Just as God loves others, God loves YOU and wants YOU to live a blessed life that blesses others. The only way to achieve that, to give as God gives, is for us to take time to soak up the grace we are offered, and to, sometimes, just say, “No.”
Peace be with you!