Lately, I have been meditating on the word “proximity”. So many of the issues of disconnection in my own life have been met with the solution of proximity. When I choose to draw closer and press in to connect with the person rather than the behavior or put a face to an issue, I grow and gain further momentum to see the truth. There is both power and perspective to gain when we choose connection over distance.
This week, I had a really rough day with my daughter. I became lost in a toddler storm that if provoked can wreak havoc on an entire day. The more she lost control, the more I grasped for it. I lost sight of her. I saw defiance and opposition, but not her. There was a moment towards the end of the day where I took a deep breath, looked at her and asked God to tell me about her. Tell me the truth wrestling inside of her that I was too emotionally invested in my parenting strategies to see. I had been putting distance between her and I all day when she and I both needed me to press in. God reminded me of who this little girl truly was: teeming with life and energy, resilient to the elements. Everything we admired in the name we had chosen for her. Once I saw her again, when I had gained proximity to her truth, I softened. Empathy came. Remorse followed. And healing began.
God is teaching me proximity softens while distance divides. When I press in to gain proximity to others, I often find it experientially rewires pathways in my heart that compel me to empathy. And if I keep engaging that experience, it leads me to act. Experience is a brilliant teacher, changing our perspective in a lasting way that we can re-access over and over again.
I remember when Kevin and I lived in Spain, every Friday we would venture down from our little mountain village into a neighboring city to help coordinate a game night for the homeless. Sitting with those men and women, playing scrabble and listening to their stories engaged my heart in a way that completely rewrote the script in my mind of why the homeless might be homeless. These men were intelligent, vibrant and simply broken by life’s circumstances. Before homelessness was something I could easily ignore or write off by joining society’s view of their situation. But now that I gained proximity and I knew these men and their stories, my heart shifted.
We must place ourselves within the pathway of the world’s problems if we want to see clearly. When we remain comfortable, nestled in our communities that may look a little too much like us, our perspectives become myopic. A few weeks ago I felt God telling me “a myopic perspective cuts out the peripheral. If you want to see what I see, engage the peripheral around you”. In these last 6 years of motherhood, I have found my focus becoming narrower. I have been so focused on my babes, surrounding myself with mothers not too different from my own convictions and parenting paradigms. I spent this time in proximity and have grown to know and love my people, yet I find my heart being drawn to the peripheral of my own world and my eyes being opened to an even broader perspective.
As I said before, experience is a great teacher, but sometimes in pursuit of the grand, the small steps are left untaken, dismissed as insignificant. I am finding every single step towards gaining perspective is important and propels me to deeper growth. God has been drawing my heart into the racial tension and divide in America. I could dismiss it, ignore it, or put it on some untouched intention list all under the guise of feeling like I don’t have a grand realm of social influence or am restricted by this season in life. Those are the small, crippling lies that keep me from engaging any issue. So I read the article. I listen to the podcast. I download the book on Audible. I move closer. Each step I take breaks my heart a little more and engages my mind in a way that pulls me towards deeper connection to the injustice.
Just a warning about proximity: it doesn’t always engage this softer part of you. Sometimes when you step into a deeper empathy with an issue, deep sadness or anger can come. Because when we choose to enter someone else’s story and step into their pain, we feel it. However, if we can turn the anger into passion, it can motivate us to protect. And if we can take that deep sadness and turn it into tenderness, it compels us to draw closer and maybe make their world a little less lonely. Either way, proximity breeds hope.
So where do you need to press in? We cannot engage every single issue at all times, but I was once asked, “What breaks your heart and baffles your mind?” and told to start there. Wherever you are in life, allow proximity to bring hope to those around you and to your own heart as well. When you are struggling with connection to someone or to an issue, pray for proximity. Take small steps to position yourself to their story and their pain. See past the surface and gain perspective. Bring hope.