“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”~Ephesians 2:10
The Lord uses even the most stubborn saints for His glory. His mercy comes like the leading edge of a storm at times, and at others, as imperceptibly as the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings. But when He’s asked by one frail believer for help and wisdom, an answer is never far behind. Of this truth, I no longer have any doubt.
When I was faced, several years ago, with the frightening reality that auto-immune disease had come to stay, I began exploring the idea that this cluster of diagnoses, at least for me, might have a spiritual malady at its root. As I’ve struggled through the release of this burden to the Lord, His Spirit has been tenderly guiding me to some answers, and some relief.
I’m finding healing in this place, and I desperately want others to find it too. It’s too hard to try to go it alone. I won’t lie. I don’t understand this. I’m afraid to share these things. I’m afraid of appearing ridiculous. But I’m also afraid that if I’m not transparent here, someone else may find themselves limping along the trail, lost, alone, possibly injured and too afraid to ask for directions.
There is a growing body of research that suggests that certain MBTI combinations (If you are not familiar with this acronym, it stands for Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator) are more susceptible to disease of the auto-immune variety. I have always tested out with the same result, whether on the long form (once as a requirement for a job and once for grad. school), or when completing the fun online personality test. However, please don’t get too attached to the results if you decide to take it on your own. While they’ve been a help, they’ve also been a hindrance to me. I believe my slowness to hear God’s voice in the matters below has at least a little bit to do with the significance I’ve attached to my “type”. Nothing should replace the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
So at the risk of ridicule, here are some questions that I hope will help diagnose some sources of unnecessary anxiety for someone out there, and help you turn your temperament into something God can use for His glory.
1. Do you feel overwhelmed in large groups because you tend to “soak up” all the feelings and attitudes of others in the room?
2. As far back as you can remember, have you had some inkling of this character trait? For example, did you find yourself, as a child, fleeing oppressive environments where adults were overly critical of others or spent a lot of time arguing?
3. Do you have an uncanny realization that you are in the presence of someone that is very sad, very conflicted or very angry in a large room full of people?
4. Do you feel the loneliness of the new kid or the mama that doesn’t quite fit with a clique? Do you position yourself near those people?
5. Can you intuit very quickly when you’ve unintentionally made a judgment error by the slight turn of countenance, no matter how guarded, of a co-worker or friend?
6. Do large-group scenarios exhaust you and, do you, quite often, spend at least a week emotionally and physically recovering from extensive seasons spent in those scenarios?
7. Are you unable to watch or read the news and still sleep peacefully at night?
8. Good or bad, do people seem to be able to tell you whatever is on their hearts?
9. Do you apologize for incidents that are not your fault simply to bring resolution and ease the tension you feel in the relationship?
I’ll never forget the poor elderly man I’d never met in a WalMart auto service department who laid out his entire sad life story to me over the course of an exhausting two hours. I was a single twenty-something with walking pneumonia, barely able to keep my eyes open as I listened. I just wanted to lean my head against the wall and close my eyes. I’d spent the day teaching anyway because it felt harder to prep for a sub than to just show up at work. The car had to be fixed so that I could get myself to a pharmacy and then get in bed so I could attempt to go to work the next day. I was the only teacher for the subject I taught at that time, so there was no one to help the sub along, no workbooks or worksheets to utilize and no textbooks. When I did employ a sub, I had to leave lots of detailed notes and unusual activities. There’s no way that I could possibly have been exuding a warmth that said, “Please tell me every gory detail of your life so that I can lie awake all night worrying about whether or not you were able to (insert your own creative ending here)______________”. This is just one example of a very common occurrence in the life of an empath. But that man was lifted up in prayer on the rainy drive home. And that is the material point.
One day recently, when I was clinging to the end of my emotional rope and rapidly stiffening joints were beginning to throb, I cried out in silent desperation to the Lord, “Please God! Raise a hedge around me!” I’d heartily agreed to serve Him in some capacity, and I really didn’t want to be sick before the end of it and forced to lay in bed (again), all the while, unable to rest because of the guilt surrounding the fact that someone else was now completing their tasks and mine. I asked Him, in Jesus’ name, to remove the spirits of oppression (a literal onslaught of them) that I was feeling in the room. Then I asked Him to separate for me the feelings that were mine from those I’d absorbed from others.
I know now that those frantic requests were exactly what brought His *”deep magic” into play in that room that day. I immediately felt His leading to pray for the owners of the feelings that were not my own, and by the end of the day, at least one person was shedding tears of great relief (me). The oppression was gone. I was limber as a twig in spring. My head was clear. Healing happened at the Throne of Grace. A figurative light bulb finally popped on for this developmentally-delayed Christian.
If you can relate to most of this, you have the gift of intercession, my friend! This has absolutely nothing to do with you or me. We are redeemed to use our minds and bodies for His kingdom and glory. What an enormous blessing to offer that gift back to an indomitable, precious, merciful God with an unfathomable imagination that covers every contingency we can think up or worry our little heads over. The fact that He gave you a heart that hurts for, feels for and notices the pain of others is not a curse but a privilege. In Galatians 6 we are told to
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
All that is required is this. See the pain. Love the people. Then offer them right back to Him. He is the only One equipped to carry it.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~Matthew 11:29-30
I won’t pretend that I won’t find myself drowning in the Bay of Emotions again over there in the Sea of Too-Easily-Offended because I’ve forgotten to swim back up to the safety of the buoy of prayer. I might still, in my own strength, attempt to don the superhero cape in an effort to rescue those I sense hurting. In those moments I’ll have every reason to praise God for the aching joints, the rising bile, the skin lesions and the debilitating headaches, all very poignant reminders that I can’t. But I can call upon the One who can.
“The Eternal God is your Refuge, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms.” ~Deuteronomy 33:27
*C.S. Lewis The Chronicles of Narnia