Dec 17, 2021 • 7M

Help Me Be Careful. Help Me Be Kind.

A prayer and an offering

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Appears in this episode

Asha Sanaker
Rediscovering the lost art of integrity
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I find myself thinking about the Christmas story. Not about Scrooge and Bob Cratchett and Tiny Tim, but about the story of the birth of Jesus.

Photo by Martin Mariani from Pexels

Whether I am a Christian is an open question, but I love a good story. Over the course of my life, I’ve puzzled over various stories about Jesus, absorbing some and leaving others for those with different temperaments than I. The healing of the sick, the championing of the poor, and the defense of sex workers— I’m a fan of all those stories. The story of Jesus pleading with God to release him from the burden of his fate in the Garden of Gethsemane brings me to tears every time. Have you ever railed against the Universe for the role you seem to have been cast to play in this grand drama we call life? I have, for sure, so when I hear about Gethsemane I can imagine myself into Jesus’s despair. I can walk through his submission with him, and feel I am not alone in my own.

At different points in my life different aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus have struck me. This year I just keep thinking about that baby. Have you ever been at the birth of a baby?

Twenty years ago I trained to be a doula, or birthing assistant. I attended my first birth when I was newly pregnant with my oldest child. As an aside, that baby is now nineteen years old and a close friend of my kid. They’re planning to do a test run on having their own place in January. Nineteen! Living on their own! Life is so… weird.

But long before the present moment, he was born and I was there. The birth was long and difficult. His mom was beyond exhausted and couldn’t muster the strength to push anymore, so the doctor ended up using forceps to pull him out. He emerged as all babies do, bloody and wrinkly and remarkably small for all the trouble. His head was all squished and he had bruises on his temples. I remember being gobsmacked by his vulnerability and the deep sense of responsibility and tenderness that welled up in me.

Being in my first trimester, with all of its attendant nausea and aversions, I had recently given up cigarettes and bourbon. Even though I couldn’t abide the smell of either, I’d been feeling weirdly resentful about it until that moment. But when I looked at him, curled up on his side on the mattress between her legs, I remember the thought rushing in: “I would never, ever blow smoke in this baby’s face! Nothing of this broken world should ever touch him.”

Of course, the broken world has touched him, just as it has touched my own kids. Just as it has touched each of us. We don’t get out of that part. The story tells us that God knew that and sent Jesus anyway, his only son. I don’t really subscribe to that bit about the only son. It doesn’t resonate with my experience of the way that Spirit lives in each and every one of us. But I do think about the choice to bring a child into this broken world, offering up their life in its utter vulnerability with some measure of hope.

I struggle with softness. I have become marginally better over time at allowing for my own vulnerability. Some would even argue, and have, that through my writing I am excessively naked. Staking a claim to defining the terms of my own vulnerability and refusing any shame for it, however, has been an essential part of living into my integrity, so I make no apologies for it.

Where I stumble, though, is in finding compassion for other people’s imperfections, missteps, the willful damage they inflict. The child in me wants people to be better than they are, to be more careful, more protective, and tender with others. The child in me doesn’t, and maybe even can’t, understand the choices that people make— when they are unfair, unjust, careless, malicious, and cruel.

The adult in me, however, knows how easy it is to hurt people without meaning to, to be selfish and intentionally vicious. Adult me knows what it is to feel a pain so deep that all you want to do is inflict it on someone else. Let them share that burden.

That is the world we were all born into. It is beautiful and savage. What measure of each we experience, on balance, is not entirely in our hands. And the story tells us that God knew that and sent Jesus anyway. Maybe not to redeem us, as if we owe an inevitable debt for being human, but to remind us that we each carry that blessed and sacred child within us. We each emerged, bloody and vulnerable and utterly perfect, another chance for hope to assert itself anew.

I am not much of one for setting New Year’s resolutions in time with the Roman calendar. I hope on December 31st to be fast asleep when the clock strikes twelve. My heart recognizes the pagan calendar, and how the new year enters with the return of the light following the Winter Solstice. That is the time for me to offer prayers and make commitments.

Here is my prayer:

Please, All That Is Holy, help me be softer. Help me find ways to stand firm against harm without harming, without dehumanizing, without forgetting the perfect child that was the beginning of everyone. In the face of all that is broken, help me mend what I can. Help me be careful. Help me be tender. Help me be kind.

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