I created some confusion in my last blog. I said that I was “afraid” of people and that was misleading. It was a bad word choice. I’m actually quite good with people. Many friends and acquaintances would attest to that. As revealing an exercise as writing is, it is important to note and respect its unique power and unique danger especially with words inadvertently penned.
A better phrase would have been, “I am overwhelmed and exhausted in the presence of many spirits.”
Let me explain.
I was raised in a poor family with six brothers and sisters. One of whom was mentally handicapped. Please don’t query me on my politically incorrect word usage for mental retardation. We’ve lived through several of the world’s changing phrases my brother Len and I. Mentally retarded, mentally handicapped, mentally disabled, mentally challenged, intellectually disabled, to name a few. Whatever phrase you want to use, it will mean something different to you than it will to me. For you, it’s the latest, greatest, most accepted, and most sensitive LABEL. For me- he’s my brother and I love him no matter what label you put on him.
My brother Len was a year younger than me. That made him my shadow. That made him my charge. It also meant that every insult hurled his way hit me first- full on. It wasn’t enough that we tumbled out of the Rocky Mountains, dirty little waifs, shoddy in second hand clothing, and the brunt of every joke that cruel and unenlightened children contemptuously slathered upon us. Here, too, was an oddly moving and speaking character whose abundant “difference” incurred wrath from other children and one heartless family member as well.
Some say that I have the gift of discernment. And I do. It is of the heightened variety. It is not on its practice run, nor in its rudimentary stages. It is developed. Keenly.
But I have often wondered- at what stage does God give out the gifts? Is it at birth? Is it when He decides we need them the most? Or are they developed over time?
For many years I did not realize- was not aware- that I had the gift of discernment. I thought everybody could do what I do: read people’s hearts based on spirit lurches that were plainly visible to me. It wasn’t until around the age of forty that it became apparent to me that other people did not all share in this experience of knowing- or that I did indeed carry in my spirit the gift of discernment.
Looking back now I see this gifting probably as a kindness and a stabilizer from the Lord. A protection and a guide that would lift me above the chaos that would ensue. I was always on high alert. I never knew what special form of misery was going to present itself with each new school day.
Back then, mentally handicapped individuals were integrated into the regular classrooms without special assistance or attendants. Len was a sitting duck for ridicule. I learned to see them coming. At first I bought their phony kindness hook, line, and sinker. You know, that sweet manipulation of our emotions just before they went in for the kill. Where a friend at last turned out to be the meanest bully of them all. So this is where my gift of discernment was developed. Or this is where it was given to me, there, when I needed it the most. I learned to discern every little body flinch. I deciphered the layers beneath their words. I dissected intent. And I did it all in a flash. In a split second. I absorbed it all. And that is how I lived my entire life. I did it unconsciously. I did it with grace. With giggles. In shyness. In movements, mannerisms, and conversations. “To survive it you play deaf and dumb.” (a brilliant quote from the man pictured at the head of this blog). I have the gift of discernment and it is strong.
And this is why I say that” I am overwhelmed and exhausted in the presence of many spirits.”
My gift of discernment has morphed into a sophisticated and grown-up understanding of people.
Like you, I try to surround myself with people I trust. People who I know have my best interest at heart. People who are genuinely kind and easy going. I like hanging out in those crowds. A safe environment where my zanny, creative and audacious self can shine forth. And I do have these people in my life, pockets of them here and there. Oases in a desert. Sparkling water chugging down a parched throat.
But put me five minutes in a room with a mixed bag of people who may or may not fit into this category and I start to absorb. I may be carrying on a conversation, but consciously and unconsciously I pick up every little thing. I pick up motives. I pick up intentions. I pick up arrogance and agenda. I pick up pain and inadequacies. I am especially sensitive to the odd man out- the least popular. I pick up hurts and loves. I pick up goodness. And I am drawn toward it. I do not even have a name for everything that I pick up. But it sticks to me and I carry it around like a lead weight.
That’s why I retreat. That is why I go and try and work out all of this mess quietly, privately in song. “Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” – Ludwig van Beethoven
I’ll come back again after a day or two. And I may even be the life of the party for a while. Why? Because I genuinely love people and desire relationship. It’s just an awful lot for me to absorb- that great big world out there, because I pay attention. Not by choice, but by design.