It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
-Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from The Invitation
I have a defense mechanism. I call it the “I don’t really care, anyway” move.
I use it to ward off disappointment. I use it when someone doesn’t think as highly of me as I wanted them to. I use it when the risk to admit to caring seems far too great, the potential cost too dangerous.
I build up all these I don’t cares in a careful shield around me, plugging in the holes with a shoulder shrug when something tries to push through.
Because many days I feel like I am expending about all the energy I have on just keeping this life here inside this flat functioning. There are so many other things I can focus on that don’t require me to care quite so much. Laundry. Totally doesn’t mind if I care. Pureeing another batch of vegetables. Requires not an ounce of passion. Hoovering the floors again. Doesn’t ask me to do it with enthusiasm.
The truth is, there are so many things I am passionate about. If I let my apathetic guard down for just a moment, I’m liable to bubble over with ideas and plans and loud statements of intent.
I’m passionate about this city, the communities we are a part of here. I’m passionate about the online communities I am part of. I’m passionate about my own dreams for the future, the work I want to do, the initiatives I’d like to start. I’m passionate about world events and places, our sponsored children in Uganda, the abducted girls in Nigeria, the Coptic Christians martyred in Libya.
But so much gets in the way. Lack of time. Lack of understanding. Lack of belief in myself. And fear. (Doesn’t fear underlie so much?) Fear of failing, fear of being a disappointment, fear of being disappointed in others, fear of never making the difference I’d like to.
Apathy is easier.
I can easily pretend I don’t care about my own future work. It’s easier to hide behind my husband’s career until he asks for the hundredth time what I really want and I have to look my desires in the face.
I can easily ignore the news, quickly archive the emails. The hurting world suddenly ceases to exist and I guard my heart against any empathy that might come in and wreck my plans to live an easy life.
I can easily decide to disengage from my communities. I tell myself they will find someone else to fill my space. That they wouldn’t be interested in my ideas anyway.
It’s easier until it’s not. Apathy is a deceitful friend, one that betrays you at the end when you wake up one day and realise, actually, you really do care, and now you have missed out on so many opportunities, so many moments when your voice, your presence, was needed.
The 19th century Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said that Jesus’ ministry could be summed up in the words, “and he was moved with compassion“.
A life to the full, a life of wholeness, is one that begins with compassion, starts with allowing ourselves to be moved in the very depths of our being, to have those profound gut reactions that jolt us into action.
A friend of mine recently confessed that she never watches the news, because it overwhelms her. She is moved by compassion, but she doesn’t know what to do, feels like there’s a massive disconnect between her life as a stay at home mum in Luxembourg, and the big issues all around the world.
I get that, I really do. It’s why apathy feels easier. Because there are no simple answers. Engaging requires something of me, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
And so compassion needs to be balanced with a pinch of realism. Where can I make a meaningful contribution? Where can I make a difference? But only a pinch… sometimes we need to be audacious with our hopes for the world, for the communities we’re in, for our own lives.
For me, giving up apathy looks like admitting and owning my own desires and passions and the moments my heart is moved in compassion. It’s taking the risk to be open (because it is a risk, I don’t pretend it’s not) and ask God, What would you have me do here? How can I live a life of yearning and hope?
I can’t do it all, I can’t fix everything. But I can open up my heart and allow myself to be moved. I can take the risk to care, to really give a damn. Because the opposite of apathy is love.