There is an ever growing thinness to the souls of people I encounter. Besides the fact that we are busy, over-committed and manage rivaling priorities, is this fitting diagnosis: we’re tired, worn out; teeter tottering on burn out; always recovering from some one, some thing or some event. There’s never enough margin to make like work as we secretly think it should. We have resigned our lives to attempting to survive successfully—whatever that means. To survive successfully seems to be enough admist the ever present voices that we will all have to do more to barely survive and we can forget about thriving. The word, "thriving" can go the way of the dinosaur, VHS tape and family dinners.Underneath our malaise is a gnawing sense of never feeling as if we have enough capacity. We are made to feel in most situations we find ourselves—be it church, work, community involvement, raising children, caring for aging parents and in marriage that we need to be doing more.So from an early age until this very moment we find ourselves on a hunt for more and doing more while neglecting a deeper, more soulful discussion about our understanding of capacity.Organizations, business, churches and non-profits seem to categorize us into silos where we are rated according to our abilities, performance and aptitude. Some of us are told we are “high capacity” leaders. While others are “mid-level.” Some have given us colors, symbols or animals to understand our place in the order of things. We are the color: orange, assigned a number like “5” to help us aspire to become a 7 or another number we are told is better than the one we are at present. We could be a roaring lion or an playful otter. But it doesn’t matter what color you are or what animal others perceive you to be if you’re always left with a suspicion that to move up; we must always be doing more. To do more and be more becomes the stressful cadence of how we do our everyday lives. And in the living of our over-committed lives, our humanity leaks from us as air from a red ballon with a slow, steady leak. One of the reasons that we leak so much is that we have not understood our capacity.When we begin to re-think our capacity, we find a new and life-giving platform upon which we can stand; build our lives and live with a sense of inner satisfaction marked by words such as peace, joy and well-being.Re-thinking our capacity involves several aspects of re-thinking our lives and how we see other people. It's not just about how much MORE work can we do? It's about being human and keeping our humanity in tact so we do not morph into working machines giving off fumes of burned out oil in the already polluted world we are living in at this moment.
- Understanding our limits. If we adopt the idea that our calendars do not need to dictate our capacity we will then begin to understand our limits and our capacity. To live well means that we need space between our meetings, conferences, presentations and sessions to reflect, ponder and gain the meaning we can for ourselves. We are not helping machines. But we can become shaped to feel as if we are a mere cog in the wheel when we do not learn to schedule space between our meetings, intense conversations and crammed schedules. I blogged about understanding our limits earlier and discussed it in my book, INSIDE JOB.
- Be present with who are you are present with. When we are emotionally distant and vacant, we may have left the building and the room in which we are meeting someone--perhaps someone very important to us. Our body is there but are hearts are somewhere else. I explored having a father who was emotionally distant from me at breakfast in my childhood in THE LAZARUS LIFE. We shared cereal together but not much else. I coined the phrase, "the cereal stare" to give words to that terrible gap between our chairs at the table and our hearts inside. Capacity means having the ability to be present—to be engage—to be focused with one’s heart and attention. When we are over our capacity, we see people like things and conversations like work. We can work, live and make love in a trance while missing out on the real, live encounter with the person who is sitting across from us or lying next to us in bed. To be present means being available—all of us being available to the person we are working with, engaged in a meaningful relationship or caring for in some degree.
- Being Aware. When I book meetings close together; when I meet back-to-back to make “more happen” than it probably should, I lose my awareness of what I’m doing in the meeting and lose my perspective on who it is I’m actually talking with. Being aware requires taking a few moments to breath; to think and pray, “God let me be aware of what is about to happen. Keep me in sync with my own heart, reactions, gifts and ability to love this person.” To lose sight of who it is we are with is to lose the capacity to be real, authentic and to be fully human. We lose our humanity when we try to do more and more with less and less time. Our losing our humanity begins with losing our own awareness of ourselves and the dignity each human being offers us in any kind of meeting or situation we find ourselves. In short, our availability does not equal our capacity. We may give someone the time they are asking for but we are not really there with them. Our body may be present but our mind is off in a distant, far off land and we are offering them a shell of ourselves. We all have old ways, patterns and addictions about the nicks, wounds and bruises of sharing life with someone who was not present or aware. But there is recovery for all of us and all recover begins with this first step: being aware of my real condition and the real people around me.
- Extending Hospitality. Extending hospitality is as simple as taking the time to really see they person coming to you for what they really are: a seeker; a person trying to make life work as we are as well; and that every person who we meet with is really the invitation to experience the Presence of God in them. Years ago, I went to meet a famous monk who I had gotten to know through his writings. I was so intent on meeting him and what I would say, that when I went to the monastery, I didn’t even realize it was the monk who I wanted to meet that actually opened the door for me to enter the monastery. He greeted me so warmly; embraced me and offered me a refreshment. All the while I was wondering how it could be that I would meet the famous Monk—Richard Rohr. When I asked in the bookstore if I could meet him, another brother- monk smiled and said, “You already met him. That was Father Rohr who greeted you at the door.” I was embarrassed and ashamed. When we are so intent on doing our work; accomplishing our tasks and checking off our lists, we can miss Someone in everyone. Extending hospitality is one of pillars of some businesses and ministries; while others are consumed with services, events and the next thing. We think of hospitality in the wrong way when we think of dinner parties and entertaining. Extending the incarnational love of God through our own presence and reactions to others is true care and true love.
Our capacity is more than what we can ascertain in books and seminars about doing more and moving from being good to great. Our capacity is learning what it means to be human; to recover our humanity in a rat-race world marked with moving ladders of success and accomplishment.Our capacity is found in re-thinking what kind of people we have become and reclaiming a notion of the kind of people we want to become.