By Jenna Ebener
I wrote this article on the anniversary of a day that will forever hold deep meaning for me — one month since the day that I finally felt self-compassion. So many challenging events have happened in those 30 days. A beloved student died, many students have been in behavioral crisis and countless situations have involved scheduling and rescheduling appointments. Normally, I would have been immediately overwhelmed. There have indeed been overwhelming moments but I can now respond to those moments with self-compassion. When I take the intentional time to connect with myself and recognize what is happening in my body, I can finally treat myself in the compassionate way I treat my friends and students.
By actually listening to my body, slowing down and giving myself what I need, I have recognized another gift of self-compassion — I can now be present to others on a deeper level than ever before. Now that I feel and allow my emotions to move through me, I am taking on the emotions of others less. I was able to be present to staff members as they visibly mourned the death of another student. I was able to be present to that student’s grieving mother. I was able to cry at the memorial service and allow myself to feel grief. God has continually shown me that what happened to me a miraculous month ago is not a fleeting occurrence — it is permanent. I continue to know who I am and that allows me to show God to others easier than ever before.
God has shown to me the true beauty of vulnerability and authenticity. I finally, truly understand St. Paul when he stated, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). By being vulnerable enough to share my fears and pain with friends who have earned my trust, I realize my expression of vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength. I have learned the invaluable lesson that showing others I am not “on it” all of the time gives them permission to feel and express their own pain and struggles. Rather than trying to fix each other, we simply sit with each other in our pain. Even without a “solution,” we both end the conversation feeling a sense of peace and deep connection that makes it easier to move forward. Being vulnerable with the right people is not a burden; it is a freeing gift.
My prayer for all of you is that no matter what you are going through, you have the courage and the strength to appear “weak.” Life is filled with suffering and trials. While no person experiences the journey of someone else, my week of group therapy revealed to me that we all have common themes in our suffering, if only we are vulnerable enough to take that first step.
Who is that person or persons with whom you feel safe? Whom can you talk to without feeling judged or as if you are a problem that needs to be solved? If you cannot think of anyone, what is holding you back from seeking new connections?
I want to leave you with the image of Jesus on the cross. Jesus loved us so much that he became the epitome of weakness in his society — he died naked on a cross next to criminals. Yet, rather than seeing what Jesus did as weak, we see the incredible strength and courage of our God. My hope is that all of us can have a fraction of the strength and vulnerability that our beautiful Savior had on that life-altering day. For God did not leave us alone. Jesus had his close friends selected from his disciples and we have the opportunity to choose our community, too. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
(Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)