Sometime last fall, this quote started circulating on social media, with this edit…
At the time, I think I even loved and “AMEN”d the edit. I mean, i get it. Do it. Cross the oceans. Brave the journey, be the person who loves big, who crosses boundaries, who is not confined to how other people think of you. Be bigger than the world. Love without restriction.
And to be honest, there is a giant part of me that still feels that way. I told a friend recently that my deep, unfiltered love of all people is at the core of who I am – and if loving all lands me at the gates of hell, I will be fine (the Christ I follow is a love-all kind of Savior, so I’m not too worried). I will love you without condition, without exception. I will believe in you, no matter how big or small or crazy or “normal” your dreams seem. I will be that friend. There are people in my life going through some horribly BIG things – family health, financial insecurity, crises of faith and community and hope – and I will cross oceans and climb mountains and drive miles and be there. Always. Forever. With no expectation they do anything in return. Those people know that they don’t have to respond to every text, answer any calls, or do anything. My love is not conditional.
But, there is a but that the black and white leaves out. There are only so many oceans I can cross. The side of this gross over simplification of “Yes, cross the oceans and mountains for people who won’t do the same thing for you” is dangerous. It puts a lot of expectation on people like me – people who are and will gladly give more of themselves than is probably healthy – without ever feeling like they get even a little bit back. When you’re the one constantly crossing the oceans, there is an exhaustion that goes beyond just the normal. When you’re the one constantly climbing the mountains, you find yourself discouraged by the journey you often do alone.
There is only so much a person can give. And when you ask people and/or expect people to keep giving out of their exhaustion, you’re setting them up to fail. Boundaries mean that sometimes you cross the oceans for the people that cannot do the same for you, because they need you to show up in ways only you can. But, boundaries also mean sometimes you don’t. You don’t keep climbing mountains to be in the lives of people who don’t see any value in your climb, or who make you feel foolish for the climb itself. Boundaries mean that sometimes you stop at the shore and wait to see if anyone else willing to row the boat with you.
The complication of empathy in this is simple: I will climb the mountains and cross the oceans until I’m mentally, emotionally, and physically unable to do so. Sometimes the thing that keeps me going is knowing that, when I need those same incredible height scaled, you will do the same.