An Offer of ComfortApr 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks
Early in my career, I developed a hard shell. It was a protective layer, like Teflon, to shield my sensitive nature. Because of that shell, I sometimes acted without integrity. It was easier than sharing my heart.
While editor of an association newspaper, I hired Sheila and appreciated her smarts and quick wit. She wrote quickly and asked hard questions better than I did. She got accolades, and our readership grew.
When Shelia’s mother became ill, she didn’t speak much about her feelings, but her work slipped. She began to miss deadlines. Several times, I asked her to get focused. And even though she tried, her anger seeped into conversations with our boss and with some of her sources. So I reprimanded her.
One day, Sheila asked me for some time off. I asked her to finish her assignments first, and she said she’d try. She met her deadlines, but the articles needed rewrites. I got aggravated. I had my own deadlines now, including fixing her incomplete work. When Shelia returned to the office, she gave me her resignation, saying only that her mother had died. In my own self-absorption, I didn’t offer comfort.
Several years later, my father went into hospice. By then, I was an untenured teacher in an upper-middle-class school system. My supervisor often pressured me, constantly entering my classroom to critique my lessons.
When my father died, I was numb and overwhelmed by grief. Our relationship had been difficult, and I needed time to process the past and heal. After a couple of weeks off, I returned to school. My colleagues offered comfort and encouragement, but my supervisor acted as if nothing had happened. Her constant hounding continued.
One night, I dreamt that a woman was walking toward me, pointing and shouting words I couldn’t hear. As I awoke, I realized the woman was Sheila.
“Oh, my, God,” I thought. “My supervisor is treating me the way I treated Sheila.” I clutched my heart, sobbing and praying for forgiveness for myself—and from Sheila, wherever she was.
Poet Kahlil Gibran wrote that our pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding. As I grieved, I realized that I had denied Sheila the comfort I needed for myself. I resolved to keep my heart open and be more compassionate.
Opportunities to do just that showed up every week. Even in a prominent school district, students have pain they hold within their shells. So, the day Marley got into a fight with another classmate, I was calm. His father had died a while ago, and his mother was now in hospice.
“Hey, Marley,” I said. “Let’s go outside for a minute.”
“I don’t need to,” he said.
“Come on. Just for a minute.”
When we left the classroom, Marley stared at the ground.
“I guess everything feels really tough right now,” I said.
Marley kicked the floor. “That jerk just won’t let up.”
“I think I get it,” I said. “He doesn’t understand. And you really want to say, ‘Back the bleep off, man! My mother’s dying!’”
Marley nodded; his eyes filled with tears. “Yup. That’s what I want to say.”
Marley’s mother died not long after that. He took leave from school, then dropped out. I sent some cards to his home address but never heard back.
A year later, I was in Best Buy, purchasing a Christmas present, and I saw Marley.
“Ms. Sacks!” he shouted and threw his arms around me. Marley told me he was working there full-time, he’d completed his GED, and he was applying to community college to study computer programming. He asked how I was and what was happening at school.
“I really appreciate you, Ms. Sacks,” he said. “You were the only one who really understood.”
In the Bible’s Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I would add that we also can be comforters. By feeling my own sorrow and learning from my missteps, my shell broke open so I could share my heart. In this season of renewal, of passing over and rising up, I’m eternally grateful for the comfort that offers us all new life. [Ed: Names have been changed for privacy.] ❧
Senior minister of Unity Atlanta Church in Peachtree Corners, Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks is a preacher, writer and spiritual leader. She holds a Master of Divinity from Unity Institute & Seminary. Connect with her at RevJenn.com.