KAUFMANN: In search for a bigger heart

Published 1:55 pm Thursday, December 23, 2021

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Sometimes the troubles of the world directly affect our lives. The continued pandemic and its variants are stressing our local hospitals, supply chain bottlenecks are leaving empty spaces on store shelves, and inflation is making it harder for us to purchase what is in stock.

And sometimes, our personal troubles also weigh us down. Problems with work, difficult relationships, worries about our health – these are just a few, and we can take a moment to add our own struggles to the list. This holiday season, we may feel like we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.

Worry, sadness and anger can affect us physically as life presses in from all sides. Where do we feel it? As literal weights on our shoulders? As sickness in the stomach? As burning in the brain? As tightness in the chest?

Remember the Grinch in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas?” At the beginning, he could only see the bad about everything. His body was hunched and bent, his face scrunched and wrinkly, and his heart had constricted two sizes too small.

Have we turned a bit grinchy as we focus on our troubles?

A few mornings ago, I was driving in the gray half-dark of morning and rounded the curve toward the St. Joseph River. Suddenly, an intense pink sunrise emerged over the valley and I felt a weight lift from my body that I didn’t even know I was carrying. My heart grew a few sizes as I slowed down and drank in the view.

Maybe the blessing of Christmas is having our eyes opened to the good that is already here, all around us. A passage comes to my mind: “The people walking in darkness/ have seen a great light;/ on those walking in the land of the shadow of death/ a light has dawned.” (The NIV Bible, Isaiah 9:2).

What opens our eyes, lifts our spirits, lightens our load, brightens our day? There are many things that do this: beauty, goodness, generosity and kindness, to name a few. The more purposefully we identify these specific things in our lives, the more we can focus on them and enjoy the physical benefits of peace, happiness and joy.

The sunrise was an example of beauty in my life. An example of goodness is the wonderful feeling I had when I walked past the dozens upon dozens of gifts surrounding the Salvation Army Angel Tree at our local YMCA. I slowed down to take it in, took some deep breaths, stood taller, and felt the expansive joy.

If we lift our gaze from this page, what can we see right now that is good? A beloved friend? A faithful pet? A warm cup of coffee? Let’s focus on the things that are going right, instead of the things that are going wrong. There we can find courage and strength, and feel our hearts grow.

Sometimes the bad overwhelms us, and we need help in order to feel happiness again. If this is you today, remember that you are not alone, and that you matter. Please reach out to someone you trust. To locate mental health and/or substance abuse assistance near you, call the free national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).