The Aisle of Apathy

This week was back to school prep-week for my two teenage sons. As an educator, I unashamedly geek-out while helping them get ready for classes. The boys are kind to me, even though they don’t always share my enthusiasm. They give me room to relish the snap of a new three ring binder, the smell of markers, and new socks.

In store three, maybe four, I walked past this t-shirt. It stopped me in my tracks. I am not sure, but I must have stood there staring at it for minutes. It was one of those moments when memories, courage, lament, and identity all crashed into each other. It accurately summarized a whole bubble-wrap protective measure I had meticulously constructed around painful areas of my world. I’m not proud of this, but there it was: a pithy little shirt advertising my temptation to engage apathy as a retreat from “the hard things”.

I had worked for years to camouflage my high-functioning apathy habit, and here it was hanging on a clothing rack for everyone to see. It hit me hard. A whole marketing demographic believed this to be true enough to wear it over their heart. T-shirts like this are meant to advertise an attitude that can be felt a mile away—I fully embrace my current state of ignorance and apathy.

A naked feeling crept over me. I shuttered. My son rescued me with a pair of shoes he wanted to show me, but as we walked away, I felt hot shame rise up into my cheeks. Shame is one of my “hard things”, and this shame showed up with a vengeance. It came rushing to my frontal cortex, shouting a lifetime of blaming words and belittling actions at me: Who the hell do you think you are? Do you know who no one knows or cares about? YOU, that’s who. No one knows or cares about YOU.

There it was, my greatest fear marketed in the middle of a shopping mall.

Instinctively, I reached for the safety of my apathy bubble-wrap, but something stirring in my soul stopped me. As I look back now, I know it was brave, but in the moment, it didn’t feel like it. Outwardly, I walked calmly behind my son, but inwardly my pulse elevated, and breaths came quickly as snatches of remembered rejections and abandonments paraded through me. Those who study these things call them flashbacks, but those of us who have them call them agony.

My God, what if I never learn? What if I never learn to silence shame? To hear the kinder voices? To believe the truth that God speaks about me, about others?

While the boys tried on shoes, I prayed. I asked God for courage to stay in this wildly uncomfortable moment, to not retreat into numb cowardice. To my surprise, truth cut through the fog of shame right there in the shoe department. Holy bravery arrived just in time– I would know this moment and I would care about it. I would know and care about those willing to put on the garment of apathy to protect themselves from the paralyzing fear of rejection. Leaning back, I closed my eyes, felt my heart rate slow, my breaths grow deeper.

My boys left the store with two pair of new school shoes. I left with something holy.

That night, I wrote:

I believe in a God that knows and loves me. I believe in a God that calls and strengthens me to move from stubborn ignorance to humble knowing, from cowardly apathy to unintimidated caring. Though I know it will not be easy, I accept this responsibility, and will not surrender to the comfort of numbness in the presence of pain. I believe to know and be known, to care and be cared for is what Jesus meant by, “Go and do likewise…” I believe God beckons me to live a life of likewise, and as I do, it is my soul that is being saved.

I don’t know if what I wrote is a mantra, a prayer, or maybe a vow. Whatever it is, it testifies to what may have looked to the world like regular t-shirt—just a mundane moment in the middle a mall. In reality, I know a battle ensued in that aisle. Right there, shame sought to bring me low and leave me in the ashes of apathy once again, but the God who knows and loves me sought to silence those ancient voices and sinful ways. He is raising me up to be a brave soul.

Educator turned advocate, Belinda Wilson Bauman seeks to bring hope to women in crisis. After living internationally for a decade in conflict and post-conflict zones, Belinda experienced what she calls a “beautiful collision” with the brave souls of women who survive in the most dangerous places in the world. She is a wife and mother, speaker and contributor to Newsweek’s The Daily Beast, Huffington Post and Today’s Christian Woman. As the founder of One Million Thumbprints, she leads a movement of peacemakers empowering peacemakers in the world’s worst conflicts. Belinda and her husband, Stephan, and their two sons, Joshua and Caleb, live in Grand Rapids, MI where they relish promoting peace, raising chickens and gazing at stars while living in the country.