Updated: Jan 9, 2021
I think I shall become a nun. Sister Isabella. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? I'll sell all my worldly belongings and run away to one of those ancient, remote monasteries on a craggy clifftop, with spartan cells, very limited social contact and vows of silence. And porridge. Lots of porridge. Right off, you can see the problems. Spartan, silence, solo and bland food. Not to mention the unflattering garb. Then there are my kids. It's so hard to adopt them out when they get older, you know. Plus, I love them. That and maybe 114 other reasons I'd be drop-kicked out of any religious order. Still, it's tempting. People: This being human thing...I'm not at all sure I'm cut out for it. So messy. So very troublesome. Yet God invites us into humanity. Intimate relationship. With ourselves, with him and with each other. Sigh.
Reluctant road trip down agony lane.
My short-lived nunnery fantasy was prompted by discomforting new insights about myself and my life, prompted by my recent divorce, mid-life musings, and global catastrophe. When your heart has been broken a bunch, the inclination to flee, hide or otherwise avoid is quite strong. But fleeing by any means doesn't fix anything. The stuff emerges anyway, wreaking havoc with our lives and the lives of others. Still, we can't see until we see. Fifty-three years into this journey, I'm facing myself and my heartbreaks anew. More layers off the onion.
They say that when you go through life changes--like getting divorced or returning to work full-time for the first time in 20 years to a brand-new career--you may grieve unresolved griefs of your past. Check. (Gee. As though the changes themselves aren't plenty.)
Apparently, I have not pasteurized all of my life experiences, and I've had a few doozies. Some of these fossilized feelings have been long buried or encased in ice.
As my friend Barbara said, "It just took you a while to thaw out."
I've been crying a lot. A lot. More in the past year than I did in the prior 20. Cathartic tears, no doubt. Punctuated by hope- and joy-filled promise, no doubt. Agonizing nonetheless.
The October-January holiday parade amplified the effect, not to mention global pandemics and their fallout. All told, 2020 is a very fine time to do some spiritual and emotional housekeeping. In fact, as I've said from the onset, I believe 2020 is an engraved invitation from the Universe (aka God) to do just that. Come clean with ourselves, each other and God.
2020 has surfaced a lot of stuff for people for all sorts of reasons: Isolation, job other economic losses, fear of illness or death. Some may have discovered that their loved ones loved their presidential candidate better. For others, the sick-media-fueled-politicized-Pandemic-panic is driving a giant wedge between them and others. The racial reckoning has prompted accountability for some, while causing many to retreat deeper into self-righteous apartness. It's a long list, the 2020 challenge list.
In general, hardships of any kind, particularly experienced in conspicuous isolation, can be prompts for self-reflection.
That's a good thing.
They can also draw us closer to God.
That’s the best thing.
God's motive is always love. The Light of the World never brings things to light to harm us but rather, to heal us. Our part is willingness to be honest and open to the light of love and healing.
What The (Loving) Light brought to light for me personally is the profoundly destructive impact of my own unconscious defenses, largely due to my childhood injuries compounded over time. None of this insight is altogether new, I'm just experiencing a stark new level of consciousness. In my heart, not my head, which is another of my favorite hiding places.
Thanks to my God, I do trust that it's right on time, despite the grief it engenders.
WARNING: Graphic language and themes, painfully poignant. I double-dog dare you to listen with your heart.
The business of emerging from denial and coming clean about ourselves and others is painful and messy, yet it's vital to our peace, freedom and authentic relationship on this plane and beyond.
You know what they say: If you can feel it, you can heal it.
Doctor, heal thyself??
The new insights (or fresh awareness of old insights) came thanks to a Harvard scientist who has devoted his life to the study of attachment, now attractively packaged in courses, podcasts and assorted others resources at www.attachmentproject.com.
Intrigued by his insights, I knee-jerked into my default self-improvement mode, determined to figure out how to fix myself. On my morning run, I listened to a podcast where he explained his work . Despite his hip and happy website, he spoke with the kind of lifeless, loveless, monotone clinical detachment that would make you anxious, avoidant or disorganized if you weren't already. His nihilistic worldview didn't help much either.
Then it occurred to me: Poor man probably was trying to fix himself with his well-funded, prestigious research project. Intellect, acquisition and achievement are fine bunkers, too, and certainly some of my personal favorites. Along with humor and busy-ness. They all work really well. Until they don't.
I don't know, doc, fixing myself hasn't worked out so well.
I stopped listening to the podcast, mentally casting about for my next action, zealous in my drive to figure it out and fix it. I briefly considered reaching out to my last therapist, quickly dismissing the thought when I remembered her judge-ey and angst-laced pronouncements on my divorce quite obviously fueled by her own experiences and hurts, quite different than mine in every way. She's broken, too. Cuz we all are.
Now what? I can't fix a single thing about my distant childhood. I couldn't undo the harms done to myself and others. In the moment, I saw no obvious jogging route out of this jam.
Where do we go when friends, family and the experts "fail" us. Where do we go when we fail ourselves? We go where we could have gone from the onset.
I issued a simple plea: “Jesus, help me.”
(Yes, Jesus in particular. He said He's the only way, even though there may be many legit stops on the route. Frankly, He's the best deal going.)
The answer, gently whispered to my heart, came almost immediately: “Let it go.”
The paradox of powerlessness.
Defeated again by my own best efforts, I surrendered. The heavy yoke of my lifelong, well-worn route to self-improvement came to a grateful end. I felt an immediate sense of relief. Within days, God provided me with some unexpected and powerful support through obviously linked messages, conversations, new connections and readings that all provided comforting clarity and direction. He granted me healing of a deep wound, enabling me to set some new loving boundaries for myself and to write a love letter releasing unforgiveness and claiming forgiveness for myself.
I also see God's helpful hand in lovingly placing me in a job where I get to love on the teenager I was when the poop hit the fan all those years ago. To see them, enjoy them, encourage, accept them and teach them, even as I do myself. Teaching high school has proven to be a divine appointment that enables me to help usher these kids through a difficult year, in turn, healing myself. How very like God.
As it's been before, the gateway to this most recent breakthrough is humbly seeing my powerlessness and my need, an act of vulnerable intimacy with myself, my God and others. Personally, I've found this painful process necessary. Maybe not so much for God, as for myself. I think his love and healing is always there. I just need to receive it.
Too good to be true.
And here is the incredibly good news of The Gospel. Too simple for most of us to hold onto and truly enjoy in all its sweet freedom, peace, joy and inexplicable grace. This is God's free gift for all who receive him.
The transaction is deceptively simple, but not easy.
Most of my gains and healing in life have come less as a result of relentless, merciless and strenuous self-improvement. They have come and more as a result of lovingly accepting I am totally powerless, admitting complete defeat, and surrendering to a power great than myself.
For me, this seems to be an ongoing activity. And despite many years on a spiritual path, I still seem to have to travel the well-worn worn road of being clobbered into surrender, rather than running straight to God at the first sign of trouble. I still don't know that my agonizing route is essential, but maybe it is. Maybe some of us just need to suffer the grief of our own powerlessness to be reminded of our desperate need over and over. Only to discover Jesus was always there.
Hope for the hopeless.
If you're confronting a mess of your own making or are an unwitting victim, or if the mere weight of 2020 has weighed you down, take heart.
It's into this mess of humanity that Jesus was injected 2020 years ago. It's into this mess that he waits to enter into us today. He stands at the door and knocks. This is often tragically misunderstood. The idea is not that we must pick up the house so he can enter. Nor is it that he comes in, and then we scramble to clean the house. Jesus is not a self-improvement program. The idea is we let him in, and he sits down with us in our messiness, puts his feet up, and snuggles us. As we abide in his loving arms, he gently helps us to pick up the stray socks or mega-messes until one day (not here), our house is spotless.
Yes, a literally cloistered life can be a legitimate, holy calling, but it's meant to be just that. Our true refuge is in a God who knows us and loves us just as we are.
Jesus: Better than a nunnery.
Here's to a healthy, happy, totally NEW year!