Same Spot…Different Day

It was one of those moments when, the only appropriate response was for my heart to squeak out an exhausted, “Really God? Really?”
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Context…

I am prone to bursts and gusts of despair and darkness. They blow up, sometimes unexpectedly, and sometimes very expectedly, with a ferocity that at times is crippling. Fortunately, with years of experience, with wise counsel, with some gentle and profound healing in the areas of my heart that generate the pain… for the most part… I am learning how to ride out the storms. I know they won’t last (even if they feel like they will never end), and I am often able to realize that there is an alternate perspective on my situation… that if I can just hang on for a while…I will eventually find the safe harbor of clarity. I am able to speak to my heart with words like, “This will pass. It isn’t the end of the world. There is hope. There is much to be grateful for in the middle of it all. Darkness precedes dawn. Jesus can be trusted with this.” I can usually find a storm cellar to climb in, just as the dust kicks up, the atmospheric pressure drops dramatically, and the funnel cloud appears on the horizon.

And…

Sometimes my life’s experience hasn’t felt like a day-long ferocious blizzard, but more like a prolonged winter that goes on and on. We’ve all experienced seasons of life that, if they were a color, would fall into the muted, bland shades of gray and brown and weak yellow…those seasons when stuff just happens…and keeps happening. And just when you think you will get a moment to catch your breath…along comes another punch to the gut. The result is that some days (some weeks, some months), it can be a titanic struggle to get my body and heart to muster enough energy and momentum, to engage, to initiate, to smile, to care. Of course, I am describing depression. In the past few years, I’ve wrestled with both emotional/spiritual weather systems – seasons of depression, sprinkled in with bursts of despair, for variety.

Into all of this…

I was walking in Chattanooga recently, and enjoying a beautiful evening. I was praying, being present to my heart, eating some amazing ice cream, and resting in the quiet and joy of exploring a fantastic city, all of which I love to do. It was golden and I was happy. And then, out of nowhere, on a relatively smooth section of pavement, I stepped into the one dip, and twisted my ankle. One moment, I was enjoying a needed respite from my turmoil, and the next, I was on the ground, one knee bleeding, the other ankle swelling like a grapefruit, far from home, wondering what in the world had just happened.

And while sitting on my backside, experiencing the rush of sudden bodily pain, my heart uttered the words, “Really God? Really? With all I’ve been through, You couldn’t smooth my paths and protect my ankles from turning for one night?” Without going into the details, I spent the rest of my evening…trying to figure out where in the world I was in my relationship with Him.

The next day, I got up early to take another walk. Because I wanted to see a sunrise, because I wanted to exercise before sitting in class all day, because my time in Chattanooga was limited and I wanted to make the most of it, because walking is good for a swollen ankle, and because God and I had some unfinished business between us. I am a kinesthetic pray-er – He and I often talk while I’m moving.  So I went for a walk. Again.

And, without thinking too much about it, I inadvertently ended up in the exact same spot where, the night before, I had been hurt. This time however, the Chattanooga track club was there, handing out water.IMG_5612

One day, this place caused me pain. Twelve hours later, it was where I received a cup of cool water.

Same spot, different day.

It was a powerful picture for me of some of the ways that God works in my life:

…He takes the same things that hurt me, and eventually uses them to bless me, teaching me to not fear the dips, but to learn to reframe and eventually welcome them.

…Sometimes pain stops me in my tracks because I need stopping in my tracks…because it starts different and more meaningful conversations with God than I would often choose on my own… because He wants me to pay attention to Him or my heart in a way I can’t when I’m busy with my own agenda…because what He wants to give me is infinitely more valuable than what He takes away from me while I hurt.

…There are times when God mercifully repeats experiences for me. The first time, things may not go so well. Something gets squeezed out from the inside of me that I need to see, or need to own. But the second or third time… there can be a different outcome. I learn or grow or change. By repeating an experience, He allows me to see the progress I’ve made. It allows me to see more of Him, parts of Him that may be hidden the first time around, but revealed with repeated laps around the same places. And it blesses me with what we call in the counseling world “an emotionally corrective experience”. The first night, my pain revealed something of my go-to impressions of God. I experienced God as One who callously hurts me. The next morning, I saw and experienced Him as One who lovingly provides for me. The second experience was a healing one, correcting a bit of something that was broken deep inside of me, that was actually causing me much more soul-level pain than a sprained ankle.

…And when I keep showing up for our walks, even when I’m limping…when I keep engaging, even when everything in me wants to isolate and quit, He accepts my walk with Him as an offering. He takes it and does something with it. Something for my good. Something that I would have missed out on had I slept in, or decided that my ankle was too swollen to walk on. The conversations with Him about how He uses the “same spot, different day” dynamic to bless me continues to be a powerful shaping dynamic in my relationship with Him.

 

 

Embracing The Bright Sadness (Jesus pt. 98)

“Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness…” Richard Rohr.

It is an interesting tension that older followers of Jesus are asked to hold. In one hand there should be hope and joy. It is the positive sunny perspective on life that gets us out of bed in the morning, looking forward to tomorrow.  It reflects our trust in and belief that Jesus is indeed more powerful

Clouds and sun, all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

Clouds and sun at the same time… all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

than this world and that He is indeed making all things new, restoring, rebuilding and blessing. Our tomorrows can be better than our todays – this is part of the birthright of children of the King, of those who have been saved and now have the Savior living inside of them. Our faith should allow us to smile.

Yet,  in the other hand we hold a sadness and a darkness that comes with living in a broken world where sin has had its way. It means we don’t pretend all is ok. Because, sometimes, things most definitely are not all ok. This awakening to the presence of pain can be a weight that at times threatens to topple us over in its direction.  As we age, most of us bump into a most sobering, and at times, depressing reality – that this life can really, really hurt. That sometimes things don’t always work out well or even good. Sometimes evil wins and we lose. Sometimes we can’t stop the suffering, especially of those we love. Sometimes life descends into a nosedive of despair that can be difficult to pull out of without medication, unhealthy coping mechanisms of some kind, or a very, very deep and complicated work of the heart and faith. (Phil. 2:2) And not everyone has the time, inclination or stomach for the heart work or faith that surviving such a nosedive into pain requires.

People who have walked with Jesus for a while are able to embrace both sides of this. Joy, while at the same time, sad. Light and dark co-existing side by side in our hearts. Grabbing hold of the two truths at the same time, “It will all be ok. It won’t all be ok.”  As Richard Rohr puts it, “…a kind of bright sadness…”. I suspect you’ve met people like this. They have a weight to them. A gravity. An internal spaciousness about them that allows them to hold two such full and complex experiences at the same time, negating neither, and embracing both. A bright sadness. St John of the Cross, author of the term, “dark night of the soul”,  called this mystery a “luminous darkness”.

And because of the internal and theological stretching required to hold all this, these people are able to hold more of Jesus in the created space.

As a younger believer, I never would have guessed this. Maturity in Christ means being familiar with sadness. Sadness is not a bad friend to have either. It can open doors – to heart things, to spiritual truth, to intimacy with Jesus, to great depth and wisdom. It can be a companion who knows things and shares them with us.

Willingly walking through the doors of sadness holds the potential to lead us to the doors of joy we are looking for, are wired for. But it is not a happy clappy, Hallmark card blurb, easy Sunday School kind of joy. Instead, it leads to the deeper kind that gets us out of bed in the morning when just that takes all we’ve got… knowing that even in the midst of pain, it is still worth it all. The kind of joy that says to despair, “I’m not afraid of you because you have something to teach me about Jesus, about truth, about me…and I’m willing to sit with you, walk with you for a while, in order to learn your precious secrets.” (Eccl. 7:4) Walking through deep sadness leads to the kind of joy that doesn’t blot out darkness, but overcomes it. A greater joy. The joy Jesus promises us.

The path to joy may meander first on the path of sadness. Sometimes for a long time. Being able to hold joy most fully requires that we first learn to hold sadness. And this is a most stretching thing to do. Which is why it is almost always older people who are able do it. It takes a long time and a lot of life to learn to do it properly.

Over the years, I’ve found that Jesus loves the simplicity of a child’s faith, the primary colors, the basic foundational vocabulary, the straight lines, the innocent faith and reckless trust. And I’ve also found that Jesus loves the deep and multilayered complexity of an adult’s faith that involves a lot of blurred edges, uncomfortable uncertainty, endless shades of gray and more questions than answers.

Jesus invites us to know Him from both places if we want.

But we have to be willing to go there with Him. The journey isn’t a short or easy one.

Jn. 17:13 …but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Phil. 2:12…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Phil 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Eccl. 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.