Embracing The Bright Sadness

“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.

(originally published 10/12/13)

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Making Things Round

I was leading a women’s retreat in Germany this past weekend.  It was a wonderful time to say a joyful “hello” to beloved friends whom I had to say a tearful”goodbye” to years ago.  And during this time, I learned a beautiful German phrase and concept that has deeply blessed me.  About halfway through, I asked a friend how she felt it was going, and she answered, “It isn’t round yet.”  What she meant was, the circle wasn’t closed. The start was good, and she could see the intended trajectory.  But the story of open circleour time together, of the material we were talking about, of what it might mean to her personally, was still open and not quite finished.  It needed some closure to be able to hold it properly.

As I walk with Jesus through the life He has planned for me, I’m learning that He isn’t nearly as uncomfortable with un-roundness as I am. In fact, the discomfort of unfinished things seems to be a primary shaping tool He uses to lovingly heal and grow His children.

Of course, sometimes prayers get answered in the way we want. Lives move forward. Decisions get made and get made well.  People grow and transition to whatever is next.  Progress can be seen.  Joy in the past, in the now and in the potential future is experienced.  Things become round all the time, and will become ultimately so upon His return…all this is cause for great celebration.

But then…there are the dreams that are birthed with the best of intentions, and then get shattered just within grasp.  Disappointment with God’s plans, unanswered questions, the unknown ‘why’ behind a painful ‘what’.  Loss.  Grief.  Shame.  Seasons of life, difficult relationships, wounded people…sometimes they can be like rocks in the middle of a river…instead of moving downstream with the rest of us, life just flows on around them. They are awkwardly stuck in an unfinished place for all to see…and people pass on by, wondering why they can’t move on like everyone else. At least that is how some un-roundness in my life has felt to me.

My experience with life in Europe has been an un-round thing for me for a while now.  Coming to grips with the reality that we will not be able to return in the near future, watching that dream die and seeing that God’s plans for us are different than we thought…I’ve been wrestling with the almost universal mid-life experience of realizing that important external elements of my life are not what I would choose for myself.  At the same time, I’ve been attempting to walk in the very individual experience of realizing that the most important, internal elements of my life are very much within my control. My character.  My responses. My spiritual orientation – towards Him or away from Him. In the face of disappointment, will I become better or bitter? Will I create with what I’m given, or consume?  Will I take responsibility for my own personal/heart growth, and choose a life that is spiritually and emotionally healthy for myself and others…or will I choose to continue the destructive patterns and life strategies that have hurt me and those I love for so long?

Even when we think we don’t have choice, we always have choice.

These are some of the tensions that have been stretching me for a few years now: opening my hands and letting go of good things, so that Jesus can fill them with better things.   Learning how painful a chisel must be to marble, yet what a joy the resulting beauty must be. Embracing the truth that pain can be a fertilizer that grows the most beautiful things in my heart.

When we are stretched…we never go back to our original size.  And now, after walking through a prolonged season of stretching that has lasted years… my trip back to Germany, where so much of my stretching began, has allowed me to see that I am bigger.  My heart is bigger. The Jesus I know is bigger. How He works in my life is bigger. God has allowed me to come full circle, and I am grateful for the relief and release that comes from the closure of it.

At the end of our weekend retreat, my friend let me know that the themes of our weekend did eventually become round.  (As a Bible teacher, that was so great to hear!)  What a gift to me to realize that I did too.

 

Learning To Trust My GPS – And Jesus Too

I did something today I have never done before.  I trusted my GPS.  I turned it on, listened to its guidance, and followed its directions.  I didn’t double-check it before leaving on my trip.  I didn’t argue with it as I drove. google map app I didn’t constantly verify that it, and I, were on the correct path.   I didn’t worry about two or three turns ahead.  I just listened for the next one and took it as it came.

I trusted and followed… and got where I needed to go.  And it was so refreshing to be able to relax along the way and enjoy the journey I was on.

Oh, I’ve used my GPS countless times in the past and find it very helpful in getting from one place to another.  I am not a Luddite or helplessly old school.  But I’m afraid I am THAT person.  You know THAT person.  Me and my GPS have a much more complicated relationship than we should.  I talk to her. I frequently question that she knows what she is doing.  Because I am never really sure she’ll be able to get me to where I need to go safely and in a timely manner. Because I kind of like to make my own plans.  Because, while I’m not a control freak…let’s just say I often prefer to reduce the number of people and things I am dependent on.  Therefore, I tend to do my route planning ahead of time so that, even though I take her with me everywhere, I don’t actually need her.  Even though getting me from point A to point B is her job.  Even though trusting her would make my life so much easier.

Today, Jesus let me know this is how I treat Him sometimes.  Sigh.

Years ago I told Him that I would let Him lead…and that I would follow.  In fact, we’ve spent years together, with me learning to hear and listen to His voice.  With me learning to trust that He is more than capable of handling the details of my heart and life.  With me learning to believe that He really, really loves me and wants the best for me…that He knows exactly where we are going and how to get there…and that He is very willing and able to take care of me along the way.

Yet there are so many times I try to orchestrate my life, my spiritual life even, so that I don’t really need Him.  So that functionally, He isn’t leading, but just accompanying me as I do my best to manage it all on my own.

And I realized how very tired that has been making me.  Basically, I’ve been trying to do my job and His at the same time.  And trying to do His job is like…well…it’s like trying to be God when you are not.  Those shoes are too big for anyone to fill.  It is not only exhausting, it is a recipe for getting so very lost along the way.

Again…sigh.

While not a perfect metaphor, (of course there are times we should look ahead, be aware of our location, make plans, etc) this day, my traveling experience was a gift.  It showed me something of my heart and practices – and invited me to do things differently.  It showed me that if I am willing to trust Him, to listen, to not over think His words and Word, I can learn to relax along the way and enjoy the journey I’m on.

John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” – Jesus

Slowness Isn’t The Same As Abandonment (Jesus pt. 89)

There are days when my life feels so painfully slow. The times past when it all felt vibrant or active seems so far away that I almost can’t remember them. It can feel like Jesus is molasses. That my life is stuck in neutral with nowhere to go. I know the right answer here. My life isn’t slow. There is always much going on in it and inside of me, even if from an outside view it appears so…well…slow.DSC03569

Yet.

I am tempted in those moments and days, sometimes those weeks or months (or years), to view the slowness of my life as Jesus’ abandonment of me. I think and feel that if I can’t readily identify His work in and with my life in the terms I expect, then He must not be present. Must not be pleased with Me. Must have abandoned me. Must not love or want me.

I am learning that slowness isn’t the same as abandonment. On the contrary, His slowness in my life is often a sign of His deep work in my heart. Of His very near presence.

An earthquake, the power to move and shape continents, appears sudden and random to us on the outside. But it is actually the result of years of subtle, gradual, inexorable movement and foundational shifting that takes place under the surface. The build-up is hidden. The speed and power of an earthquake is predicated upon a prolonged season of perceived slowness.

Sanctification works in a similar way. We want the spiritual earthquake…the change now. We resist the tension and time required to move the truly big things in our heart.

Slowness doesn’t mean nothing is happening. It doesn’t mean we’ve been abandoned. It might mean there are things going on underneath our sight lines that are so big, they need time to develop fully. Then, when the shaping forces with in us have reached their fulfillment… the speed of things just might take our breath away, just might change the landscape of our lives so suddenly or dramatically that we are utterly amazed and profoundly delighted.

I am learning that God’s slowness may actually be a sign of His favor. Of His purposes. Of His intentional movement. Because He isn’t working on small things in me, but the continental.

And if I can learn to wait on Him, to cooperate with His work in my life for which time has no substitute…I just might be utterly amazed and profoundly delighted by the results.

2 Pet. 3:8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

“Somebody Give Me A Xanax And Knock My @ss Out” –

Context: It was on a Friday night and Jeff and I were in the emergency room. He had been out of the hospital for just one week after our month-long ordeal there with Jeff’s cancer, surgeries, ICU stay and many, many complications. It was traumatic for us both to be back so soon. We didn’t know what was wrong yet, how serious things were or how long we would be there. We were tired. Not just physically, but emotionally. Spiritually. We were just done.

Into this moment, and I won’t reveal which one of us said it, these immortal Davis words were uttered…”Somebody give me a Xanax and knock my @ss out!” (Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication) To which the other said, “Can I have one too?”

The Davis comedy tour was rolling through the ER that night. Because sometimes things are just so bad, all you can do is laugh. That or go crazy. And they order the Xanax and a padded room for you whether you want it or not.

While Jeff was in the ICU, he had a tube down his throat that prevented him from speaking. So when he was awake, he wrote on a dry erase board. While watching one particularly disappointing Ga Tech football game, he proved his sense of humor was intact by writing this. There is no medication strong enough to take away the pain of rooting for the Yellow Jackets.

If you have kept up with our story (links at bottom)…well…we’ve had quite a few intense months here in the Davis household. We were in pain – of the prolonged sort that leaves you exhausted. Afraid. And so discouraged.  All we wanted at that moment was for it to end.

Pain relief. This is a such a universal desire, isn’t it? One which with we are all familiar. Some days we just want to get off the roller coaster – cause the fun has gone out of the ride and we are about to hurl.

Life can be quite painful. I know you know this. Things don’t work out. Something is lost. We get used. Stolen from. Wounded. Relationships nosedive and end. Hearts break. Guilt and regret follow us mercilessly. Dreams die. Sleep disappears. Uncertainty lives with us front and center. We want something, probably something good and God says no. Sometimes your husband’s health and life are threatened suddenly and you spend months in survival and crisis mode until something in your body or heart breaks. Or so I’ve heard.

In response, many, many choose to live their lives in ‘pain-relief’ mode. Pursuing whatever makes whatever is hurting so bad, not hurt so bad. Even if only for a little while. We sleep or eat too much. We drink or pop some sort of anesthetic. We search for another person to comfort us. We over-entertain ourselves, filling up those quiet moments so that we don’t have to hear our hearts crying. There are as many ways to do this as there are people. (My preferred methods? Buffalo wings, Phineas and Ferb, too much time on Facebook and going to bed as early as I can. I am a multi-level medicator.)

Let me tread carefully because I am not saying that all pain relief is bad. If I have a headache, I take an aspirin. If I injure my foot, I ice and rest it. If I am sick, I go to the doctor. Often, pain relief is a good thing. It can provide some of the space we need to begin healing. Maybe it is necessary for us to function normally. And it is crazy for there to be an easy and sensible solution to pain, to improving the quality of life, to allowing one to function normally when one really, really needs to be able to function normally – and to dismiss it.

Yet…

Sometimes, in the spiritual realm, pain has a work to do. And sometimes, our single-minded pursuit of pain relief can actually preempt the work of God in our lives.

Sometimes our pain can act like a light on the dashboard, alerting us to serious trouble with the engine. It can happen physically and definitely spiritually. Uncontrollable anger erupting at relatively small things. Deep heart sobbing that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Depression that lingers and won’t go away. These can be examples of pain that needs to be explored, to be felt. Because there is a cause for it. And treating the symptom without getting to the root of it is like putting a band aid on a cancer. It might cosmetically hide things for a while, but the problem is not going anywhere. Not until you rip off the band aid, look at it full on and truthfully diagnose the real issue.

Sometimes God chooses to speak to us through pain. He either causes or allows things in our lives that are leading us to something. To Him. To more of Him. To wholeness. To relational restoration. To character development. He leads us into the dark so we can learn to follow His voice, to grow our faith, to strengthen us from the inside out. Pain can focus our attention in a way nothing else can. Numbing it without listening to it can rob you of the chance to hear from God Himself.

And sometimes…and I don’t fully understand this… pain stirs something in our humanity. It awakens in us this deep desire for our healer, for things to be made right and Jesus to come back. It can act like a magnet, pulling us to the only One who can truly ease our pain and heal our wounds. It can change our terribly broken hearts.

Pain is this universal thing that every person walks through. It is one of the common experiences that unites everyone on the planet. Therefore, sometimes it is time for a real or metaphorical Xanax. For rest. For a chance to catch our breath and to create some space to begin recovering from whatever it is that is hurting. And sometimes our pain has a work to do. When this happens, it is in our best interests to lean into it, to listen to it, to feel it fully and to let it do its thing in us. Learning to discern the role of pain in our lives and how we should respond can be a powerful spiritual lesson, leading to a deepening of our faith. To more of Jesus. To healing. To wholeness.

Normal Is So Fragile

The Text Message That Saved Me

Jesus Leads Me Along Unfamiliar Paths

The Emotions Of ICU

While Jeff Has Been Sleeping

My Heart Is Showing

A Long Slow Fall Down A Winding Spiral Staircase

Jeff Is Finally Home

The Text Message That Saved Me (Let My Blog-Processing of Jeff’s Surgery Begin…)

Tuesday night I was sitting in the waiting room of Kennestone Hospital, well…waiting…to hear how my husband was, how his surgery went, what the verdict was and what was next for him and our family. I was doing what I do in moments like this – writing, thinking, praying. And not necessarily in that order. The three intricately weave together in the working out of my faith in ways even I don’t fully understand. It was into this complicated moment, where my faith was intersecting my fear that I got a text message.

“Are you alone?”

I stopped what I was doing as I suddenly realized that “yes”, I was alone. Of course, the Sunday School answer is that Jesus was with me and I am never really alone…but please…we all know what the question was asking. “Is there someone with skin on them, who knows and loves you, sharing the same physical and emotional space with you right now? Is there someone there who can hug you and listen to you and go get a coke for you if you need it?”

And the answer was no. There wasn’t anyone with me. I was all by myself.

I wasn’t really surprised that I was alone. Since we are relatively new in our area, our ‘old’ friends were far away and our ‘new friends’ were still a bit too new to feel comfortable in calling. Family members were taking care of the kids so I could be where I was. I didn’t think there was anyone to call.

In my defense, I am a natural introvert who easily disappears into my inner world, often for long periods of time before coming up for daylight. I am fully capable of being alone without being lonely. Much of my last year was spent holed up in solitary and I guess it has become something of my “normal”. Historically, in difficult circumstances, my family of origin would also circle the wagons, so I was just following my internal programming. And in a moment like this, not being sure of how I was going to react or what exactly the news was going to be, I sort of wanted to be by myself.

What startled me wasn’t that I was sitting alone in a hospital waiting room. It was that I hadn’t even noticed.  The room was half full while I was there and as I looked around, I saw that everyone else was rather noisily sitting in their groups. Couples. Families. Crazy cousins. Grandkids. Friends. Church folk. And me in the corner. Alone.

What does this say about me? In a moment where most people reach out to others, I shut down. I found an emotional cave and was setting up camp. Once I was aware, even I realized that what I was in the process of doing wasn’t healthy.

And as I probed a little deeper, I realized that several dangerous lies had begun covertly swirling around the edges, whispering to me just under my consciousness. “Asking for help will only confirm to you how little you matter and how little they care.” “Surely others are too busy for me.” And, “I can do this on my own.”

Pressure on the outside has a profound way of surfacing what is on the inside.

And not being aware…not slowing down long enough to realize what is happening around and inside of me…I could have gone to a very dangerous place very quickly. That text message saved me.

It was a wake-up call to awareness. Of where I was. Of how I was. Of where I was heading.

I was vividly reminded of why I need friends who know and love me, who can draw my attention to what I cannot see on my own. Especially in the midst of a season where my attention is occupied.

As soon as I named those lies however, I started feeling profoundly lonely…and sad…and a host of other things that began making their way up out of my inner places, asking for some of my time. Naming and becoming aware of those emotions prompted me to do a few things. The next morning, I made some phone calls. I asked my friend to come and be with me. I connected via email with some important-to-me-but-not-nearby people. And I took note of where a few land mines are located in my heart. Because I’m not exactly looking down at my feet right now while I’m walking this particular path.