Tag Archives: mystery

God-vulnerability-trust

Fearless

My friend Ted was a very private person. He often confided in me, but always with the admonition not to tell anyone.

“Who would I tell?” was my usual retort, and he would recite a list of our friends.

“They wouldn’t care,” I would say, and he would mutter something under his breath. But he knew I was trustworthy, that I would not tell.

I am good at keeping secrets. My eight years of working for the FBI gave me lots of practice in keeping all kinds of secrets. Plus, if we had a family coat of arms, our motto would be Don’t tell. I came to the FBI as a fully-formed secret-keeper.

I was such an obvious secret-keeper that people sought me out to pour out their hidden lives.

True confessions was how I thought of those occasions when co-workers would reveal to me their deepest, darkest secrets. The stories usually began with “I have never told anyone this, but….”  I knew who was having affairs, who had had abortions and who had been abused as children. I knew of betrayals and dashed hopes. I knew the fears and anxieties traumatic life events could create. I listened and kept their confidences.

Somehow, I seemed to have the capacity to receive these sacred sharings. It felt like a God thing—and a mystery to me, the way people sought me out. People needed to talk, and I could listen. And after hearing someone’s confession, I released what I had heard, offering it as a prayer to God for healing.

These were one-sided conversations, though, because I kept my own secrets to myself.

Then, in my late twenties, I heard the slogan, You are only as sick as your secrets. If my secrets were the measure of my health, I was in deep trouble, because I kept lots of them. I knew government secrets from working at the FBI, other people’s secrets and my own.

When I heard that slogan, something shook loose inside me. I began to consider my secrets.

Mine were not so different from those others had confided in me. So, why was I holding onto them so tightly? What was I protecting? I looked for someone in whom I could confide and took baby steps in revealing my secrets. With each true confession, I felt lighter, freed from the burden of the secret.

God-vulnerability-trust

I came to understand that what happened in the past could not hurt me in the present, and I came to see myself as a survivor. Sharing helped me see my strengths and showed me how resilient I am.

Over the years, I have shared more and more of my past and now I am quite public.

If I had a family coat of arms, I would want my motto to be Nothing to prove, nothing to fear, nothing to hide. I want to be transparent and to accept myself as I truly am. I see that as the way to health and freedom.

God-vulnerability-trust
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vulnerability-trust-spirituality

Falling apart

I think most of us have had something painful or difficult in our lives, experiences we might rather move away from (quickly) rather than examine for life lessons. My living in l’Arche was like that for me.

l’Arche is a Christian community where people with and without developmental disabilities live together and create community. Sounds idyllic, right? For some people, it is. But I was not one of those people. For me, living in l’Arche was very painful.

My plan had been to live in l’Arche for the rest of my life. I had quit my job, given away my furniture, packed the rest of my belongings into my car and headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I quickly realized, though, that my plan was not going to work out, and I left the community before my first year was up.

I was devastated—and humiliated and angry. This was the most difficult and painful situation I had gone through—and I had gone through some pretty painful things.

I think what made this more difficult was that I had brought it on myself. No one had coerced me or forced me. I had decided to go to l’Arche. It was a decision I had freely made with prayer and planning—and then it did not work out.

Shortly after leaving l’Arche, I sought spiritual direction to help me process my sorrow and grief.

All of my hurt, disappointment and frustration poured out in that session. Tears of sadness mixed with tears of anger. I was confused and felt like I had just been through an extreme spiritual battle—a battle I had lost.

Did I give up too quickly? Had I not been persistent enough? Doubt wracked me.

“I think I am falling apart,” I said to the spiritual director.

“I think you are falling together,” she replied.

Her words stopped me cold.

Had I been looking at this apparent failure from the wrong angle? Was the whole point of my moving to l’Arche to break me down, to uncover what I had so carefully kept hidden? Was I meant to fall apart so that God could put me back together in a different way? Had this experience revealed deeper truths to me that I might not have learned any other way?

Laying out the pieces of my shattered dreams and allowing someone else to look at them was a turning point. Where I had been stuck trying to piece things together in one way, she was able to offer a different view. It was like a jigsaw puzzle—one where I could not see the whole picture.

Great mysteries are sometimes hidden in unexpected places.

Advent is a wonderful time to reflect on the hidden mysteries of our lives and to be open to growing in trust that God sees the whole picture of our lives.

More often that we might think, God is helping us to fall together, even when it might feel like we are falling apart.

 

retreat-kindness-God

Being kind

Every year, I facilitate a session for a group of long-term volunteers as part of their Fall Day of Reflection. We begin the day with a prayer service that the organizers call a “milling prayer.”  A variety of quotes, pasted onto colorful construction paper, are scattered across the floor. The participants then “mill” around the room, reading each of the quotes and picking up the one that resonates with him or her.

This year, Anne Lamott’s words caught my attention: “You can either practice being right or practice being kind.”

Perhaps the idea of being right resonates with me because I grew up believing I was wrong most of the time. I lacked confidence in myself and my beliefs, and even when I knew the right answer, I usually offered it with a question mark.

Uncertainty and doubt defined my young life.

But as I got older and my confidence grew, so did my delight in being right.

One problem with knowing I am right (and delighting in it) is that it can lead to a smug self-righteousness, which, I know, is quite unattractive. So I try to temper my enthusiasm for being right.retreat-kindness-GodIn my work with people who have been touched by cancer, I have many opportunities to choose between being right and being kind.retreat-kindness-GodFacing a terminal illness can raise all sorts of questions, doubts and fears. Many people ask, Why me?

Sometimes there are answers as to why someone got cancer, but I have heard that 80% of cancers are just bad luck.

That, of course, leads to another question: Why am I the one to have such bad luck?

Frequently, people have difficulty facing the reality of their situation and will question a doctor’s ability to predict the path of cancer.

For example, a doctor might say, “You will need to be on chemotherapy for the rest of your life,” meaning that without chemo, the cancer will grow unchecked and the person will die.

I have heard doctors described as “rude” for saying this. Quite often people ask, “How does he (or she) know how long I am going to live?” Fair enough.

When I first started in this job, I would suggest the doctor was basing this prognosis on experience, (as in, “most people in your situation need chemo to keep the cancer in check”), but the response I got was usually some version of pshaw.retreat-kindness-God

I quickly learned that why me questions are usually rhetorical—people are not really seeking answers. They are actually looking for someone who will listen to them, acknowledge the dreadfulness of their situation and accept them where they are—fears and all. They are seeking kindness in the midst of desolation.

In truth, there may be no satisfactory explanation as to why someone gets cancer, and the doctor may or may not be right in predicting the path cancer will take; so much of life is mystery.

My job is to practice being kind instead of being right.retreat-kindness-God