I believe we’re in a sacred, powerful, and beautiful moment of collective transformation now. As tragic as the Coronavirus pandemic is, it’s gift can be exponentially more beneficial. I say this sincerely and confidently because each time I’ve walked the road of soul-shivering suffering, be it a divorce that shook my beliefs and world view, an accident that should have killed me, ended my quite successful Air Force career, and permanently disabled me, another divorce that shattered my heart and sense of self, or “failing” to get a job as a pastor like I dreamed of, on the other side of anguish came a more beautiful, vibrant, and Loving life!
I find it especially relevant that, in America at least, we’re feeling the pain of COVID-19 as we enter Spring and approach Easter. While Spring, from a big picture level, reminds us a season of new life always lies on the other side of a season of death, Easter, beginning with Jesus hanging to die on the cross, gives us a more personal picture of how moving into and through suffering, loss, letting go, and “dying” will bless us with a richer and more expansive life. After all, in the Bible we see Jesus repeatedly inviting us to follow Him into this pattern of giving, losing, and being “crucified”, as, especially when we let it, the experience will teach and transform us. Times of troubles are like mirrors, revealing our junk and darkness to us, which will then inevitably make us bitter or better. Many, if not all, of the kindest, most inspiring, most Light-filled, and incredible people I know are also the ones who have gone through the worst crap. Why? Because they’ve looked honestly in the mirror of their suffering, and done the hard work of unwrapping its gift!
But enough about them, let’s talk about me! 😉 Jesting aside, I do typically find it most helpful to share from my story, so that’s what I’ll do. The mirror of my first great adult sorrow (divorce #1) showed me how selfish and self-centered I was, as many of us are in our youth. This brings to mind one of the most helpful definitions of “sin” I’ve come across: “turned/curved inward on oneself”. I appreciate how this captures the smallness, insecurity, and fear my self-centricity grew within me. The cure, as it always is, was to shift my focus and priority from me to others, creation, and God. Ironically, the more I let my selfishness die (this is an ongoing project), the larger my life becomes!
The reflection from my second great unravelling (nearly dying from accidentally slipping and falling 30 feet off a cliff onto a boulder headfirst) allowed me to see how much of my identity, worth, and significance I found in my Air Force career. Particularly in excelling at it. A continuing gift of this traumatic time was shifting from finding significance, happiness, and identity in my doings and achievements to my unfiltered beingness. It’s the life-changing realization that we’re Loved NOT for what we do, or don’t do, but for who we are, as we are, no doings involved! (Note: The pic at the top shows me nearly 2 months after the accident)
The next time my life fell apart was divorce #2. The picture of myself this suffering gifted me with was how I tend to over pursue a partner, friends, projects, etc. from a feeling of lack. While I 100% believe we need the support, approval, and encouragement of one another as we journey through life, I’m talking about a deeper, more existential sense of lack. The German’s have a cool word for this, Sehnsucht (pronounced Zane Zookht), meaning intense wistful longing for a state/place of bliss and perfection, like heaven. The soul searching this period of unravelling prompted me to do helped me realize the wholeness and awesomeness of paradise can be experienced here and now. I’ve found it by shifting from pursuing to surrendering into the Loving arms of Christ. While I still sometimes find myself hustling to fill my longing, I think I’m increasingly able to rest in the grace (the absolutely free expression of the Love of the Divine) and peace (every good thing) of the Christ.
Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” This was the blessing I received from my attempt to be a pastor in the usual, at an official church type of way. In trying to be like the norm and others, I discovered that wasn’t who I am. Please note, I’m a firm believe that the usual way of being a pastor is great and necessary; I’m just saying it wasn’t a fit for my gifts, passions, experiences, and wiring.
After these, and other, great sufferings in my life, these days I see times of troubles as a gift we get to unwrap. You may be familiar with the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). As if it was a gift from heaven meant for our current collective struggle, last year David Kessler blessed us with a sixth stage to grief: Finding Meaning. With that in mind I ask: What is the mirror of suffering showing you? What has it revealed to you previously? What is it blessing us with today?
Regarding finding meaning together from our current tribulation, on my run this morning the phrase that came to my mind was “making Love”. I’ve heard Dr. Pete Rollins, an Irish philosopher, talk about the history and original meaning of this a few times and think it’s quite applicable now. As he tells it, originally, a few hundred years ago, to “make Love” was what a chaperone/third party did for a couple when they were courting by forcing them to stay more separate than they wanted. The prohibition and the separation kindled a greater desire for one another and bigger Love for each other than if they’d been allowed to do all the things young lovers want to do. The chaperone figure, then, literally made love for the couple!
Suffering has the ability to expand us, grow our hearts, awaken us to compassion, foster understanding in our minds, bring us closer to one another, unleash kindness in our being, create altruism in our spirits, and transform us into evermore Loving people. With that in mind, I see this time of social distancing, anxieties, illness, and such as “making Love” in the original sense of the word, because not only are the prohibitions of togetherness and touch sparking a beautiful yearning in our hearts, witnessing people struggling in a multitude of ways is moving us to collectively give and act for the benefit of others.
Blessings, health, and Love to all of you in this time! I’d be honored to hear your thoughts and about your experiences. I leave us with these words from Etty Hillesum, a Jewish Danish author who was killed at Auschwitz in 1943: “I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life.”
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