“Can you make room in your Sabbath Moment for those of us along the way in a season of grief?” A reader asked.
The answer is yes.
For starters, I’m glad she asked. You see, I probably wouldn’t have. When life gets sticky for me, I shut down… I can manage, thank you very much. Even though (truth be told) I really can’t.
This week there were several notes and emails from readers with stories about real hurt and adversity. Stories about people we love and people we lose, about life’s expectations and what happens when reality bumps into the muck and mire.
The stories tugged at me this week.
And the question for every one of us—in a season of grief, “What now?”
Off we scurry, looking for answers, wondering why that route turns catawampus.
A young couple lost a child in a tragedy. They are disheartened to say the least. They sit with their pastor. He explains carefully and extensively the Biblical overview of pain and suffering and God’s role and human responsibility. After an hour, he asks, “Would it be helpful if I explain it again?”
“No, thank you Pastor, we’ve already suffered enough.”
I’m with them.
‘Tis true. We are tempted to find answers or remedies that inspire and encourage. And then life happens.
Forrest Gump voiced it best for all of us. “Mama always said dying was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t.”
We know that we should love one another; practice kindness and compassion. We just have a hard time factoring in the truth that love can only spill from a heart that has been softened and, in most cases, broken. Only we don’t see it as an asset or strength.
I was raised in a religion that distrusted soft. Soft was pejorative, derogatory or said in pity, “Bless their heart.”
It troubles me that our culture sees bravado as an acceptable trait to emulate.
A culture where it is too easy to be cruel and indifferent. More often than not, to people who have no voice. People in pain. People on the edges.
Because of that, it is no surprise that we put a moral price tag on brokenness. We deem it weakness, requiring a fix or repair. Or, see it as a test or contest. “I sure messed up big time in grief recovery,” one participant told me back in the day when I led Beginning Again workshops.
I’m not talking about cheering people up for the sake of cheerfulness. The last thing we need is someone pretending there is no pain, or it doesn’t hurt. The good news is that when we don’t have words, we can offer the gift of our self.
And that’s when the healing begins.
When a young girl returned home from school in tears, her Mother worried, and asked, “Sweetheart, what happened?”
“It was awful,” the girl told her Mother. “My best friend’s cat died. And she was very, very sad. And I don’t think I’m a good best friend, because I didn’t know the right words to say, to try to help her.”
“What did you do?” the mother asked.
“I just held her hand and cried with her all day.”
I have an idea. Let’s make attention our new currency.
Here’s the deal: Where there is a place to be seen, to be heard, to be valued, healing happens. Healing happens when we allow ourselves to feel, fully and wholly without a need to defend, justify or explain. Healing happens when we allow ourselves to receive love, compassion and kindness without suspicion. Healing happens when we find life without being afraid. Healing happens when we are free to embrace an extraordinary core of strength and courage that resides inside of us… and without even realizing it, let it spill to those around us.
St. Bartholomew’s reminder is apropos, “Many of us spend our whole lives running from feelings with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are, beyond the pain.”
So, go figure. When we have the least answers, we are most needed. Because the currency is attention.
This guy is walking down the street when he falls in a hole, a pit. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you. Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a friend walks by, “Hey, Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?”
And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”
The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”
This morning in the NYT Sports section, an article “Fighting to Save the Prettiest Town.” It is about Madison, in southeastern Indiana, at the center of a drug-trafficking triangle. And the repercussions include suicide, depression, child neglect, abuse and addiction.
The story introduces us to Patric Morrison, an alumnus of the high school and now their football coach. The town is going through hell these days. So, why stay?
In Patric’s preseason speech to his team, he didn’t invoke Vince Lombardi or repeat inspirational quotes. Instead, he told the players how he ended up coaching at Madison, what motivated him to stay here and how drugs played a role in that. About his younger brother Zach who served time in prison for possession. “Because of him,” Patric tells the team, “I’ve gained 60, 70 younger brothers. And I want to keep you from that kind of hopelessness.”
Patric jumps in the pit… offering attention, as the new currency.
Grace walks into our lives like this. It doesn’t always come in big ways or obvious miracles. Sometimes it’s just someone acknowledging our pain. It isn’t always a complete removal from the pit. Sometimes it’s just someone coming into the pit and spending some time with us or seeing that we need some sort of help and getting it without us asking.
Like it or not, no one of us is on this journey alone.
As a community of faith we must constantly remind ourselves that we are a fellowship of the damaged and the weak, we seek out the vulnerable and frightened and needy and we say to them and one another: “Do not be afraid, you are accepted.” (Thank you Jon Katz.)
I am honored that each of you is on the journey with us. Please pass Sabbath Moment along this week. Tell a friend.
Time changed last night. Well, at least our clocks did.
And the sun is out here. So, I spend today in the garden. Mercy, I’m having fun.
Later this week I’m headed to Anaheim, CA, for the Religious Education Congress. Soft Hearts from Hard Places. I’ll see some of you there. Stop by for a hug.
Quotes for the week…
When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. Henri Nouwen
No one feels useless in the world who lightens the burden of another. Charles Dickens
A new Ecourse is on its way… Soul Gardening… check out the details below.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane.
Take Love for Granted
Assume it’s in the kitchen,
under the couch, high
in the pine tree out back,
behind the paint cans
in the garage. Don’t try
proving your love
is bigger than the Grand
Canyon, the Milky Way,
the urban sprawl of L.A.
Take it for granted. Take it
out with the garbage. Bring
it in with the takeout. Take
it for a walk with the dog.
Wake it every day, say,
“Good morning.” Then
make the coffee. Warm
the cups. Don’t expect much
of the day. Be glad when
you make it back to bed.
Be glad he threw out that
box of old hats. Be glad
she leaves her shoes
in the hall. Snow will
come. Spring will show up.
Summer will be humid.
The leaves will fall
in the fall. That’s more
than you need. We can
love anybody, even
everybody. But you
can love the silence,
sighing and saying to
yourself, “That’ s her.”
“That’s him.” Then to
each other, “I know!
Let’s go out for breakfast!”
Jack Ridl, Practicing to walk Like a Heron.
© Wayne State University Press, 2013.
I know a cure for sadness:
let your hands touch something that
makes your eyes smile.
I bet there are a hundred objects close by
that can do that.
Look at beauty’s gift to us–
her power is so great she enlivens
the earth, the sky, our
Mirabai (Hindu mystical singer)