Archive for the ‘clarity’ Tag

PART V: Was This a Bad Idea?   12 comments

Now before unpacking the truck, I have to unpack an important detail about rodents.  We moved from a 2000 square foot home in Virginia to a 1000 s.f. rental house in Asheville (but paying a lot more for it).  We tossed out a lot of stuff and crammed the rest into one bedroom.  But something else found a cozy spot in there this past summer.  We found mouse droppings.  I set a humane trap, and when I caught the mouse, I took him two miles away, loosing him in a wooded area.  We found more mouse droppings.  Over several months we caught 5 mice, requiring ever more ingenuity.

MOUSE

KIMBERLY’S GRAND FINALE

We knew they were hiding out in our storage room and clearly reproducing, but we had no way to clear them out of that solid wall of tightly packed stuff.  These were the boxes we would be loading onto the truck, transporting our infestation to Washington with us.  Our fears came true when I found a nest of three baby mice in a mattress cover while loading the truck.  What else had I missed?  I could think of only one solution.  When we reached Washington and the two of us got ready to unpack our 26-foot van, we emptied every box inside the truck, checking for mice, then repacked it to carry inside.  We did not finish in a day.

As we were setting up house, we started transferring bank accounts, phones, licenses, car insurance and titles.  That’s when Kimberly discovered there was a warrant out for my arrest.  I thought she was joking.  She wasn’t.  I was on a national registry because I had not paid last year’s car insurance in Virginia.  Yeah, because I WASN’T LIVING IN VIRGINIA!  Kimberly and I have moved multiple times across many states and never had this issue before, but Virginia DMV apparently requires car owners to provide proof that they have moved out of state.  We soon discovered there was an arrest warrant out for Kimberly as well.  She spent hours (literally) on many phone calls over two weeks to finally resolve it.  But proving our innocence did not remove us from the national registry. That cost us $150 each.

In the middle of all this craziness, I was trying to hold it together in school.  Missing a week mid-semester had set me back seriously in my studies.  The practicum was not the only important class I missed in our drive west.  I had a key paper due that Monday for another class.  I finished most of my research beforehand and took books with me on the flight to Asheville, but when I saw I would miss class, I spent two nights in hotels pecking away at my computer (after driving 13 hours) and sent it over the internet.  It was not my best work, but it would have to do.  A few weeks after moving into our new apartment, my graded paper was returned.  I got an ‘F.’  That was a shocking first for me.

After explaining my situation to the professor, she allowed me to rewrite the paper (with a letter-grade deduction).  Unfortunately, this completely consumed my reading week which was designed to give us time to finish other assignments, so I ended the week as far behind as ever, but also confused and anxious.  I was mystified by my grade, even after looking back over it carefully with the grading matrix in hand.  I sat down with the teaching assistant to get clarification and left as confused as I had come.  I could not understand their expectations or how to meet them.  If I failed my coursework, then “just survive” was a meaningless motto… and moving across country was a huge waste of money and effort. Doubts, turmoil, confusion swirled through me, and anxiety more severe than I have ever experienced.

That’s a snapshot of my whole life: determined to take the right course while working with a busted compass.  I never seem to hear that voice, “Here is the way, walk ye in it.”  A little guidance here would be appreciated, God, instead of leaving me in the dark guessing which way to turn.  Two weeks ago I got my grades.  I made straight A’s.  I don’t know how.  Apparently one can stumble around in the dark and still make it home.

But that’s chancy.  I need clarity to ensure I win that full affirmation: “Well done you good and faithful servant.” That’s my final report card, the measure of my effort and commitment… my A.  Except it isn’t.  Once again I remember that all God wants is my open, honest, struggling, broken heart, and I can give that to him today apart from any goals, plans, or accomplishments, even in the midst of all my confusion.  He needs nothing from me.  He just wants me.  I am already safely home, accepted in the beloved.

 

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Posted January 19, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Spirituality of Confusion   7 comments

I was raised on clarity like Iowans are raised on corn—it was the staple that nourished our grip on reality, giving us security and power, confidence and perseverance.  Dad gave me all the answers before I had even stumbled onto the questions, saving me the trouble of sorting it out myself, and he shared his take on life with a degree of certainty that silenced doubt before it even had a voice.  My parents, being deeply religious, anchored all this clarity to God himself so that doubt was not only foolish but dangerous, a personal affront to the Almighty.

As a child I was handed the blueprint for life, the map and compass, and I followed it faithfully each step, landing in Calcutta as a missionary at 30 years of age, having somehow escaped the indignity of adolescent questioning.

Unfortunately, life is not so neat and tidy, but constantly pokes through our carefully boxed up constructs, threatening the whole structure. “You can do anything if you try hard enough.” Really? “Thankfulness leads to contentment.” But if it doesn’t?  Reality seems to stubbornly resist fitting into our prefab structures, challenging our paradigms. So we fight back—pretend there’s been no breach, or try to block up the gaps in our worldview by tweaking the architecture, or construct awkward explanations for the exposed holes, the received truth that doesn’t play out as we’d expected.  But for me to make substantive changes, to move around the support beams, would force a complete rethinking of reality as I knew it, a stroll into insanity, so I clung to my views, blaming myself for failing to make it work. It took four years of unrelenting depression to shake my grip on my framework of truth.

And so, at the age of 40, I stumbled into the adolescence I soldiered past in my teens. Discovering my basket was full of unworkable answers, I set about looking for the right ones. I still wanted certainty, just not a defective set. But honesty is a bitch, fertile though she is. Once you let her in, she barks at every discrepancy and won’t be shushed. Each fresh answer I uncovered brought more questions. I was in a fog of confusion that I could not escape, stuck, unable to follow a path I could not see. I kept walking, but I seemed to be going in circles. I kept praying for clarity, but she had abandoned me and obscurity had firmly grasped my hand.

Facing confusion with calm is a plus, and parts of Christianity outside my heritage even find obscurity beneficial, oddly enough. Books like the fourteenth century “Cloud of Unknowing” and “The Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross warned against leaning too heavily on reason and intellect, which could obstruct as well as open the path to insight. Just this morning I read two psychologists discussing a client in that conundrum:

“You know, that’s the thing about intelligence. It can really get in the way of wisdom, the mind being such a good place to hide from all the messiness that comes with our feelings. Maybe what your patient needs to do is get out of his head and get into his heart. Stop thinking so much and let his feelings get the better of him, let loose with a good cry or a fit of anger, whatever it is that’s stirring down there at that mysterious place he’s afraid to go to.” (Eric Kolbell in “What Jesus Meant: The Beatitudes and a Meaningful Life”)

The thing is, I don’t mind feeling my feelings, but doesn’t my progress depend on then understanding them in order to resolve them? For me the key was still clarity. But what if it wasn’t. What if clarity at this point was the problem instead of the answer. It was just this discovery John Kavanaugh made in my adopted city.

When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life.  On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa.  She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked.  He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.” She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.”    When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”  When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.  So I will pray that you trust God.” (Brennan Manning in “Ruthless Trust”)

Fear or desire may drive us to demand answers, but Pandora learned that trying to pry open life’s box of secrets leads only to trouble. God has his own time frame for sharing his insights with us, and patience is the truest mark of trust. I have not yet found my way through the fog, but often the way has found me, working into my soul silently, healing and growing me on the sly, startling me with its results: humility, patience with myself and others, empathy, sensitivity, endurance, faith. Obscurity comes with a sleigh full of good, though it doesn’t feel like Christmas. As a friend once opined, “It’s too bad life’s lessons don’t come in a box of chocolates.” The best work is often the hardest work and longest to complete, but it is the most rewarding.

I’m not completely in the dark. I find some general directions to take, the fog sometimes lifts, but lack of lucidity can be freeing, opening up options I would otherwise avoid because I was locked into an inflexible clarity—rationality that blocked thinking, faith that hindered trust. The grace of God is so much bigger than I ever imagined.

Posted May 20, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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