Archive for the ‘confusion’ Tag

Still Untangling a Confused Life   12 comments

When I stepped through the gate of adulthood, I turned the wrong direction, and with the best of intentions, trudged deeper and deeper into the wilderness.  I should have gone into teaching Bible or Theology–it was my gift and my joy–but I was told that missionary evangelism was God’s real calling.  At the age of 40 I discovered my whole worldview was cracked, and I started over, trying to understand life from the viewpoint of grace.  I did my best to recalibrate my life’s occupational trajectory, but seemed to keep getting it wrong.  I tried pastoring, then social work, and though they were both fulfilling, the structure in each demanded that I deny my true self in order to succeed.  In the end, I was forced to leave because the pressure to conform was too great for me to bear, and I began to languish.

I was deep into midlife when I ran out of meaningful work and had to settle for something uninspiring that would meet our basic expenses.  That has proven harder than expected.  All my education and experience is of no use to land a professional job in another field.  I now realize I have to get more training or education just to find work that will cover our simple lifestyle (almost half my wages now go to health insurance alone), and that means years of effort and tens of thousands of dollars in costs just to start applying for jobs… jobs I may hate after all the effort.

Becoming a college teacher would require a Ph.D., and there is a huge market surplus of competition to contend with, and I would be in my 60s and just starting out, a very dire prospect.  Since becoming an electrician or plumber would take just as much time and money as other professions (yes, I looked into it), I have been thinking of getting my M.A. in counseling (since my other joy in life is connecting redemptively in a deep way with others).  I haven’t done well so far in every effort to reconfigure my life, so this too could be a misadventure.  We are thinking and praying.

 

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Posted June 27, 2017 by janathangrace in Life

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LOST   Leave a comment

If your life is happy or satisfying so that simply living feels good and worthwhile or if your life is integral to something that you believe is an important endeavor, then life has meaning for you.  I have lacked the first for twenty years and the second for ten years.  It makes me feel lost, directionless, without purpose.  I cannot make sense of my life.  Why am I here?  The only goal-oriented living I do is my personal growth.  But for various reasons that doesn’t seem a focus I can organize my whole life around… for one thing, it is self-absorbed.  I feel like a screw that is always sharpening its threads and point but never being used to screw things together.

Many would suggest that our purpose is to be connected to God, but unless I became a monk (and I’m sure Kimberly would object with good reason), I’m not sure how to organize my life around that either–that objective describes the person with whom I do life more than the activities that fill up my life.

The old Calvinist theology of “calling” suggests not only that one may have a purpose, but that it is a purpose for which God planned, designed, and equipped us, not one randomly chosen.  After all a screw might decide to act as a light bulb, but that would have obvious drawbacks.

In that regard, I do feel particularly equipped and effective at preaching/teaching, but I have no avenues for exercising that gift… and have almost no emotional energy for seeking them out.  So, it seems I must become emotionally energized (and I’m at a loss to know how) or some opportunity must be dropped in my lap.  Neither of those has happened in ten years.  So I sit waiting, filing my little threads.  Perhaps the right moment will come, or perhaps I will die of old age waiting.  But the question remains, “What is the point of it all?” as I daily suffer the sharp pain of feeling useless to a vast, needy world.

Posted July 12, 2015 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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