Archive for the ‘Trust’ Tag

Waiting Is so Hard!   7 comments

If your life is working out reasonably well, I am happy for you.  It is not my experience, though I daily put my heart and will into doing my best.  I feel like a dog chained to a post and told to fetch.  Most of my life I thought the whole exercise was about figuring out how to get loose so as to fetch.  That’s what smart, resourceful dogs would do.  I tried various strategies–twist to loosen the chain or pole, pull to break the chain.  I was apparently doing it all wrong, because I was a failure at fetching.  I saw other dogs retrieving all sorts of things for their master.  They had various schemes for getting free of their chain, but none of those worked for me.  I don’t have a life verse, but Kimberly one day laughed at spotting my life meme: “Well, that didn’t &#%! go as planned.”

Finally I decided that I had misunderstood my master’s intentions, and he just wanted me to sit and wait.  But what should I do while waiting?  If I were eventually going to be let loose to fetch, perhaps I should practice the skills needed… except those skills were only relevant for a retriever, and maybe that was not my purpose after all.  I was waiting for something.  What?  Was I supposed to simply learn to be good at waiting?  What does that even mean?  Patience and trust, I suppose.

Okay, so that is what my attitude should be, but what do I DO while practicing that attitude?  Is there a better way to sit or lie?  Inside the doghouse or out?  Do I keep my eyes closed or look at something… at what?  I was sure there were better and worse ways to wait.  Slowly anxiety overtook my patience–I need to be a better waiter!!  Apparently the one thing I do really poorly is wait.  And I am so legalistic I can even turn doing nothing into a standard to meet.

But look at all those other dogs doing their thing!  Dogs have legs to jump and run and mouths to grab and hold… they weren’t designed to just sit.  Are these joys of life the rewards for getting good marks in waiting?  Or is waiting well its own reward?  It doesn’t feel rewarding.  It feels like being forgotten, or worse still being rejected, like I’m not good enough to fetch.  As you can see, I still have a long way to go in learning trust and patience. Doing nothing is really hard!

 

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Posted July 2, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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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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Saving Trust   1 comment

My achievement demon was finally beaten (as I posted), but it was a double-team effort, not a solo act.  Berly deserves special praise for her unusual trust and courage to stand with me in this battle as she lived out our fundamental commitment to support one another’s personal struggles.  It is a long story, a good story, one well worth telling, but too big for a blog.  The only way for me to escape my work-driven value system was to resist its demands, which meant choosing a job which was good for my soul but bad for my pocket.  I have been employed part-time and seasonally for 40 months as our savings slowly dwindled.  I have looked for other employment, but not aggressively, taking it at the pace my spirit has needed.  

Imagine how much trust and courage this has required of Kimberly and how badly I needed this trust when struggling with my own self doubt.  She has said many times, “we may lose our home, but we must not lose our souls,” and so we have continued to make the hard choice of trusting God to keep us afloat financially while we take the steps we have both needed to make room for our weary hearts.  Think how much Kimberly must trust me not to be selfish, not to take the easy way, not to use my struggle as an excuse to slack off, and to instead accept that I am doing all that I can within the sphere of my emotional strength, making the best choices I know how in harmony with my spirit.  We have built this mutual trust by sharing honestly, often, about our deepest heart issues.  We trust one another not to use our neediness to get an advantage over the other.

My win over this perverse accomplishment-based value system is not full or final.  I cannot suddenly begin to live as though I’m now free of its influence. as though this lifelong weight can no longer distort my self perception.  Don’t look for miracles here or you will be disappointed.  I am in recovery mode, and it will be a long, slow rehabilitation.  It will take whatever time it takes, and trying to hurry it would undermine the process.  But you can be sure that Kimberly and I will stay faithful to the path before us.

Posted January 22, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Grace for My Frailties   6 comments

COSTLY SAVE

COSTLY SAVE

I am more productive just staying in bed than trying to multitask.  When I try juggling tasks, I drop all of them, and one of them inevitably knocks over a vase.  Unfortunately, I can’t even multi-think.  I can’t keep two disparate ideas together in my head, however simple they are.  The new thought drives out the old.  I try to compensate with lists (which I forget to bring), notes scribbled on the back of used envelopes (which I inadvertently throw out), and pleas for Kimberly to remind me (a job she rarely accepts).  I had a thumb drive with a to-do list that I cleverly kept on my key ring–can’t leave without it.  But several times I almost left work with the drive (and my keys) still in the office computer, locking me out of both my building and my car at 2 a.m., so I took the USB drive off the key ring, and within a week I lost it.

Plan-A-B-C3Today I was working around the house and actually thought to keep a pair of reading glasses with me for small-print labels and dimly lit spaces.  Hanging loosely around my neck they could easily get damaged, so I slid them to the top of my head (see, I’m planning!).  As I was mowing, a tree branch knocked them off.  I almost got down to retrieve them, but decided to grab them on my next pass.  As I swung back by, I saw they lay in the cut grass, so I could just keep mowing and get them later.  After three more passes I forgot and ran right over them.  I found only a part of the mangled frame.  I now know not to mow with glasses on my head… but next time I will forget I have them on my head or I’ll take them off for safe keeping and plop a book on them.  This is why I buy $2 Walmart glasses.   I have back-up plans for back-up plans… three or four levels of compensatory strategies.

weakness

It is a real disability–I’ve completely missed a couple days of irregularly scheduled work, wrecked our cars, and almost burned the house down.  No amount of scolding or shaming on the part of others or planning and compensating on my part is going to fix it.  When I clamp down on one thing, something else shakes loose.   I’m grateful for a patient, understanding wife and a God who keeps an eye out for me.  I still have my job and cars and house… and a supportive wife and caring God too!

My real back-up plan is God.  I have to depend so much more on Him than many others do.  His grace has such a bigger field of play in my life than in those whose lives are well-ordered.  The penalty for not being able to take care of myself is that God takes care of me.  Who could imagine a better arrangement?  Happy frailties! (2 Cor. 12:9)

wpid-if_god_is_mine_it_is_enough1

Posted April 23, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Giving Up Clarity for Lent   6 comments

I grew up the son of a preacher.  We went to Sunday school, Sunday morning service, Sunday evening service, and Wednesday prayer meeting.  We had daily family devotions with Bibles and hymn books, and all six kids, without exception,  prayed out loud.  But we looked on liturgy with suspicion.  A real relationship with God was spontaneous, not circumscribed by rituals like all those unsaved Roman Catholics.  I never even heard of Lent until I was an adult, but we lived Lent all year long–self-examination, repentance, discipline, sacrifice.  The problem is that we never got out of Lent.

boy in pew

By the time I discovered grace, I had enough Lent practice behind me to cover several lives over.  Last year was my first participation in Lent, and I approached it with the eyes of grace–to bless my soul by releasing it from some burden that weighed it down, to sacrifice a problem not a pleasure.  I decided to sacrifice busyness and embrace rest.  It was so good for my heart, that after 40 days I made it my spiritual emphasis for the year.  I have planned another year-long Lenten emphasis for 2013–sacrificing my need to figure things out (and so a reliance on my acuity), in other words, I am embracing ignorance.

confusion sign

I did not come to this point willingly.  I begged and pleaded for insight, thought myself into and out of a thousand speculations, tried to pry the lid off that sealed box of truth, and finally gave up.  Learning to trust God with a confused mind is a bit crazy and doesn’t feel very safe.  I was just now reminded that learning to trust God last year was pretty tough too–expecting more from doing less?  That doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense either.  I don’t know if my brain needs a break, but I’m pretty sure my reliance on it is false security.  I have enough faith to take this path, I need more faith if I am to find peace along this way instead of turmoil and fear.

Posted February 12, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Who Let You In?   2 comments

I love mystery in arts and entertainment, but I don’t want it following me into the parking lot and hitching a ride home.  If insight is a blessing, mystery is a curse.  If knowledge is power, mystery is paralysis.  What possible good can it bring?  Of course, there was that little incident over the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that ended rather badly.  Apparently some knowledge and control is better left in God’s hands.  But it’s scary to be left in the dark.  It feels like it’s my fault, as though God is put out with me and won’t turn on the light, not as though he’s doing it out of love and support.  I’m really struggling to trust God with my unresolved ignorance and confusion.  Mystery has never been part of my spiritual tool chest.  Gerald May explains why:

When we were children, most of us were good friends with mystery.  The world was full of it and we loved it.  Then as we grew older, we slowly accepted the indoctrination that mystery exists only to be solved.  For many of us, mystery became an adversary; unknowing became a weakness.  The contemplative spiritual life is an ongoing reversal of this adjustment.  It is a slow and sometimes painful process of becoming “as little children” again, in which we first make friends with mystery and finally fall in love again with it.  And in that love we find an ever increasing freedom to be who we really are in an identity that is continually emerging and never defined.  We are freed to join the dance of life in fullness without  having a clue about what the steps are.

We’re just getting reacquainted.  It’s going to take a lot more time before mystery is a friend, especially a trusted friend.

Posted February 4, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Spiritual Virtigo   14 comments

confusion boxMy mother in her quirky way used to make us Christmas gifts of various kinds.  This  Christmas I noticed my dad is still using a bathrobe she made for him 30 years ago.  She must have made it out of upholstery material, because it is soft and warm on the outside and stiff and scratchy on the skin-side.  My older brother David once unwrapped a gift from her and responded graciously, “I love it!  What is it?”  Indecipherable love.  God’s been putting together a special gift for me this year as a resource for my spiritual growth, and it looks like a box full of confusion, without an instruction manual.   God, you know I’m already depressed, right?  What the heck do I do with this?

Hundreds of years ago St. John of the Cross descended into “the dark night of the soul” and left a consoling account for those who followed.  The Christian psychiatrist Gerald May describes his own experience of it:

[This spirit of virtigo] seems specifically designed for people like me, people who refuse to relinquish the idea that if only I could understand things, I could make them right.  Having lost the old willpower and its satisfactions, we desperately try to figure out where we have gone astray.  “What’s happening here?  Where have I gone wrong?  Maybe my problem is this… No, maybe it’s that… Perhaps I should try this… Or that….”

Every effort at soul-diagnosis and cure fails.  We are left in the dark.  And that is for our salvation, May says: “Sooner or later, there is nothing left to do but give up.  And that is precisely the point, the purpose of the ‘dizzy spirit.’  In each relinquishment… reliance upon God is deepened.”   I’ve been mapquesting God for directions to my soul’s healing and taking every turn He signaled.  Apparently I’m in the Slough of Despond not from getting confused and careening off the road, but from following His bullet points.  He drove me straight into the bog.

swamp

MARSH RD, DESERT RD, DITCH RD, Hmmm

There are some advantages of sinking into the quagmire.  No worries about getting lost if you’re already there.  No wrong turns to make if you can’t move.  No real expectations to fail if there are no goals.  If it’s God’s move; all I can do is wait… and trust.  That’s always the tough part, especially for us hard-working, self-reliant types.  “Be still and know that I am God” is a much deeper concept than I realized–not simply self control in quieting myself, but learning to patiently accept God’s time-outs for my soul, letting something work which I cannot see or measure and over which I have no control.  Who knew being out of control was a sign of spiritual progress?

boy and teddy

Posted February 1, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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