I am exhausted from swimming in and out of the current. I long for a boat of bliss, to float above grief, to get out of the river.
Hiding is instinct.
Because we feel wrong, because we we’ve done wrong, because we’re afraid.
Because the world is full of devils. And temptation. And deception. And hurt.
Because our eyes have been opened to our flaws. Our tragic flaws . . . hamartia.* His. Hers.
And we cannot close them again.
Our own skin is suddenly not enough. We are not enough. Exposure stabs, air stings. Branches scratch arms, stones gash bare feet, thorns stick, send shivers through us and stay.
We hide, attempt to make covers for ourselves with beautiful things, with leaves hastily sewn together to mask our acutely aware, raw selves. Alive and yet aching, free and yet cut off.
* * * * *
November 14th is an anniversary.
October, 2007 I dared to hope, as we approached the six month mark this time. Dave was in a 12 Step program. We both attended weekly meetings. With support and encouragement, I was slowly letting go of his recovery.
For months, I had been exposed to what dropping masks really looks like, and I began to long for real freedom myself. Not just in weekly meetings, but in all of my life.
I copied this quote into my journal from a book I’d been reading:
“Hiding is a curse. It came into being after the fall. Hiding is motivated by shame. It involves pretending and deceiving. Hiding is the place of fear and anxiety. . . . Imagine what your life would be like if all pretense were to vanish from it. Imagine the freedom and relief of not trying to convince anyone that you were smarter or better than you are.”– John Ortberg
I spent October digging deep, pulling out hurts, wrongs, pain — writing them down, discerning what hurts were of my own making and needed confession and which were not my fault in any way but for which I felt responsible. It was a slow, painful bleed. But saying them aloud, calling each one by name, letting go of crushing sense of responsibility for sins that were not mine, admitting and confessing aloud the ones that were . . . it was so very freeing. Secrets, dragged into the light, were relieved of their power. That was November 5th.
Nine days later, Dave came to me to confess. He had been using again, made terrible choices, lost his job and our home.
Every page of that journal and the next is filled with mourning, with letting go and letting fall — a season of stripping away, sorting through shame, wrestling with bitterness. Until Dave told his story of addiction and healing to our church — eight months later — and I began to finally feel free.
Each month then and each year now is a milestone to celebrate.
He’s made it well past six months to six years.
* * * * *
Eastward of Eden, the world glows shades of amber.
Windblown chaff of evergreens sprinkles pavement gold. Yellow-brown pathways lead home.
Wind plucks, swirls golden leaves . . . suspends, whisks in dry needles . . . lets all fall, flickering in sunlight.
Stick figure silhouettes cling to dangling color that remains . . . dropping one by one . . . leaving them exposed, leafless.
Behind the house, autumn transforms woods, uncovers mountains beyond sea. Beside the house, neighbors, once voices hid by forest wall, take on form and face.
The woods betray us. We are vulnerable.
* * * * *
A friend comes to visit. We laugh about this world — neither of us natives — you never know what the trees hide. Til winter, forests conceal beautiful views . . . and rusted cars, and rotting couches, and old toilets . . .
Woods are good for hiding all sorts of unwanted . . . until naked trees reveal brokenness.
Sometimes you don’t see the mess until the leaves die.
Ah, but the stripping of leaves is only for a season.
And better coverings are being made.
* * * * *
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:1-3
* In literature, hamartia is a tragic flaw. In Scripture, sin.
** Step 4 We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Step 5 We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the dailyness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.
Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.
We are at a crossroads.
In any direction, as far as we can see, the landscape is exactly the same. Dry, dusty, barren, flat.
Nothing distinguishes one path from another.
Turning around seems like the smartest decision.
Going back by a way we know.
Going back to what? We’ve come too far.
It doesn’t matter which path we choose now.
They are all marked suffering.
* * * * *
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .
When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?
That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?
Hungry is not comfort.
Thirsty is not pleasure.
It’s true in our physical being. And true in our spiritual being as well.
If we fill ourselves with real food, we’ll crave more good and be filled. If we fill ourselves with junk food, we only want more — more junk, more anything — just more.
The bad takes away our appetite for good. The bad takes us on a high and abandons us to crash. Snickers does not satisfy.
But we try.
And we keep trying. Over and over.
The cake when we’re stressed. The gossip when we’re hurt. The computer when we’re lonely. The money when we’re rejected. The applause when we’re insecure. The rage when we have no voice. The drugs when we can’t face the day. The busy so we don’t have time to notice . . .
The goal of all this stuffing life full is to be unconscious of our thirst. Hunger hurts, so we have numbed it. We numb it until we don’t feel longing anymore.
* * * * *
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.
Jesus at the well. A woman, draws water for herself. Jesus asks for some. She recognizes him as a Jew. She is a Samaritan. Jews do not associate with Samaritans. She objects.
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4)
She wants this. Never to thirst again. Never to take a weary walk to a well in the heat. Never to carry heavy jars home and watch them empty fast.
Go, call your husband and come back.
Wait. What? I don’t have a husband, she says.
You are right. He says. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.
Uh. Wow. We were just talking about water.
No. We were talking about what you crave. You thirst for fulfillment. And you haven’t found it. Given up yet?
* * * * *
We have come to this crossroads.
The cake has made us fat. The gossip has gone too far. The busy has given us an ulcer. The virtual relationship led us to unfaithfulness. The money is gone. The applause has faded. In rage we have beaten others, ourselves. The drugs have destroyed our life.
Now it’s no longer possible to numb. To deny. To excuse.
We can go back to numbing.
Or we can choose to feel the pain and hurt and ache and longing and let it be what it is.
We can choose to accept our hunger and thirst.
* * * * *
So what is this righteousness?
What is this thing that I seek first instead of clothes, comfort, food, money, success?
The people gathered around Jesus on the mountain want to know, too.
They are hungry. They are thirsty.
And Jesus tells them their hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.
They don’t get it either — unless they are the poor in spirit, unless they mourn, unless they are meek.
Righteousness isn’t about not doing or doing. It’s about Jesus Himself.
We will not know how He satisfies until we admit we are not satisfied by anything else.Until we drag our poor, powerless, broken selves through the desert of suffering to the Well instead of going back.
My soul yearns, even faints for the court of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:2
As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after thee. Psalm 42:1
In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Blaise Pascal
“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” St. Augustine
We used to wear our grief.
Black for a day, a month, a season, a year . . .
To show loss.
To let the world around us know we carried sorrow.
Appearance had meaning.
I really am deeply grateful for my life. But there are moments, seasons when discouragement gets the upper hand.
Frankly, I’m amazed at how quickly and easily I am discouraged.
I’m more fragile than I would like to think.
I started out the morning feeling sorry for myself. Sorry about myself.
A look in the mirror, a step on the scale, a careless word remembered, the pile of books and laundry and things I should do that fills the chair I love but haven’t sat in for weeks, failure to meet a registration deadline . . .
I am learning to do battle against discouragement with gratitude . . .
Thank You God that my husband loves You so much. That he works hard to provide for our family. That he fought hard against addiction and defeated it with Your help.
Thank You for four healthy, beautiful children who have blessed our life.
Thank You for a loving extended family. For precious friends.
Thank You for my cottage near the sea, in spite of the tiny living room, mossy roof, musty carpet and sulphery water.
Thank You for the sun burning through the marine layer, reminding me of the hour and that it’s time to go to work. Thank You that I have a job to help supplement during these stressful economic times.
Thank you that we have food to eat, gas in the cars, a roof over our heads and clothes to wear.
Thank you for fresh strawberries, and homemade ice cream . . .
So much to be grateful for.
But I’m hardly ever — maybe never — grateful for me.
For who I am. For where I am.
I am impatient with my own imperfection.
I want to clean myself up before people see me.
I beat myself up for being socially awkward. For not sharing more of my life with others. For being a self-absorbed parent. For the thirty pounds I’ve put on in the past four years. For not calling. Not inviting. Not going. Not being.
This morning, it’s that.
There are days when the years creep back in.
The days, the months, the years I should have been . . . patient with a child, encouraging to my husband, reaching out to a friend or loved one, inviting people to come over, writing a book, exercising, eating right, keeping up photo albums, paying off debt, saving for a house of our own . . .
I’m pretty sure discouragement is what keeps an addict in addiction.
Shouting down the internal voices that call you out on every mistake . . .
The past weighs heavy.
It’s easier to not try to change at all.
Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need Your help . . .
Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to You . . .
Teach me Your ways . ..
Grant me purity of heart . . .
. . . for Your love for me is very great . . .
Give Your servant strength . . .
Send me a sign of Your favor . . .
Today, after I read the Psalms and pray, it’s an old song that lifts my spirits . . .
. . . a song I’ve known since I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was and where I was going.
Like Sue Heck on The Middle, I was the girl who enthusiastically tried everything and failed — cheerleading,volleyball, the hurdles, choir, piano — you name it.
I lost that courage somewhere along the road of life.
At some point along the way I realized I was totally uncoordinated. That I had no sense of rhythm. That my heart felt like it would explode and I would pass out if I had to play the piano in public. That I couldn’t carry the harmony unless my friend Angie was standing next to me . . .
And then I grew up. Got married. Had children. And settled into a habit of comparison: If only I was . . .
Today, I woke up doubting. And it’s taken two hours to pray, read, and write out my feelings. To greet the day with joy.
I will make a new list of gratitudes. Not of what is on the outside, but on the inside. What God is doing in my heart.
I know I’m growing. I can’t give up just because I haven’t arrived.
So the song. The one I’m singing this morning:
All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.
Any more or less would be a step
Out of your plan.
As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do
What I can find.
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.
— Amy Grant
Everyone, no matter how old or how accomplished, battles seasons of discouragement. How about you?