Pain is the partner I did not request / this is the dance I did not ask to join – Madeleine L’Engle
The chance to focus on personal growth during this six-month period has brought all kinds of stuff to the surface. It's been a roller-coaster. And I'm not much of a thrill seeker; I would not have chosen this!
“I go back and forth,” I told a friend who has walked through the process with me, “between seeing myself as a basically healthy, balanced person who has been blessed with the chance to face down the things that are holding me back from growing into a healthier, more mature person – and believing, on the basis of the crap that comes up in the process, that I am actually just a disaster zone or a monster.”
“As I see it,” she said, “definitely the former! A lot of people couldn’t do what you’re doing, they wouldn’t have the ability to process these things and put them into words, or the opportunity to slow down and do it. I don’t think you’re a disaster at all.” She’s proud of me. She thinks I’m doing well. She’s even glad to be part of the process.
Such words are very helpful, reassuring. Frequently, these days, I've found myself fighting the familiar battle with the self-protective, self-defeating shyness that has plagued me, even as an extrovert, just about all my life.
And yeah, depression too. I don’t have it as bad as many people I know – depression I mean – it’s situational, not clinical. I don’t meet any of the criteria to be medicated for it. I just get these waves of hopelessness, usually this time of year; it becomes hard to believe life is good or has much meaning. I can still sleep and eat and have fun and stuff like that, and there are times when things seem really good. But these seasons definitely take the wind out of my sails, sometimes when I feel like I need it the most - like now when I feel I ought to be dreaming dreams about the future and finding a ministry situation that’s a good fit.
Taking up running has been a big help, and I’ve got a few other things in my bag of tricks that generally make a difference, keep the depression at bay.
Yet this year I’m trying to press into it a bit more – to pay attention to my feelings and not try to squelch or silence them too soon.
And grieving is a bit different from depression, and that's part of what's been going on too. My friend gave me a book on grief which has provided both direction and catharsis, to some extent. It’s called A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser. Good stuff.
The author says, as I’m discovering for myself, that the only way to make peace with and transcend your more difficult emotions is to let yourself feel them. Not chase them away. It seems counterintuitive to me to think that grieving would make me happy, raging would bring me peace, or exploring my jealousy or resentment would stir up my gratitude and compassion, but somehow this seems to be the case. Only by confessing and accepting disappointment can I transcend it. Life is weird, isn’t it?!
Another point in A Grace Disguised is that you can’t measure grief, can’t compare yours to someone else’s and say it’s worse and that people should feel sorry for you, or that since it isn’t as bad you shouldn’t be unhappy about it. Grief is grief, a common experience for people who happen to be alive. A life without grief is probably not worth living. And nobody’s grief is going to be quite like anyone else’s. So you don’t need to defend and justify your sadness to yourself or to anyone else.
What am I sad about?
I’m sad that my family disintegrated. It happened 25 years ago, and everyone moved on, but it still hurts, it still feels like a loss.
I’m sad that what became my family, Caleb Project – a group of people who not only loved one another but even more than a regular family were drawn together around a common, compelling purpose – also disintegrated. It happened 3-4 years ago but I still haven’t found a new footing. It was a huge loss for me. In both situations there are those who would say good riddance; it was for the best, it was a bad or broken thing and so we had to end it, but I don't buy that; it's too black and white.
Similarly, I’m sad about the family I've never had, sad that I’ve missed out on being a wife and mother, the experiences that provide the greatest sense of meaning and identity in the lives of almost all the women I know.
Sure, it’s still possible I’ll experience those roles to some extent, some day. But I haven’t, so far, and there’s no promise I ever will and lots of reasons to believe I won’t. It’s not that I can’t and don’t enjoy or feel grateful for being single – I do. But when so much of what is out there suggests that the really important thing in life is family, all three of these situations seem like significant material for grief, and I’m trying to let myself grieve over these losses.
I think one reason I’ve been reluctant to let my sad feelings out is a fear that they would take over – that you can’t be positive, or happy, or grateful, can’t experience joy or peace if you’re grieving. That a disappointed or grieving person is just going to be a dark cloud wherever she goes, assuming they let her in the door. But that turns out not to be true either.
Joy and sadness are like parallel tracks running through life, and if you’re going to really live, you will experience them both, and often at the same time. I’ve continued to have fun, and enjoy life, and see God at work, just as much or more.
Life is not what you’d expect. As my friend L. said, we don’t have to untangle our messes before going to God with them, we can just say, “here it is; here I am.”