Hang in There

There were three of us in the group. One had been married almost 60 years, another 36, and another (me) 48. We all agreed that marriage is full of challenges. Life deals the marriage blows that are hard and the couple’s approaches differ. What is good for one partner is not good for the other. What one does may totally irritate, or even undermine, the other. Our opinions about important things clash. We three also agreed that we are glad we have hung in there even with all of the trials and frustrations.

Struggling through the hard spots, wrestling with tough issues rather than ignoring them or allowing them to escalate out of control, and accepting one’s own and the other’s flaws and limitations—even getting help—are not fun. They are, however, the building blocks of an intimacy and love much more wonderful than the romantic notions I began with as a teenager. It is in those places where the hard edges of my personality could be ground smoother, where the need for God and awareness of God’s saving grace became clearer, and where my heart could be tendered.

There are times, though, when divorce is the right thing. I don’t want to deny that truth. Knowing when to give up and when not to is serious discernment. I just want the chance to say that in many situations there are very good reasons to hang in there, use those hurting times as an opportunity to grow emotionally and spiritually, and reap the benefits long term.

The same can be true for hanging in with other relationships and communities—a church, a school, a job. I have even found it useful to hang in there with the Bible. There are things that upset me earlier that, after much wrestling and study, I have found new, more informed, and faithful ways of understanding. And I’ve learned that I have to leave some things hanging, knowing I don’t understand them yet but the day may come. That humility is a rich benefit of hanging in.

Queries:

Midlife is a time when challenges can hit particularly hard. What helps with discerning the difference between (a)what needs to be changed and can be changed if addressed and worked on, and what can’t be changed but can be accepted, and (b)what is in fact the true breaking point?

What would you say about the value (or mistake) of hanging in there?

Prayer:

“Give us strength for this day and love for each other.” Pray for those with whom you have important relationships. “Help us to change the things we can change, to accept the things we can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For further reflection:

“that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and depth of insight. . .” (See Philippians 1: 9-11).

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. . .” (See Ezekiel 36: 26-28).

Vulnerability

When Moses was born, the Israelite people were getting more numerous and powerful than the Egyptians, so the Pharoah declared that all newborn Israelite boys were to be killed. At first his mother hid him. When that became impossible, she came up with a risky scheme to keep him alive. She prepared a basket so that it would float in the water, and placed Moses in the basket in the river among the reeds. His sister stood close enough to watch what was happening to him, so when the daughter of Pharoah found Moses crying and had compassion on him, his sister emerged and offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse him.

Every aspect of this story involves vulnerability. Suppose Moses’s mother had just kept him with her until he was found by the authorities. Suppose the Pharoah’s daughter hadn’t risked violating her father’s order. Suppose the sister had been too afraid to step forward to speak to someone so powerful. What follows from this story is that Moses becomes the leader of the Hebrew people and brings them out of slavery in Egypt.

If you look at stories of good things that have happened, you can’t help noticing the important role of vulnerability—something we tend, however, to avoid.

Even with friends or family members, co-workers, or one’s community, the vulnerability of speaking truth without being overly guarded or belligerent can make a difference. It requires being what I would call grounded in God, knowing one’s own truth, worth, and inner strength.

I live in a small town in which blacks traditionally have lived on the west side of the railroad tracks and whites on the east. In a panel presentation on growing up in the town in the 1950’s and 60’s, the one black person on the panel spoke clearly of the differences in what was possible and not allowed for her in contrast to what the white members of the panel had known. Exposed and vulnerable, she spoke without anger and with courage. Her truthfulness turned what could have been mere nostalgia into healing and community-building.

I believe that vulnerability leaves space for God to be at work.

Queries:

What is the difference between being vulnerable and being foolishly risk-taking?

What gives you the courage to be vulnerable and take risks?

Prayer:

Breathe in God’s deep and abiding love for you. Let that love wash away the negative and hurtful in you, letting yourself know that you are a beloved child of God and that what you have to offer matters, regardless of what others think.

For further reflection:

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering. . .” (Matthew 16:21)

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (See Luke 9: 23-25.)

White Library

People sometimes think they want a religion—or, rather, a spirituality—with no given content. For some Quakers it can seem more important to avoid offending those who don’t believe in this or that than it is to hold onto the content of the Life and Power about which early Friends spoke and through the virtue of which they lived and challenged the injustices of their day.

At the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Australia, I saw an exhibit by a Cuban artist called The White Library. Visiting it, one goes into a rather large room with books on shelves and ready for reading on a table. But the books have no words, no color, no images. Each book is only stark white emptiness.

The open books look as if they have pages, but they may not. It is clear that nothing in the room has visible content. While everything is white and clean, the room is eerily disconcerting and unwelcoming.

It feels as if something important had been removed, repressed, or wiped out. It makes me wonder what the content is that is missing. I wonder in what ways we might be allowing or creating white libraries–losing touch with our roots, whitewashing our story, or choosing blandness over richness that might be challenging.

 

Queries:

What would it be like if we didn’t have and use Quaker writings (John Woolman, Thomas Kelly, Caroline Stephenson, Pendle Hill pamphlets), the Bible, other Christian writings?

What about your faith have you dismissed or written off?

Prayer:

Settle into silence and listen.  Where are you barren and empty?  What have you whitewashed or ignored?  What needs to happen?

For further reflection:

“You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside . . .” (See Matthew 23:27-28).

“Recite [these words] to your children and talk about them . . .” (See the shema, Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.)

Losses

The recent death of the husband of my eldest cousin brought its own sadness and also, since I have a large family, the awareness that this loss is just the beginning of a long string of losses. In addition, being of a certain age, I am experiencing losses or diminishments routinely. Where is comfort or healing?

Admittedly my first response is protest. I don’t like it! I don’t want to lose what is dear to me! This protest can feel like screaming into the wind, throwing snowballs into a vacuum of nothingness. The facts don’t change. Yet protest, if deeply felt and directed to God, can bring healing, when we are surprisingly met by a loving presence in the midst of the anger, hurt, and fear. I remember as a little girl being so upset by something, crying my heartbreak, and sitting in front of my mother who would quietly stroke my cheek until I calmed. We can get closed in a box of hurt and pain, but Presence and Love open a door into new and ongoing life.

We also experience that Presence and Love through family and friends who stand by our side in times of loss. Anything that recognizes, accepts, and shares my loss matters. I remember years ago when friends went to the trouble to drive over an hour to attend the memorial service for my father-in-law. We were touched and comforted in that place where death and resurrection coexist. I also remember being comforted by cards that were sent me when my mother died—reading and re-reading them, even just seeing the stack of them.

Most amazing are the gifts that come through the pain of losses and diminishments. Only after my mother died did I come to know the depth of her love for me. I can say the lack of earlier awareness is sad. And also I can rejoice that I can spend the rest of my life knowing and living in the fullness of her love. In addition, I can have compassion for those who don’t yet know how much I love them—and compassion for me in not knowing how to let them know. Here is grace and wisdom. As Richard Rohr said, “grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.” The only way to lose is “to swim on the surface of things, where we never see, find, or desire God or love.”

Queries:

What losses or diminishments have you encountered or do you fear?

How does your faith support you in the midst of losses?

Prayer:

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God” (Psalm 62:5). You may want to put your feelings about losses in the form of a psalm. Do not hesitate to protest.

For further reference:

“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever” (See Psalm 44: 20-26).

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).