There’s a saying that you should never put a period where God has put a comma. But as my readers know, there does come a time when one has to wonder how many commas can fit into one damn sentence. Which is where I’ve been for the last few months. I’ve allowed comma after comma to be added to the ongoing story of my life until it just seemed ridiculous to continue thinking that somehow, this story was going to work itself out. So I decided that this time, I would put that period in and take a look at how things looked.
To a certain extent, I suppose this is a pretty normal state of mind for an oldster like me. I’m going to be 40 in a few weeks. Surely now is as good a time as any to stop and take stock of how it’s gone so far. And the verdict is, they’ve gone pretty damn crappy. In fact, the prospect of another 40 years of more of the same practically sent me into a death spiral.
Part of it was that by this point I had slipped into depression which brings what is bad into sharp focus while dimming one’s view of what is good. But a lot of it was that as I looked back, I saw a life lived following God and his ways the best I could. This had lead to me making what more realistic, sober minded people would see as some poor decisions, but every step of the way, I simply trusted in God. Until I just couldn’t convince myself to allow one more freaking comma. The time had come to put that period there. Looking at my life, all I could think was, “I followed God and trusted him. And this is where it got me? Seriously?”
The problem has been where to go from here. If I got here by following God the best I could, then maybe I needed to find another way of doing things. However, as I mentioned, I’m getting to be an oldster now. I’m a bit set in my ways. I don’t really know any other way to live than the way that I have been living. Being selfish and angry and shallow and materialistic just seem like soooooooo much work. I’m to lazy for all of that. Old dogs and new tricks.
I read a post a few months ago (can’t remember who wrote it at the moment) in which the writer basically said, “if you ever find yourself poor, worn out, mourning, yearning for things to be set right, not up for the task in front of you, sick of all the conflict, friendless and wondering why being a good person doesn’t seem to do you any good, Jesus says you’re doing it right. He says you are blessed. In fact, he says you should be rejoicing.”
The problem, of course, is that when you are poor, worn out, weighed down by injustice, oppression and cruelty, feeling small, friendless and wondering why all the good you’ve worked so hard to grow hasn’t amounted to anything, you don’t feel blessed! Instead you feel, well – poor, worn out, weighed down by injustice, oppression and cruelty, feeling small, friendless and miserable. Reading the beatitudes feels like Jesus saying, “who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?”
At some point I had to seriously ask myself: do I actually believe Jesus? Do I believe that he’s telling the truth? Do I believe that the truth he’s telling is worth chasing after? Out of habit if nothing else, I wanted to say yes. The problem being that believing Jesus up to now has lead me to a place of being poor, worn out, weighed down by injustice, oppression and cruelty, feeling small, friendless and like a failure. Depressed? Yes. Rejoicing? Certainly not.
And that’s where I’ve been stuck. Until a couple a days ago, I had a small epiphany about why I have been suffering so terribly this year. I’m not going to get deep into it in this post, but essentially I realized that I’ve been dealing with delayed grief. And much like when a person has been struggling with an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed illness, finally having the right diagnosis for what is going on is an enormous relief. You finally have a name which is attached to your experience and can be used to explain it. You have a prognosis, some idea of what is actually causing the problem, what lies ahead and can choose an appropriate course of action. My problem has been a terrible grief over terrible experiences which my psyche is now strong and able enough to experience the pain of. I’m going to get into the details of this sort of grieving in another post, but for now I want to get back to this issue of commas and periods and being blessed while you feel like crap.
So I finally understood that at its root my suffering for the last few months has been a normal part of working through the pain created by some really fucked-up experiences. Which is good for me. Unlike making money, friends, my husband happy, my house orderly or some of the other things I’ve been struggling to do to lift my suffering, I know how to do grief. So my perspective has been shifting ever so slightly. And to my astonishment, I’ve started to discover that what Jesus said is true. Even with that period I have been insisting on putting in place. Yes, I have been poor and miserable and struggling. But I’m realizing that because I did follow God, I have been unexpectedly blessed.
For example, I have a clear conscience. My life has not been error free, but I’ve always forgiven freely, always loved the best way I knew how, always followed God’s lead when I could discern it. I have rarely been intentionally mean to anyone, known the right thing to do and chosen to do something else, ignored someone who was suffering or in need. I’ve done crappy by the world’s standards in life. But I have a clear conscience which I’m realizing is a really great gift to be able to give yourself.
And you know what I’m tempted to do as a mom? Draw a straight line from my child’s wrong choice to my weakness in mothering. . . . But what if that’s the wrong line to draw? . . . What if God said, “What mama is strong enough, persevering enough, tough enough to bend without breaking under the weight of the choices this child will make? What mama is willing to be humbled to the point of humiliation yet not blinded to the wisdom found like diamonds in dirty places?
So what if I’ve had this terribly hard, unfair life because God looked around, said, “who is strong and wise enough to carry the burden of other’s sins and a large sized serving of humanity’s pain and work through it without passing it along and multiplying it?” What if that was me? If the world looks down on me, but God saw me as good and able to the task, then maybe that is cause to “rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”.
And there’s something else. Five years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago, when the things which I find myself grieving today were happening, I loved God and did my best to follow him. But in the last couple of years, through terrible struggle, I’ve gained a perspective I didn’t have then. Then I thought of myself as moving in and out of God’s presence. God could descend from without or rise up from within. For a while, I could even access that presence pretty much at will. But as of late, I’ve become aware of God’s continual presence with me. Not in a watching over me from above sort of way. Or even a carried within me sort of way. But rather as a just there – in the everyday, here and now, mundane world sort of way. Like air or atoms or life itself. Always just there. (Which, if you recall, I have been a wee bit frustrated with.)
So now, as I look back, I understand in a way that I never could have then that God really was with me all along. When I was lonely, he was there with me. When I was heartbroken, he was there with me. When family and friends turned me out or mistreated me, he was as close to me as ever. I was never alone. I was never unnoticed. I was never uncared for. Those are all things I knew in my head even then. But now, I understand them in my bones in a way that I simply couldn’t have then.
So I guess that what Jesus said was true, even though I couldn’t see how it could be. I am blessed. And if he was right about that, then I guess I can count on the fact that as this terrible grief passes, it will be replaced with rejoicing. Because in this kingdom he brought down, great is my reward.
BTW, I think I’m ready to get back to regular blogging, but grief does tend to use up a lot of energy, so we’ll see. But if you miss me when I’m not writing here, you should go “Like” The Upside Down World on facebook. Even when I’m not blogging, I share thoughts, articles, pictures and such pretty regularly over there. And I’d feel extra special if you’d join me. 🙂