The Hard Path – Don’t Look Down!
This is a post I don’t really want to write. It’s a bit too personal. It might make me sound like a crazy person. Not that I haven’t gotten too personal our outed myself as nuts many times before. But normally I would keep this one to myself. Except I’ve had several reminders in the last few days that many of you have been walking with me through my hard times because you are walking the same path. So if I am shown something important about this walk we’re on, I suppose it’s good and right for me to pass it along to my fellow wayfarers. Even when I do it under duress. ;p
In part it’s about hope. Hope is a good thing, right? Just under love in the Christian hierarchy along with faith. Only hope has an unpleasant side effect – when it’s deferred, it makes you heart sick. I would say that the particular sickness of the heart tends to be despair. You see it all through the psalms and the prophets – people driven to despair in the midst of their faith.
And yet, as Jurgen Moltmann says – “Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: ‘Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.’”
I have been particularly prone to this struggle with hope. For at least the last decade, I have endured the hard times largely by hoping in something good just around the bend. And there was always something good just around the bend – a new job, a raise, a business opportunity, a new group of friends, a new school for the kids, no school for the kids, a new church, a new bible study group, marriage counseling, medical treatment. And if not one of those, then surely an act of God would do the trick.
And over the course of the last decade, everything I had looked forward to as a way off the hard path either did not appear or turned into a disaster. After a while, hope starts to feel like complete foolishness. And heart sickness creeps in.
So that has been my dilemma; hope for an end to the hard times allowed me to endure the hard times. But hope deferred made me sick. After a while, the sickness hope brought became almost worse than what I was hoping to escape.
Last night, the subject on my mind was why the path I’ve been on has been so hard. And this is what God said to me. He said that I needed to stop looking for rescue and just let the hard path be what it is. I need to lean into it and allow it to teach me without fighting it. Let it be my reality for as long as I am on it without worrying about when it’s going to end. Let the hard path sustain me rather than getting by on the hope that the hard path is almost at an end.
That’s a hard word to accept – to put your hope in the hard path rather than the rescue from the hard path. And yet, there’s a context to this.
You see, a couple of days ago, I had been badly triggered by something which was really rather silly. But it brought up all this hurt and despair and pain for me. And in the middle of it I cried out to Jesus. I’ve certainly done this many times before and been left to just struggle through on my own. But this time, in my mind’s eye, I had a picture of Jesus approaching and I got up to walk with him. Only I couldn’t go more than a few steps and began leaning heavily on him. And then I felt like I couldn’t even stand – I was just going to crumple to the ground. And at that moment, it seemed as if Jesus was looking into my face and saying, “look at me. Keep your eyes on me. Don’t look at anything else. You’re going to be fine. Just keep your eyes on me.”
Now, that’s very good theology.But it was more than that. As you probably know, there usually comes a point when a woman is in labor where panic starts to set in. And she’s absolutely certain that she can’t do this anymore. The baby’s never going to arrive, but she’s going to be in labor forever and is going to die if it doesn’t stop. If she’s lucky, she has a husband (or a friend or nurse) who recognizes her panic and will step in to help her to focus. Look him in the eye until it passes. And it’s very steadying. The other day, I had reached the spiritual equivalent of the panic which hits when labor gets hard and fast. And Jesus responded just like a good husband when his wife is in the depths of labor.
You see, there is something being birthed right now. In me and in a lot of you and, I believe in the entire body of Christ. Something new is being born. I’ve had many, many Christians tell me that they’ve seen the same thing: we’re suffering through labor, not destruction or even discipline. Certainly labor can destroy things like pride and there is discipline to be learned through it. But those things aren’t the point of labor. The birth of new life is..
When God told me to accept the hard path I’m on and stop fighting it and waiting for it to end, I cried. But at the same time, I knew that it was the same wise advice given to women in labor. The more you fight the pain, the worse it is. The longer it takes and the more likely it is that complications will develop. When you lean into the pain, it is easier to bear. There’s a process at work and the best thing you can do is just allow your body to do its work. Or in our case, allow the hard path to do its work.
So what does it look like to stop fighting the hard path and just let it do it’s work? Mostly it means just being present to the moment you are in and not worrying about anything else. To experience the pain you feel until it passes. In the depths of labor, there is no judgment. The pain you are experiencing isn’t bad. It just is. You know it’s going to end, but you aren’t enduring each wave of pain with the hope that it’s the last one. It will be done when it’s done and not a moment sooner. You just have to ride out the contractions and relax and rest between them.
For those of us walking this hard path, the advice is the same. Let each moment be what it is without judgment. Don’t fight the pain and don’t be frightened of it, but ride it out until it passes. In between relax and rest. Enjoy what there is to enjoy without worrying about the next wave. When you can, allow yourself to be excited that you are part of this new thing God is birthing in you and his body. And keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t look at anything else that might disturb your peace or distract you into panic. Look into his eyes and don’t look away. For however long it takes.