“Joy and despair are not opposite ends of some proverbial emotional spectrum. They are sisters on the path to being radically alive – and they are not so far apart from each other as you might think. From the pits of despair, you are suddenly able to access a level of joy so deep and profound – in the absence of any personal triumph that might otherwise cause you to feel joyful. Maybe our darkness is really nothing to fear. Maybe we need not avoid journeying into the depths of despair. Maybe it is in the pit that we mysteriously gain access to our greatest joy. Maybe joy and pain are so intimately connected that we must truly experience one in order to fully know the other. If we fear our terror, grief, and anger, we blunt our giddy, giggly, overwhelming joy. And who would want that?
— Dr. Lissa Rankin
I often come across people who say ‘If there’s no darkness, how can there be light? If there’s no pain, how can we know how true happiness is?” Sounds kind of interesting but instinctively, my spirit tells me that’s not all to it. That way of thinking seems like a way to convince one’s self that pain and despair aren’t that bad. While I’m sure there’s some truth to needing darkness for light to be light, despair for joy to be joy and so forth, I’m thinking there might be more.
The reality is that the process of dying is scary. Periods of despair blow. Death, pain, and suffering all suck to go through. To convince myself that it’s all good even in the dark moments sounds like positive stoicism.
That isn’t to say that despair and joy are not somehow interconnected. Some of you might know that I often talk about ‘dying to self’. James 1:2 draws the connection by calling us to embrace suffering not just because suffering is fun or that it’ll make the lack of suffering enjoyable. The passage calls us to embrace suffering for the good that comes on the other side.
Jesus shows us how He embraced suffering. When Jesus was facing His imminent death, He asked God to remove the cup from Him yet followed through with the suffering, humiliation and death. He felt this pain fully, leading Him to question God. (“Why have You forsaken me.”) At the same time, He knew what His mission was. (“It [the mission] is finished.”) He stayed fully present in the pain while holding firmly onto the hope of life on the other side. Yet, despite knowing that life was on the other side, I doubt he smiled through this ordeal just to prove to the people around him that hope made the pain feel any less bad.
The good news isn’t that there is an answer to short-circuit suffering process or to make it any more palatable. The good news is the life that comes through death. Jesus showed it and offered the way of life to us.
It should be the work of Christians who believe in the paschal mystery to help people when they are being led into the darkness and the void. The believer has to tell those in pain that this is not forever; there is a light and you will see it. This isn’t all there is. Trust. Don’t try to rush through it; we can’t leap over our grief work. Nor can we skip over our despair work. We have to feel it.
– Richard Rohr, “Everything Belongs”
In moments of pain and despair, am I honoring the death process? Am I able to look beyond the pain towards hope while feeling the every bump on the road? With the people in my life, am I pulling them out of their pain or am I helping them to feel it while seeing hope?
Posted by foongfest on January 27, 2012
It’s funny how some of the little things trigger and unleash a whole array of anger. Right now I’m furious at how I’ve spent over 4 hours waiting and being told conflicting information by a phone service company. In my anger, I want somebody to empathize and “be on my side”. The contrary happened when my anger was mocked. This only added to my rage that is now pretty inexplicable.
So now I’m left with a few choices. In my anger, I can take it and vent it at something or someone, I could suppress it by ignoring it and ‘psyche’ myself out of it, or maybe I could just let it be and see where it leads and what it could teach me. Let’s try out the latter.
My anger is telling me that I want to feel justified in my rage. I want people to say I’m ‘right’. Any attempt to calm me down makes me even angrier. In this moment, the best way to reason with me is to listen, empathize and be on my side and to partake in my anger.
Flipping that around, doesn’t that sound like a great way to be with people in their pain, anger and despair?
I’m reminded of a scene from the movie The Matrix. In the scene, Morpheus offers the protagonist, Neo, a choice between the blue pill (the ignorance of illusion) and the red pill (the painful truth of reality). Morpheus had to enter Neo’s world in order to be able to offer Neo a choice between living in the Matrix and reality. In fact, Morpheus had once been in Neo’s shoes of having to face the truth of reality. In that moment of helping Neo confront his reality, Morpheus had to dig deep into his past experience and be on Neo’s side while gently prodding him towards truth.
Likewise, I need to be able to enter another person’s world and pain if I ever want to offer a different way of seeing.
God does that with humanity demonstrated Jesus was physically living among us. Jesus teaches us to enter into the world of those who are different (he ate and made friends with sinners). Jesus shows us that God weeps with us (John 11:35). Jesus demonstrates that in the darkest moment, pain can become so great that the loss of God can be felt (Matthew 11:46, Mark 15:34). Because of this, Jesus can offer us life.
And if Jesus is on my side to show me life, perhaps I can do the same for others as well.
Posted by foongfest on January 26, 2012
I’ve been thinking about writing some of my observations and thoughts about life’s journey for a while and I’m getting off my butt to get this blog started. But as with most things worth doing, I make up a ton of excuses. These excuses play out as believing I’m coming across as arrogant and prideful when I have something to share, thinking that I might not have anything substantial to write about, worrying that the blog will fade into oblivion, concern about my writing ability and the time that will be involved, and questioning the whole point of is writing a blog in the first place.
Well, honestly, I don’t and probably can’t have a ‘safe’ answer and rebuttal to my excuses. I could very well make up some excuses to the excuses but to me, that is just another form of denial so I won’t bother trying. All I’ve got is the reason why – it’s because writing feels right.
And so here it begins, writing about things that I am experiencing and pondering in this journey of life. I’m not seeking nice answers, but rather ways of seeing and of being me. I’m going to allow myself to doubt, question and to be in ‘bad’ and dark places. I’m also going to give myself permission to marvel and rejoice about the little things and the seemingly mundane. Pleasant or unpleasant, it’s all ok. It all belongs.
Posted by foongfest on January 25, 2012
(I was inspired by my friend Cameron’s post on 20 seconds of courage. If you haven’t checked her blog, please do so now. She’s an amazing writer and full of awesome.)
A few weeks ago, a friend asked a group of us if it was possible to share the deepest and darkest part of yourself. I was slightly taken aback when one of my friends instinctively pointed at me and said, “This guy’s done it.” This group of friends is a group that I’ve shared some very dark bits of myself with. Some of the issues have hit so close to home that I’ve broken down and wept even before verbalizing them. I’ve shared my porn addiction, feelings of loneliness, hurt from father wounds and even moments of complete apathy. In fact, prior to the question asked, I had just somewhat felt a little like a fool after balling, with snort and all, while sharing a recent heartbreaking experience.
This is in stark contrast to my upbringing. I was brought up to be a stoic, a man who doesn’t cry, who looks pain in the eye, hides his weaknesses (because he doesn’t have any) and keeps his chin up even in the face of adversity. The truth is that I am very weak and unconfident. If I am honest and look deep into myself, there are things that break my heart immensely. I hate being lonely but I feel it all the time. But I hide it so well. It’s hard to unlearn those things.
Over the years, I’ve learned that vulnerability is the key to my whole-hearted living. I get to engage fully with my true self which in turn helps me engage and connect with people. Of course, this is easier said than done. We talk about communities that allow us to be real but the truth is that such communities take a lot of work. When the communities we are in don’t work the way we want them to (by making us feel an atmosphere of vulnerability and realness), we tell ourselves that they aren’t the right one for us and move on to another. Instead of doing the work, we try to find a community where the work has already been done for us. Unfortunately, not many of those communities exist so we often leave disappointed and grudging.
How then do I live vulnerably without getting into this cycle? I lead with vulnerability. Instead of waiting for somebody to break the ice, I take a risk and step out. This is scary. The outcome will not always be what I desire. This is where the 20 seconds of courage comes in.
It often takes one step to being vulnerable. It really isn’t a complicated big leap that requires every ounce of courage in the world. Everything we need for being our vulnerable selves is already within ourselves. The main “work” that needs to be done is stepping out. Just like taking a step over a ledge into a pool, all it takes is a small step to get us into the waters of our vulnerable story. Oftentimes, this step takes just a few seconds of insane courage of us just opening our mouths and spitting the words out.
So let’s all be courageous for 20 seconds and let our great stories take us on the ride of our lives.
Posted by foongfest on January 25, 2012