From the Desire of Being Loved

I’m getting to be that age. You know, the age when you take a look at what you have (or haven’t) accomplished.

And it pisses me off so much.

It doesn’t piss me off that I’ve accomplished so little, as much as it pisses me off that other people have accomplished so much.

I wish we were judged more by how difficult it was to accomplish something rather than being judged by the accomplishment itself.

For some people, rolling out of bed every day is 100x harder than running a company would be for someone else.

For some people, earning their high school diploma is 100x harder than the master’s degree someone else earned.

We judge people based on the view from their position. Oh, you’ve reached the summit? What a beautiful view!

That other guy? He hasn’t even made it above the tree line yet.

What we don’t like to talk about is how the first guy had top-notch gear and a guide. The second guy had a pocket knife and a whole family strapped to him the whole time. And when he complained about his crappy knife, someone with expensive gear yelled down to tell him, “Well, at least you’ve got something. You should be thankful.”

Boy, do I ever want to knock those guys off the mountain.

I think it’s great that people are able to reach their goals. I really do. But there’s such a lack of self-awareness in most people. We have this idea that hard work pays off. And it does, but it doesn’t pay off equally.

I’ve always had this idea that eventually my climb would get easier. Maybe I’d get a cool parka or something. If I just kept climbing, I’d get rewarded. I’d get what I’m due.

I’d climb high enough to reach a place where people would see me standing up there. They’d appreciate me and give me a pat on the back for working so hard.

Most of the time, I’m invisible.

My high school had something called Class Day. It was a way of sending off the seniors. On that day, we’d all go into the gym and sit through some goofy prophecies and memories from the seniors. The seniors would have an opportunity to walk out into the bleachers and give gifts to the underclassmen. One year, I had some friends who were seniors. I didn’t expect to get any gifts, though.

I also didn’t expect all of my underclassmen friends—friends who weren’t any better acquainted with some of those seniors than I was—to receive gifts while I didn’t.

I didn’t want a flower or a bag of candy. I wanted to be acknowledged. I wanted to matter.

When I’m being really honest, that’s still what I want. I don’t want to be the girl everyone forgot about. I want to matter.

I irritate people sometimes because I’m hard to compliment. I don’t want to hear I look nice or anything like that, but there are ways of fueling my ego, and boy do I want that fuel.

I want people to see me. I want them to think I’ve got something to offer. I want to be wanted.

But I don’t really deserve attention and accolades any more than the people at the peak of the mountain deserve them. We’re all just using the tools available to us. What’s so special about that?

If I’d had a more stable environment when I was younger, you bet your ass I’d have used that tool to climb higher and faster. And I totally would have basked in those back-pats along the way.

If those peak guys had been forced to drop out of college or had a genetic condition that can’t be fixed, you bet your ass they’d be right where I’m at.

I need to get over worrying about how everyone else sees me.

I know what I am.

I know what I’ve walked through.

I know that sometimes I had an easy and pleasant hike up, and sometimes I was barely hanging on by my fingernails.

I know that some people look at where I’m at and they feel like they haven’t gotten as far as they should have. That’s the kind of thinking that jolts me out of my little bitterness spell.

Because I don’t ever want anyone to feel less-than because of me. I don’t want anyone to feel invisible or unappreciated.

Honey, if you’re still on the mountain at all, you’re fucking amazing.

Life’s hard. People get buried in avalanches all the time. And most of those avalanches are completely random. Managing to avoid them doesn’t make you an expert climber. It makes you lucky.

I’ve avoided a lot of them, and I know it.

And that’s just it, though, isn’t it? It’s the knowing that matters.

If you’ve made it higher than someone else, enjoy the view. But also remember that it was partially being in the right place, at the right time, that got you there.  Sure, you had to make the climb yourself, but you lucked out a lot along the way too.

I bitch about where I’m at sometimes, but I know people who are way more ambitious, intelligent, driven, hard-working, and deserving than I am who are way down there still.

A few people tried to knock me off the mountain, but I didn’t fall off.

So, I have a good grip. B.F.D.

I started out with equipment an Oregon Trail farmer could’ve afforded. (Without the bonus points at the end.)

Who cares? Hell, I’ve got a lot more than a pocket knife.

It’s easy for me to forget I’ve dodged a few avalanches that have taken other people down. I fall into that same self-satisfied trap everyone else falls into. I think I deserve to avoid those avalanches. What bullshit.

Nobody deserves the fucking avalanches.

Nobody deserves the fancy starting equipment.

There’s no correlation between what we have and what we deserve.

I mean, what exactly do I deserve? I haven’t done great things for the world. I haven’t cured anything or stopped any horrible things from happening. Why do I deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated more than some other person?

I usually try to do the right thing, but most people do. I’m not any more deserving of “my day in the sun” than anyone else.

I go to the Litany of Humility when I get like this. I came across it years ago and it helps reorient me. Instead of looking up the mountain, it makes me look down the mountain.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

What are we really supposed to do with our climbing equipment? I’m not supposed to use it to make my way up the mountain. I’m supposed to use it so we can make our way up.

But I can’t do that when I’m so worried about getting all the things I want for myself.

The only way we’re going to get to the top, and deserve getting there, is if we all climb up together. That starts with lowering some ropes and lending our equipment to the people who have a harder climb than us.

I can’t control or influence what’s going on above me, but maybe I can help dig some people out of the snow. Sometimes that means I have to climb down to do that.

And maybe I should get over myself a little.

Maybe if I’m forgotten, someone else doesn’t have to be.

And maybe that’s OK.

For the Ones Who Can’t See the Light

Dear You,

I know.

I know what it’s like to trudge through knee-high snow, in the woods, at midnight, without a coat, during a blizzard, and squint through those icy bites, looking for that warm candle light that will lead you home, but there is no effing flicker of light out there.

OK. Maybe I don’t actually wander the woods during a blizzard, but I think you understand what I mean. I think you understand what it’s like to be lost. You know what it’s like when you can’t find the light, and no matter which way you turn, you just find more trees blocking your view, and you’re so, so tired of wading through snow banks.

And you get how scary it is to be alone in the woods at night. Monsters live in the woods. Werewolves and demons and child-eating witches. This is no place to be alone.

But you already know that. Because me and you? We know what it’s like to lose. For every forward movement to be a struggle, and you don’t know what’s ahead of you, or even if you’re going the right way.

Every snowflake’s supposed to be unique, right? Maybe your snow looks like your children not having enough food. Or maybe each flake is an image of someone you’ve lost. Or all the mistakes you’ve made. Or all the false faces you’ve worn. Or the memories of a thousand backhands.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say something inspirational. But I’m not going to tell you something stupid, like if you just look up you’ll find a star you can follow all the way home. Because I know you can’t see the stars when you’re in the middle of the woods, during a fucking blizzard.

And I can’t tell you things will get easier. That the wind will die down and the snow will let up. I don’t know what’ll happen.

What I can tell you is you aren’t out in the woods on your own. I’m out here with you. A lot of people are. And maybe we aren’t all heading in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t wade through the snow together for a while. When your fingers go numb, borrow my gloves. When I fall face first into a snow bank (because God knows I fall into a lot of snow banks), maybe you can give me your hand and help me up.

I can’t promise we’ll make our way home, but maybe we can provide a little warmth for one another. And maybe we’ll be a little safer because those monsters would rather pick off lonely travelers.

So, if it’s OK with you, I’d like to walk with you for a while.

Love,

Me

The Spiritual Gift of Shutting Up

 

Have you ever taken one of those spiritual gifts tests?

You answer a few multiple choice questions and the test suggests which spiritual gifts you might have. And then you compare your gifts with your friends, while pretending to be all humble about “leadership” being your spiritual gift. Next, comes the argument about whether or not those pesky charismatic gifts still manifest today or not because Jill got the gift of healing and that just plain doesn’t happen anymore.

Right?

I guess it might depend on what you consider “healing”.

For now, let’s ignore physical healing. Instead, let’s talk about emotional and spiritual healing. Some people are gifted in this area. And do you know what they have in common? They’re good listeners.

When someone with an emotional or spiritual wound comes to you, the first thing they need you to do is listen. They need to know that they are heard and understood. After all, if you don’t take the time to learn what their problem is, how could you possibly help them with it?

Shutting up is a spiritual gift. Listening, without adding your two cents, or making suggestions, or pushing your own agenda, is healing.

After that person is done speaking, don’t just jump in with, “OK, now here’s what you ought to do…” or “Well, here’s why that happened…” Don’t compare their pain to anyone else’s pain. Don’t jump all over them and tell them why they should already be over it.

Take time to make sure they know you’ve truly heard them. Express a little empathy. Keep it short and sweet.

“What happened to you was wrong.”

“That really, really sucks.”

“I’m so sorry.”

And then shut up again. Because just that little expression of understanding and validation will probably unleash the flood. Most people are used to everyone ignoring their pain. Like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, most people just avert their eyes and run-walk past a person who’s hurt. It’s not often you run into someone who’s truly willing to listen to you, so it’s not uncommon for people to unload on the first person who’s willing to listen. That’s OK.

Just shut up and let them unload.

Over time, most people will get to the point where they can move forward again. It takes time and patience, but everything worth doing takes time and patience.

Maybe this person isn’t in a place where they feel comfortable talking to God. In that case, it’s up to Christians to step in. We represent Christ to the world, after all. Let the Holy Spirit work through you to be the ears of Christ for that person.

The next time you encounter someone who is suffering some emotional or spiritual hurt, I encourage you to embrace the work of the Holy Spirit, and shut up.

The God Who Suffers

Credit: Holly Hayes

Credit: Holly Hayes

In other posts, I’ve talked about the years I spent outside of religion. My 18th year wasn’t exactly a good year for me, and it shook me so hard it took over ten years for my soul to stop sloshing around long enough to pick up any little fragments of faith left behind.

I wouldn’t say I was ever an atheist. Not really. I always believed—or at least, hoped—there was something greater than humanity out there. The question for me was, is that something the God of the Bible? And, if it is, does that God deserve my faith in him?

Maybe that’s a funny way of thinking about a deity that could squash me like a roach, but I was pretty ticked off about how my life had veered off course.

When I was 15, my youth group went to a Youth With a Mission retreat. At the end of the event, we all gathered together in an auditorium to sing. They projected different video clips up on a large screen up front as we sang, mostly of teenage missionaries, laughing and playing with local children.

I looked away from the screen for a minute and when I looked back up, Jesus was being beaten. I think it was a clip from a play. The focus was on Jesus’ face as he was whipped.

In the middle of all the singing teenagers, hands raised up, singing as loudly as they could, I sat down with my head in my hands. I couldn’t look at the video. Obviously, I knew the difference between reality and acting. But, still, I couldn’t stand to watch it.

Drilled into my head was one sentence I’d heard over and over: “Jesus died for you.”

Jesus had been whipped, just like the man in the video. He’d been tortured and killed. I’d read the gospels. I knew the stories. But, it’d seemed distant. Like when your parents tell you about something you did as a child. You don’t remember actually doing it, but you remember the story they told you about it.

Seeing the video made it feel real to me. I suppose that was the whole point.

So, I sat there, getting bumped now and then by the kids on either side of me (who were now swaying) and felt this weight of guilt settle on me. “It’s my fault he was beaten and killed.”

That’s how I understood Jesus’ death for the next few years. That I, and all of humanity, was the cause of this senseless suffering. And we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Then, I turned 18 and everything in my life fell apart. People I loved turned their backs on me. God didn’t answer my prayers. I was sacrificed on the altar of false piety.

At first, I tried to reach out to other people and share what had happened. But you try finding another teenager who was run out of their church because someone wanted to kill them. It’s pretty hard to find someone who can relate to that. My story made people uncomfortable. When you make people uncomfortable, they don’t want to be around you.

I stopped telling my story.

I stopped going to church.

I stopped believing that God (if God was God) cared about me. He obviously wasn’t bothered by what had happened. And how could an omnipotent being have any compassion for one human, anyway? The God I knew commanded armies to conquer the Promised Land. He wiped out firstborns. He created the universe. He’d even sacrificed his own son. What was I to any God that might be out there? I was nothing.

A few years ago, I bought a Bible. I didn’t buy it because I’d had some religious epiphany and was ready to re-commit myself to Christianity. I bought it because I was irritated at some fundamentalist Christians I’d run across online. I needed a reference so I could more easily lob Bible verses at them to show them how wrong, wrong, wrong they were (even according to the very book they idolized.)

I’d read the gospels before, as a teenager. But, I decided a refresher was a good idea, so I’d have an easier time flipping to the parable I needed to counter the ridiculous stuff these people were saying. I was most familiar with Matthew (as I’d read it several times when I was younger), so I decided to start with John first.

Honestly, in the past, I’d only skimmed through the book of John. I’d read the other three gospels, and really, they all had the same information, right? (Something, something, youths…) This time, when I read John 1, I actually paid attention.

Now, I’d always heard about this thing called the Trinity. There was God, then Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I never was clear on what exactly the Holy Spirit was (except that it supposedly made my friends at the Assembly of God church speak in tongues), so I pretty much just ignored that since I wasn’t charismatic. And Jesus was the Son of God, so you know, I totally thought I understood that part. I thought it was a sort of hierarchy thing, with God at the top and Jesus and the Holy Spirit right under him.

But John 1 says it’s not a hierarchy at all. Jesus is God. No, I still didn’t have some sort of earth-shaking religious conversion at that point. I sort of went, “Ohhhh, so that’s what everyone’s talking about,” and then went off and checked Facebook.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-5;14

After that, I decided to temporarily abandon John and read Mark and Matthew again.

Reading the gospels with the knowledge that this Jesus fellow was God himself was an entirely different experience from reading them when I was a child and thought I was just reading about the Amazing Adventures of God’s Son.

And when I got to the crucifixion, I didn’t have that overwhelming sense of guilt I’d felt at 15. I guess I was a little in awe, actually. Because how had I missed all of this before?

I thought of God as some distant thing that couldn’t possibly understand humans.

But this was a story about God becoming a human.

I thought that God couldn’t understand human pain, so how could he have compassion for us?

But this was a story about God suffering human pain.

The crucifixion story isn’t a story about how we’re all terrible people and should feel guilty about what Jesus endured. The crucifixion story is about God loving us all so much that he became one of us and experienced suffering and torture as one of us.

I’d thought God was the last person who’d understand my pain.

But God might be the only person who can really understand my pain.

When I was a kid, I’d thought Jesus’ suffering was senseless. God could have saved us any way he wanted to, so why allow his son to be tortured and killed?

But it wasn’t senseless at all.

God knows what it’s like to be abandoned by the people you love. God knows what it’s like to be falsely accused. God knows what it’s like to be humiliated and shamed. God knows what it’s like to suffer.

I know some people think I wandered back to Christianity because it brings me comfort.

It doesn’t.

I’m not here because I believe that if I have enough faith God will wave his giant hand and make life easy for me. That’s never going to happen. I know it’s never going to be easy for me.

I’m not here because I believe that if I just hold on for a while I’ll be rewarded in the afterlife and, I don’t know, chill on a cloud or something. (That’s not what the afterlife is, by the way. I mean, come on. How boring would that be?)

When people ask me why I’m a Christian, I don’t have a quick answer for them. There’s no one single reason. There are too many reasons to touch on all of them in this post, and I think apologetic arguments are usually a waste of time. (Though,  anyone who thinks I blindly believe in all of this just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t know me very well.)

What I will say is where my belief started.

I don’t start with a belief in God and wind my way down to following Jesus.

I start at Jesus and everything I believe flows out of that.

I start with Jesus, the God who suffered. The God who understands us. Who understands me. Who understands you.

I grew up hearing comments about Catholic crucifixes. Things like, “Jesus is alive. He’s not on the cross anymore.” The people around me saw crucifixes as gory and unnecessary.

But I need the crucifix. Yes, Jesus is alive, but it’s Jesus on the cross who understands me most. It’s Jesus on the cross who suffers alongside us, as one of us.