Friday, July 20, 2012

Where does the pain go?

I remember thinking to myself after the birth of our first child, "Those women were lying! Those women who told me I would forget this pain were lying!" Overwhelmed by the ordeal of natural childbirth (yes--I gave birth in the 80's before the advent of the epidural), I could not imagine ever forgetting the unbelievable, off-the-charts pain of labor. 

Yet, almost 30 years later, the memory of those contractions has become faintly imprinted in my memory by almost indiscernible hues. Jesus explained to his followers what this experience of forgetting pain is like. "It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy." John 16: 21 - 22

Anguish gives way to joy. Joy eclipses sorrow. 

But where does the pain go? Is it "canceled out"? Is it erased? Is it kept in some concealed place in our memory, only to be solicited when a similar experience of pain comes along?

Many of you know that our journey of giving birth to our dream became a very arduous trek, including hard labor and pain. Now that we are "living our dream," all the difficulties we experienced, the confusion and exhaustion, has faded. And I wonder where the pain has gone. 

I read this morning in Esther De Waal's book, The Celtic Way of Prayer, "'I have little time for any sort of tradition that presents me with a spirituality without tears,' for I find that patronizing, demeaning." I agree with her. My prayer is that as our "anguish gives way to joy," the pain and sorrow of what we endured will not be lost on us. 

Pain, if fully accepted and received, can be remembered in the heart and remains useful to us. It helps us remain tender and teachable; humble and human. Though we experience the joy of bringing a "new baby into the world," we continue to receive from the pain of our childbirth and allow the experience to deepen us as people and help us become more whole.

Have you found this to be true? Where has your pain gone? 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On the Other Side: Embracing our "new normal"

We've been here for six weeks. "Here" is our new home in an urban neighborhood of Indianapolis, a change from the suburb of Fishers where we used to live. We've begun a new adventure and are on the other side of "giving birth to our dream." Like the realities of middle-of-the-night feedings, exploded diapers and inconsolable melt-downs, we have had adjustments to make. But surprisingly, they haven't been--at this point--huge or overwhelming. The joy of living the dream is certainly outweighing the adjustments.

Here are a few of the "new normals:"
  • We see poverty every day.
  • We see black people every day--not always a given in Fishers.
  • We take walks or bike rides most days and encounter the disparate mix of beauty and barrenness: quaint manicured homes and a homeless man sleeping under a bridge; the striking skyline of our city  along the gorgeous Cultural Trail and the presence of abandoned homes and trash littering the streets. 
  • We shop at stores that are unfamiliar and remind me that I'm not in Fishers any more. 
  • We live in a one-hundred-year-old home with wide doorways, 10 foot ceilings, which creaks and sighs and has stories to tell.
  • We (occasionally) still search for light switches, open the door to the closet thinking it's the bathroom, and forget which direction to turn for the microwave.
  • We set an alarm when we leave and when we go to bed.
  • We spend more time staying than going--welcoming people into our new home who are curious about what we're doing, interested in spiritual direction, or friends who want to see our new "digs." 
  • We walk about with deep joy in our hearts for how God has blessed us and for how glad we are to be on this adventure together.
Any transition from one place to another invites us to experience a "new normal." Some aspects of the new are more difficult to adjust to than others. Perhaps we will experience more challenging or disagreeable ones on down the road, but right now we are amazed with how much we feel at home. Our life seems to suit us well. All the wait and worry was worth it! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

What you learn about yourself by the way you pray: reflections from Giving Birth to Our Dreams

I don't know if you've ever noticed the fact that when you look back on where you've come from, it looks different than when you passed by it the first time around. Walking along a path counter-clockwise will yield a different view than the clock-wise direction. So, I find myself turning back to look at where I've come from this past year as David and I embarked on this adventure of "giving birth to our dream." Of moving and starting an urban retreat center called Sustainable Faith Indy. I'm seeing things in retrospect that are interesting and instructive. I'm especially learning about myself by the way I prayed through out this process of birthing.

The way we pray tells us a lot about how we think of God--a lot about the quality of our relationship with God. Susan Scott in her book, Fierce Conversations, declares that "conversation is relationship." If we carry that thought over into our life with God, then "prayer is relationship." How we pray, what we pray for, when we pray, the tone our prayers reveals and contributes to the substance of our engagement with God. So, I'm looking back over my shoulder at this last year through the lens of my prayer life.

Here is what I see:

I pray to feel more in control.
As I look back over the last year of trying to sell our house, find a property and accomplish the momentous task of moving, I notice the consuming nature of my prayers. I prayed often, feverishly and compulsively. I prayed when we had a showing or when we had no showings; prayed when we found a house that had potential and prayed fervently that no one else would buy it. I obsessed in prayer.

I think it made me feel better to pray--to cover in prayer all that we were going through, feeling and trying to accomplish. It made me feel more "in control" because I felt so out of control. 

I pray to vent. 
Throughout this long, circuitous path I felt a host of strong and powerful emotions. You name it--I felt it: passion, exhilaration, joy, as well as anger, discouragement and depression. I notice that I turned to God in prayer to vent these strong, often overwhelming emotions. I would express to him, over and over, how difficult our journey was and how much desire I felt for this dream; how disappointed and confused I was with his timing and what appeared to be his lack of support.

I'm glad that I feel free to be human with God and honest in my prayers. As I reflect about this way of praying, I see how little God spoke back. Often, I "heard" a simple word or sensed a quiet confirmation. That's all. No venting in return.

I prayed God into a quandary. 
A lot of the content of my prayers related to the selling of our house and the locating of a home to fulfill the purposes of our retreat center dream. In particular, I prayed a lot about a property we had located that we thought--no, we KNEW--would be the "perfect" house for our purposes. The house was an absolute mess. It would have required huge amounts of money, time and effort to even make it livable--more than we could have afforded physically, emotionally and financially--but it had grand potential! So always, as a caveat, I prayed that God would protect us from making a big mistake; from buying a property that would become a nightmare.

I realize now that I might have prayed God into a quandary. He couldn't answer our prayers by providing this "perfect" house to fulfill our dream and protect us from making a big mistake. He knew that if our house sold, we would move on this house like lightning. So, time eliminated it as a possibility (it sold before our house did).

I pray because I can't help it. 
I'm learning things about myself, about God and the mystery of prayer as I reflect back over the last year. I see a lot in my own heart and character that reveals immaturity, willfulness and determination. But one thing I know: it's okay to not pray "right" or "well." I'm free to pray poorly and honestly. I pray because I can't help it. I need God and want to engage with him in real dialogue out of the mess-of-my-own-heart.

And he welcomes me to pray. Like a small child learning to talk, form words, sentences, questions and requests, God invites me to come as I am and talk with him. I pray because I can't help but talk with a God like that.