Keeping the faith

Not for the first time I feel like Job in the Bible asking ‘why’ in the midst of despair.

Some time ago I mentioned to a therapist that I often wondered ‘why me?’ during my painful struggles and she said that when she said the same many years ago people in her circle used to respond ‘why not you?’ There is a bitter truth in that. We cry out from the depths of our hearts. Our pain feels so deeply personal. So much so that God/the Universe must have done this to us. Like Job, we feel wronged. We know we’ve always tried our best, or even if we haven’t, we’ve made up for it somehow. So why did this terrible event/situation/tragedy occur? No one has or ever will have an answer to that beyond that suffering is a given and no one is spared. It’s just that some people seem destined to suffer much more or less and the only way forward is to somehow trust that it’s all unfolding how it’s meant to be because otherwise it would be different than it is.

Yesterday I heard that my son is being evicted from his residential home. I knew how much the staff were struggling with him but somehow I never thought this would actually be the outcome. I feel bone-crushingly sad. I have no idea where he will go now. It could have been such a lovely home for him. Those are the words I seem to constantly repeat in relation to my son: could have been. I pulled out all the stops to try and make things easier for him so that his behaviour may improve but it hasn’t worked. I know there is a lot of hurt in those words. I feel affronted that none of it made any difference. It’s a deep-seated wound that nothing I’ve done has made a difference to my son but I know that isn’t true. It springs from my sadness that I wish life had been different for both of us. And I know if I hadn’t become so sick/hospitalised and that if my ex wasn’t the way he is, things certainly would be very different now.

And therein lies my struggle. It drags me down like a lead weight until I feel I have no strength to fight. Giving in feels too much, too painful. So I frantically search for a way out, considering all the addictive tendencies I’ve had in the past as a way to escape unbearable feelings, but not able to bring myself to go there because I’m too aware, too conscious of my actions and their consequences now. I’m left with raw pain that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I can’t cry either so I’m just staring listlessly into space and waiting for someone to ring me – my son’s social worker, the home, a family member – so I don’t feel so desperately alone with it all. At the moment it seems the social worker will call tomorrow. I don’t yet know the way forward.

I’m remembering a scene from the movie ‘The Shack’ (wonderful movie, btw) where the guy is in a boat which is breaking up, a metaphor for his terrible pain and struggle over the abduction and murder of his young daughter, and Jesus walks up to the boat, on the water, telling him to ‘have faith’ and ‘look at me’ because each time the guy focused on his suffering, the boat broke apart more and water poured in. Eventually, the guy found his faith and climbed out of the boat onto the water with Jesus, finding himself able to walk back to the shore. This is a natural re-telling of the Bible story where Jesus told his disciples to have faith. I don’t believe the walking on water was literal, although who knows it may have been, but a metaphor for our ability to overcome our emotional pain when we keep the faith in something bigger than ourselves, whether that’s God, the Universe, or our own soul/higher/Christ self.

The Bible is all about faith in the midst of terrible suffering, as well as the human need to cry out and ask ‘why’ when we are hurting. Whilst there’s never any clear answers to why we suffer, what’s certain is no one is alone, and while life is desperately hard sometimes, with faith we find the strength to keep moving forward.

My soul flies like a bird

On a morning walk with my dog I heard beautiful birdsong and watched the sparrows and tits peeping out of overgrown hedges and disappearing again. And for a second I wished I could join them. I wanted to trade my life as a human with all its pain and complexities for the simple, carefree life of a hedge sparrow. The longing arose from deep within, pointing to a knowledge that no matter what I’m dealing with or the world is facing, my soul flies free. I don’t have to be chained to fears and illusions of this world, only insofar as necessary to play my role here. Jesus said ‘Be in the world but not of it’ and this statement has never felt more true. My heart is the bridge between the spiritual and the physical; I exist in both, but my soul is always home no matter where it is, flying high.

Christmas: The eternal light within

Firstly, I truly hope everyone had the best Christmas possible, whether spent with family, friends, strangers, or oneself (I have done all of these at some point).

I was listening to another you tube video by the wonderful Matt Kahn yesterday entitled ‘Choosing to be here’ and thought how badly I need to take that in and really, really, apply it to my life right now. I am feeling a lot of inner resistance to what IS. I spent Christmas day with a few relatives and while I was blessed to have somewhere to go, I felt very disconnected and sad. The wounded part of me was crying out for my upbringing to have been different, for my relatives to behave differently, for my life to feel more connected and loving than it does. On reflection it was obvious that the disconnect came from me. Not that it means blaming myself for my feelings or experiences because they happened and they hurt, but I have a choice now in how I relate to myself and those around me.

Matt Kahn talks about relating to each moment as if we had chosen it. I know this is a common idea in spiritual circles but I had not fully grasped it until now, whilst feeling the pain of resistance to the extent that I did after spending Christmas with my family. It does not mean that myself or anyone else ‘asked’ for abuse or other horrific experiences or even that we literally chose them before incarnating (although we may have, who can know); instead it points to the idea that everything that happens is our teacher and we can sift even the most terrible experiences for their gold. Rather than sinking into despair over our longing for something different, we can look at what IS and ask how we can respond to this, how we can learn from it, how we can let it transform into something greater.

My hurt is real. My inner child is real. A common pitfall on the spiritual path is to ‘bypass’ our woundedness in favour of intellectual spiritual wisdom, all the while forgetting that true wisdom is found in facing our darkness, our pain, head on and understanding and accepting it. The essence of Matt Kahn’s teaching is loving whatever arises, or if we cannot love it, loving the part of us who cannot love. In this context, I can love the little girl in me who was sad at Christmas because she knew others were having Christmases that she could only dream about. More than that, she longed for the experience of belonging to a family who loved each other and had fun together in ways that hers never did or will. Those longings are valid. Who as a child didn’t want to be cared for by people who loved and respected each other and came together at Christmas of all days? It is okay to hurt. But the key is not getting stuck. We feel to heal.

I spent two nights crying with emotional pain that I thought I’d transformed ages ago. I felt so awful that I wondered if I was dying. Then it occurred that maybe I was. Not literally of course, but dying to a past that has gone; dying to the wish that things could have been any different. I can only accept the child’s emotions and tell her that she is loved and accepted and we’ll be okay somehow. She needs to know that it is not ‘wrong’ to feel the way she does. But as with any child, she also needs to know that those feelings are only a small facet of her world and they’re not going to destroy her entire being. On the contrary, they will bring rainbows once the storm has passed.

The adult me knows that I can only change myself, not other people. Maybe the gift of Christmas lies in knowing that ultimately I belong to myself. I am made of light. I can love and accept myself. I can learn to feel at peace within my own being. No matter how dark and dire our personal circumstances are, how agonising the despair, our inner light is stronger. Whilst I feel on the outside with family members and indeed many others at Christmas, the learning lies in what Christmas is all about: love and hope and transformation. Emotional pain WILL be transformed, if we let it. The image of the crucifixion is what THIS is all about: ‘I have overcome the world’ says Jesus. So can we all. This doesn’t mean never being affected by anything – Jesus himself felt abandoned by God in his darkness moments – but we can trust in our eternal light which cannot ever be destroyed. This is the spirit of Christmas.

Wishing everyone the very best as we approach the end of 2021.