When Remembering Hurts: Part 3

There are memories, and then there are consequences.  Recognizing that we have veered off course or missed the mark on something we tried to accomplish can be discomfiting.  Consequences – incarceration, legal action, foreclosure—can be excruciatingly painful.  So is facing what has been irretrievably lost.  It’s natural to feel grief concerning the loss of a relationship, an opportunity, a job, another’s trust in you, your trust in another, years gone by, money spent foolishly, pleasures given up, and, of course, the loss of life itself in death.

When mired in grief over the consequences of our actions, we can take some comfort in knowing that grief is not a permanent state but a journey towards something else.  The destination—acceptance—can give us hope.  When we have an idea of where our life is heading, we can put obstacles and hardships into perspective and persevere.  We can examine past choices, and while regret for them may be heartrending, we can look forward with hope that they won’t be repeated.

The honest seeker will, at some point, stop defending himself from the truth.  In an effort to rationalize our actions to ourselves, we erect barriers to truth.  We hold our victims culpable in some way for our actions against them.  When we release ourselves from the self-defense pretense, we have an unobstructed view to the pain we caused others.  Feeling their pain, compassion, is a natural consequence of confronting this truth.

God, in his infinite compassion to all, is present to all the pain—the pain someone caused me, the pain I caused someone else, and the compassion I feel for the one I hurt. Perhaps most heartbreaking is God’s faithful and unwavering presence to us even when we fail to hold up our end of the relationship with him.

Imagine how it feels to be in a relationship in which you’re ignored.  Your continual shows of love and support are overlooked or taken for granted.  Your intervening help saves the day over and over, but your partner acts as if she had it under control all along and you didn’t have anything to do it.  You work hard to dream up the perfect gift and are excited to give it, but it is left unopened, not even important enough for her to bother unwrapping.  What kind of relationship is that?  It is how I treat God.

When we own up to all the ways we turned our back on the one who never stops seeking us, we grow into compassion, reciprocal compassion, for God.  This compassion bears an exquisite kind of pain.  To feel the pain God feels over you is to grasp just how much he loves you.  It is a big step into intimacy with God, and it is perhaps our greatest source of hope.

Join the conversation.  What becomes possible when you release yourself from the self-defense pretense?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Finding Hope in the Road Not Taken

I sat down to write a post about making wrong turns in life and feeling grief for the good consequences lost because of the path we chose instead.  Grief—over the loss of a relationship, an opportunity, a job, another’s trust in you, your trust in another, years gone by, money spent foolishly, pleasures given up, and, of course, death—is real.  A reader’s comment to a previous post changed my course, though.  She expressed hope, not grief, in examining what could have been.

“Through my years, I have let my pain and memories cripple me more than grow, but now, as my journey with God has allowed me, I am using it to learn about me as a person, seeing my own potential as I should have been.  I guess I visualize things as, ‘they could be worse’ and as ‘they could be better.’ The growth that I have experienced is amazing and the peace is wonderful.”

How is it that this reader finds peace instead of grief?  One thing that strikes me is her gratitude.  She balances her perspective on her life’s difficulties with an appreciation of the difficulties others face.  “I always tell myself, that no matter how much things are bad for me, there is someone else who has it much worse,” she said.

Another quality I admire is her acceptance of herself.  All the variants of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief model end with acceptance.  An accepting recollection of a painful reality might bring thoughts like this:  “That episode was very painful to several people for a long time.   I wish I had been strong enough to have chosen different actions, but I wasn’t and I didn’t.  God uses the crumbs of my failure and gives them some meaning.  He alone can extract the slag of my sin to bring about some goodness, and in my weakness his strength is made perfect.”  Accepting a painful reality can be tough.
Accepting ourselves where we have fallen short can be tougher still.  Seeing ourselves as God sees us—as dearly loved and desperately wanted children—can start melting self-condemnation.

The most admirable thing to me is the hopefulness she finds in her potential.  “I should have been” implies “I could have been,” and it signals an inherent goodness that can be drawn upon.  Instead of beating up on herself for what she didn’t do, she recognizes her potential as a sign of hope.  The reader shows that the crucial element transforming a self-critical impulse into a hopeful impulse is trust in God.  “Learning to lean on God is one of the hardest things for me, as I am giving Him total control of me, but, it has been the most helpful and wonderful life altering experience.”

To borrow Henri Nouwen’s words, inviting God into the action of examining past missteps transforms them from a cause of despair into a sign of hope.

Join the conversation.  What do you feel when you reflect on the wrong turns you have taken?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.