Monday, 23 December 2013

The gift of giving into despair

Who’s telling the truth? Nearly everyone becomes a liar. Nearly everything becomes a betrayal. The journey of life becomes so insignificant that we seek only the dark — we dim our lights until we can no longer see. We can no longer feel...

This morning, after feeling balanced and open for months, the emotions I'd been holding in check to function - grief, the emotions that sit beneath being strong for others, soul-weariness - all came crashing down. I strongly suspect it's part of the forgiveness practice I'm working through: last night was 'Forgiving your feelings': so no surprise that, after decades of being marginalised, they decided to pour through the open door once it was cracked open.

Weeks ago, in a therapeutic discussion, I discovered that my core emotion wasn't anger, as I had thought, but despair. Today, that was what overwhelmed me. Finally, after years of  fighting it, I did something different. I stayed still and let the tsunami engulf me. 

And the oddest thing happened. As I went through my day, thinking 'It's all a lie,' I felt a profound sense of peace, even as I felt things I shouldn't:

I completely, irrevocably give up on them.

That friend will never be able to offer the emotional support I need, because they can't deal with my darkness.

She'll always play the victim even as she pretends not to; she's never going to change.

I actually believe that his part of this friendship is about needing me, not genuine affection and appreciation for who I am. I don't think he really sees or wants to see me. I'm done making the effort.

These people will always value status, money, and chase approval. Our core values will always be diametrically opposed. There's no point in engaging.

Why do I keep offering myself, my friendship, things that deeply matter to me to people who are utterly incapable of receiving it? WTF IS WRONG WITH ME? 

He's always going to charm his way through life and never discover who he really is. And because this is a shallow world that values appearance over substance, that is going to be reinforced.  What difference would reaching out make? I'll leave him to his long, slow, internal death. 

I don't care. 

They are only going to see what they want to see - why see a marriage, mother and child in trouble when you can pretend to see a perfect family? 

I will never get any better - life will continue to be bleak, joyless, and living my purpose and passion will continue to elude me, as will the love and connection I want more than anything.

I don't belong here.

Nothing I do makes a difference.

So, why am I here?

And so on.  

I felt the utter absence of hope. I let that be my truth; I acknowledged what was real. I didn't desperately scrabble for hope, thinking, 'I MUST hope, no matter what form it takes,' nor did I scrabble for faux Christmastide feelings; I left my hands by my sides. I let it overwhelm me.

It is still overwhelming me.

But I chose not to lie...and my usually sharp, blunt, German surrogate mum showed a surprising gentleness. My perpetually busy friend checked his motion and heard me, pulling me in for a quick hug that allowed for a much-needed lean against a safe shoulder - and was genuinely present, despite a hundred other things that needed doing.

These moments reminded me of Andrew Bunch's sermon at work's Wednesday chapel last week, when he spoke of the siege of Samaria and the nature of Advent hope. Advent hope, he said, comes when we are at the end of our rope - in the case of the siege, famine and women eating their children; that it often comes from those we despise - as it did from the lepers, who had nothing to lose and had taken the risk of entering the tents of the Syrian army, only to discover the siege broken; and that it is unexpected, miraculous, something we never could have expected - something that has room to happen because we haven't closed off possibilities by insisting that hope appear in a particular way. 

I await that extraordinary hope, but I remember that, as today's preacher reminded us, whilst the experience is exceptional, often, the manner is ordinary. That moment when a friend checks his motion and holds the space. That moment when you steel yourself for an expected 'Well, dear, just carry on, these things pass,' and instead get an affectionate look, a finger brushing across your cheek and a gentle, 'You're going to be ok,' from an unexpected quarter. In a song that offers you the only prayer left right now: But I offer all I am for the mercy of Your plan - help me be strong. Help me BE. Help ME.

Suddenly, you realise that THIS time, you've actually changed enough that you WILL let G-d help, because THIS time, you've finally offered your consent to getting lostWhich means that you finally trust that babe in the manger enough to step into those outstretched arms and let Him bring you home, even if you can't feel His love just yet. 

But you know that, as today's preacher noted, if you stay present to your life as it unfolds, the opportunities to love (and be loved by) G-d come over and over again. And if you stay present, you sense that in one of those encounters, just as you've finally consented to get lost, you'll finally feel - and truly know - you are loved. 

Real hope - not the manufactured, even desperate, hope we scrabble for to avoid the dark night of the soul bearing down on us...

...that is the gift of giving into despair and the long dark night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A big challenge. A lot to think about, a lot to risk. I would hope to be more courageous and risk as you do...but the reference to internal death did make me think carefully.

I wish Rachel Remen's book was more freely available in this country. Those training for ministry would benefit from reading it too, AND taking it seriously.

And not for the first time, not for the last time - if only you (i.e. Irim) could be allowed to teach people training for ministry. Enough. Except that it isn't...