“I miss you madly and it’s raining on the coast.”
–Yellowcard, “Rivertown Blues”
“This Southern air is in my lungs; it’s in every word I’ve sung.”
–Yellowcard, “Southern Air”
It’s funny what a line of poetry can do to a person.
I was driving around campus, trying to find a parking space, when all of a sudden I found myself covered in goosebumps, struck by the beauty of the rhyme.
Ryan Key singing lyrics over an electric violin and (incredible) drums doesn’t sound like Rilke or Wordsworth (and I will admit, my poetry education has been sparse), but it is poetry.
As my previous post displayed, sometimes I am steeped in difficult realizations about my character, my insecurities and flaws; I am overshadowed by unhappiness, crippled with worries, and disturbed by my failures.
In the midst of these times, I am searching for a way out.
“Gratitude is inclusive. As psychoanalyst Eric Erikson once noted, there are only two choices: integration and acceptance of our whole life-story, or despair.”
–Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust
It is absolutely absurd how life goes up and down. As Stephanie May wrote so eloquently earlier this month (http://thelipstickgospel.com/2014/02/18/falling-back-in-love-with-yourself/), in times of insecurity and self-loathing, we must choose whether or not to make peace with one person we cannot get away from. Do we believe our value depends on our actions, our thoughts, or our feelings? Do we believe someone else’s opinion defines our worth? If so, it is only a matter of time before we fall into the belief that we are never going to be good enough, that our failure is inevitable.
Sooner or later, we all hit that point.
We can distract ourselves with food, tv, sleep, drugs, alcohol, parties, music, work, or working out. But, we cannot escape from ourselves, or from the One who knows all things, forever. Sooner or later, sitting up in bed when the house is dead quiet, or driving on the 210 freeway at 70 mph with the radio turned off, the deafening silence breaks over us like a wave; all of the distraction fades to the background and we face ourselves, flaws and all, in a gut- and heart-wrenching stillness.
Fleeing from an oppressive mistress, thirsting and starving in the desert with her only child, Hagar said, “You are the God who sees me.”
I have wrestled with writing this post for weeks. I have begun to move past the insecurity and sadness that was clouding my mind when I wrote the last post, but, as I attempt to articulate either an “answer” or instructions for “living fully,” as my title promises, I cannot.
Here is what I know: there is no answer to suffering; there is only a response.
Do we even want an answer, an explanation? I don’t. What I want is a response, a plan to follow, something that will work. I am not asking, “Why is this happening?” but rather, “What do I do now?” I want a way out of the darkness of the valley of the shadow, I want a path paved with hope, and I want a hand to hold as I climb toward the light of the dawn.
“The human race is filled with passion…poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
—Dead Poet Society
As one of my professors reminds all of the freshmen who take his class, the word “passion” originated from the Latin word for suffering (e.g. The Passion of the Christ). Thus, to love or to live with passion is to suffer.
C.S. Lewis puts it another way, writing in The Four Loves, “To love is to be vulnerable.” For, as Brene Brown points out in her incredible TedTalk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o), human cannot selectively numb. When we are open to the overflowing happiness of love or service, authenticity and kindness, honesty and curiosity and wonder, we are also open to the entire spectrum of human emotion, including sadness, jealousy, anger, fear, and discontent. If we decide we cannot bear the shadows along with the light, we lose both; when we numb ourselves through substances and distractions, we find our lives are gray and shallow. Boredom, ennui, and irritation loom around every corner. Mediocrity hovers on the brink of meaninglessness and depression, but the idea of reaching for something deeper, for the authenticity that requires looking at our true selves (and knowing the eyes of Another, the Perfect One, are on us) seems impossibly terrifying.
But there is a way.
For me, the escape route begins with gentleness.
I begin to experience love and beauty: my brother offers to buy me dinner, I drink coffee with cream at a dear friend’s apartment, I see the starry night sky over Malibu, I hear a beautiful song lyric.
The gentleness of God is His attribute that, when revealed, can make me weep like a child.
There is a doxology repeated throughout the Old Testament (ironically, these books are often stereotyped as stories about a God of justice whose love is absent until the New Testament): “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love.
For me, the next step on the escape route is gratitude.
Gently, God has been lavishing gifts on me, and I begin to notice and to give thanks. I start realizing these may not be coincidences, and I dare to look for more evidence that God loves me; not in a general, He-loves-all-people way, but the intimate I-know-everything-about-you way of a best friend, a parent, a lover, a sister.
When I heard the Yellowcard lyrics, pieces of the gentle weekend preceeding that moment fell into place. I remembered a dozen little gifts I had received, experiences of things I adore. I heard the still, small Voice whisper, “But you see beauty.”
This is the response, not from you or from me, but from God. As we cry, Jesus, it hurts; Jesus, this is too difficult for me; Jesus, I cannot help anyone, not even myself; God responds, “But you…”
He tells us who we are.
Here is what I know: the love of God is overwhelmingly broad, but it is also intensely personal.
Until we recognize this, until we know God’s love through experience, not just in theory, we remain steeped in insecurity and guilt. Knowing we are loved and are the recipients of numberless gifts changes us; we want others to know this love, and we begin to care for them not out of obligation, but out of deep joy and gratitude. Compare this with the “should” that peppers our speech, the guilt that says we should be happy, we should help other people, we should do more. “Should” means we do not know it; we do not know we are loved, accepted, valuable, capable of helping others, formed for a purpose.
Look for the gentleness and for the gifts, for they will lead you to gratitude, and Jesus says, Seek and you will find.
Read the words below; they are poems written for us, the beloved.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise…
I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Isaiah 43:18-21, 25
O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
I am about to set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of jewels,
and all your wall of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
and great shall be the prosperity of your children.
In righteousness you shall be established;
you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you.
See it is I who have created the smith who blows the fire of coals,
and produces a weapon fit for its purpose…
No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper,
and you shall confute every tongue
that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, says the Lord.