Friday, September 30, 2011

Let go and let God. But this time I mean it.

I've had many realizations during my reading of Henri Nouwen's Turn My Mourning into Dancing.  I wanted to compose all of the individual insights I gained into one cohesive "story", for lack of a better word.  But, I think in this case, at least for today, I can best communicate my thoughts by writing the passage from the book followed by my own insights.  These are all from the second chapter titled, From Holding Tight to Letting Go.

Loving someone means allowing the other person to respond in ways you have no control over.  Every time you engage yourself in an intimate, loving way with someone else you become at least partly subject to the exhilaration of hearing another person's yes or the disappointment in his or her no.  The more people you love, the more pain you may experience.  Every time you love you enter into the risk of love (pg. 28).

Realization:  I distance myself to keep from loving, to keep from being rejected.  I fear that love will inevitably lead to loneliness; yes's turn into no's, acceptance into disappointment.  I try to read the other person's actions and responses to me to find out their true feelings toward me and the person I am.  It's like I'm reading into it all to justify why I know they don't love me or view me in a good light.  But it is in this fear of loneliness and abandonment, in the relenting distrust of one's love for me, that I am most lonely.

But whenever I choose other gods by making people or events the source of my joy, I find my sorrow only increases.  When I demand from others what only God can give, I experience pain (pg. 31).

  If people like me, I am a good person.  I will be happy, energetic, and excited about my life.  If people love me, then my core is good.  I am a beautiful, loveable, wonderful person.  If people love me.  My job will give me the fulfillment I need to take ownership of my traits and abilities.  I will be successful because of my job.  Success will make me happy, well-liked, and everything in my life will finally be in place.  Success and the love of others will make me happy, and my regrets and depression and bitterness will be gone. 

I center my life around a million different gods, when there is only One who can truly, deeply affect me to my core.  And what pressure to put on those around me!  Maybe others leave, not because I am a bad, unworthy person, but because they can't do for me what I want them to do.  They can stay and become a slave to my emotions and endless needs, or they can break free and stay true to themselves and their own needs -- this is so incredibly relevant to the estranged relationship with my mother.  She was suffocating me, killing me with every outburst and insult and hurtful word.  I am ashamed to think I have done the same to others.

Only prayer allows us to hear another voice, to respond to the larger possibilities, to find a way out of our need to order and control. 
Then the questions that seem to shape our identity will not matter so much:  Who says good things about me?  Who doesn't?  Who is my friend?  My enemy?  How many like me?  As we make God the center of our lives, our sense of who we are will depend less on what others think of or say about us (pg. 34).

I have always, always, been concerned about what others think and say about me.  Not just concerned, but obsessed with thoughts of "who I am" in the eyes of others.  While someone is a part of my present life, I replay fabricated conversations and interactions that I had with that person, I conjure up countless negative things that they probably think or feel about me.  Then, once that person becomes a part of my past life, which they always do, I obsess over what they think and say about me and all of my inadequacies and mistakes they witnessed.  It is in this way that I control the relationship. 

There are other possibilities in my relationships:  It is possible that someone loves me.  It is possible that someone admires certain traits about me.  It is possible that someone wants to be a part of my present life, forever.  But it isn't believing in those possibilities that will stop my obsessions and concerns.  I must believe in the possibilities that God has for me, in my life, the love and admiration he has for me and the traits that he created.  Once I begin viewing myself in the eyes of God, my creator, the thoughts and opinions of others will not matter.  Only God defines me. 

And it is here that we find courage to face our human boundaries and hurts, whether our physical appearance, our being excluded by others, our memories of hurt or abuse, our oppression at the hands of another.  As we find freedom to cry out in our anguish or protest someone's suffering, we discover ourselves slowly led into a new place.  In the quiet listening of prayer, we learn to make out the voice that says, "I love you, whoever else likes you or not.  You are mine.  Build your home in me as I have built my home in you (pg.36)."

Realization:  I do not pray.  I am lost, I am beaten down, I am imprisoned.  Prayer -- I commit myself today to prayer, to listening to God's voice, to taking a new path.  I commit myself to experiencing my pain, to feeling its ache deep in my soul.  Not running, but waiting.  Not ignoring, but acknowledging. 

We are, after all, a little afraid of God.  We want to love him, but we fence ourselves in and keep God at a distance.  Our spiritual habits and customs become that fence.  We say to God, in effect, that "if you want to come, you must use that old entrance, the old way (pg. 38)."

Realization:  I keep God at arm's length because I'm afraid of what he will ask of me, afraid of where he will take me.  It will, most certainly, be far from my current way of living.  As unhappy as I am in my current state, I am terribly afraid of letting go.  It's all I know.

God is greater than our hearts.  We get enough glimpses to know that God surpasses our every ability to think or imagine.  At such moments, God asks us to jump from our secure perches, to stop calculating the risks (pg. 39). 

Realization:  I am taking a chance on everything but God.

We are asked to surrender to a vision of God and God's people greater than we now know.  We may have to release some boxes that can no longer hold the breadth of God's truth (pg. 40).

Realization:  Surrender without knowing...a.k.a. sky diving.  I put my life in the hands of a parachute and an instructor.  Chances were, statistically speaking, that I would survive.  God promises his people, that if we believe in him, we will survive.  Forever.  100% eternal life, satisfaction guaranteed.  But I must surrender everything and let God fill the emptiness.

We want to fill up what is empty.  Our lives stay very full.  And when we are not blinded by busyness, we fill our inner space with guilt about things of the past or worries about things to come.  Perhaps part of our fear comes from the fact that an empty place means that something may happen to us that we cannot predict, that is new, that leads us to a place we might not want to go.  I might not want to hear what God has to say (pg. 42).

Realization:  If I do not have depression, anger, regret...then what do I have?  There is an emptiness in me that I am trying to fill.  It is in that same emptiness that God work in me and through me; listen to its echo.

Discipline is the concentrated effort to create space in our lives where the Spirit of God can touch us, guide us, speak to us, and lead us to places that are unpredicatble, where we are no longer in control (pg. 42).

Realization:  In not filling my emptiness with things that provide instant relief, I allow God to move into these spaces, where he can permanently live and work through me to truly heal my wounds and fill my life with the Holy Spirit.  I must stop searching, and start waiting.

I am a few pages away from completing the third chapter, From Fatalism to Hope.  I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you.  Knowing that you are reading, that someone is reading, is so much a part of the hope and community that God desires for my life.  Yes, even internet blogging is an instrument of God's grace.

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