Character and Hope are Not the Result of an Uneventful Wednesday Afternoon
Two weeks ago I went on two road trips for work. Meaning, last week was catch-up week, a week to take things slow. My plan was to pray, read, write, and do easy but pesky administrative things like write checks, update schedules, web sites, podcasts, etc. By Wednesday afternoon, most of the admin stuff and sermon writing were done. I was reflecting on the sermon for Sunday--on the theme of putting trust in God, how even when life seems like a basket full of clean clothes flung upside down on a dirty kitchen floor or a five-hour road trip in freezing rain (I took that trip last week), there is strength to draw from, beautiful things that grow out of our lives--things like love and peace.
It was a quiet, post-sermon-writing afternoon, Wednesday was. I basked in a sense of peace. I felt so mentally sound. So intact. Grateful for a sense of groundedness.
And then I got a text. One text. Not a mean text. Not an angry text. But a text that suggested I might have to have a hard conversation at some point in the future with someone who might disagree with me. And all of the sudden, my zen mindfulness was replaced by the internal jangling of teeth and nerves.
Thirty minutes later, I got a "Mom Alliance" phone call, the kind me and my mom friends make these days when we're looking out for the well-being of our tribes and those in their spheres of friendship. And, it turned out that someone in my tribe was not doing so well, and I didn't know about it. Did this compound my nervous jitters? No, but I felt really angry. It was the kind of anger any of you might feel if someone you absolutely adore is completely disrespecting themselves, to be fair. But, I was pissed.
And later that night, there was rising tension on another phone call, this time with my husband. His phone wasn't working. He could hear me, but I couldn't hear him. I tried calling him back but his phone was glitchy and wouldn't allow him to answer. It was late at night. We were tired. And because of our half-finished conversation, we were both annoyed.
One text, two phone calls.
On Thursday, I tried to get my bearings, but the head cold that had been budding all week began to blossom. I fell asleep in the middle of the day and woke groggy, disoriented, before having to pick a kid up from school. I canceled a late-afternoon meeting because I couldn't imagine mustering the energy to sit in a coffee shop and see where curiosity and a good conversation could take us.
After school, a kiddo didn't like my new policy of no-texting-while-doing-homework. There were appeals for hours about changing this policy. The decibel level in my home dramatically increased along with my mental fatigue. But, I dragged myself along with half of my family to a concert so I wouldn't miss a kiddo's solo. On the way out the door, I snapped at someone. Leaving the house without a coat in five-degree weather is NOT an option!
I sat in the high-school auditorium with major attitude (Alexander-and-the-Terrible-Horrible-No-Good-Very-Bad-Day Attitude), such attitude that I averted my eyes so I wouldn't have to say hello to people who were practically neighbors--dads, moms, grandmas and sibs of kids who go to school with my kids. I knew I was in bad shape, so I sat there, staring at the carpet and self-interrogating my way into saner headspace with a little help from the Trinity.
And we weren't pulling any punches:
What is your PROBLEM?!
Is this where you're going to STAY--pissed and annoyed and anxious?
If no one around you changes anything--if they keep whining, if you have to tell them to wear coats every winter day for the the rest of their lives, if conflict resolution doesn't go well, if you don't get your way, if people you love keep making stupid choices--are you going to stay HERE?
My therapist has for the longest time told me that people's emotional reactions to the things I do are, most of the time, ninety percent about them. I had to turn that perspective on myself in that moment. Ninety percent of what was going on inside me was all about me. Triggered by external factors, yes, but all about my impatience, my fear, my anger, my lack of love. It was ugly on the inside, folks.
And that was the crossroads, the one we all come to when we make the choice to hold a grudge or to stay rooted in fear and panic or anger. I made a clenched mental choice before the first choral song of the evening that I would not stay there, that I would not hold onto all of that falsely protective armor, but it wasn't until the second song, a bittersweet narrative ballad, that I felt myself unclenching my hold on all of it. Jazz harmonies swirled around me as
I surrendered to Love and to however God wanted to to work in all of these circumstances and relationships and hearts and minds and choices I absolutely could not and cannot control.
I knew I had to trust Love, and not bully or pout my circumstances or my people into what I wanted them to be.
The apostle Paul put it like this: "Suffering [can produce] perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit."*
Character and the hope are not the result of an uneventful Wednesday afternoon when the sermon's all written and the house is quiet and you actually have all the ingredients to make dinner. Nope, they come after and through the labor pains of Thursday night, of sickness, arguments, canceled meetings, tension, emotional fatigue and Mom Alliance phone calls. And they don't come simply by virtue of all these labor pains. We choose whether to persevere or not persevere, to keep our hearts soft or not soft, as we stay rooted and trusting in God-Who-Is-Love.
Our lives can produce things like love, joy, peace and patience, but the fact is that those things flow out of us the best when we are suffering and when we stay rooted in Love. After all, who ever cultivated loving and patient forbearance without an agonizing wait? And who ever tasted supernatural peace when there were never any winds of conflict howling?
On Friday, it was International Women's Day, and someone posted words from Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook. She probably wasn't thinking of the apostle Paul when she wrote this, but I made a connection:
"The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong, and they handled it."
I don't think we achieve true grace without true love, so this is the question friends: How will we handle--and keep handling--all the shit that goes wrong so we get to the other side with character, hope, strength, love?