three a.m. candid

291/366 - soul work

The transitions are hard.  The prodigal son comes and goes with barely a word.  In the long stretches when he's gone, the family changes.  You can see the ease on people's faces, the conversation at the dinner table is full of jokes and excited plans for the future, we go to sleep easily without locking away purses and car keys and computers. I feel myself opening up and I start to make plans.

And then, (and I know I should thank God,) one day he comes home again.   And the moment the door opens, everything is different.  Guards go up, bedroom doors are shut, we eat our dinner silently and go to bed early, clutching our worries to our chests.  The other children treat me daintily, rubbing my shoulders and asking if I'm alright.  They can see it in my face that I am heavy, worried, strained.  I can see it in theirs that they are already older and making plans to leave for a place where you don't have to guard everything or be reminded of so many hard things.  Day after day there are no conversations, only arguments.   We strain and fight until one day he's had enough and he leaves again for wherever he goes and the cycle starts again.

I don't like to write about it here.  I don't know that I should.  But how do you tell your story of hope without telling your story of despair?   I write as transparently, as honestly, yet as carefully as I can and trust the end of this story, unfolding slowly year by year, will justify the awkwardness of telling the truth in the beginning.

I couldn't sleep last night, burdened as I was.  I know that there must be more than this, more than the crushing feeling that we are stuck, unable to create the home we want because of this conflict at the center of everything.  " How do you have peace, Lord," I ask in the dim light of the kitchen at 3 AM, "when there are so many wounds and no repentance and you are all just waiting for the next blow to strike?"  

I could see it there in my mind's eye, that core of pain around which we all turn.  How do you heal something that is constantly re-opened, constantly exposed to the infection of sin?  

"In the world, you will have trouble," said Jesus and I know it is true.  I ache with trouble.  I pick up my cup of green tea and stare into it while the rest of the verse comes to my mind.  "But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  (John 16:33)  Oh Lord, overcome, please.

Dallas Willard says that the spiritually poor are blessed because the Kingdom of God comes to them in spite of their desperate need and in spite of their plain inability to access any of God's good.  Sitting in the kitchen in the wee hours, I feel kin to beggars and unclean women everywhere.  Bless me, Lord!

No bolt of light comes from heaven.  No magic formula arrives in my thoughts by which I might whisk away my trouble.  But I remember something I'd read earlier in "Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives" and I write it down in my journal:  An elderly woman approaches Elder Thaddeus with a complaint about her neighbor who is constantly harrassing her and throwing things over the fence into her yard. 

"I asked her why she was always quarreling with her neighbor.  But the old woman said that she never even spoke to her evil neighbor.  I insisted that she quarreled with her every day.  I said to her, "You are convinced that she is doing evil things to you, and you are constantly thinking about her.  Let her do whatever it is she is doing; you just turn your thoughts to prayer and you will see that it will stop bothering you."

It is possible, I see, to be outwardly peaceful but inwardly at war.  And this is what plagues me.  I spend so much energy gritting my teeth to keep from saying a negative word or to put a smile on my face to seem welcoming and motherly, but inwardly I am seething with war and I am constantly planning for the next offense, hardening myself for the next blow.

Elder Thaddeus again:

"Why does the Lord command us to love our enemies and to pray for them?  Not for their sake, but for ours!  For as long as we bear grudges, as long as we dwell on how someone offended us, we will have no peace."

Sitting in that quiet kitchen, my cup of tea emptied now, I see that once again I have gone at this backward; that I have worked to control the outward and not surrendered the inner person.  And so I stop my thoughts in their tracks.  I let go the fear of what is up ahead and I just pray.  I pray for his peace, for his joy, for his rescue.  I pray for strength to love what is so unlovely.  And I find that Elder Thaddeus is right, at least for a small moment at three in the morning:  I am not bothered.  I feel peace where only a few moments before hurt was churning.  I feel unbelievably hopeful that I can do this again in the morning.  Maybe even at noon.   And so I quietly spend a few more minutes in prayer and then I crawl back in bed and I go to sleep in real peace.

~ Why write this all out this morning?  Maybe some other mother needs a hope for getting through today.  Maybe I need to cement in my soul this truth I'm learning.  Maybe by writing it out I am telling the world that I am going to overcome by God's grace and nothing is going to stop me.  

  I don't know if I'll leave this up for long - usually my guilt over telling things too candidly gets to me and I think better of leaving such things behind.  But for now, as I said at the beginning, here is my story and hope. 

much love my friends.