Several years ago, a good friend took me on a vacation to Algonquin in Canada. It was a fantastic time of canoeing, portaging, camping and talking. A memory maker of gargantuan proportions.
Recently another opportunity came up to return there. I looked forward to it for months and tacked it onto the end of the trip to Canada last weekend. I went in on Sunday with high expectations and left on Tuesday with my tail between my legs. What happened is immaterial. The point of this blog is to explore some facets of dealing with disappointment.
In absolute terms, it was just a vacation that took a weird twist. Not a big deal. Just about all of us have one or two of those in a lifetime. In the immediate, though, it was a huge disappointment. I was looking forward to engaging with nature, to being on the water in a canoe, to listening to birdsong in the morning instead of freeway snarl and to having large blocks of time to meditate on sundry delectable mysteries currently on my theological and fractal plates.
None of that happened, and I came back a bit battered in spirit, soul and body.
Now, all of that went down against the backdrop of the audio clip I sent out recently about the shadow of death and the insularity that this entity/place causes. I admitted that I had a lifestyle of processing all my pain in private, and I made the airy promise to look into the possibility of learning how to process pain in community.
Well the airy promise has become a gritty reality. I am going to experiment with using the playing field of the truncated vacation to see if I can make any progress in this supposed virtue.
I have long known that in the continuum of private healing vs. healing in community, Megan and I were on opposite extremes. So, I went to her and asked first of all for the benefits. She has had situations where she needed to process pain alone with God, and she certainly can do that, but she prefers to do it in small, trusted community.
Since she has high experience in both, I asked what the benefit was of healing in community. She highlighted four points.
- Sometimes other people are smarter than you and have wisdom you need.
- Sometimes talking through a problem out loud to another silent person, causes you to see things for yourself you had not seen before.
- You can draw strength from someone else who cares about your pain.
- Intimacy is increased when we share our pain and pleasure with those in our trusted community.
I nodded in agreement to most of it, but #3 caused me to bristle, so we had a plethora of words and word pictures crashing around the lunch table on Thursday as we tried to sort it out. For her, it is the most natural thing to receive strength from compassionate friends in a time of pain. For me, the picture was of an armed thug, standing in front of my door, not letting any compassion in when I was in pain.
I pondered that for a while and went back to an afterglow I participated in about 35 years ago. Rev. Gordon MacDonald was the speaker, and boy was he graced with a silver tongue and wisdom to boot. A handful of us gathered to process the message IN COMMUNITY afterwards. In a short time, one young lady shared how it had exposed a sore spot in her life. Immediately three other people began to coach her on how to deal with it.
Soon the wise lady leading the afterglow quietly said, “I believe Scripture instructs us to bear one another’s burdens, not analyze them.”
The shame and silence in the room were a testimony to that lady’s authority.
We as a tribe are problem solvers. Problem solvers analyze problems, find the cause and sometimes the solution and share their insights with others.
And, lamentably, we are often quite lacking in sensitivity as we deliver our supposed pearls of wisdom.
Megan sadly commented that the guard at my door has been getting bigger and stronger in recent years. I used to be able to receive her simple comment of “I care.” Lately it has seemed to her to just bounce.
And I realized that she is right.
I spent a lot of the afternoon on one of our blessed couches at work pondering that, since my body and soul are not up for work yet.
People can be very mean. And loving. Or stupid. Or wise.
We have a solid collection of all four classes in SLG, and they all have my e-mail address. This year has been the worst year ever for “really dumb.” Not mean, just . . . “Are you kidding me? You didn’t just write me that!!!!”
But we also have a goodly collection of over the top, faithful, loving, sacrificial, transparent, team playing people. So . . . why did I become so cynical, putting up a huge firewall to people’s caring, just because some people who knock on my door are mean? Or stupid? Or dumb?
It is early in the discussion, so I reserve the right to change my mind or clarify my position another dozen times or so, but here is my first impression.
-I think a good part of it is my fault. The amount of emotional energy we put in to savoring things makes a huge difference in the neurological makeup of our brain and the perceptions of our soul and spirit. I brush off the hurtful stuff fairly quickly (I think!), but I really don’t stop and savor the love. I give it a nod and keep on truckin’. I don’t deliberately allocate time at the end of the day or week to savor the love actions or love words of people.
I do that with God A LOT very intentionally, and – wouldn’t you know it – I trust Him A LOT – especially when things are tough. I can freely go running to Him when I am in high pain. I think there is a clear cause and effect. I have celebrated His trustworthiness in complex situations over and over and over again, and it has left a deep imprint on my spirit, soul and brain.
But I simply acknowledge the goodness of the good people, and don’t camp on it. I don’t use the tools I have in my hand to combat cynicism and deepen my trust and openness to the really good people God sends my way.
And this is something I can change immediately. Unfortunately, it will probably take a year or so of hard work before the thug at the door admits himself to a clinic for anorexia. Brains and souls are not instantly renewed.
-On the flip side, some of it is your fault. When you lead with analytics instead of your heart, you run the risk of leaving more wounds than you heal.
I poked and prodded the old files, looking for a “key” event that might be anchoring a whole lot of copycat events. I didn’t find one single event, but I found a zone – ministry to the spirit. A number of years ago I had a whole series of incidents where people wanted to “minister” to my spirit, but the ministry was more analytical, scolding and demeaning. I became so offended by it that I pulled back and today only let two people in the whole world minister to my spirit.
In addition to that, there are the soul things. I really absolutely despise the current breed of spiritual leader: carefully curated, manicured, Photoshopped brands built by a professional social media expert.
I am not neat. I am not clean. I am not orderly. I am not proper.
I am a mess on a journey and I work hard to be authentic. But my authenticity often results in some really cheap shots and degrading comments. Which the thug who guards the door feeds on.
So . . . . . . . . . . . this is a test. I am going to walk out this piece of my journey in a series of blogs, as it unfolds, being transparent, trying to heal in community, while every alarm inside is screaming at me: “THISISNOTGOINGTOWORKWEHAVEBEENDOWNTHISPATHBEFORE.”
It might help if you dialed up the sensitivity and dialed down the analysis and know-it-all comments that reduce my life to a Tweet.
Copyright August 2016 by Arthur Burk