I have spent the last couple of weeks raging. Nothing is turning out the way I planned. My super-reliable self-confidence has been failing me, and I wake up in the night, filled with dread and anxiety. What, exactly, do I think I am doing with my life?
A few days ago I walked into a conversation that I expected to be helpful and productive and I - the one who teaches forgiveness and conflict management and peaceful relationships - became so overwhelmed by my emotions that I devolved into a person who was utterly focused on forcing the other to see the error of their ways. I am sure you can imagine exactly how successful I turned out to be.
Far, far too many of my beloveds are facing serious illness, even death.
For several days I have awoken from dreams of shadowy, menacing figures, stalking me.
My response to all of this has been anger and bewilderment. Everywhere it seems that we are being told that we can make our own reality, that God never gives us more than we can handle, that winners never quit and quitters never win. Of course I was praying. And trying to look on the bright side. And looking for the lessons. But I was also feeling like sometimes these things seem like just another way to control things, to get them to turn out the way we would like, to conspire in our favor. Sometimes, they just don't. I was less than patient with God over having to accept this.
I will say that I did receive a gift anyway. I got to go away for a couple of days and listen to a holy man speak, and read poetry to me. I got to be reminded of the vastness and the unfathomable depth of real love, the love of God, and how it is larger even than my life, and my fear. I got to remember, in the words of a neighbor who is truly facing suffering, 'Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.'
And so I am back. One thing Bp. Porter Taylor did say when he was speaking to me (other people might have been there, I did not notice): God teaches us to use our 'non-dominant hand'. We don't learn how to receive and share the love of God through doing the things we are good at. We learn it through stumbling along in painful bursts, sometimes getting close, always feeling a little awkward. It's been a couple weeks of awkwardness for me, but it is helpful to think perhaps I am learning something about how much God loves me, despite my inability to make things turn out the way I like all the time.
Lent has a way of helping me underline my own shortcomings and reframe them in terms of circling back home. In fact, this Sunday in church we will read my all-time favorite parable, the Prodigal Son. The fantastic tale of how God rejoices even when we squander our gifts, even when we stand outside refusing joy when it's not on our terms. I am an expert at both these things, and I am so relieved every time I hear that the party of life goes on despite the ways I fail.
And even though I practice my faith every day, it is still humbling to remember how much I still have left to learn. How much the word 'repentance' is applicable to my life, and how little I use it. In the immortal words of St. Benedict, 'always we begin again'. Lent is almost over, and I am just getting started.