This is part of the March Synchroblog, multiple bloggers writing on the same subject. In the spirit of Lent, this month’s theme is “Experiences in the Wilderness.” Links to fellow synchrobloggers are at the end of this post.
I have a confession to make. I am one of those people that peeks at the end of a story to see how it’s going to turn out. I don’t go straight to the end before I start the book, but sometimes the tension just gets too much for me and I have to see that everything is going to be ok before I dive back into the conflict.
This does not serve me well in real life, because (shockingly) I never get to flip ahead to the end of my story to make sure things will work out. And being in the middle of the story is hard.
There are times when it is encouraging to look at someone else’s whole story, to see how dark their situation seemed and then to see the good that came out of the darkness. Sometimes that annoys me, though. Sometimes I would rather look at a snapshot of the hero at the height of the drama or the depth of their pain and confusion and feel the compassion, the “suffering with,” of someone else having been there, not knowing what would come next.
It is one thing to look at a hero and conclude that their perseverance in the face of hardship was worth it because their side won, or the situation worked out in the end. I can look at Madame Guyon, 17th-century Christian mystic, and take courage from her seven-year-long dark night of the soul, where she truly believed that she was going to hell and that God had abandoned her, because I know that that period of suffering ended with great spiritual strength. But can we take courage from those pictures of darkness even when we don’t know the outcome?
While having faith in a certain ending can encourage us, it can also do us harm in our dark nights. If we attach our hope, our reason for perseverance, to a specific outcome, we can miss the gifts of the process. The problem with these gifts is that they are kind of like getting underwear and socks in your Christmas stocking—you need them, but you don’t really want them, especially not as a present. And to be honest, the gifts of suffering are often even less appealing than those Christmas undies.
It is hard to separate the gifts of the suffering from the outcome of our dark seasons because during the night the seeds are planted, and during the following day, the seeds come up and blossom. The seeds transition seamlessly into plants. Once we start seeing the plants, we forget about what they felt like when they were just seeds. And when they are still seeds, we may be blind to them because we are too busy looking or hoping for fully-grown trees.
During the last few years, which have been a desert, wilderness, dark night—whatever you want to call it—for me, the future has been totally clouded. That has enabled me to be more fully in the present. Though I have no idea what will come out of this time, I have been hanging onto the joy of the seeds I see going into the soil.
One of these seeds is that I have been discovering my limits. This is not a fun gift. It has been really painful to lose illusions about my time, energy, influence, and power. But one of the first gifts of this time of burnout was learning that I have much more joy when I accept my smallness and respect my limits.
Another seed of change is feeling connection with people that I used to think were different than me. Unravelling who I thought I was has torn down walls that I thought existed between me and others. Again, ouch! It’s just a seed, because I know more of who I’m not anymore than who I am, and so I feel homeless, community-wise. I don’t feel that I fit anywhere yet, but at the same time I feel a more universal connection—that I share something in common with everyone, when I used to only feel connection with people like me.
I have made brave baby steps. I haven’t turned myself into a successful writer, but I have put my writing out on this blog and submitted some web-content articles. I still struggle with being vulnerable and open, but I have shared scary things with close friends and still been loved and accepted. Steve and I don’t know our direction in life yet, but we made the step of acting on what we did know and moving back to America. In these things, the gift of darkness is the status quo growing so uncomfortable that I become ready to move into a new stage of growth, even when the way ahead is cloudy (or pitch-black).
Even though this is not a complete story with a glorious wrapup, I hope that the middle of my story is encouraging to some of you. I would love to hear some of the things that are being planted in your lives in the midst of hard times.
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