On being broken

8 02 2009

In the journey through our daily lives, we are all faced with an ever-present reality, and this is that of our own brokenness, our limitedness, our inability to be whole. This is made especially apparent when we are directly confronted with that aspect of our present state that has been the case since the fall of our first parents. And that reality is suffering.

We are each presented with particular sufferings and each face them as unique individuals who approach our sufferings in a particular way. But, despite each of our unique ways of dealing with suffering, I think, in the end, each of us (in every occasion of suffering) make one of two basic choices in dealing with suffering and our own brokenness. Hanging from early Christian tradition, we can call these two basic decisions “the path of light” and “the path of darkness.”

For example, say that one’s life is overshadowed by the anxiety and the preoccupation with a decision that has to be made. This fear pervades seemingly every moment of everyday, and brings with it the thrashing of violent surges of emotions that, in the end, paralyze the person from being their self. Because of the constancy and the intensity of the fear that is experienced, the person is, in effect, isolated from the rest of the world, that is, by allowing the fear to garner so much control over them, they are cutting themselves off from reality, and (unknowingly) allowing the fear to control them. At its worst, the fear becomes a sort of god that the person bows down before in every instance, often being driven into inaction (despondency, disconnectedness) because of the constant preoccupation with the fear (and really, a fear of the fear itself, i.e., an inactivity, indecisiveness, and even insecurity, which is borne out because of fear of arousing the fear: “can’t think that because the fear will come back,” “can’t do this because it’ll arouse the fear.”). These things I would liken to the worshiping of the god. Consequently, this way, this response to dealing with a form of suffering is the path of darkness, which, if not overcome, leads us to death (or in a sense, directly to death, as it quite literally kills the life inside of us). This way of “darkness,” chosen by us (though the “choice” is less apparent/explicit when this is our normal habit of acting) appears to be in direct opposition to the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel (10:10): “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

But why, when we have the option to do otherwise, would we ever choose the path of darkness? Once we realize that there is another option, why would we choose to be miserable, to be disconnected, to be self-centered? Why would we will our own unhappiness? Why would we choose to remain in the dark? It seems that in normal circumstances of everyday life, when we are presented with a choice that would increase our happiness versus one that would increase our sadness, we would unanimously say that we want to choose the thing that would make us happy, that would bring us to a greater appreciation of life. If this is true in everyday practical situations, then why wouldn’t we do the same for the spiritual and psychological realities of our lives? Are these realities impenetrable?

I have been listening to a lot of music which further illustrates the above points. Take, for example, Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right,” Seether and Amy Lee’s “Broken,” and many of Staind’s songs. While I very much appreciate the honesty and the integrity with which these groups convey their (seemingly terrible) pain, I can’t seem to escape the fact that when the song is over, they’re stuck with the pain, the hurt, and the anger with nothing to draw them out of it. I have to admit the music itself is a definite start in the right direction, but, once the articulation and/or venting and processing is over, there’s not often a “light at the end of the tunnel,” that is, a reason for not re-entering another painful event in the same way. And so, without a greater hope than that which we are able to humanly deal with (by reflection, etc.), we are destined for repeating the same actions in the same way; there is nothing that pulls us out of (or away from) ourselves and to something which is greater than ourselves.

So, what are we to do with our suffering? If remaining simply on the human (or merely the emotional) level isn’t sufficient for truly allowing us to “have life in abundance” –  even when we are suffering in some way – then what is the other option? What is the “path of light”?

Going back to the particular situation, we need to remember that we are presented with a choice. On the one hand, I can wallow in my misery, allowing it to kill the spark of life in me, or I can take the other option which is not possible without the gift of God’s grace. The “path of light” is a trust and a hope in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have to remember that regardless of the circumstances which surround us, no matter how deep is the suffering, how sharp is the pain, no matter how much we don’t want to turn to Him, or how much we feel as if He has abandoned us, He is indeed walking with us in our suffering, He is leading us through our suffering, and if we will allow Him, He will bring us to life through our suffering. This is the hope which enlightens all of the darkest places that we each encounter, for through His death and resurrection, God killed the “dark.” It is done and all that we have to do is to realize this in our daily lives and live them in accordance with this hope. Death has died, and I now have the option to walk in the light that was given to me, or to remain in the darkness that is destroyed, which is, in the light of Christ, irrelevant.

Now, this is by no means to say that suffering will no longer hurt. Suffering hurts, period. And when we experience it, the first thing that we are inclined to do is to avoid it, to become or remain “happy” in a false sense. Or, as illustrated earlier, it could be allowed to be so overwhelming that it becomes godlike for us. But, in these experiences of suffering we are able to recognize our oneness with God; it stresses the meaning of a “personal relationship” and we come to realize God’s loving presence with us through our suffering. Indeed, we become aware of the suffering of God with us, through our suffering. We cannot think that God is not affected by our suffering. If that were the case, then what was the point of the Cross? If God was indifferent to our suffering, why did He waste His time coming down to earth, to live a fully human life, to suffer, to die, and to rise? For people He doesn’t care about? God showed us His intimate closeness with us in our suffering through His actions in this life, especially in obedience to a command from His Father that terrified Him: to be mocked, spit on, slapped, scourged, humiliated, crucified, and suffocated until He died. And He did this for us – not just some abstract “humanity” but for you and I: for each of us, as individuals who are specifically loved by God.

What is necessary for us to walk the “path of light”? We have to recognize that the Cross was not the end for Christ. He had the final word in His resurrection from the dead. Through our trust in this life-giving action of God, we are able to live in the light, as “children of the light,” because the path has been illumined by His resurrection. The crucifixion happened, no doubt, and there would have been no resurrection without it, but the fact remains that Christ destroyed death and restored life to us. He doesn’t want us to turn in on ourselves with our experience of suffering, rather He wants us to be freed from the power which death and darkness had over us before He destroyed it. If He wanted us to remain where we already were, there would have been no resurrection (indeed, no Christ) and there would be no reason to believe in the Messiah Whom God the Father sent to be the spotless Lamb slain on our behalf. He died that we “may have life, and have it abundantly.” He did not come so that we may remain in the grip of death and be paralyzed by despair. His whole life as witnessed in the Gospels testifies to this reality. He came to free people from all forms of slavery: from sins, hypocrisy, demons, illnesses, and fear, and in this newfound freedom to freely choose Him, to freely choose life over death, light over darkness.

But, many of us have previously heard these things (possibly many times); so what is it that prevents us from embracing this freedom which has been given to us through the person of Jesus Christ?

I honestly believe that one of the greatest barriers to having “the freedom of the sons of God” is simply a matter of habit. I think that we too easily forget that we are, in fact, creatures of habit, and too often suppose that “one day I’ll get better” or “one day I’ll be better,” as if this were going to magically happen just by thinking it, with no real effort, no real commitment involved. But, following from the teaching of the Church and, recently, of John Paul II, it is our actions that define us and not our words nor our wishful thinking. It is what we do with what we have that matters – not what we think about our situation in life.

But, it seems, because the issue of habit is so easily forgotten or otherwise looked over, I think that it’s necessary to turn the habit of choosing the path of darkness into the habit of choosing the path of light. How this will be implemented in our daily lives can be as unique as each of us are. When we are feeling down, disconnected, overwhelmed, paralyzed, it’s of utmost importance to first recognize that God knows this and wants to free us and wants us to live in His light and to be wrapped in His love. Then, we can make an act of faith: as often as it occurs (and even when it doesn’t) call on His name, invite the Holy Spirit to come; be reminded of what God has already accomplished and what He wants to accomplish. The important thing to remember is that we have to be diligent, both in our awareness and in our practice of choosing to live life in God’s light. God will bless our virtuous attempts to arise from darkness through the grace which inspires us and enables us to take such a step towards Him. Gradually (this is a battle, after all), the grace-led struggle to choose light over darkness will become ingrained in us, part of us, and we will more naturally turn towards God, not only in our struggles, but also in the rest of our lives, because we are cooperating with Him: His grace is flourishing through our effort; He is working with us and we with Him. We are seeking to live the life of abundance which our Lord promised that we may have in Him, and because we actively seek, “we will find,” because we knock, “the door will be opened to us.”

And what is the door at which we knock? I think that it is the door which opens us to the ever present moment which God is always in: the moment of now. Rather than turning in on ourselves and falling into the black hole of navel-gazing darkness, becoming disconnected from the present moment: ourselves, others, work, leisure – whatever is in front of us – we are enveloped in the things that are most important, those things that are part of our day-to-day lives and, in a sense, we become one with them. We become transparent and “caught up” in existence, which brings us to God, for He alone is the source and master of those things which truly are, which truly exist. In other words, by choosing to live in the light, we are choosing to remain in the only place that we really are anyway (and everything else is): not in the scruples of the past, nor in the uncertainties of the future, but in the bliss of the present moment, where God is always found, pouring forth His light and His grace which sustains us in our faith, in our hope, and in our love.

It is only by choosing to remain in Him that we see our smallness, for the greatness of His light illumines the vastness of created things and the little place that we occupy in the midst of them. We are given a glimpse of humility, seeing and accepting things as they truly are, seeing things how God sees them. There is no doubt in my mind that sometimes this is with sorrow, but never without seeing it for what it is: a passing shadow in the midst of a grander picture, a picture which always shows forth the unsurpassable joy, love, and freedom which was won for (and is always available to) us by our loving God in and through Christ Jesus.

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