“You will forget the shame of your youth.” Isaiah 54:4

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“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ― Mary Oliver

Everybody has issues. Everybody has boxrooms full of neglected junk, or closets full of skeletons, or simply bad memories that cluster at the edges of their dreams and point accusatory fingers. Everybody has a list of bad decisions, wrong moves, catastrophic mistakes…

So what do you do with all the mess in your life?

And when you start to think about all the contrary directions, all the false starts and dead ends, the “shame of your youth”-  it’s like taking the back off some electronic gadget and discovering that what you thought was a smooth, synchronised unity is really a jumble of impossible threads.

And do you cut the blue wire or the red?

There’s a time, a season, when you have to do so; when you need to cut free of all of it and let it go. Of course, nobody can go back and make a new beginning, but you can start once more and create a new ending.

Sometimes however, that’s easier said than done. No matter how much suffering you went through, you don’t want to let go of those memories.

Why is that? Because they formed you. If someone told me that I could live my life again free of depression provided I was willing to give up all the things -the gifts!- that depression brought, I would say it was a bad bargain.  All that grief and pain, all the hard sad and lonely times…. they are the very things that created the currency of my insight. They gave me a depth of awareness, an increased sensitivity, an awareness of human limitation, a tenderness of love, an understanding of true friendship, and a joyful appreciation of life.

The Bible calls them “treasures of darkness.” No one wants the darkness, but it has to be there so that you can see the stars. It’s a box of darkness, and that too is a gift.

But you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.

The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.

And I have to do it. I have to throw myself, by faith, into life.

And what happens? It hurts! “Pain is a pesky part of being human” (as someone said), and none of us are exempt. We all experience those lightening-strikes of sudden sharp pain in body, soul or spirit. But these too –even these!-  create the possibility of feeling sympathy for others, or beauty or tenderness or healing in its many forms. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor 1:3-4)

I don’t want to sound glib or simplistic about this.  Though we may not phrase it in this way, we have all faced the onslaught of an Evil One who comes to “steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10). And every war has its casualties. It grieves me that once people are broken in certain ways, it seems they can’t ever be fixed. It seems sometimes that the holes in your life are permanent, that you have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; and mould yourself through the gaps.

But I have come to believe in the redeeming power of the cross of Jesus, of the coming of one who fully embraced the worst of human abuse, manipulation and power-plays and yet demonstrated nothing but love and sacrificial forgiveness. He is the only one who understands all the pain and darkness completely and yet is not sullied by the stain of it.

And he loved and loves completely.

Because no human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one’s life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you can understand their heart, has some generosity somewhere there, that provides a slim opportunity for change.

I think most people are just trying to be happy, and that most of their actions, however misguided, are in line with that goal. Most people just want to feel they belong somewhere, want to be loved, and want to feel they’re important to someone. If you really examine all the wrongheaded and messed-up things they do, they can most often be traced back to that basic desire. The abusers, the addicted, the cruel and unpleasant, the manipulators  – these are just people who started this quest for happiness in the basement of their lives. Someone communicated to them through word or deed that they were undeserving, so they think they have to claw their way there over the backs of others, leaving scars and creating damage. Of course, they only create more misery for themselves and others.

But I want to find ways of giving them the chance that was given to me. By Jesus.

No one is bound or defined by their past. And the day may come when “You will forget the shame of your youth.”

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