To the one living in the shadows

Some days I manage to remember that it is society which tells us we must exist in the light, not life itself. It speaks to us of always being happy and positive, only sharing the good, hiding away the heaviness of sorrow and depression. Our society tells us we are more valuable, more worthwhile, healthier even, if we are light and happy.

I got the message at an early age, being told to stop frowning, to smile more, to lighten up. No one bothered to ask me why I was frowning, why I felt things so deeply. I don’t know if I knew myself. But the message was clear: constant frowning is, well, frowned upon, being down draws others down too. I was a serious child. I am often a serious adult. But I no longer think I am ‘less than’ for it. Rather, my time in the dark has become a strength.

Humans insisted for decades that life can only survive in the temperate zone, that if things become too extreme, nothing can survive. But we were wrong. We’ve found life below the level of ocean where light is just a dream and pressure is too much for our bodies and our fragile inventions. We’ve found life existing in toxic waste, in burning hot liquid rock. We call them extremophiles, but they exist, they live, they survive, they thrive. And they’re not fighting to get out of their situation into “more temperate” places. No, they stay in the dark, in the pressure, in the heat. We’ve created a narrow band and said humanity can only survive and thrive within it.

But we were wrong.

I can live here in the darkness, I can breathe it in, I don’t need to fight to be somewhere else. It is the struggle which causes suffering, not the existence among the shadows. After all, is not God here too? This deep shadow is as familiar to God as the brightest joy and glory. The Divine knows the anguish of despair, the darkness of disconnection.

Why am I so afraid to discover that I have the strength to stand in this place too? We have been taught that the darkness comes with a pressure too strong to withstand, too much to survive in for long. As if it to live in the shadows is to live squashed between Ranginui and Papatūānuku, with no space to stand upright, no strength to hold my own.

But they taught us wrong.

There is power in the darkness, strength beyond their imagination, because they refused to see, they refused to stay. They didn’t like it so they slammed the door and barred anyone else form entering in.

But what of those of us formed here, birthed into pain and dark? They cannot shut the door to us, they can only refuse to see that we exist. Because if they saw, we would threaten their understanding of their own existence. We would threaten their belief that they got it right, we would challenge their adamant cry that the darkness is useless pain, a place only fools would turn into and, even then, only because they didn’t know better.

But they were wrong, because here we stand.

And we are stronger because we learned to stand while bearing such pressure, while using senses other than easy sight. Their privilege has been undermined simply by our existence. And we will not go away. You will hear us roar. And if we ever step into the light, we will be so strong that we will soar. And we will shake the foundations of the world with our flourishing, the way of life which we were told couldn’t be done.

So, if you are new to the dark, if you feel small and afraid, know this: you are not alone, and if you are not already squashed flat, then you are already strong.

 

~//\\~

 

It’s hard to accept this darkness some days. It is hard because society has brainwashed us into thinking it is wrong and abhorrent. Soon I start chastising myself for not being enough, for not managing to cope with living in the light. I start cutting myself down, speaking critical words over myself, breaking trust, destroying kindness.

But what better place to practice nonviolence, nonharm, than on myself – to myself? Loving kindness in all things, not just towards others. We can’t both love ourselves and force ourselves into the light. To force oneself into the light, or to be forced by others or society, is to leave part of you behind. It perpetuates the damage. It does not allow for healing and wholeness.

If you are finding yourself in the shadows, take your time, attend to your wounds, move yourself towards wholeness. True wholeness does not come from denying the shadows their place. True wholeness gives space for the depths to belong, as well as the heights. True wholeness is a seeking out, and allowing to flourish, the whole of yourself, even when it runs counter to “the way things are done”.

Do not be afraid to find beauty in your darkness, even if others don’t have the eyes to see. Perhaps they are just too used to dwelling in the light. Treasure it for yourself. Trust the process the darkness brings. It might seem to get darker before it gets lighter; you might need to go deeper before you can rest, floating, at the surface. But that’s okay.

Keep your eyes on wholeness, whether that is found in the light or the dark. It is better for you, it is better for the people around you, it is better for this world, that you find your way to wholeness and live as your full self, than that you live fractured in the light.

Take your time. Welcome what comes. Others walk this darkness too, even though they remain almost invisible to a world addicted to light, shunning and scorning the dark.

And remember, God is in this place too, you will not be abandoned here. Trust, too, that this darkness has your best in mind, and allow it to cradle you and bear you up.

Photo: To the one living in the shadows: don't rush away, you can find wholeness here.

Original photo by Matthew Smith.

So, don’t hurry out of the dark, my love, there is no rush, or even any real need. If you want to go, then take it slowly, build your strength, take the steps which lead you towards wholeness. And if you don’t want to go, then know the darkness will nurture you, and that you are not here alone.

 


twitter-greyEasy tweetables for you to share:

I can live here in the darkness, I don’t need to fight to be somewhere else. After all, is not God here too? (click to tweet)

We can’t both love ourselves and force ourselves into the light. It perpetuates the damage. (click to tweet)

Keep your eyes on wholeness, whether that is found in the light or the dark. (click to tweet)

Take your time. Welcome what comes. Others walk this darkness too. (click to tweet)

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A prayer, amidst politics and debate

Lord, I come before you, arms empty, heart weary. I am so tired of all the contentions around me, in politics, in church (is that politics too?). I long for Your fullness of Life, but I feel incapable of holding even a small part of it, let alone sustain any of it.

But it’s not up to me, is it? It is Your power which sustains, not my own. And so here, in my broken emptiness, perhaps here I am best placed to know Your fullness. Paul writes of relishing in his weaknesses, because it is there that Your strength can be most fully seen. But I don’t feel like I even have enough oomph to hold on for the ride. I am an empty husk today, hollowed out and stripped down to bare bones.

And yes, You have the power to make the dry bones come alive, but You don’t, at least most of the time, much more often than You do. So why should I expect it for me? There is no point pinning my hopes there. Only in You.

I will continue to rest in You, though that doesn’t always seem like peace. I will use the last of my strength to cling to You. I have so little of it to spend on hope right now.

Peace, peace, I just want peace. An end to suffering, to contention.

Your message is one of Love and freedom, yet Your church manages to tie itself in knots over it, to tie each other in knots, holding them fast instead of helping each other to flourish. Where is Your hand in this? Where is the unity which is promised in Christ?

I don’t have the strength to wrestle it into being. But then that would defeat the point. This isn’t a unity and peace which comes through strength and power. You have turned that all upside down in Christ. They come through submission and surrender. They come through bended knee and servant hands.

Help us to see. Help us to serve. Help us to lay our selves and our priorities down. Our culture of self-reliance and self-determination needs Your interruption just as much as the Jews under Roman occupation did.

Our sustenance, our continued existence relies on each other. Why is it so hard to see? Teach me this way of leadership through servanthood. Teach me Your way of surrender. There is suffering in the fight, but I don’t have the strength or the will to continue. So teach me Your ways.

I don’t need hope. I don’t need peace. As long as I have You. You are hope and peace to me. There is nowhere else to turn.

Help me to surrender even more deeply. Help me offer up these dry bones, this empty shell.

Photo: Teach me Your ways. Help me to surrender even more deeply. Help me to offer up these dry bones, this empty shell.

Original photo by Craig Strahorn.

 

It seems easy, simple, when it is just between You and me, God, but help me to do it in my community and church as well. Help me to follow Your lead of service and surrender, even amidst contention and wrestling, amidst the politics and the posturing, even when, especially when I want to cling to my own power and voice. May it be Your word which comes through me.

Help us to follow Your ways into Life. Help us to surrender into Christ’s death, that we might also live His resurrection.

Amen, and amen.

Allowing grief

The budding trees, the warming weather, the scent of the earth, all are chanting to me that spring is coming, spring is coming, spring is coming. It’s held back by the finest of threads, wanting to burst forth into new life. But as the world leans forward into spring, part of me holds back, borne high on the floodwaters of winter’s grief.

We cannot grasp the new until our hand are empty of the old. Yesterday must be tied off before tomorrow can be fully embraced. But our culture clamors for the new, the different, the interruption to the tedium of daily repetition.

What do we lose, through this ignoring of life’s natural rhythms? What soft gradations of grey do we miss out on, when everything is reduced to sharp black and white angles?

I sit, quiet and still, in the empty husk of a day turned cool with dusk, looking backwards when our society demands we only look ever forwards. I watch the grey steal over all the scattered delights of today, observe as they fade into the murk of unmemory, becoming one with yesterday.

How often do we allow ourselves time to stop and look back, time to grieve what was and what could have been? It won’t come back. These opportunities won’t come again. Yesterday is always lost to us. Tomorrow is too late.

 

I feel awash with grief, bound and heavily soaked in tears. I suppose I’ve lamented; it’s taken me a long time to let go of past futures, but I still bear grief. Unworked-with grief can easily flip into rage, contempt, cynicism, depression. Sadness, grief, depression, anger, all tangled together. And yet I’ve never really grieved. I’ve slipped into states of depression and suicidality. But I still bear the grief.

 

Maybe I’ve been trying to do this all wrong. Maybe withdrawing from my grief wasn’t the right move, despite what society tries to tell us (just hurry up and move on). Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt drawn to Good Friday services – they bring us together in grief, leave us broken and unfulfilled with the death of our Saviour with no resurrection in sight.

I already grieve for how my daughters’ and their cousins’ futures will be blunted by life. I grieve, for others and myself, for potential left unfulfilled. I grieve for dreams and hopes left wanting. I grieve for the lack of support which prevents them from happening, the lack of cheering-on which leaves them swallowed down whole before they have the chance to spill forth into life.

Life around me is pushing forth, blossoms opening into bright colour where only weeks ago I saw only bare wood. And yet I grieve. For the branches trimmed away and the blossom which will never be. I grieve for the brokenness of our systems, as they leave people hurting and unhelped, as they make situations worse and not better, as they divide when there should be togetherness.

Perhaps I was right to think of myself as full of darkness, but it is only a reflection of the world around me. And someone must bear this grief. Someone must lift their hands to the sky and ask God to bring change, to just hurry up and bring Your kingdom. Isn’t that what You want, God? Don’t You want this world transformed? How can we rise up and bring it when we are burdened down by this grief?

 

I’ve realized lately how much grief I am bearing, reaching back to my earliest memories. Of course, I’ve been aware of grieving for my lost physical abilities and the lost futures which went with them, and I’ve known of the grief of loss due to my depressions. And I’ve had a growing sense of bearing grief for the state of the world and for the broken people around me and further afield. But there is so much grief there inside me, so much which I wasn’t allowed to show or speak of. “It’s just the way things are. Deal with it. Get over it.” But I want to see change. I want to give hope. But, oh, so much grief.

 

There is anger mixed in with my grief, anger at the people who had the power to change things for the better, power to do and be better, power not to break the three-year-old me, power to teach me to trust my own body and my own knowledge first and foremost, power to not set things in motion which I’m still trying to untangle thirty years later.

But anger makes me tired, wears me out. I can’t sustain it, and relationships can’t bear up under it. So, I dig down below the fiery sprigs of anger, and find the roots of grief.

Photo: I dig down below the fiery sprigs of anger, and find the roots of grief. Help us to hold space for our grief. Help us to see that You, God, grieve too.

Original photo by Annie Spratt.

 

~ / / ~

 

I’m grieving for the girl I once was,

the one who delighted in her body and the world,

the one who took joy in being her own beautiful self,

the one whose trust she had in her body and her inner knowing was undermined,

the one whose trust she had in herself was broken and who was disconnected from the knowledge of her own worth and value.

I’m grieving for the little girl I was and the woman she was never allowed to become.

 

I’d like to think she would be seeking to help people find wholeness and abundance of life, but not from her own brokenness, from her delight and love for life, from her deep heart.

How can I breathe life into her again? How can I choose to live in ways which she would have chosen? Can I draw close to her and her heart enough that I can live for and with us both?

 

~ / / ~

 

In my daily affirmations, I claim to be strong, but I feel heavily burdened. I claim to be capable, but nothing is possible without You, God. I claim to be courageous, but only because I can trust You to hold me, only because I trust who You say I am. Yes, You delight in me, and You grieve with me. Help us to see that You grieve too.

I trust Your word, Lord. I trust who You say I am and what You say is possible. When You say there is reason to hope, I believe You. We grieve together, hand in hand, step by step. Together, a harmony of grief. We grieve for the difficulty of change, the difficulty of transformation into Your ways and Your goodness. We grieve that the fullness promised is still not yet, is ever forthcoming. I grieve that the choice towards wholeness and love is so difficult. And I grieve for the lack of support we feel to do it. I grieve that our community of believers is often more interested in tearing down, of seeming “right”, than just loving and supporting each other in Your name.

I grieve that my work is so needed. I grieve that God’s love is not widely known, that even those who claim to speak for and of God do not do so with His love. I grieve for the wasted lives, the wasted breaths, where there should be Life. I grieve for the hurting people waiting to hear of this love and life. I grieve that I do not do a better job of speaking it forth. I grieve that I, among others, prioritise my own safety and comfort over spreading Life and Love, as if the risk to myself isn’t worth it all. I grieve for the scarcity mindset which grips our culture, that in our selfishness we are preventing others from having what they need. And I grieve for the systems which concrete this in as normal, as legal, as desirable.

I grieve for the disconnection from bodies, from sensation and peace. I grieve for the separation from bodies and the anger we direct towards them, as if they are not part of our selves. I grieve for the imposition of external knowledge over inner wisdom, for the valuing of other over self. I grieve for the ways we have been taught to disregard our own knowledge because it, or the way we know it, doesn’t conform to the order of the world. I grieve for the rejection and distortion of emotions, and the ways we have been taught not to trust ourselves. I grieve for the ways we have made emotions unwelcome and unknown.

I grieve for the lack of awareness of ourselves and the deafness we have learned to have towards our effects on others. I grieve for the ways we have squashed ourselves and others, for telling ourselves and each other that we are too much and not enough. I grieve for the ways we have been prevented and are preventing ourselves from living in fullness and wholeness.

And I grieve for the ways we have denied God that which belongs to God, the ways we have tried to claim credit and glory for ourselves, and the ways we’ve refused to see God’s hands and Spirit at work. And I grieve for the ways we have thought we must bear this grief alone, without others, and the ways we have convinced ourselves that God doesn’t grieve too.

Photo: I grieve for the ways we have thought we must bear this grief alone, and the ways we have convinced ourselves that God doesn's grieve too.

Original photo by Mila Young.

 

What are you grieving for today?

How might you hold space for grief in your life, or other emotions which society tells us to hurry up and get rid of?

Feel free to share below in the comments. Perhaps I can witness that grief for you, and you will not feel so alone in it.

 


twitter-greyEasy tweetables for you to share:

Maybe withdrawing from my grief wasn’t the right move, despite what society tries to tell us. (click to tweet)

Someone must lift their hands and ask God to bring change, to just hurry up and bring His kingdom. (click to tweet)

I dig down below the fiery sprigs of anger, and find the roots of grief. (click to tweet)

I grieve for the ways we’ve thought we must bear this grief alone, and that God doesn’t grieve too. (click to tweet)

Making a life worth living

[Trigger warning: suicidality]

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day this coming Sunday, and I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot over the last few weeks. It could have been me. Many times over.

A year ago I was writing “remain” on my inner wrist to remind myself that I was choosing to stay, to remind myself to let that ‘remaining’ here shape my choices.

The first time I was suicidal I was thirteen. I’ve stayed another twenty years since then, and I plan to stay another twenty again, and then some. But it is a choice; over and over I have to choose to stay. My brain offers up suicide as a viable option when it can’t see any other way forward or through. I live with chronic pain and anxiety, and recurrent depression, so it happens often. And I have to remind my brain, again and again, that I don’t want that to be an option.

I have chosen to stay. I am choosing to stay.

I’m choosing to watch my daughters grow up. I’m choosing to be an example to them of what is possible, even when life seems set against you. I’m choosing to keep hoping and keep moving.

It is not easy. Some days it feels so damn hard. But I made this choice when I was in my right mind and could see all my cards on the table, and I’m not going to break this commitment with myself to stay. I’m not going to break this commitment with my husband to do life with him. I’m not going to break this commitment to my daughters to be there.

This means so much to that I gave my oldest daughter the middle name Hope. I wanted her to never be without hope, even if it was just in her name. Even if the whole world seemed to forsake her, she would have this message from me: there is reason to hope.

And so now I need my life to reflect that too. And so I persist. And I choose to stay. And I choose to keep hoping.

Photo: Suicide: it could have been me. But I am worth the best life I can create for myself.

Original photo by Remson Pellisserry.

Part of my commitment to staying alive is making this life livable, desirable. I’m choosing to be proactive about my mental state and well-being. Sometimes it seems like I need so much more care and consideration around this, around me, so much more than others seem to need. But my well-being is worth it.

I believe I have a contribution to make in this world, and I can only do that well when I take make the time and effort to take care of myself really well. I’ve always hated needing “special treatment” or having a fuss made over me, but I need to do it for myself. If that means “indulging” in early bedtimes or “special” foods (not treat foods, but looking after my dietary needs of reduced dairy, gluten, and sugar), then I need to be the one looking after myself by doing them.

Some days it’s easier than others. Some days to help myself do it, I think of it as looking after my daughters’ mother, or giving my inner child what she needed/s. But when I do, and when I am feeling better because of going to that extra effort, I remind myself that it is worth it, I remind myself that I am worth it. And I can see more ways that life is worth living.

It’s not just a matter of being gentle with myself, though that was a good place to start, and a good place to learn about what I actually did need. It’s also allowing myself to need these special considerations, not because I am needy or difficult, but because I am worth the best life I can create for myself. And when I do that, I can give the best of me to others as well.

Did you know that you are worth taking special care of too?

I recently started being more deliberate about meditating consistently, knowing that it is better for both my mental state and my pain levels. I started with five minutes. What’s one small change you could start making today?

 


twitter-greyEasy tweetables for you to share:

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day this coming Sunday. It could have been me. Many times over. (click to tweet)

I am worth the best life I can create for myself. So are you. (click to tweet)

You are worth taking special care of. What’s one small change you could start making today? (click to tweet)