It was cold and damp today...just the day for a nice, long soak in a nice, hot bath. I absolutely love my deep oval jacuzzi tub, complete with jets and all...for me, it's the perfect place to be alone, whether I am feeling joyful, or in need of a good cry. (Except when our well is low and then the tub just sits there empty...taunting me because I cannot fill it.)
So I filled the tub and hopped in, with my book, some chocolate and a cup of coffee (if it had been an evening bath, the beverage may very well have been wine instead!) As for the current choice of book, I'm nearing the end of Sue Monk Kidd's When The Heart Waits, and much of it resonates with me. The back cover has this description:
Blending her own experiences with an intimate grasp of spirituality, Sue Monk Kidd relates the passionate and moving tale of her spiritual crisis, when life seemed to have lost meaning and her longing for a hasty escape from the pain yielded to a discipline of "active waiting."
I can't say that my life has ever completely lost meaning as hers did, or that I have experienced the depths of personal pain she refers to (the book doesn't go into the reasons for her pain, it's more about her journey out of it and into wholeness.) But I have had some bleak periods of feeling lost, of feeling in need of "something" but unable to fathom what that might be, when pieces of my life felt meaningless. I too embarked on a mid-life spiritual journey, and so far have found much meaning and joy along the way. I suspect this journey is one without end, and will continue to take me in new and unexpected directions as long as I keep walking (or maybe that's just wishful thinking!)
As I soaked in the hot swirling water, I read a section in the book in which the author writes of the conflicting dualities within us, the tension between hope and despair, acceptance and rejection, community and solitude, forgiveness and revenge, and of the need to "enter these tensions, embracing and exploring the pain and ambiguity within rather than running from them, concealing them, or anesthetizing them." She writes of creative suffering, a healing process, as compared to what she calls neurotic suffering, a form of self pity to gain sympathy, control or security.
Two particular sentences caught me, I stopped and reread each one several times:
"Out of love we take up the tensions of our darkness voluntarily, for the sole purpose of emerging to a more genuine life in which God's image is enlivened within us."
"Creative suffering is the pain we encounter in confronting our lives honestly, expanding our vision, choosing a new way, owning our shadow and healing wounds."
Oh, those words make so much sense to me...at least at my own small, individual level.
I often feel simply thin-skinned or overly-sensitive for feeling emotional pain over seemingly meaningless comments or actions. But as I grow closer to God, I also grow closer to myself and I am better able to see the layers of old hurts in my heart that surface and cast large shadows over the tiniest little thing. I want to peel away these layers by facing new hurts head on, even when (or perhaps especially when) there seems to be little cause for feeling any pain. I journey inward, trying to search out these shadows that distort my reactions when some innocuous remark strikes a tiny chord of pain. Instead of pushing hurt feelings aside, with a mental "don't be so ridiculous", I look within to discover why I felt hurt in the first place...what is casting this particular shadow over my heart? And how can I illuminate the corner where it lurks so that it loses its power forever? So that it doesn't cause me to act in selfish ways, or close myself up, over and over again.
When I feel hurt but don't quite know why, I let the feeling roll around in my heart for a few days so that I can find its roots and keep it from regrowing and rearing its ugly head another day. Unfortunately, this process of searching for the root cause of tiny hurts can seem ridiculous to others. A while ago, a friend inadvertantly said something that hurt me, and I held onto it for a few days trying to understand where my hurt feelings where coming from. The next time I saw her, she sensed something was wrong and asked if I was ok...when I told her what I was feeling, she laughed and said "have you been stewing about that all week?" Her reaction stung. I didn't tell her though, my heart closed up for an instant...and when I saw her again, I still didn't say anything because I didn't want to be laughed at for stewing over something else! In reality, I have to confess that "stewing" is as good a term as any since I do, in fact, often let my feelings simmer away on the back burner until I can make sense of them...but the term feels like such a put down. When in fact this "stewing" over things is, for me, a healing process.
I was relieved to read Sue Monk Kidd's thoughts (and her quotations of Gibran, Rilke and others) about holding our tensions and staying with our sufferings for as long as it takes to burn them away. Not that I need external validation necessarily, but it's nice to know I am not the only one who takes a painstakingly internalized approach to resolving my inner pain!
The best part about my journey into the shadowy places of my heart is that God is there with me, giving me the strength to go deeper, to more fully understand my dark corners and light them all up. As light replaces shadow, I am able to open up and offer more of myself to others. And every time I offer something of myself in love, without holding back for fear of whatever, I am that much closer to wholeness. It is an amazing feeling, this spiralling upward toward wholeness. I wrap the words "We are not alone, we live in God's world" around me (yet again!) and sing Hallelujah!!! for the healing and strengthening, joyous, enlarging and illuminating presence of the Spirit in me!