Thursday morning, as I merged onto 235, the sky overwhelmed me. It was early, just light enough to see yet dark enough to see no sun. A giant, dark mass of clouds filled two-thirds of the sky, hovering menacingly over downtown, and the most striking thing about it was its resemblance to an open-mouthed beast. I did the dangerous thing that all enneagram fours would do and tried to capture a picture of it (not on the interstate, at stoplights…mostly). I could not get over the *presence* of this sky-scene. It was heavy with metaphor, and my face was wet with tears.
This monster wanted to engulf my city, myself, all of us. I am old enough to admit that dragons exist in all of our tales. I felt God calling at my heart to let myself cry as I drove, to be sad that darkness hovers over and throughout our stories. I was early to school, so I parked my car facing east; facing the beast. None of the photos I’d taken while driving (or stoplighting) were in focus, and the closer I got to school, the higher the sun rose and the more the cloud-monster disintegrated. But I was compelled to take a clearer picture and share something of my experience, which I did, unsure if anyone would “get” it.
Later that day, I felt myself wrestling in tension, making some mistakes, trying to make amends. I cried for different reasons, I practiced letting go. I was grateful for and reluctant towards my church’s practice of the Prayer of Examen as I realized both where I had not invited God into my day into the easier part of repentance into the hardest part of release. (I am so very, very unused to release).
Then this morning, church was again the place where truth and conviction hit me with equal force. Mercy was a theme, in the communion message, and again in the sermon when discussing the risks of relying on performance. I have God-given mercy for my students and my son, but for some adults there are times when I lash out. When my expectations are too high and too rigid. When conviction hits, my mind rushes to my own defense; these people have hurt me for years, have fallen short for years, enough is enough. When truth hits, I see how the whole point of mercy is the absence of the requirement for deserving it.
And then it goes even deeper to recognizing my own struggle to accept it. Oh how hard it is to believe that I am good or worthy. How hard it is for me to stand under the flowing oil of God’s mercy and accept the feel of it. Is it any wonder, then, that I stumble and fail so profoundly when trying to offer it to others?
I see the hope in this vulnerable admission, though. I see that in learning to accept mercy, I will learn to give it just as in learning to give it, I will learn to accept it. I see the rhythm and its gentle magic.
Two strong women have spoken in church these past few weeks about the metaphor of Hansel and Gretel in our spiritual walks, and I find myself sliding into their imagery as I process this new phase of learning. I have been working with my counselor on my anxiety, on my control issues born of my anxiety, and I have finally found practices that have become second nature and truly bring healing. I have felt like that was my dark forest and also just this week I have recognized an unfamiliar feeling as freedom from that crippling companion. I remember the moment where my heart became aware of this new thing; I was sitting in our old golden rocking chair next to Augustine in his high chair while he ate dinner. The lighting was low and he was beautifully happy and chatty. My heart felt a very real (and increasingly familiar) fullness, and my mind felt at peace. In that warm glow of our dining/living room, I felt immersed in a taste of wholeness, and I did not feel panicked that I was not worrying about something nor did I feel guilty. And in this awareness, I realized that this full feeling is replacing the worry compulsion. I realized that my intentional practices of gratitude in times of worry had indeed become the norm, not the need. I found this verse the next day that confirmed for me what this healing is and can continue to look like:
So while I so recently thought I was out of the dark forest, I am realizing there are more bends in my journey, right here, right now. As I learn to let go of anxiety, I must learn to go beyond gratitude to true and full acceptance of mercy so that I may offer the same in abundance. I don’t relish this thought, truthfully, although there is the measure of excitement that all learning opportunities hold for me. The image of the cloud at its darkest still shimmers in my mind, but I think it was no coincidence that the only in-focus image I captured was of the beast’s disappearance. This visual reminds me that while the rhythms of growth involve the pain of refinement, they are all in place to let light truly shine through.