Intellectually I know how little control I have over the outcome of many of life’s events. Especially when other people are involved. But I had an interaction recently that really brought it home. I had prepared for the conversation in advance in an attempt to maintain equanimity. My intentions for right action were clear.
I had lots of feelings afterward. Family dynamics, ego, mindsets, and who knows what else contributed to an unhappy aftermath. Unresolved childhood traumas were triggered. Outcomes for health and growth were limited by a lack of self-awareness and physical and emotional capacities. Our humanity was on full display.
At the end of that long day, I turned to my journal and focused on describing my feelings in an attempt to re-ground myself. I identified helplessness and the desire to do something to make things better. I recognized those from the last years with my parent’s dementia and physical and mental ill-health. I was sad that someone no longer wanted a relationship. I wrote lovingly to my fearful inner child. She desperately tried to make sense of nonsense when I was young. She really dislikes disorder. It scares her. I devoted my meditation of compassion to everyone involved, including myself.
But there was still an agitation in my spirit days later that I couldn’t shake. There was an emotion that was rattling around in my body that I hadn’t identified yet. As I was reading that week, two scriptures came together in a way that made sense of my feelings about my experience and helped me identify those feelings as discouragement and grief.
Discouragement resonated with me from the first reading. In Isaiah 6, God asks for someone to take a message to the people. Isaiah answers the call. Both Richard Rohr and Howard Thurman are quoted describing the significance of being willing to answer God’s call as Isaiah did. (Read the entire reflection here on cac.org.) The next part of the conversation between God and Isaiah is described:
“[Yahweh] said, “Tell the people to listen, but they aren’t going to listen. You will break your heart; you will turn your mind inside out; you will pour upon their indifference the priceless ingredients of your spirit: the only thing that I can offer you,” says Yahweh, “is a deep, profound, ever-circling frustration. That’s all. Tell them that they are going to be destroyed, every town burned up, all the people taken into captivity … ” and on and on and on [God] spells out this doom.”
Wow, God is asking Isaiah to do what is asked of him even though there is a huge potential that no one will listen, nothing will change, and the situation may even get worse! God sounds a little discouraged at that possibility. That sounded like the discouragement I was feeling over this recent conversation. I had tried to tell the truth, even tried to do it lovingly. At the moment, it felt like nothing good could possibly come from it. God has feelings too.
Later that week, I read the passage in Luke 15 where Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. I’ve always thought of God as the parent in this story but mostly focused on the sons and the ways I have acted like one or the other of the boys depending on the moment. But the parent’s actions (or actions they didn’t take) were what caught my eye this time.
“There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
I started to think about what a parent would be thinking as they heard this request from their child. I know what I would be thinking, “This is a terrible idea. They are just going to waste it and boomerang back home and expect me to take them in.” I can hear my friends telling me, “You need to say no and make that child stand on their own two feet. You’ve worked hard for what you’ve got. They should too.”
“So the father divided the property between them.“
The parent refrained from crossing boundaries. With no yelling or shaming. No talking at and over or telling them the consequences they would face. Imagine the grief this parent felt as he divided the property between his children, foreseeing how wrong things would probably go but respecting the right of the son to make that request.
There was the other feeling I had. Grief over the pain for what remains to be worked out in the lives of each of us who said we loved each other. Grief that now the relationships felt broken. The grief of not knowing if it would ever be mended.
But that isn’t the end of Isaiah’s or the prodigal’s stories.
God doesn’t give up. There’s still hope. At the end of Isaiah 6, God describes the consequences of not responding but still holds out hope for new growth.
“The country will look like pine, and oak forest with every tree cut down—Every tree a stump, a huge field of stumps. But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.”
And, you probably know the outcome of Jesus’ story of the prodigal – a loving welcome with great joy.
What lovely pictures of how God interacts with us. God loves us so much that God lets us make our own choices, knowing how it will probably end. God grieves our pain as we go through the consequences of those choices. God patiently holds the boundary and waits. Not avoiding or hiding because of fear the worst will happen. Not abandoning or recriminating when we chose to walk away. God stands beside us, grieving and loving through it all. Waiting to love and assist (perhaps with some healthy boundaries?) when asked. Knowing reconciliation may never happen but loving anyway.
It’s our turn. To recognize and return God’s faithful love. To follow God’s example and call to love ourselves and our neighbors.
Where do you feel God calling you to identify your feelings and continue to love and hope? May God’s love and example console and sustain us on the journey.
It’s been a while since I posted anything here. During this past summer and Fall, I created a four-week contemplative course on becoming an anti-racist for women. If you’re interested in knowing more about this, contact me. I also enjoyed collaborating with Dr. Marcia Riggs on a workbook for those learning about Religious Ethical Mediation. I should be back on track now, and you can expect a post every couple of weeks sharing some of what God’s been working on within me.