Living our brokenness under the curse means that we experience our pain as a confirmation of our negative feelings about ourselves. It is like saying, "I always suspected that I was useless or worthless, and now I am sure of it because of what is happening to me." There is always something in us searching for an explanation for what takes place in our lives and, if we have already yielded to the temptation to self-reflection, then every form of misfortune only deepens it. [...] It is so arduous to live without an answer to this "Why?" that we are easily seduced into connecting the events over which we have no control with our conscious or unconscious evaluation. When we have cursed ourselves or have allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse. Before we fully realize it, we have already said to ourselves: "You see, I always thought I was no good.... Now I know for sure. The facts of life prove it."Nouwen goes on to talk about placing our brokenness under the blessing, and I felt like he was arguing redemptive suffering, which I was uncomfortable with. Sean's interpretation (as a way to not have it have that problematic "suffering is redemptive" message) was: in the process there is suffering and there is redemption; also, God loves us in all of us, not just the "good."
Sean referenced (from memory) Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" -- "You do not have to be good..." and also the part about how you don't have have to walk on your knees for miles -- both the idea that we are beloved even in our not-so-fine moments (SCBC's signboard a few weeks ago said, "God loves you when no one else will" -- I felt it should have said "even when...") and also that we don't have to do that hairshirt thing.
As I was walking home last Thursday, I was thinking about people I love being SO BROKEN, and feeling struck by how this didn't threaten my belief in God at all. (Mental illness is in tension with my belief in God because people are broken, but not broken by anything, so there's nothing to blame but how can the God I affirm allow this to happen? The one time I remember REALLY being emotionally rocked by it was about two and a half years ago when I found out that a beloved's beloved had been diagnosed with an eating disorder.)
I went to bed around 11 last night. L. called around 11:30, apologizing for calling so late, but feeling really panicked and anxious re: something she didn't feel comfortable calling any of her West Coast people about. I asked if she wanted me to come over. She said something about not wanting to keep me up late, and I didn't explain that what I had had meant was that I would come over and sleep in her apartment/bed so she wouldn't be alone. She said her apartment's a disaster anyway and so she wouldn't want anyone to come over (and I have learned when not to argue with people about that, when to just respect their personal comfort level). So I asked if she wanted to come over to my apartment. So she had some food (she had fallen asleep watching tv, and that always crashes her blood sugar, which she knew was contributing to her panic and anxiety when she woke up) and then drove over and stayed on our couch for about an hour.
I didn't say much except repeating that yes it was a scary situation and no she wasn't stupid to be so freaked out and that her waking me up and coming over were fine. And I was able to recognize that I didn't need to say anything besides that, didn't need to have the perfect words to enable her to let go of her anxiety, that just listening to her was enough. (Well, and I sat near her and rubbed her back when we were sitting next to each other and rubbed her knee when we were cross-legged facing each other.)
As I am forever quoting...
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came,
It's been a particularly dominant theme recently that people I love reach out to me first when they're in crisis. No matter what I do or fail to do in my "real job" (either now or any job I have in the future), this is reason enough for my being on this earth.
In looking up the poem to make sure I quoted it exactly, I was struck by this bit:
Like a doctor I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
This morning I happened upon a Magpie Girl blog post, Quiten Down: How to Shut Up your Gremlins. Excerpt:
“Gremlin” is the term coined in Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. It’s a way of describing the little voices in your head that tell you untrue things. This American Life did a great piece on Gremlins called The Devil In Me. In the second act Nancy Updike asks people what the little voice inside their heads is telling them. The answers are at turns tragic, stunning, and most of all, utterly familiar. Go ahead and have a listen. We’ll wait…
Are you back? Did you hear your own Gremlins in there? I know I did.
When my life coach, Jena Strong, first suggested that I started working with my Gremlins, I wanted to throw the book at her head. I couldn’t pin my Gremlins down long enough to find out if they had girl parts or boy parts; I couldn’t read their name tags; and doggonit, they were LEGION! My Gremlins? They were very, VERY noisy.
Then Jen suggested that I take all the voices in my head and make hash marks. In any given day how many times did my Gremlins say something nice to me, and how many times did they say something negative? I tried this. After 48 hours I did not have one single hash mark in the positive column. The negative column on the other hand was quite lively.
Jen said that since my Gremlins were so very busy, maybe I should build them somewhere to go after work. After all, they did have my best intentions at heart. They were trying to protect me – to keep me from doing anything scary, or potentially painful, or too awfully adventuresome. So maybe I should give them a nice shag carpet and, in the words of Jena “sit them down and pour them a stiff drink already.”
So I did. I made them a crash pad in the charming urban-decay style. Wall paper, gilt mirrors, and battery operated twinkly lights…I spared no expense. As I worked on this mansion for the little demons, my un-namable Gremlins began to take dimension and shape. They became less ethereal, and more manageable. Soon the legion was happily ensconced in a pretty little Gremlin dollhouse.
Now that I was a full five feet taller than they were, I felt empowered. I could totally kick their butts. Like Jen says, if they misbehave I could just send them to paperdoll Gitmo.
I rapidly discovered I was not at all pleased that Gremlin Blythe had allowed the other Gremlins to propagate, so I made her put everybody on a neat little leash. The next step was to let the Gremlins take ownership of their own messages, so they didn’t rattle around in my busy little mind. I’ve always adored those little slips of paper that come in fortune cookies, so I cut a whole stack of them and put them next to a tin in the Gremlin dollhouse. Here are just some of the messages that filled that tin up in the first few hours:
“Where you are is not good enough.”
“You never get enough done.”
“Your passions aren’t strong enough.”
“You can’t climb out of this confusion.”
“You never finish anything.”
Now, keep in mind that I have been writing, reading, and carrying around affirmations to counter these messages for weeks. But something about writing them down in their negative, shitty versions was totally empowering. Now they belonged not to me, but to this third person – the Gremlins. They weren’t mine to have and to hold, and they weren’t mine to carry. Now Blythe and her crew could tuck them away on their bookshelf and keep them dusted and alphabetized. Not. My. Problem.
I cannot tell you strongly enough how much of a breakthrough this has been for me. My noisy Gremlins are much quieter these days, and when they do start getting chatty I act like a staff writer from the Evening Post—I just make the report. The quote gets shorthaneded onto a slip of paper and tucked into their dollhouse. End of story.