In the church of St. John the Divine in ManhattanKedar Photography
I'm so stubborn, y'all. Seriously. I'm especially stubborn, it turns out, when it comes to thinking I can keep doing what I'm doing and get a different result. I'm stubborn about not giving up on people, even when they hurt me. I'm stubborn about saying "yes, but" (or even, "yes, and...") when I should sometimes just say "no."
So why am I not stubborn about demanding boundaries on my time, my gifts of love or money or support? Why am I not stubborn about honoring my needs for self care? I think it's partly because I was raised not to be selfish, and this can sometimes feel selfish. But I think it's also the fact that, until very recently, I have never admitted in my heart of hearts that time is finite. We only get to spend each one of our minutes once. There is no compounding interest on time. Once a moment is gone, it's spent. That.Is.That.
This refusal to accept the limits of time lets me drift along, sometimes for years, without correcting behaviors or situations that need to be corrected. It's the reason I can gain a lot of weight before hearing big alarm bells. It's the reason I can spend years in a job that I've long outgrown. It's the reason that I can let unhealthy relationships and friendships go on for far too long without being corrected.
I've recently been thinking a lot about faith. I'm not a churchgoer. I left the Catholic church on a hot afternoon in 1983 after my parish priest felt it necessary to scold me for my mother's refusal to attend mass after her stroke. I've been unable to return to a church because so few are accepting of people in all their variations. I do not, as a result, think of myself as having a lot of faith. I've known faithfully religious people. I've admired them, envied them. I've categorized them into "the real deal" and "the kind who mostly just attend a lot of services." A very faith-filled friend recently told me that he thinks of me as one of the most faithful people he knows. "You," he said, "have more faith that the world is unfolding as it should, as you often say, than most of the pastors I've known."
And I do. Not because I feel that there is a divine hand guiding all things. No, I can't, and don't, believe that there is a divine hand guiding the things that we must face each day. I would be embittered if I believed that a divine hand dealt the losses in my life, at the times I faced them. I couldn't make sense of the world if I believed that. Instead, I believe we are making our way through a minefield of experiences and that all we really have is our free will, our connection to others, our kindness, and our grace. I can't imagine that the divine can be called down to football fields, or even to hospital beds. Not to change the realities of this corporeal world. No, I believe the divine is only available to us in the ways that we must deal with our fears and our losses, our joys, and our disappointments.
And I believe firmly that I can communicate with the people I've lost who loved me. My atheist friends call this a coping mechanism. I respect, but don't agree, with that opinion. So maybe my friend is right. Maybe that's faith. And maybe it is this belief, this habit of stubborn trust in the unfolding of the universe, that has allowed me to stay in tough situations through thick and thin and pain and tears and laughter and death. Maybe it's this habit of thinking that has enabled me to stay, to be unflinching when things are awful, which has rewarded me with moments of such exquisite grace that I am sometimes overcome with gratitude. I know with certainty that at the core of my gratitude are these experiences of grace, of bearing witness to such tremendous beauty and such humbling courage.
I can be both if I am mindful, both the steadfast and giving person I like to be, and the self-protective person who will draw better boundaries and limits. I'm winding up for another trip around the sun, and I'm hoping some of this in-my-head wisdom starts translating to in-my-schedule wisdom soon.
Thanks to those of you who tarry here, and my best as ever to all who pass this way!