Friday, September 14, 2012

The Trouble with Forward

While I was driving to work this morning my thoughts turned to a number of people and situations in my life that might be best categorized as stuck. Each stuck scenario I considered had its roots in some very deep grief. Grief for past wounds. Grief for abuses suffered. Grief for betrayals. Grief for broken marriages. Grief for broken relationships. Grief for wayward children. Grief for deceased parents, siblings, family, and friends. And, what I consider to be the absolute worst grief of all, grief for children who have died. So many wounds to the soul.

"No wonder so many of us seem to be stuck, or operating in a sort of surreal, frame-by-frame slow motion," 
I thought.There's a heck of a lot of grieving going on."

It's not like me to be prescriptive when God gives me an insight, so I don't claim to have a cure for stuckness. In fact, though it may just be me protecting my own "right" and propensity to be stuck, I can't help thinking that getting unstuck has more to do with a combination of things coming together at just the right time, rather than any single action or determination of the will. But if I were to make any valuable contribution to the pool of wisdom on unsticking and moving forward, I'd have to say that a significant part of the trouble we have (or at least I have) with moving forward is really our perception of what forward is and entails.

When we're stuck we often create unwittingly an inaccurate pathology of forward. The smallest steps away from an uninterrupted relationship with grief—pulling away from grief's perpetual hold upon our thoughts, decisions, actions, reactions, relationships, spirit, soul, health, energy, etc—seem to trigger a belief that forward means, among other things, fast forward. And the thing is, fast forward anxiety makes a TON of assumptions and presuppositions that do more to add weight to the pain and suffering of grief than to help us see the next step, take the next breath, or face the next day. Fast forward anxiety propels the vortex of fear that whirls so violently when we come face-to-face with precisely how much in this life is out of our control.

Fast forward anxiety operates under the assumption that something beloved, important, incomplete, or necessary will be left behind and cause us more trouble and pain later. It presupposes how we will feel in each yet-to-be-experienced moment, and says that all painful feelings, thoughts, and experiences MUST be avoided. Fast forward anxiety also presupposes that all the new (and probably normal) anxieties that emerge will make things impossibly worse and hinder a more timely effort to disentangle from grief later. 

For example, fast forward reasons that if someone sees us enjoying ourselves they will believe we are "over it" and fully able to participate in "normal" life again. What fast forward anxiety doesn't tell us is that we have the ability to say, "Hey, I'm just trying this out today. It's exhausting. I can't promise you I'll feel like doing it again soon."  Fast forward anxiety decides in advance to tell no one about its assumption because it doesn't want to be questioned or challenged. Fast forward anxiety says that if we expose it to others they will trip some sort of mine that makes everything worse. I would venture to say that fast forward anxiety tells the greatest lie of disempowerment: If you move forward, you will lose control.

Of course, the irony is that the situations that lead us into the deepest griefs are very often the sites where we learn that so little of life is ever fully within our control in the first place. The situations and occurrences that trigger the most disabling griefs are very often a tangled web of things that operate from both within and without our control. A spouse cheats. Health fails. An abuse takes place. Someone dies. Someone leaves. Something ends. The lies of grief speak fragments of truth into a network of reality that has many complex contributors operating outside our control. Fast forward anxiety, then, is birthed out of that same flawed system where bits of truth are caught up in half-truths and all-out lies of the mind, and the darkness of the spirit. It draws us away from God and love and hope and

Real "forward" is probably best characterized as something other than linear progress. Real forward is more like journeying. Whenever we journey we never travel entirely alone, no matter who or what we choose or do not choose to take with us. We can push away from the people and places that trigger our pain, but the fact is that memories—faces, places, histories, events, etc—tag along with us anyway. So does God. And because God is our constant companion, even amid our most profound grief—a time when He seems most veiled—we can put fast forward anxiety in its place...behind God, not ahead or instead of Him. Over and over and over again in the Bible, God tells us not to fear. Anxiety and God don't mix.

The call to fearlessness tells me that the one who knows me best of all because He "formed my inward parts [and] knitted me together in my mother's womb" knows that He has made a way for me to be unafraid.

He has given us the best and most immutable motive/reason to be unafraid...because He is with us. His very presence in our lives—with us—means that there is no basis for buddying-up with fact, it's kinda disobedient and adds to our troubles. (And I'm not just talking to my sisters and brothers here, by the way. I'm talking to me...the Disobedience Cover Girl (ok...middle aged woman...Ugh! Whatever!).

At the end of the day, the trouble with forward isn't really trouble at all; it's a plain fact. Whether we stay stuck, move backward, move forward, go in circles, rock side-to-side, jump up and down, or roll over and play dead, the one earthly life that we have been given continues on its linear progression, and (like it or not) we go with it. The sights we see are the variables that we can and must influence by fleeing from fear, because fear is about punishment and imprisonment, not reconciliation and freedom.

What a waste, then, to give fear the reins and allow it to entrench us in all the angriest, darkest, loneliest, and most misbegotten sites of grief
rather than the inexpressibly beautiful ones— the places where we find that we can love God and enjoy Him forever in the here and now, by loving others and by forgiving and reconciling with both the living and the dead, and all the skeletons in our closets. 

Whatever we grieve and lose, God also provides us with a treasure trove of healing gifts and comforts and people to help us access the realms of gratitude, peace, and  joy that make the journey forward a journey that is safer, more tolerable, often interesting, and nearer to the Savior than if we pitch our tents in fear and camp among the people who allow us to live there rent-free, and without responsibility.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Amplified Bible (AMP)
13 For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently.

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