In my last post I described a delightful visit from two Japanese relatives who judged our lives to be joyful and productive. Intersecting with us for three days prompted them to ask me, "What is your power?" I gave a pretty short answer but if I had more time and they had indicated a desire to go deeper, I would have explained that the Jesus-kind-of joy is usually juxtaposed with pain. That grief, tears and disappointments deepen the well for joy to fill. That an abundant life does not mean an easy life but it's a life that makes even the poorest on earth feel rich.
Their question helped to remind me of the life Jesus has called me into, which I especially needed at this time.
During the recent transition from one church to another, my husband and I worked hard to leave well. We met with the elders to plan an exit strategy since we were very involved at several levels. The discussion went well but the execution of the plan hit a snag and in the process, I was deeply hurt in two very painful conversations.
It was a disappointing ending to six years of loving and serving in this church. A period of depression and withdrawal followed but it was very brief. I came out stronger and more confident of who I am as a woman and follower of Christ. The pain was felt, grieved and then released. In the aftermath I have felt more alive and clear of what life means for me. It is filled with people I love and who love me and is superintended by Christ who loves and delights in me.
Often I will reflect on my past journey taking note of patterns and significant felt changes. I am amazed that after each point of pain and disappointment, there has been a greater awareness of and sensitivity to people, a growing clarity of my values and purpose in life, and a deeper experience of God's love and acceptance. I feel more alive today than last year and the years before that.
Put another way I feel like I've taken another step from adolescence toward adulthood.
I admit I am still waiting to grow up and be an adult. Not adult as in physical development, educational achievements, job security, family responsibilities or age of majority. Adult as in emotional and spiritual maturity. The reality? I will always be adolescent in some way.
As much as I want to get past adolescence, progress is not something I can totally control. The next painful event exposes another childish way, whether mine or someone else's, and it's not easy to put it behind me as the Apostle Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 13:11. Those "childish ways" insist on playing peek-a-boo.
Despite the continuing threat of emotional and spiritual growing pains, becoming an adult means being more comfortable in my own skin, accepting others where they are and embracing life along with its gut-wrenching, take-the-air-out-of-you moments. I have taken comfort in knowing that Frederich Buechner confessed at the age of 80 that he had not yet become an adult.
I am not a past participle but a present participle, even a dangling participle. I am not a having-grown-up one but a growing-up one, a groping-up one, not even sure much of the time just where my growing and groping are taking me or where they are supposed to be taking me. I am a verbal adjective in search of a noun to latch onto, a grower in search of a self to grow into.An "adult adolescent" he calls himself. The adolescent ignores the pain or is trapped by it. The adult will grow through the pain without burying it or succumbing to it. Pain puts you in touch with your emotions which makes you more human. It is not how much you know or how well you reason your way through life. It is pain that grows you up.
Buechner describes what I have found to be true:
We are never more alive to life than when it hurts - never more aware both of our own powerlessness to save ourselves and of at least the possibility of a power beyond ourselves to save us and heal us if we can only open ourselves to it. We are never more aware of our need for each other, never more in reach of each other, if we can only bring ourselves to reach out and let ourselves be reached...We are never more in touch with life than when life is painful, never more in touch with hope than we are then, if only the hope of another human presence to be with us and for us.What is my power? It's not "what" but "who."
Christ saves and heals me, binds me to a community, takes the yoke of my adult burdens, teaches me how to carry them with gentleness and humility, gives me permission to be emotional and fragile.
Christ takes me from infancy through adolescence into maturity, into the fullness of Himself so that I am less and less tossed back and forth by men.
That is when I feel most alive and most adult.