Archive for the ‘difficulty’ Category

When we consider other’s pain, their particular form of suffering, we often don’t know what to say or do, so we do or say nothing.

Recently my dad told me that his vision has deteriorated so much he can’t read. What to say?

It’s hard. I’ve been in that linguistic vacuum of not knowing. It’s awkward.

But lately, suffering my own significant degree of pain and loss, I better see what can be said or done.

After hearing about my dad‘s loss of vision, I asked him what he’s been doing with his time. I was interested. He had some things to say. He’s been sitting in beautiful spaces taking in the scenery. It was good. I didn’t really say anything, just listened.

Sometimes It’s OK to be silent if it is attend by interest and questions. Silence is fine —- as long as we are still present. Just sitting with someone in a waiting room at the hospital, just listening on the phone and not giving any advice, this can be so respectful and honoring.

But there are things to say. Wisdom has words. Wisdom communicates.



We can ask questions. We can draw out the person’s experiences, thoughts and feelings. Recently, upon hearing that one of my daughters was struggling with her emotions, I encouraged her to write her feelings in a journal and then to send them to me. She now does that regularly, and I respond with “Good job,” and “A+” drawing from my experience as a teacher. Sometimes we discuss what she has written.

Feelings — they are best approached as being normal, human, not right or wrong. I love the line — upon hearing of someone’s fear or embarrassment or shame or anxiety — “Considering what you are going through, anyone would feel that way.” It is so salutary to normalize people’s feelings.

Next we can relate to and acknowledge the whole person. We are more than our suffering, even when it seems to dominate. Recently I received a text from a friend asking me if I would like to speak to his congregation. He was honoring what I used to do. We had some fun with it. I often used a barstool while speaking. I did so to give a relaxed, human, cool, down-to-earth vibe to my presentations. I told him now that I’m suffering chronic pain, I’d have to speak laying down on the stage, and I would invite people to sit around me. It would be a new take on on casualness. The sermon on the ground! My friend saw me as more than my pain. We could laugh about it. Humor helps.

Another approach is to speak of good memories. Recently we heard of a friend who doesn’t have much longer to live. Despite some years of separation, even some alienation, we wrote notes to her remembering all the good things we experienced together earlier in life. Remembering the good, when you’re faced with the bad, it’s helpful.

Finally, instead of focusing on dysfunction, disability or pain, we can focus a person on what is good in them. Someone told me recently, “You are so strong, you’re brave.” He spoke of my previous accomplishments in reinventing organizations. I needed that. I was feeling weak, afraid and unaccomplished. It was good to be reminded that strength is still there within.

As I hung up with my dad the other day, he said he felt so guilty for not calling me. I told him that was OK. I had no judgment of him. He thanked me for this. This is something my pain has done for me. It’s knocked the criticalness out of me. It is powerful to relate to others without judgment.

Pain and hardship, it’s rough, but we can still talk during it, and at the very least we can go through it together.

Our planet is a fascinating place. Our bodies are a wonderland. Our relationship are adventures of discovery.

What is around you that interests you? Who are you? In these days when we are cloistered in our homes we still have opportunities to explore and discover and learn.

Dread of a world locked in pandemic doesn’t have to lock up the world’s minds. By effort we might avoid acedia, spiritual and mental sloth, and we might avoid anhedonia, the loss of interest in pleasure.

Recently, shadowed over by the execrable, dark-clouded specter of the coronavirus, I felt like I had perhaps lost something of myself. I seemed to be less, diminished while sequestered at home. I’m not. I am what I always was — curious about many things. I just need to tap back into that. Maybe you do too.

Today you might make a list of your interests, your fancies, your whimsies, your amaturifications, your loves, your avocations, your hobbies and pursue some of them.

I like reading. Lately, I’ve been exchanging book ideas with friends. I’m in the middle of a book by Simon Winchester. He’s a popular historian and has written books like Atlantic, Pacific, Krakatoa, and the Men Who United the States. By the way you have never read Winter Dance by Gary Paulsen do so. It’s a hilarious story about running the Iditarod.

My wife likes games. She beat me soundly the other day at a card game called King’s In the Corner. I consoled myself that the game is mostly luck, mostly. Last night one of my daughters told me she was planning to make puzzles and drink hot chocolate with a roommate. Good combination.

I like nature, geology, botany, astronomy, ornithology all of natural history. So on TV we watched Voyage of the Continents, the story of tectonic plates. Fascinating! perhaps to ease or brains we later watched the movie Jojo Rabbit, a fun satire.

Also along the lines of enjoying nature, I put my binoculars by the back door, and I have been watching the birds come to my small pond – doves, house finches, white lined sparrows, black phoebes, yellow goldfinches, and hummingbirds. One night last week I set my telescope out back and looked at Venus and the moon and the Orion nebulae. Venus showed a quarter phase. Jupiter and Saturn and Mars are visible in the morning sky these days, and I’m planning on getting up early to see them soon.

I like music. The other night my wife and I watched an old Moody Blues concert. Fun! This rock ‘n’ roll band included symphonies in very creative ways in their music. I might pick up my guitar today. I’ve neglected that. One of my daughters was home recently, and I helped her buy some new songs on iTunes. I like some of them too and download them onto my phone.

I like writing, thus this blog. I like you, my readers and I am always trying to think of someway to encourage you. I also write modern proverbs at and modern soliloquy at I am looking around in my head for a book idea.

I like gardening. Yesterday, I mowed the lawn and pulled some weeds. It cost me because of some chronic pain issues, but it was worth it. Making things grow, particularly flowers, makes me feel peaceful, and I love sitting in the sun outback and looking at the plants I’ve cultivated. My neighbor gave me an artichoke plant last year. Yesterday, I found my first artichokes growing at the top of it. I think I’ll cook one up today.

And this is another avocation of mine. I love cooking because I love eating. I’ve found some new vegetarian recipes. Yum! And healthy. Yesterday I made chicken soup. Perfect for a rainy day. Some of my new recipes I’ve gotten from friends and family. It’s been fun to text people lately and just ask, “What are you eating for dinner tonight?” It gives you new ideas. By the way, have you ever tried coconut popsicles? They are a new favorite of mine, but I’m beginning to see them show up around my midriff so, hum. Unable to go to the gym, I’ve been using some stretchy bands. It’s surprising me, but you can add muscle mass that eats fat even with these little rubber stretchies, very affordable on Amazon.

I also like restoring, remodeling and home decoration. Yesterday, I forced myself to paint one of the new interior doors we had recently installed. My wife put on the first coat. I put on the second. I didn’t really want to do this, but I loved the results. Every time I walk by that new gleaming white decorative door, I get a small jolt of pleasure just seeing the improvement.

I’m definitely not saying that life isolated like this is easy. I feel afraid at times during the day. I don’t like the uncertainties of my own health issues or those that cover the globe. I’ve even broken down and cried a few times lately because my pain was so unrelenting. But I do find that pursuing my interest takes my mind off my pain and off the scariness of our world right now and helps me through these days. I’m not ignoring the crisis or my issues, but I’m limiting myself check out the news only once or twice a day, and I’m trying to remind myself and you that there are still many good things in the world.

I like driving, fast! Yesterday, because it was not a bad pain day for me, I drove my car out into a rural area near our home. It felt free to breeze through the turns, stomp the accelerator, hear that high-performance V-6 purr and growl. But I also slowed and spotted some snowy white egrets on blue Otay Lake, and I noticed the yellow wild flowers blooming alongside the road — the sunflowers and the mustards.

And here is something else. I’m trying not to be selfish even though like everyone I’ve watched the Dow fall and some of my retirement funds shrink. I worry a bit, but I want to avoid a mentality of scarcity. My relationship with God helps. He has been generous with me.

Working to manage our own anxieties and our finances in the wisest ways we can, my wife and I have also teamed up recently to give money to family and friends and charities that we support. Even though this is a financially scary time, some of us may still find some resources of time or money to care for others. The psychologist say that we are most happy when we are most generous.

This doesn’t require money. I like talking to people. This is a way to give that doesn’t necessitate finances. I’ve been trying to text or call at least a few people each day. I listened to a podcast that suggested we do this. It feels good to reach out. It mitigates my loneliness and isolation and others too. Yesterday, I texted with a friend from Maine. We haven’t had contact for a long time, but isn’t this the perfect time to reconnect with old friends far away? She sent me a picture of the snow In the field behind her house. Beautiful! I sent her a picture of sun, me sitting in it, something California seems to always have plenty of, even in crisis.

The upshot of all this is that we are still in charge of ourselves and we can still make choices. Remind yourself of what moves you, what fascinates you and add to your day by pursuing that.

The world feels weird right now and scary, and yet it is still beautiful and interesting. I pray everyday for its healing and mine. And I work to find ways to be content and productive.

Life still has good in it. What if you and I figure out how to snag some of that?

Do you have power?

You do. You are not feckless, weak, incompetent. You are savvy, cogent, strong! God did not give you a spirit of fear but a spirit of power! 

Today I received a package from Amazon that I ordered for my daughter. It’s a set of Skullcandy head phones. I took the time to make sure that they worked fine. Doing something for others, that always makes me feel better. You and I have the power to make other people’s lives better.

Buy extra toilet paper if you must. Then give some of it away to your neighbors.

You have power. You have agency. That power is in your body. All the arteries, veins, and capillaries of a human child, stretched end to end, are estimated to wrap around the Earth about 2.5 times (the equivalent of about 60,000 miles). Blood is pulsing through your whole body today nourishing and caring for your cells. Such built-in power is keeping you alive! It is allowing you to move your limbs and do things today. How wonderful!

Today I dust mopped the floors. What a privilege to have a home, to have floors, to clean.

You have power in your mind. The average brain has 86 billion neurons. Today you can remember good things and learn new things. My daughter is making soup. She asked for my recipe. We texted back-and-forth about yummy soup and spices.

Today I’m writing this blog. I’m doing this to give myself advice, and I’m hoping that it helps you, one of my friends, to have a better day. Our lives are now limited but they can be still directional.

Your spirit is powerful. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” We actually have a built in sense of surviving, lasting, being saved from even death. We are predisposed to anticipate salvation.

Something in you wants to live. Something if you want to live a beautiful life. That was put there by God. Recognize his desire within you. You just made contact with your own spirit. The will to live is physical; it is also spiritual.

It is especially important to realize your power when you don’t feel like your life is beautiful. Use your mind to tell yourself what is true and good for you. For me it is good that others love me and take care of me.

We can’t control all of reality, but we can somewhat control our reactions to it. Maintain your narrative fidelity. Be true to your own story. My story is tied to the earth. I garden. I grow flowers. And grass. It rained today! I love to hear it in the gutters? The grass is greenly grateful.

Today I’m reminding myself that I have enough, that I am enough, that I have done enough and that whatever else there is for me to do is in God’s hands. I’m trusting him for his definition for my level of productivity in the future.

Today many of us are sheltered at home because of the coronavirus. We may feel somewhat helpless and anxious, powerless in our new darker, poorer, diseased, Stygian world.

Anxious questions may arise in our minds. Will we get sick? Will we have enough food? Will those of us who work be able to keep our jobs and pay our bills?

For those of us who suffer illnesses, will we be able to get proper medical care?

Such questions make us feel helpless and powerless because they bring up possible deprivations or losses.

But we have the power to take charge of our thoughts and reactions. We can choose to obsess on what’s wrong, or we can focus on mini-solutions to our questions.

We can go over our financial resources and make an emergency plan, write it down, consider options. What will we do if we are out of work for a month? What will we do if we are out of work for two months? Plans help calm our anxieties. If we aren’t sure of a financial decision we can call someone we trust who is good with finances and ask what they would do. I know someone who did that yesterday and the wise financial step suggested hadn’t been thought about before.

We can eat the food we have today and enjoy it. I just finished a coconut popsicle! I’m drinking a calming tea now. If you need more food, plan a trip to the store when others may not be there in great numbers. There is enough food in the stores. Make wise choices. If you need more medicine order it online.

Today, at home, we have the power to do many things that are important.

We can titrate our exposure to the news. That means we can keep up and stay informed and yet sense when we’re watching too much and just creating more anxiety in ourselves. There’s a balance somewhere.

Today we can rest from striving, from trying to justify our existence by what we do, and we can do something really powerful, and that is to realize that we were worthy of being loved without performing. We can do this by being kind to ourselves today, for example moving between small projects and resting.

I just cooked up a spaghetti squash for dinner. I made a small bean taco for a snack! It was a cheery little taco! With its corn tortilla it tasted kind of like a tamale.

It was a small kindness to myself.

What does it look like to be kind to oneself?

It means making choices that are within our power that nurture our bodies and souls. I’m reading a good book today, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. Lori weaves her own story of going to counseling with the stories of those who come to her for therapy. This book reminds me that our presenting issues are not always are real issues. It helps me to ask what is really going on with me? It helps me to reevaluate my stories and think: Has what I have been telling myself true or not?

We can can do other home things, cleaning, reorganizing, watching positive TV shows, texting friends or talking on the phone to family.

I love you. I want you to feel safe. I want you to love yourself.

What will you do the rest of this day to calm, sooth and nurture yourself and the ones you love?

I have questions: Does God speak to us through our pain? If so, what does God say to us when we are in pain? Or is pain just noise that keeps us from hearing and understanding God?

The other day I was trying to relax in my living room, I couldn’t. There was the constant roar of gardening equipment right outside my window. I looked out. A landscape company was trimming hedges and groundcover on the bank beside my house.

We live in a noisy world. It can make hard to hear. Is pain noise? Does it keep us from hearing God, truth, ourselves or does it lead us to truth?

The world is full of noise: cars, trains, planes, helicopters, jackhammers, chain saws, car alarms, generators, compressors, lawn mowers, dogs, street sweepers, data centers — noise, racket, din.

Is pain just more noise, a buzz saw in the central nervous system? Perhaps, yes, yes I believe sometimes it is just that. Sometimes it overwhelms my brain, eliciting confused thoughts and useless internal conversations that won’t stop and don’t help.

My wife tried out a new church today. The people who sat behind her never stopped talking, although they stilled a bit during the sermon, they got up for snacks in the back during communion and kept on talking through the Eucharist.

I can hardly be critical. I talk in church, and everywhere else too. I just keep chattering at others, myself, at my past, at God.

Pain can be like the noisy church-mongers. It can disrupt the holy places, in our bodies and minds. But, and this is hard, sometimes I think it does the opposite; it quiets us. Sometimes it may be God’s way to quiet us.

Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 40:10

I’m not quite sure how to put this to you, but perhaps God sometimes wants to say or does says to you and to me and our world, “Shush!”

In the Psalm we are told to be quiet in order to know God. Can pain be a way of quieting us?

I’ve never personally heard an audible “be quiet” from God nor have I — come to think of it — seldom heard a modern person tell me that God told them to shut up, but might God lovingly shush us through pain and difficulty?

In the last eight months I have experienced some severe chronic pain. And while I have talked about my pain to doctors, family, friends and written about it in my blog and while my cri de cœur has been to be healed, the truth is that in these months I’ve never been more quiet in my life.

I must be honest here. At some level of pain I cry. The noise of severe pain overwhelms me, but at other times and at another level, it strikes me agonizingly silent, voiceless. Pain dummies me up. Pain de-noises me. Cut off from social contact by it, and alone in my bed, during many of my pain days, I have become dumb in the face of pain — physical and emotional and spiritual pain. I have experienced the mind numbing silence of suffering.

In these times my prayers become short, “God have mercy” and “Give me wisdom and strength to endure this.“

But lately it’s come to me that perhaps God is saying something through the pain, doing something lovingly morphogenic through the pain. Pain isn’t always a noise that renders a cry. Perhaps sometimes God is saying to me through my pain and by my pain, “I’m rendering you quiet.” This is how the book of Job ended, God talking, Job silent.

There is something directional in silence.

Proverbs 17:28 says that “even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.”

Is pain rendering me wiser by rendering me quieter? Time will certainly tell; it always does, but perhaps this is what God — in part — is saying to me and doing with me.

If so, how am I quieter, in pain, in a good way?

I notice that in pain I am apt to judge others less. Instead I hurt for those who do wrong or who fail. I want no one to suffer like I have. My suffering causes me to pray for the world, not to judge it. And it is the ones who have done the most wrong who suffer the most and are the most needy of forgiveness and help and prayer.

Pain has also quieted my complaints. My complaint to God concerns what he has allowed in the world and in my life that I don’t want, what I think doesn’t help or enhance me, and so by it I reveal that I have made life about me. I have lived life too much for personal comforts and ego fulfillment. God is silent concerning my complaints and so I can see that in giving such a complaint I indict myself.

And so without answers that I want, savaged by silence, I continue in faith and become more allegiant to him as I exercise faith without reward. It isn’t that this makes me like pain. I hate it! It is dispreferred; often it is unproductive; sometimes it is harmful to me and my relationships. It cuts me off from people, and yet it has its uses.

In pain, and by contrast to it, I find myself silently grateful for small bits of beauty, a ray of sun in my kitchen, a short moment of relief, a goldfinch in my garden, a bon bouche, a loving family.

Finally, in pain I am much less likely to give flippant advice to those in difficulty. In pain I am less of a know-it-all. In pain I listen better. I understand. I don’t plunder others with trite answers.

Orual in C. S. Lewis’s Til We Have Faces, gives her complaint, her issue with the silence and ambivalence and cruelty of the gods. She gets no answer and then dropping her charge she says this: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer.” In this answer there is much mystery and in my answers mystery too.

We each grapple with possible explanations for suffering. We each choose responses. All I am attempting to point out is that there is a quietness that exists within our options — and within God’s.

And so if we depart from noise we come again to silence and perhaps we can let it be that God is God even when he is silent.

Like Job we may then say, “I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer — twice, but I will say no more.”

Job 40:4-5

Last week I finally came around. I said I’d take care of emptying the cat box each day. My wife had been doing it. Why? Why should I begin to do it? Perhaps it is the lowliest task in our house. Perhaps I have to too often assumed the highest status.

One of my current goals is to make sure my wife feels as important as possible, as important as she is.

What seems to be important to much of the world is the issue of who is important. Who gets what they want? Who does the world revolves around? Who does the nation revolve around? Who does the business revolve around? Who does the family revolve around? Who do I revolve around? Myself? You?

For too long I have too often revolved around myself. I’m working on changing that. I’m working on putting other people first. Why? This is one of the keys to a better world. This is one of the things that wisdom teaches us to do — to count others better than ourselves.

Roles, titles, status, patriarchy, primogenitor, pecking order, gender, race, socioeconomic class, geography – all seem to determine importance in our world.

The problem is epidemic. A person in New York may look down on a person from Mississippi. A person in Shanghai may tend to look down on a person from Canton. Shiite may despise Sunni. Perhaps the Catholic looks down on the Protestant. Perhaps the cab driver despises the businessman, or the businessman the cab driver. Male lords it over female. Bosses dominate workers. Liberals despise conservatives and vice versa.

It’s interesting, but it seems that everybody has some kind a need to look down on somebody, and perhaps up to somebody else. No matter how much we tout the need for social equality, we seem set on the purveyance of inequality, preference, bias and privilege.

The world is crying out for justice. The world is crying out for attention to the underprivileged, the needy, the hungry, the broken, the poor. Many of us simply ignored such looked-down-ons or blame such ones for their status, for their own situation. We look out for ourselves, not others.

Considered poverty for example. The world revolves around the rich. It does not revolve around the poor. The rich are important. The poor are not. Is this right? Is this fair? If it is not right, then who is responsible to change it? Who has the power to change it?

Businessman Pete Kadens recently announced that he will pay college tuition, room and board, books and fees for the seniors at Scott High School in Toledo, Ohio. He will be spending about $3 million to send the students to college. He will also pay for one of their parents to attend college.

He said it wasn’t a gift. He said it was his responsibility. His parents set him up to go to college; he feels it is only right for him to set others up to gain the same opportunity. This brings up the issue. What is our responsibility to create equality, to put others first, to make other people besides our self important?

The question rings through the ages, “Am I my brothers keeper? The answer is, “Yes.”

I heard the other day that perhaps as many is 1/5 of our preschoolers in the United States live below the level of poverty. What a shame. How hard that is on them and their single moms. Are those preschoolers responsible for that? Can they change their status? Perhaps when they get older they can, but certainly not as preschoolers. One way we could change that is to put politicians in power who care about this issue. How do we help moms in such situations train, get good jobs, kick bad habits, stop making poor decisions, take responsibility for their households?

A few years ago my wife and I decided to pay the tuition of some students in Tijuana to go to school. Without such help they could not get an eduction. It is a small thing, but it matters. It is one small way we can give importance to someone who has very little. We were inspired to do so my friend that teaches at the school.

In 2019, some 70 percent of the world’s poor lived in Africa, up from 50 percent five years ago. Do people born in Africa choose to be born in Africa? Do children born in Mexico in the shanty towns of Tijuana choose to be born there, born in tin and tire sheds to parents with no money?

Poverty is often caused by forces beyond the poor’s control, a lack of education, systemic racism, being born into a culture of poverty and illiteracy. Great forces like overpopulation, epidemic diseases such as malaria and environmental problems such as lack of rainfall cause poverty.

I think it’s reasonable and responsible for each of us to ask what we can do. What is our responsibility? Why do we have what we have and what is our responsibility in using it?

There’s a tendency to think that such overwhelming problems cannot be addressed at our level. That’s not true. While it may take the force of institutions such as education and business and government to make significant changes, we can vote those into power who have a heart for the marginalized, lowly and oppressed. But do we do that? Do we vote for those with big hearts? Do we vote for those who are full of love? Are we voting for those who will empower the least among us. Or are we only voting for those who will retain our power, protect our power, increase our power?

I’m not talking about voting for those who simply give handouts. I’m talking about voting for those who have solutions to empower people to be responsible for themselves.

But we can do things on our own too. Changes can take place in our own homes within the ranking of the family members. Who gets to decide? Who gets to talk? It’s possible to be a snoutband and not even realize it, talking over other people, interrupting other people, always having the say, the final word.

Needed changes can take place at work, with how people are treated there. Do we come alongside those who struggle or do we simply criticized him or fire them?

Such changes to bring about opportunity equality can take place when we eat out, how we tip or treat those who wait on us. Needed changes can take place in what we do with our money and how much of it we are giving to help others.

I think of Jesus. He said, “Blessed are the merciful!” Approved are those who care for the sick, feed the poor and visit those in prison. I think of Amos. “Let Justice rolled down like a mighty stream.” I think of Martin Luther King junior, of Gandhi, Mother Theresa. All were highly esteemed for esteeming those who were not highly esteemed.

Who will be next to pace the way in our community, in our nation, in our world to set things right, to make the unimportant important?

It could be you and me.

When we suffer or when we are confused about what to do, despite the origin, we might learn something about ourselves, about our world. This may take some time. It may not be head knowledge. It may be body knowledge. 

“The right thing to do when you are in moments of suffering is to stand erect in the suffering. Wait. See what it has to teach you. Understand that your suffering is a task that, if handled correctly, with the help of others, will lead to enlargement, not diminishment. The valley is where we shed the old self so the new self can emerge. There are no shortcuts. There’s just the same eternal three-step process that the poets have described from time eternal: from suffering to wisdom to service. Dying to the old self, cleansing in the emptiness, resurrecting in the new.” 

 David Brooks, The Second Mountain

Lost we might have an opportunity to be found, and barriers may call from us new things.

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” 

Wendell Berry “Our Real Work”

Grounding ourselves in reality, accepting our lives as led, as acceptable, as meaningful just as they are, this is a way to down regulate from our anxieties and to come to peace with what was, is and will be.

“Now, finally, I really had lost all desire for change, every last twinge of the notion that I ought to get somewhere or make something of myself. I was what I was. “I will stand like a tree,” I thought, “and be in myself as I am.” And the things of Port William seemed to stand around me, in themselves as they were.”

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

We are not alone in our pain and in our identity search, in those times when we stand beyond desire, ego and passion for more. Christ is present where our lack is. It is a kind of presence we aren’t used to, and so it may be hard to recognize. 

After the cross, we know that God is not watching human pain, nor apparently always stopping human pain, as much as God is found hanging with us alongside all human pain. Jesus’s ministry of healing and his death in solidarity with the crucified of history forever tell us that God is found wherever the pain is. This leaves God on both sides of every war; in sympathy with both the pain of the perpetrator and the pain of the victim; with the excluded, the tortured, the abandoned, and the oppressed since the beginning of time. I wonder if we even like that.

Richard Rohr (Mediations)

Such words don’t fix us, I know that, take away the pain, give immediate relief, but they point us where to go and what to do with our pain. My prayer for you is that you enlarge even as you might feel like you are diminishing, my dear friends. And that you stand.

You do not stand alone. You stand with all who suffer. You stand, whether you feel it or not, with God himself.

Through the holiday season I have been thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. In reading through Luke’s account I was struck by Simeon’s comment, almost an aside, to Mary, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Hearing this we think of one sword, and of course the literate reader immediately recognizes the connection to Christ on the cross, pierced. The sword that pierces Jesus pierces Mary, his mother.

But as I thought over her story, I could see that there were many piercings in her life. The astonishing and yet confusing circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, the complications it must’ve created with her family, Joseph and her community, the birth away from home, the flight to Egypt, the son who disappeared for three days and then rebuked the parents, the loss of her husband Joseph, the disciples replacing the family, her certain awareness of the brutal and dangerous threats again Jesus when he began to teach and to contradict the religious establishment, the cross and then the painful and often bloody birth of the church.

All swords.

In all this Mary seems the passive figure, hunkered down under the many stabbings that she had little or no control over. And what is her response?

Priest Richard Rohr makes the point that, “Not a word is spoken by Mary in either place, at his [Jesus’s] birth or at his death. Did you ever think about that? Mary simply trusts and experiences deeply. She is simply and fully present. Faith is not, first of all, for overcoming obstacles; it is for experiencing them—all the way through!“

Our natural tendency is to resist and fight and try to control the piercings of life, the downturn’s, the ailments, the rejections, the failures. And some times we must not be passive. We must fight through to a new future. But if we get stuck with an inability to accept all of life, the ups and the downs, this can actually makes life harder.

Life is an up and down affair. It involves swords. There will be piercings. Simeon words to Mary have a universal application.

Richard Rohr addresses a way to deal with this writing, “Welcoming the pain [of life] and letting go of all your oppositional energy against suffering will actually free you from it! like reversing your engines. Who would have thought this? It is your resistance to things as they are that causes most of your unhappines …”

There’s a fine line here to observe here. To love ourselves and others we can and should do all we can to alleviate suffering, to gently care for ourselves, to compassionately care for others, to be good Samaritans. And sometimes resistance is necessary; resistance may at times carry us on to new accomplishments and adventures.

But what we can’t control, the swords that fly upon us when we have no shield up nor can put one up, those we do well to accept as they are, with all they bring. What we can’t control or stop we can still endure and even perhaps learn from. Perhaps we can learn to be more like Mary, fully alive, living the life that has come to us, in a quiet kind of way, hanging on to God through it all.

Think with me about difficulty for a moment. Difficulty is difficult — especially as processed by our minds.

The problem is that in difficulty our minds tend to run away from reality and get obsessive and exaggerate the danger. We run hot; we run negative. Our minds terrorize us, make the problem worse by constantly returning to it and focusing on it.

I do this. I do this with my physical pain. Focusing on it is like digging at a wound that already hurts. Poking in there makes it hurt more.

Perhaps you have heard of the RAIN technique for dealing with pain and stress, unpleasant experiences and feelings.

The four steps are as follows:

R   Recognize

A   Allow

I   Investigate

N   Non-Identifiy

The basic idea is to honestly recognize the feelings that we have in any given experience, allow ourselves to sit with them with no judgment, investigate them but gently refuse to define ourselves by these thoughts and feelings.

This approach is a way to de-stress, to calm down, to be curious but not traumatized by thoughts and feelings, especially those that come from negative associations or experiences.

I’m interested in the ideas of the last one (N). The idea is to not identify yourself or define yourself by small parts of yourself or temporary feelings or experiences.

It has been explained like this.

“Disentangle yourself from the various parts of the [painful] experiences knowing that they are small, fleeting aspects of the totality of who you are, arising and passing away due mainly to causes that have nothing to do with you, that are impersonal. Feel the contraction, stress and pain that comes from claiming any part of this stream as “I,” or “me,” or “mine” and sense the spaciousness and peace that comes when experiences simply flow.”

I like this. I have pain from an old surgery, but I am not defined by that pain. When I over-focus on it then it seems to become the whole universe. But it is not. There are whole sections of the rest of my body that don’t hurt at all. And there are huge expanses of time in my life when this pain has not been present.

I may not be productive in my moments of intense pain, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been productive and won’t again be in the future. Therefore, I can work at being patient with the moment that is unwanted. And most importantly I can refuse to define myself by it.

We would all do well to practice such non-judgmental, gentle, patient responses to difficulty. We are not one of our poorly functioning or harmed body parts. We are not defined by one bad relationship we have had. One perceived failure doesn’t define us. We are not one feeling that we might have on one given day. We are not our ability or non-ability to function in any one given moment.

As concerning negative feelings sometimes I’m afraid, sometimes I’m lonely, sometimes I am fuzzy headed, but none of those are me. I am simply having moments, human moments, moments we all have, that flow through us but are not the essence of us.

So what am I that is more consistent than this? I’m a precious human being. I am a father, and a husband, and a brother. I am a friend, I am a helper, I am a Christian, I am a child of God, I am a creature of great value and worth.

So let it rain. Let it rain gentleness. Let it rain self-acceptance. Let it rain wisdom, the wisdom to live humbly with difficulty, the wisdom to define ourself accurately and yet compassionately.

My prayer: God help me to be as gentle and loving with my imperfect mind and body as you are with me.

As some of you know, I’ve been super healthy of late. It’s as if I have a wall of protection around me.

Yeah, that’s not quite right.

My doctor looked at me the other day and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t know one person who has had so many issues in so little time. I was flattered! Of all the people in his 30 years of practice I outrank them all!

I’m special! But then who isn’t eventually in precisely this fashion — well a few escape relatively unscathed by pain and panic. They are freaks of nature.

I had a friend who in his 70s simply tipped his patio chair back, fell over, hit his head and was gone. No serious sessions in the oncology office to scare the heck out of him, no tubes at the hospital, no IVs, no cameras where they shouldn’t go, no heroic measures at the end. Lucky guy! Must have totally pleased God. It was like he was translated at the end, gone over to the other side in his chariot-chair like Elijah the prophet. It was nigh unto Biblical!

My situation is different. The universe is playing yo-yo with my patio chair. I tip up, I tip down. I recover from something. I get something else. Much like most folk really.

I have had some unique experiences on this journey. I went to the hospital for the first time. I now have a new view of eggs. My breakfast egg — couldn’t recognize it. It came to the plate pulverized, blended and repacked into a small, wet dome. It was stolid, squat and grey-green. It looked like an army quonset hut, and it tasted faintly like it had spent time in the kitchen sink being washed.

Even the dietitian squirmed over it, picked it up, gagged and brought me back a proper omelette. It wasn’t half bad. I stayed another day by faking symptoms just for another cheesy omelette.

What to make of my poor health, my hospital visits, my situation, my eggs? All in all it is probably simplest to say the obvious, “Oh life! You always have been like this — no surprises here. You always have been up and down.”

But still, and yet, and furthermore and irresistibly sometime I try to add meaning to it all. The other day it occurred to me that I feel like I have been shoved into a chrysalis, melted into goop, or syrup, and God only knows what halting, deformed, half-flying, half-crawling woofer wonder will crawl out of this fresh hell.

Maybe this experience will be transformative.

Maybe I’ll turn into a kind of Christian Yoda! But taller. I’ll utter aphoristic witticisms using inverted syntax that leave my followers mystified for weeks but don’t really mean anything. Or I’ll transform into a kind of Dalai Lama, and write a wise book, and receive guests from all over the world.

Probably. That is probably what will happen.

I met a young woman recently who was from China. She lived in the north where there was snow six months of the year. She told me that she had a cold disease.

When it got very cold, she would break out in hives all over her body even around her eyes. She lived that way for over 20 years. She is a very small person and I can only imagine the suffering she experienced in the unrelenting northern cold.

She also told me her grandparents raised her. That indicates another difficult narrative.

In her mid-20s she came to San Diego and got a job. She has an uncle who lives here.

She says even here in San Diego when it gets cold in the winter and rains sometimes her hives come back.

I looked at her, smiling at me, noted her very gentle manner, and I thought that inside that little body, inside that sweet soul —  grit.

Grit is defined as courage and resolve; strength of character, unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.

Inspired by my Chinese friend’s grit, I penned some thought proverbs. Here they are for your ruminations.

Tough times?

Grit and bear it; the grin is not required.

Grit your teeth if you must, grind on anyway.

Grind on; sans grit.

True as grit; false as grand.

Grit in the face of danger.

Grit is found in two places; in the dirt and in the person in the dirt.

Sandpaper your words; use a fine grit.

Eat sand; blast injustice.

The good life requires grit — and gratitude.