Her Tears Fell…At Last (9)

Jn 4:7-18

On the long dusty path that led out to the village well, this woman of Samaria slowly made her meandering way. The day was hot, the sun high. It was not the normal time of the day when women did the heavy work of fetching water, but she preferred it. She was alone with her thoughts, and away from the comments and accusing glances of the other village women.

She wiped her brow as she stopped to watch the heat dance off the rocks along the path. Too bad it was such a long way to the well, she thought. There was a dullness that had settled on her spirits in the previous few years, an aching dullness that made even the simplest of daily tasks a burden. The boredom became its own particularly excruciating suffering that silenced any interest in the life she had…or she had left. The life she had dreamed of for herself so long ago–it seemed–had never materialized. Love, motherhood, babies, joy, a family…. No, it’s better not to remember. Just keep going.

As she approached the well, she barely took notice of the man who was sitting there, also alone. She dropped her bucket and then moved to the other side of the well to pull it out. I’ll be out of here in just a minute, she said to herself, as if silently addressing the unusual visitor of the well. Heaving the jar up she placed it atop her head, ready to make the trek back to the village.

“Give me a drink.” The woman took a few steps and stopped. Was he speaking to me, she asked herself. “Please give me a drink.” The voice gently nudged her out of her safe cocoon of self-interest. She turned and looked at him for the first time. He was definitely a Jew. What was he doing here in Samaria she wondered.

“You’re asking me for a drink? A woman? And a Samaritan on top of it?”

There was something about his eyes. “If you knew who I was and the gift I have for you, you would have asked me for a drink. I would have given you living water.”

“How could I have asked you to provide me with a drink of water. You don’t have a bucket here. This well is deep. Unless, of course, you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well.”

The man turned to look inside the well. Slowly he told her, “This water is just like any other water you know. You drink it and you are thirsty again. I have other water I’m offering you. Those who drink it will be thirsty again. The water will become as a fountain of living water welling up within them.”

Living water, she thought. I wonder what that would be. If it means I don’t have to walk out here every day I’ll take it. “Sir, give me this water so I’ll never thirst again, and I won’t have to come here to fetch water every day.”

The man looked at her gently. He leaned forward, as if ready to give her this “magically wonderful” gift. Instead, she heard the words she most dreaded to hear: “Go call your husband and come back.” It was as though a door banged shut within her spirit. No! Who was this man? What did he know about me to ask that? Was he just another tongue-wagging bully like everyone else making fun of her? As her mind reeled she heard herself answer: “I have no husband.” Why did I answer him, she could have kicked herself.

“You are correct in saying this. In fact, you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband.”

The words were gentle. There was no shaming, no laughing, no scandal. Just a simple statement of what was her truth. As his respect for her pierced the dull scaffolding she had built up around her shaky insecurity, she felt it collapse. In one great heaving sigh of relief it fell at her feet…and his. The sword of her truthfulness had cut through the deadly lethargy of buried lies she had been telling herself, and now she stood before this man whose name she did not even know in the naked intimacy of his seeing and knowing her. At last. As her tears fell, the waters within began to bubble up and trickle into her inner desert. How her spirit craved this water!

Self-acceptance is the launching pad toward freedom (8)

Our anguish reveals itself to be our treasure. Over the time Angie and I worked together, we stayed closely with her experience. In fact, it was her experience that led us.

Normally we fear the unknown depths of our sorrow and fear. We tighten against it. We turn the other direction. We push it out of our sight. We pretend we are happy. We present ourselves to the world as strong. As good. It is a violent way to treat ourselves and how we suffer when we do this.

One of the first things Angie and I did together was to develop in her a tender gaze toward all the different levels of her being. She was scared. But she was also angry. She felt guilty that she had been a part of this decision to move which now she feared would dreadfully affect her daughter’s lives. She felt deficient. Ugly. Loveless. Depressed. Lonely. As she felt her way through all the levels of her experience, she learned to let it be, to stop trying to escape it.

This acceptance brings the freedom to look at situations with new eyes. The situations that break our hearts tear us to pieces in an upward cry. These circumstances ask of us a newness, and if we find the new, then tomorrow will never be as yesterday.

The most important thing is to feel the humanity which makes us suffer, that breaks us to pieces, in a positive way. From every ending, then, everything can begin. Our humanness reveals to us that we are made for the Infinite. That nothing less than the Infinite can satisfy us. The pain we feel is the means we become aware of what Jesus is attracting us to. It is the instrument through which he makes himself present. This is why we must open ourselves to ourselves, acutely aware of how circumstances are reverberating in us on every level of our being: physically, in our emotions, through our thoughts….This is why we must seek the complete meaning of what we feel.

One day I was sitting in a coffee shop with two sisters. As we spoke of a project we were doing, they divided up the writing aspects of the project. It didn’t occur to them that I could contribute. At least that was how I interpreted it. It was the culmination of months of inner soul searching, of a series of events in which others were chosen for projects, of the rejection of other projects that I had worked on, and failure of still others. When we returned home I took a walk in the backyard where I could be alone. It was a small thing, so small I felt guilty even feeling it so deeply. I knew God was at work in all of what was happening in my life. Yet it still hurt. As I looked across the new spring garden just beginning to be dotted with the bravest of flowers poking above the dirt, I began to cry. I embraced the sorrow, the disappointment. From somewhere deep within, the bravest of prayers at last came forth: Jesus, take everything, everything, but give me You.

God doesn’t cause the painful situations in our life, but as our heart is thrown wide open in agony, we discover a treasure we had never known was there: the presence of God that grows stronger and stronger. We crumble in admiration and gratitude.

A healthy way to become aware of the whole texture of your experience is to take a few moments reflecting upon what you are feeling about a situation that is still upsetting you. There is a surface feeling, probably anger, grief, fear. When you focus on this feeling you will notice that another feeling makes itself visible. When you focus on that feeling, another feeling will make itself visible. With this tender loyalty to yourself you find yourself relaxing, even if it is painful. Our humanity was given to us to recognize Christ. So live the immensity of the question, the depth of the pain, and there will blossom a new humanity that is brave, tender, real.

Transition

In Part I, you have learned that the process of forgiving yourself means you’ll have to give up for a while the attempt to forgive yourself, that forgiving yourself has more to do with resetting your life back to normal. This “normal” requires a mental and emotional clarity, in order to be surprised by the gaze of Christ who communicates to you through his eyes who you are.

Simple tools like breathing and not running from your feelings help you re-connect with yourself gently. Standing before the gaze of Christ, as did the woman in the Gospel and Angie, can melt the self-hatred of a lifetime of self-escape and refusal to address head-on what you really feel about yourself.

So before you go on, I invite you to return to the story of the woman bent over double and the story of Angie. Take your time and allow both of these women to lead you before Jesus gaze, to receive his healing tenderness.

Making Peace with the Life That Has Been Ours (7)

Self-forgiveness is closely tied with self-acceptance. On some level the person who can’t forget something they’ve done, who continually brings up mistakes they have made, or who feels guilty about their choices in life, cannot accept themselves for who they are. Part of maturing is making peace with the life that has been ours. What stands between us and this perfect surrender is a mind filled with judgments and comparisons and labels and excuses and analysis. Surrender is possible only when we live in the absolute immediacy of our experience without commentary and rejection.

At any given moment one thing, and one thing only, is happening. I’m sitting. I’m listening. I’m talking. I’m singing. I’m kneeling. I’m folding my hands. I’m praying. I’m eating. My hands are in the sink, and I’m washing dishes. Most of the time, however, we aren’t present to the immediacy of the present experience. We are thinking about something else. We are commenting to ourselves on how much we like something, or how this is better than that, or why this person next to us is doing what she is doing. We re-run the past and rehearse the future. We live in a world of our own creation, and miss out on the beauty of the world that is of God’s creation.

We live in God’s world when we live fully awake to what is currently unfolding, receiving it silently, curiously, with wonder. Full awareness includes a complete opening to our inner space without judgment.

What is it that you can’t forgive yourself for?

What do you think about the situation or issue that still weighs you down with guilt?

How does this unforgiveness make you feel about yourself? What is the “taste” in your mouth, so to speak, when you remember the situation? Picture it again and just notice.

Can you be present to what you are experiencing without commenting on it? Can you let the thoughts and emotions appear and then casually drop them, as if they were of little interest or consequence, without judging yourself because of them?

This practice can, or probably should, increase a certain level of anxiety at first. We are so used to dissipating the uncomfortableness of the naked gaze into the immediate reality by creating stories, analyzing, figuring, planning, rehearsing, blaming, judging. Our monkey mind distracts us from what is true and what is real. What is true is simple. It is one. It is one moment at a time, one thing at a time, one feeling at a time, one thought at a time.

A giant step toward forgiving ourselves can be taken by simply embracing each moment, as it is, with love, a moment given by God who sustains us in existence, bends over our nothingness, requires nothing of us but this repeated obedient surrender to what in his providence he allows to be. We may not like what we feel or what we see in ourselves. We usually have in the back of our minds a concept of what we would rather or should rather be. God doesn’t love our imaginary “us.” He loves the “us” he has created, as she or he is. Right now that includes the discomfort of what we feel about ourselves. Staying present to this discomfort will in time be the key to maturing in self-acceptance and one day finding it within ourselves to forgive ourselves.

Our “factory mode”—Loved Into Being (6)

The woman bent over double for 18 years had a certain image of herself. She was the woman no one cared about. The one no one knew what to do with. The person people talked over, or around, but rarely did anyone speak directly to her. She was the woman for whom there was no hope for a cure. Everything she had tried had failed. Maybe she thought she was a failure, that her life was wasted.

When Jesus called her over to him and she straightened up at his word, able to stand up and see and return to the community, she regained her identity. She learned who she was directly from Jesus. His was the first face she saw and his eyes told her that she was respected and loved. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees who complained about his having cured on the Sabbath, he didn’t refer to her as “this cripple,” or “this woman.” He called her, “this daughter of Abraham.” He restored her to her place in salvation history, one of the children of Abraham promised to the great Patriarch when God took him out and, directing him to look at the sky, said, “As many as the stars of heaven and the sands of the seashore shall your children be” (cf. Genesis 15:5). He had bent over in mercy because he loved her. He tenderly reached out to her because she was precious.

At this moment this daughter of Abraham discovered that all she had thought about herself had had no truth in reality. This concept created from patched together thoughts and memories and fears and sorrows was simply a product of the coming and going of her thoughts and emotions. Only in Jesus’ face could she see who she truly was. Only in his love for her could she have an experiential discovery of the preciousness of her life.

Similarly, the fearful prospect of Angie’s divorce, of being alone, began in her a spiral of thoughts. What will happen to the kids? How will I find a job in my condition? Why didn’t I see this coming? I’m not good enough for him. What should I have done better? What could have made a difference? Angie’s thoughts were the building blocks of the self-image she was beginning to create. We are all like children. Like children we believe what we think. If a child thinks she is ugly she believes it to be true. If a child thinks he is superman, he believes it to be so. That’s why it was important with Angie to break through her swirling thoughts with the light of Jesus’ face.

You can speak directly to Jesus about your feelings triggered by the situations you are in. You can tell God what you think about yourself as a result of what you have lived. When you have finished, it is important to watch Jesus. Our eyes do not fool us. We can think that God doesn’t hear our prayer because we can’t “hear” his voice, or he doesn’t “do” what we asked him to. But if you simply watch him, Jesus is free to do the unexpected, to surprise you with something only he could think of. So Jesus played chess with Angie. Such a remarkably intimate gesture said more to Angie about Jesus’ love for her, than imagining him saying this to her, or reading about God’s love in a book.

Jesus wants to get very personal with you. So get personal with him and give him that chance.

How to Start Resetting Your Life (5)

I used to think that if I did one more thing, took one more step, made one more resolution toward a new goal I would eventually arrive there. Radicality, instead, has become my new approach. It is true that we take one step at a time, that the law of graduality means we will develop in spirit much as we develop physically—slowly, but if we hope to touch the sunrise by deciding to make micro changes in our life, it will not happen. In the darkest mid-night we could decide to light a match or we could choose the eventual promised dawn, and the sunrise that dispels the night.

If you are suffering the effects of not being able to forgive yourself, you will get nowhere by deciding to forgive yourself again. Instead, like Angie start resetting your life. For the moment, let’s not worry about the issue of your self-forgiveness. Instead let us take a step back and start from the beginning. Reset to factory mode is the quickest and easiest way to return a computer to normal, cleaning it of viruses and temporary files so that it can run at optimal performance.

We can also “reset” our life.

A very easy way to start is to simply breathe. Take a few deep breaths. You may not realize how shallow your breathing has become as you carry around your secret shame. Breathing brings you home, while shame causes you to disengage from yourself. What do you feel as you breathe? Breathe in. Breathe out. Focus on just breathing for about eight minutes.

What do you hear in the room around you?

What are the thoughts that you are thinking? Take some time to begin to be aware of them. Are they life-giving thoughts? Are they harsh? Are they fearful?

Turning within, what do you hear within yourself? What do you see? What do you taste?

In coordination with your breathing, say this simple reminder to yourself that only this moment is yours: I am here. I am now. That is all. I am here. I am now. That is all.

Do you perceive any shift in your awareness of yourself? What are you feeling? Whatever you feel is alright. Some people feel a great inner peace. Others experience an inner agitation or anxiety. The agitation and anxiety are probably closer to the truth of what is most deeply going on within most people.

I often tell people I work with about the time I was helping to upgrade a building before moving our apostolic department. We were pulling up carpets, scraping up glue, stripping and waxing floors, moving furniture. After a while I wasn’t sleeping at night at all. I moved to the living room one evening and started doing the simple breathing exercise outlined above. Within seconds my feet started to “scream.” I looked down and there were open blisters on the soles of my feet. I soaked them in epsom salts and soon my insomnia passed.

I tell this story because it is a simple way of explaining what emotionally/spiritually happens to us. We are in pain–even spiritual or emotional pain–all the time, but we often aren’t even aware of it. It is when we stop and do an exercise that helps us become present to the here-and-now that we suddenly touch what is here-and-now. Then we say OUCH!

The pain you are living with as a result of not being able to forgive yourself hurts. You may be able to keep going, put on a smile, take care of others, but inside you hurt.

To reset your life, you first need to begin by coming home to yourself. The easiest way to do that is to breathe.

Reconnecting to Our Origins (4)

Angie turned over in her bed and faced the wall. She was recovering from her treatment for breast cancer and worry for her family consumed her. As she thought of her two teenage girls her heart sank. How was she going to tell them that their father wanted a divorce. “I’ve not been happy for a long time,” he had told her the night before. “I’m going to be leaving. You and the girls will be fine now that you are getting better.” Over and over again the words “will be fine” ricocheted across her brain. “Fine.” She didn’t feel fine. She didn’t know what she was going to do. She didn’t know how she would make it on her own.

I met Angie shortly after. As she told me her story I realized how alone she really was, since she had moved away from her family into the area for the sake of her husband’s education. He was leaving her now for a student he had met while working for his doctorate. How could she have been so stupid to bring her girls here, far away from their grandparents…and now this…with no support. How could she have done this, she asked herself over and over again.

As we explored how this situation made Angie feel about herself we noticed a pattern across her life-span of feeling unworthy, powerless, and no good. A memory from her childhood surfaced of her father telling her she couldn’t do anything right. She had brought home a report card with two Bs. She had been sent to her room to study, while he took the rest of the family to the movies. That sense of isolation and worthlessness had eaten away at her self-confidence. Timid and fearful, she seemed to always have been waiting to discover again that she wasn’t good enough, wasn’t wanted.

I led Angie through a very simple practice of prayer. After she became present to herself and aware of her breathing, I asked her to relax her body from her head to her toes. Quietly she looked at her thoughts. She noted her emotions. She observed her judgments of herself, others, situations.

“You are not your thoughts or your feelings,” I told her. “Often our judgments are like tall stories…. They are not based on a whole lot of fact. To get unstuck, we need to first separate ourselves from them.”

I taught her a simple prayer she could say quietly, each phrase on a breath: I am – here – now – Yours, O Lord.

Before Angie left, we invited Jesus to be with Angie when she was a little girl, left in her room alone to study. She told Jesus what she was feeling, how angry she was, how powerless, how unworthy. I asked her just to watch what Jesus did. I prayed quietly as she allowed Jesus to come into her heart in this very special way.

After a while I asked what Jesus was doing. Angie wiped her eyes. “Jesus sat down next to me and took out a chess board (Angie loved to play chess). He had all the time in the world just to play with me, to make me happy!” I asked her how that made her feel. “I can’t believe someone could love me. It feels warm. Beautiful.” Over the next few months we began to explore this image, to strengthen her roots in this ground of her being where she discovered herself to be shaped by and protected in the hands of a loving God.

What is always so awesome, is that this process of reconnecting to our origins, as simple as it is, powerfully changes the practical situations of life without a person even trying. Angie’s husband didn’t change his mind, but Angie began to find herself again, and that began to make the difference.

The Woman Bent Double (3)

Invitation

Live into the image of the woman bent double! Feel what she felt. Experience her loneliness and sadness from within her experience. See what she sees as she shuffles down the ancient dusty streets. What does she hear, touch, taste. What does she feel about herself? Does she hope for anything? Has she given up hope? Experience on every level of your being her desperation, she who couldn’t find anywhere relief or cure. What is she thinking? What is her attitude? How does she live her illness? Has she gotten used to being sick? Adjusted her sight to the horizons of her illness? Is sickness her new health? Is her sickness the measurement of a good day?

Hear the words of Jesus said over you: “You are freed of your disability.” What is it that you need to be freed from? What is it you haven’t told a single soul, but carry locked in the deepest closet, hidden even from yourself? What is it you desire?

Merge with her, for this woman is you in some area of your life.

Jesus saw in the woman bent double all of humanity in the devil’s captivity, fallen humanity, humanity separated from God and unable to unite itself to him. After the fall, the human race manifested manifold illnesses, unable to find a remedy or cure.

I—a member of the human race—I too am sick, spiritually ill, suffering from an illness that casts me into the darkness. I have made friends with something I regret in my life—resigned with being ill and expect nothing different, nothing new, nothing more. This is just the way it is. I couldn’t even begin to imagine anything different. The woman bent double and seeing only the earth is an image of me, I, who like all of fallen humanity, feels far from the warmth of the Father’s tender gaze, afraid of his love, of the cost of entrusting myself wholly to his dream for my life.

Like the woman bent double, we can find ourselves living content or resigned to our illness. The world created by our sickness becomes our only world, our hopes and dreams no longer able to break through the barriers of discouragement.

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