You know what extreme sport I would never want to engage in? Spelunking. Throw me from an airplane. Tie a rubber band around my waist and push me off a bridge. Put me in a cage in shark-infested waters or leave me in the wilderness with a paper clip and a coffee filter and tell me good luck. But please don’t send me to explore an underground cave system. It’s not the dark or being underground that would get to me; it’s the narrow tunnels between caverns that I could never tolerate. To have the earth closed in around me such that I can’t flex my joints, twist my back, turn my shoulders – being able to do nothing but breathe and creep forward is the stuff of my nightmares. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I’m suffocating. I cannot for the life of me understand why people do it. Unfortunately for me, this seems to be exactly the position I’m in spiritually. And it turns out that being in such a constrained place in the spiritual realm is as uncomfortable as I imagine moving through a very narrow tunnel under the earth would be.
You can look at your life as a large cone that becomes narrower the deeper you go. There are many doors in that cone that give you chances to leave the journey. But you have been closing these doors one after the other, making yourself go deeper and deeper into your center. You know that Jesus is waiting for you at the end, just as you know that he is guiding you as you move in that direction. Every time you close another door . . . you commit yourself to go deeper into your heart and thus deeper into the heart of God. ~ Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
I first came across this quote from Henri Nouwen years ago and have always thought that it was rather apt. There are so many ways that one can just walk away from the spiritual life. Or maybe not even walk away, but just find a door that you can’t bring yourself to close to hang out by. You could hang onto guilt or unforgiveness. You could make choices based on what’s safe and comfortable. You could decide that instead of an identity in Christ an identity as a parent or spouse or accountant or whatever is good enough. Or you could just decide that throwing yourself into the abyss is kind of a dumb way to live your life and go to seek your fortunes out in the world beyond that ever narrowing cone. But I didn’t. And now I’m in the deep dark part of the cone with no escape hatches in sight.
Early this year I said that I thought this year would be one of letting go. Which was kind of silly. I’m already really good at letting go. I’ve practiced it to near perfection over years and even decades. I deal with a problem, learn from it and then let it go. I let go like a champ. No, this is not the year of letting go. This is the year of limits. And that I am not so practiced at or comfortable with.
“Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. ~ Matthew 7:14
Up until now I’ve recognized limits and chosen to abide by them. I’ve failed at things and chosen to accept that it wasn’t the right thing at the right time. But the presumption was always that I could choose not to accept that limit. I could have chosen to break through failure, paid the price and pursued my goals to the point of success. Limits meant saying “I won’t”, “I don’t”, “I haven’t . . . yet.” But in the last 12 months I’ve had to add another phrase to my repertoire: “I can’t”. And now the “I can’t”s have piled up until I can hardly move. As I’m discovering, it’s one thing to practice being still. But it’s another thing entirely to not be able to move.
My van died. My dog bit the baby. We can’t afford the $45 surrender fee the shelter requires to take him back. My 12 year old flunked his online course because the computer crashed and ate his (not turned in) homework during the system restore. Now the school district is threatening not to pay for any more classes because it looks like he did nothing. I had to quit my DJ job because I can’t carry the equipment since I’ve been sick. I’ve been working on making a series of vlog posts for weeks. But each time something goes wrong; YouTube ate the file, I get interrupted, the microphone was off, I get interrupted, the video camera stopped recording part way through, I get interrupted, the picture is all jerky, I get interrupted, I can’t get new video capture software to install properly. (I swear, I’m just giving highlights from the last month. There’s much, much more of this joyousness.) On and on it goes. Day after day. Nothing completely catastrophic, but one thing after another blocking any way out. I feel like I’m just being pinned down and there’s nothing I can do about it. Like a person stuck in a narrow passage while spelunking, all I can do is breathe and keep creeping forward.
He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light . . .He has walled me in so I cannot escape . . . Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my path crooked . . I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. ~Lamentations 3:2,7,8-9,17
I’m not sure if it’s the stress or being sick almost continuously for 2 months (did you know that under certain circumstances you can pee out blood clots? I had previously been unaware of this fascinating possibility.) , but I honestly think I have brain damage. It’s taken 4 days to write this post so far.* My body doesn’t work. I can’t hear God at all. I can’t pray. I can tell that better things are coming, but frankly it just doesn’t make much difference at the moment.
All the old saints and mystics say that the greater the darkness, the closer to the heart of God you are. Even if that’s true and I haven’t spent my life on a fool’s errand or been cast into the outer darkness for swearing too much, I can’t imagine why I or anyone else was ever be foolish enough to try to come this way. As St. Teresa of Avila is purported to have said to God, “if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder that you have so few.” I suppose it’s like labor; everyone knows it’s awful and yet we manage to convince ourselves that it’s worth going through.
More than once in the last month I’ve started a blog post in my head that included some version of the words: “If you are thinking of following God, don’t. It’s not worth it. He will lead you into misery and humiliation and abandon you there. Even if He finally brings you out of the awful places he takes you into, you’ll be too destroyed to give a crap.” I’ll become the anti-evangelist. Not that it would any good. There’s just something about being caught up by God. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome or something. Only God won’t have me rob a bank – that would mean giving me access to cash.
My soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning . . . I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him. To the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. ~ Lamentations 3:20-23,24-26
*OK, it took 5 days. Plus an extra day waiting for the neighbor whose internet we’re stealing to fix their modem. It was down for a while. They really need to take care of that. heehee