Our community is meeting for Easter Sunday this weekend, and we’ve been asked to reflect on how we’ve experienced the resurrection in our lives. Easter is all about victory over the struggles in our lives. The ultimate example for me of course is that death couldn’t keep Jesus down. Talking theoretically or abstractly doesn’t cut it here. During Lent, I have taken this question with me. How will I experience victory over what I struggle with? The question sometimes seemed to mock me when my struggles felt all too real.
This has been the most reflective Lent than I can ever remember. It began with our Ash Wednesday service around 40 days ago. The struggles I’ve always had (seems like forever) seemed to come to a head this year. My struggles are usually around this extreme sense of failure that I have about myself. As much as people can tell me that I’m doing a good job, I seem to take each problem that comes up personally. This glitch in my brain has given me huge grief in my life. My observant administrator at work is onto me on this one. All the positive reviews she can give me don’t seem to trump this feeling within that I don’t measure up. Maybe I got it from growing up in a church culture that taught us to come to God out of a fear of hell. Whatever the source, it seems pretty ingrained in me.
Last weekend, I heard in my favorite podcast that the Buddha taught that we all have one of 5 “fallback genetic glitches” that come up for us when life challenges us. When life pushes our buttons, we all seem to do one of 5 things. Some people fret or worry. Some people get angry. Some people lose heart. They lose all their energy and don’t know what to do with themselves. Some people think, “It’s me, oh oh, I didn’t do things right. I messed things up.” And some people need to be “sensually soothed”. “Where’s the donut shop? Where’s the pizza?” they ask.
While I can identify with each of these, it’s obvious which camp I fall into most of the time. I seem to think I mess things up and that everything is my fault. It’s a ghost that pays me regular visits. If a student acts up, my first thought is not, “Oh, maybe he/she had a bad sleep or is having some other trouble.” No, I think, “I didn’t plan my lesson well enough. I didn’t respond wisely enough.” What sets in like a vice grip is this sense of depression. It’s no surprise that life can lose its joy.
I often brought this to God in prayer over the last weeks. “God/Jesus, you gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Heal this in me, please.” We can carry our wounds with us only so long before we realize we need help. Like the first step of the 12-step program of AA says, we have to admit we’re powerless over something before it can change. We turn it over to a Higher Power, and for me this Higher Power is Jesus.
This awful feeling of failure is not the only reality of my life. As I went through Lent, reading daily meditations and sharing reflections on them with my friend Bev, I began to notice several things. First, I noticed that I am not alone in my struggles. Bev, my Lenten email (and in person) friend, struggles big time with worry. Her imagination kicks into overdrive as she imagines worst case scenarios which turn her into a scared rabbit. She joined me in turning our glitches into occasions to pray to God in trust for healing. Prayer, sometimes as simple as taking a deep breath, is an immediate way of knowing that failure is not the only thing.
I also began to notice this sense of resiliency – that even though depression visits me, hope always returns in some way, usually by the next day. In one sermon a few weeks ago, we were given the image of an elastic band to illustrate this sacred tension between despair and hope; between our human glitches and God’s victory.
Christian tradition teaches that we all have a means of grace – ways that stretch that rubber band back to God and refocus us on the bigger picture of our lives. For me, these means of grace are plentiful – email exchanges, friends who pray for and with me and remind me often that there’s more to life than this darkness. Sometimes a simple nap is a way of giving my struggles over to God. Writing this blog is a means of grace. Listening to music, running, reading, and even preparing a good meal are all things that remind me of the victory of Life over death.
I think I will always have this genetic glitch of self-blame, but I am beginning to get it. It’s not the only choice I have before me. I used to be at the mercy of the glitch, thinking it was all there is. But I am beginning to understand that I have other choices before me. When it happens, I can take a deep breath. I can pray for help. I can remember the dear friends who are on the same path. I can pray for others who struggle without hope. I can pray for others who have enormous life challenges before them and feel alone. I can listen to music or turn to scripture. In short, there’s a mysterious sense of Someone else being with me that I’ve become more aware of and it has trumped the glitch. It is real.
My Dad gave me a gift a few weeks ago; a means of grace that he has used over the years. Over coffee in February, he shared with me that he too has had a life-long struggle with these same things. He told me that he prays the Golden ABC’s when he can’t sleep and has no peace. The Golden ABC’s are a list of Bible verses, starting with each letter of the alphabet, which are great to say during times of struggle.
Bruce Cockburn, one of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters has a song called “Rumors of Glory”. Sometimes this Easter victory just sounds like a small rumor of glory, and other times it is resoundingly clear. I’ve been grateful that this week, I’ve heard it clearly. My heart has been glad and grateful. When I began to wonder what I’d write about in my blog, it felt like I had no end of things to write about. When my vision becomes less clear, I pray for the faith to keep believing anyways, knowing that God will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
Above the dark town
After the sun’s gone down
Two vapor trails cross the sky
Catching the day’s last slow goodbye
Black skyline looks rich as velvet
Something is shining
Like gold but better
Rumors of glory