I was traveling in the car the other day, on one of my every-other-day trips these days to get milkweed to feed the many monarch caterpillars at school. 2012 has been a bountiful monarch spring in Winnipeg and I love sharing this miracle of nature with others. Thankfully, nature is providing ample milkweed to feed all the babies, and it has produced daily wonder in students and parents alike at school. (And it’s with delight that I see the parents sneaking into my class to look at the nature table, and transform into little kids as they check out the tadpoles and caterpillars.) It’s been a bit exhausting to feed them all, but it’s worth it.
But I digress. On my way to the local wild milkweed patch, I was listening to one of my favorite CBC radio shows called Tapestry. I only caught 5 minutes of it on my drive, and I don’t even remember the topic, but something caught my ear and stayed with me all week. The person being interviewed said, “There’s an outside to life and an inside to life.”
For some reason “outside and inside” grabbed my attention and I wondered if I’d be musing on it for my blog topic. Like a loyal friend, it kept coming back to my attention all week, and I enjoyed watching it weave in and out of my awareness, pondering its significance.
Good thoughts are interesting that way. They truly are good friends. Left on their own, my thoughts stray infinitely, hooking on to endless worries and obsessions. The Buddhists call this “monkey mind”, with the brain scrambling around. Monkey mind can be tamed and maybe even healed through contemplation, which is what I received through the “outside/inside” thought thread.
I’ve noticed that I seem to become more at peace when I am living from the inside. Take an ordinary day for example. I have a pretty stressful job. If I live from the outside, then I begin living by outside circumstances and a “me first” and “comfort first” mentality. Whatever bumps come along in the day (and they usually do even before 9 am!) become exactly that – bumps that trip me up.
But if I am living from the inside, then everything is changed. Here I am not dependent on circumstances to make me happy or unhappy. It becomes more like I am choosing what to focus my attention on. Some days are easier than others. I might have various body aches, or things that are worrying or grieving me, but if I am choosing to focus on what I know to be true, then I begin to live from the inside rather than with these monkey-ish issues defining my day.
So what do I know to be true? The long answer to that question is to read any of my 40+ blogposts since May 2011. But the short answer is that God’s promises are true, promises such as: God will be with me and all of us, no matter what is happening on the outside. Like an endlessly creative artist using materials at hand as the medium, God will use whatever bumps in the day to form my character (especially if I’m not fighting it).
Promises such as God having infinite mercy and love for all of creation, even that which we’d consider hopeless and full of warts. There is nothing that God has not touched with boundless mercy and goodness.
Everything changes when I begin to live by capital T Truth. If I have this sense within me as I begin my day, then bumps are just that – bumps. I take deep breaths, say prayers throughout the day, and ask God continually not to take my circumstances away, but that I might gain wisdom and equanimity to meet them.
In this life, I know I am not alone in wondering why certain problems keep meeting us – not just personal circumstances such as health or relational snags, but societal problems like poverty and greed which create so much grief in the world. Sometimes it can all seem like too much and we wonder what on earth God is up to.
But I have been taught consistently over the years that God is everywhere, and that Love can reach deep down, even into the lowest hell. Having this outlook is probably the toughest truth to step into. We’d much rather worry and be angry, as if that gets us anywhere at all.
I woke up on Tuesday of this week with a sharp headache. I pretty much bank on once a month headaches, but this one was only 2 weeks after the last one. “Another curveball?!!!” I moaned in desperation. “Doesn’t God know that my plate is already full enough?”
It took a day until I realized I was living with a fist clenched against God. What happened to me following the One who promised, “Lo I am with you always”? My prayers felt like they were hitting the ceiling the next morning, but I confessed my lack of trust and started living from the inside again. “God, I really don’t get what You’re up to here. I’d rather have health, but You know me so much better than I know myself. Give me patience and form my character in Your wisdom.”
It doesn’t sound like much perhaps, but this giving up helped a lot as the inner storm took its course. It was like I switched my mind’s eye from circumstances to God’s promises. Sure I didn’t feel great, but more important, in a deeper sense I remembered that I am God’s daughter, loved and provided for. I’m really pretty bad at living this way, but inch by inch, God keeps calling me back, which is a miracle in itself.
The caterpillars go through 5 skin sheddings (called instars) before they transform into a chrysalis. Each time, they crawl off to a secluded place in the cage and hang out for a day. I’ve learned not to see this as illness, but as a short retreat before they shed a skin that’s gotten too tight for their growing bodies. In a bizarre twist, they even go back and eat the shed skin, knowing that it contains nutrition.
Maybe that’s what we’re all up to as we shed these earthly worries and cares. Maybe it’s what scripture means when it says, “Cast all your cares on God, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
After all, it’s what transformation is all about.