It has been quite the week of story-telling. We had two wonderful story-tellers come to our school as part of “I Love to Read” week. I myself told the Grade 3’s a story which used to be part of my bag of tricks as a music substitute teacher. I hadn’t told the story in 15 years, but there it was, stored in my memory like a trusted friend who sticks by you. It’s an epic tale of good vs evil and I reveled in the wide eyes of my students as they listened. Outside of school, we also went to a story-telling themed 50th birthday party.
Stories have a way of opening spaces in our lives, letting us breathe more freely. I saw this in the smiles on parents’ faces as they left the gym on the school story-telling evening. For a while, we forgot about troubles in our own lives as we found ourselves in another place, another time, with story characters who had their own set of problems to face. “Once upon a time” can be a safe juncture through which we can view our lives.
Another story was told on Wednesday night during our study on the gospel of Mark. The chapter we looked at was the one in which Jesus pleads with God to let the cup of suffering pass from him. Meanwhile, his friends let him down by sleeping instead of keeping vigil with Jesus in his difficulties. Worst of all, one of his disciples betrays him to the authorities and gets him arrested and ultimately killed.
Sometimes, stories reveal something darker to us and show us a glimpse of an issue that we’ve been ignoring. This was the case for me in the Mark story. Paul, our pastor, led us through an imaginative retelling of the very familiar story of Jesus’ suffering, betrayal and arrest. We all closed our eye and listened to the story. We smelled the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemene, declared our loyalty to Jesus when he told us we’d betray him, and felt the tug of sleep as Jesus was praying nearby.
But I experienced a different twist. As we closed our eyes, I saw the scattered state my mind was in. I tuned in and out of the story as incidents from the day and to-do’s on my errand list whisked my attention around like a bag blowing in the wind. As Paul finished the active imagination exercise, I realized I had been just like the disciples. I didn’t exactly sleep, but my distractions had a sleepy feel of avoidance to them.
The rest of the evening was rich in conversation and learning as usual, but I left still feeling sheepish about my distracted mind. As the week carried on, however, I realized this experience had been instructive. Part of the evening’s teaching had been about how sleepiness can take on different forms, one of which is exactly this distracted state of mind. It is a bit deceptive though. Being busy appears to be anything but sleepy, but there is an avoidance of deeper issues going on. Being busy can leave us flighty and missing out entirely on the more weighty matters of life.
I realized, not for the first time, that this is a pattern I have. When there is something difficult to face, if I don’t watch myself, my unconscious impulse says, “I’d rather be anywhere but here,” and I drown myself in distractions.
I had gotten caught up in this pattern this week. I’d woken up with a headache. Meds helped, but I still found myself in a “grit my teeth and get through it” type of mood all day. Instead of facing my troubles and giving them to God, I stayed busy. When Paul began to tell his story, I was spinning.
Finding myself in the story helped me wake up to this pattern of wanting to get out of suffering. I confessed it to God the next morning and asked for help in overcoming this. It was such a small thing, but it helped so much to give it to God.
When trouble comes in my life, if I am asked to go through a trial, my deepest hope is that I’d face it with God as my strength, instead of swirling around in avoidance. Good Friday is coming up this week. I want to be like my hero Jesus, who was honest with his fears but still trusted. He asked for the cup of suffering to be taken away, but when God seemed to be giving him a “No”, Jesus prayed, “Not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36) Even though it felt like God was abandoning him, Jesus was accompanied, even to hell and back.
I came across a prayer on one of my favorite blogs this week, a prayer by a Roman Catholic priest named Francis de Sales (1567-1622). It was a good encouragement, reminding me that when we are walking with God, nothing is too difficult to face.
“Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or he will give you the unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”