I have made a new friend this summer. Ok, I haven’t actually met her in person, but she has been open, honest and wise with me, sharing lessons from a difficult life. She is writer Kathleen Norris, author of Acedia and Me which I began to review in an earlier blogpost.
In pondering the theme of my next blogpost, a phrase from her book has stayed with me in recent days. She quotes a desert monk from the 3rd century who told his disciple,
“Brother, the monastic life is this: I rise up, and I fall down, I rise up and I all down. I rise up and I fall down.”
This quote reflects one of the lessons I am learning this summer. Those who know me know that I am prone to perfectionism. This tendency to need to get everything right has given me (and no doubt others) much grief in life. People frequently tell me that I’m too hard on myself, something I know all too well, but I catch myself at it all the time. Like an addiction, I don’t know how not to do it without a Higher Power. How do I give up trying to get it right, and the larger problem behind it of wanting to be seen as a “good person”?
Norris’ book has reminded me that I’m not alone in my struggles. She writes of facing many struggles: her husband’s illness and death, and her own tendency towards depression and perfectionism. She has reminded me that the true failure is not in having struggles common to everyone. The real failure is forgetting that God is with us amid them.
This summer, I’ve had to do a bit of climbing out of what John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress calls the “slough of despond”. With health and emotional issues in the spring, I felt I’d lost the battle to “get it right” as grouchiness and a sense of despair gripped me, and was left with a sense of underlying depression. As I’ve sat with it in prayer, in talking with friends and in my reading, I’ve realized God has been speaking to me in my time of perceived failure, reminding me that like the old childhood game of Ring Around the Rosie says, “we all fall down”, and that, by God’s incredible mercy, we all rise up as well. The monastic life is this: I rise up, and I fall down.
You might be thinking this is pretty obvious, and I agree. The teaching is not new to me, but in the application of it, I think I am a total beginner. The question is, have I accepted God’s love of me as I am, warts and all? As the new school year approaches, can I learn to live in whatever each moment has for me, whether rising or falling, and learn contentment? I feel a stirring of hope in me lately that God is digging these lessons more deeply. And as the 13th century poet and mystic Rumi wrote, the invitation never ends:
“Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times
It doesn’t matter
Come, come yet again, come”
Back in early May, Lyle and I went to Minneapolis for a weekend. We had a great time, but the congested cold I had combined with an airplane ride left me with stuffed ears, a condition called barotrauma. It’s been 13 weeks, and while it is slowly healing, I am still living with this weird symptom.
As I’ve been considering the lessons God is teaching me, I have to confess that my inner ears have been
plugged as well. God was speaking all along but I was so caught up with falling that I didn’t hear God’s invitation; God’s reminder that falling doesn’t matter. What matters is walking into the future with trust that God is in every rise and fall, forgiving our stumbles even before we know they’ve happened.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night. Psalm 121:5-6