Monday, March 24, 2014

A Straight Path, A Wandering Way

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
lean not on your own understanding
In all your ways acknowledge him
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

I watched this weekend as my friend cried, her heart broken and aching over a death in her family.  She wept over her own sense of inadequacy and failure, her regrets, and she grieved the sense of powerlessness she felt to help, to change things, to save.

I can relate.  I have not lost a loved one the way she did, but I have experienced death in my life, that helpless and disorienting sense of loss, that great sadness that comes with a deep feeling of failure.  And I feel powerless in my life, too - powerless to be the woman I want to be, to effect positive change at my workplace, to create worthwhile and edifying relationships.  While naming these losses and regrets is the first step, the truth is, acknowledging our powerlessness is deeply sad.  In fact, that is a good deal of the point: We need to grieve.

"Sadness allows you to let go of what you cannot have in order to make room in your heart for what you can have." 
~ John Townsend, Hiding From Love

That is what I am finding as I face my powerlessness: In the very act of doing so I somehow find a way through - a new way that is different from before, a way that is not my way, nor is it my understanding.  Grief is a great example.  I generally do not want to be sad, nor do I go out of my way looking to be sad.  Yet, as Townsend goes on to note, "God's solution for resolving loss is sadness ... Sadness is the antidote for depression.  It does a job.  Grieving prepares us for love."  Facing and naming, confessing our powerlessness is, itself, a new way.    It is the first step down the path prepared for us, to take us through our wilderness, to lead us out of slavery and into the Land of Promise, into freedom.  It is just not the way we expect.

As I have previously philosophized, we tend to think that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  "He will make our paths straight."  In geometry that may be true, but for some reason it doesn't quite work that way when it comes to the narrative arc of our lives, and I think it goes back to that whole "our understanding" pitfall.  God doesn't say that the path is straight: Therefore we are to follow it.  God says, "In all your ways submit to [God] and [God] will make your path straight" (NIV).

So, we follow God and as we do, God makes our path straight, not based on our understanding of straight, but on God's!

We would not expect to be sad in order to let go.  But God leads us to grieve.

We would not expect to have to remember who we are and who we've been in order to embrace grace and freedom.  But God leads us to accountability.

We would not expect to have to bring our secrets out into the open, but God leads us to confess.

We would not expect to have to ask for help, but God leads us to depend on [him] and others.

We would not expect to have to die in order to live, but God leads us to resurrection life.

This mysterious way, the path that is not necessarily straight and logical to our minds - certainly not the obvious way to go - it is the way of repentance, and when we walk it and all its strange meandering curves through all of its pain and its peace, we find that we can look back and see God has made our path straight.

That is the message of Lent.  That is the path of the Twelve Steps.  That is the Gospel.   

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