More years ago than I can recall, a friend recommended Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird, to me. The title is misleading: one might think that it's about birds, but it is, in fact, about writing. Birds serve more as object lessons than subject matter, but This colorful way of titling her book notwithstanding, Anne Lamott became known to me. She has gone on to write other, more widely circulated books, and has become something of a celebrity among women of faith who enjoy raw, honest writing with humor, and a touch of self-deprecation. She's an absolute gem. I considered it one of my finest hours when a blogging/facebook/cyber-friend remarked that something I wrote sounded like Anne Lamott. High Praise!
Thanks to my mother's generosity at Christmas I am now the proud owner of Anne's most recent publication on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow. As is typical for me when reading such a book, my thoughts begin to go off on their own thread of reflection, and just such a departure from the page led me here to this blog post. Anne writes: "Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape." (Prelude, page 5-6)
This absolutely struck a chord with me. The first part of the above quote speaks to the difficult line that clergy walk at all times, and that female clergy, in particular, struggle with daily. Or at least I think so. Don't get me wrong, we can be a confident lot with very good cause, and there are any number of my brothers and sisters of the cloth whose lives radiate confidence because they are grounded, solid, authentic people whose inner strength overwhelms the wobbles far more often than not. There is an expectation that assaults us regularly, however, and that is the notion that we have our act together before we "show up," as Anne puts it. Trying to meet that expectation can feel, at times, like walking barefoot on glass, but we risk getting bloody because that's what servants of God do. (No disrespect intended toward servants who don't wear collars--I'm simply speaking here as one who does).
I put aside the collar to move on to the latter sentence. I've felt pretty ragged the last several months. Being released from a job that I did well and for which I was qualified to continue doing well has taken a toll. The road I pursued from there ran out, and no clear path forward has emerged. I have listened to my heart, listened for the will and voice of God, and made every effort to apply the lessons of the past to making choices for the future, and firm ground has not emerged. Others disappointments and hurts compound the stress. This is a hard, debilitating and demoralizing place to be, and it takes more energy to "show up" than most people realize. But I am trying. I am trying to show up, to be engaged, to let go of my own expectations to have it together so that I can at least be present in my raggedness with the hope, and prayer, of finding a way toward wholeness.
I have felt low, to be sure, but today I have finally acknowledged to myself that I am broken. This is not a "woe is me" acknowledgement, but a "stopping to take stock" moment. Years ago when I shattered my heel, my father comforted me during a period of extended pain by explaining to me that what I was experiencing was healing pain. My body was doing its job of repairing what had been broken, and in so doing the effort resulted in pain. This made sense to my intuitive self, and that wisdom has come in handy from time to time since that episode. It is time to be reminded of it again. Sometimes I am too good at reviewing and assessing what contributes to my pain, and once I have a grasp of the parts and can make as much sense of it as possible, I strive to move forward and past what has been hurtful and damaging. I do a disservice to myself at such times when the damage goes deep. Feeling the pain and grieving what is lost and broken can appear, and sometimes feel, self-indulgent. It is a place I don't like to stay, because I'm not fond of wallowing. But a period of experiencing the pain of healing is essential to the healing itself. I fear that of late--because there is so much pressure to move forward, find a job, pay the bills, repair what is broken, be confident--the work of healing is a job itself.
So before I pick up where I left off in Help, Thanks, Wow, I need to sweep the glass metaphorically from my path and not berate myself for spending the day in my pajamas. I can curl up with the dog, a cup of tea, the box of chocolates that was her gift to me for Christmas, a box of kleenex, and just read. And while I'm at it I'll cry, and grieve, and hurt, and let the pain of healing go to work on me. This is me, showing up. Collar optional.