Eventually, life will bring you to a wall that you cannot cross over by yourself. Such is the place I have found myself lately. As the saying goes, all my best efforts have brought me here. The daily office, life in community, reading theology and spirituality, therapy, centering prayer, spiritual direction–in short, all the tools I have used to deepen my relationship with God have done just that. They have dumped me at the foot of a wall that is too large to climb over on my own.
This experience has been (and to a degree continues to be) painful. In many ways it has been like a mirror, showing me, yet again, all the ways that I use the spiritual life to feel good, to ease pain, to shore up a sense of accomplishment, to garner affection, in short all the ways that my efforts at the spiritual life reinforce the false persona of the good boy and help me feel secure and safe.
The good news, of course, is that, despite all my best efforts, all my striving, I have reached a place where my strength fails me. Or, rather, where I come face to face with my own limited humanity. As those I live with can tell you, I’m not an angel. I don’t have wings to lift me up and over this particular wall looming over me.
The most difficult part of this time has been allowing others to love me. I’ve learned, as many of us have, to believe that others love me in spite of my limitations and shortcomings, that they love me because I’m strong and capable. It’s safer to move through life this way, because it means that I never have to find out if others truly do love me and not just the persona I spend so much time consciously and unconsciously crafting. To my surprise, these people I love do love me. What an astonishing and unlooked for grace, a grace I dared not hope for, even as it has surely been one of the deepest yearnings of my heart.
This wall exposes all the bits of myself I’d rather keep hidden from people. And exposes also the inability, finally, to keep those parts hidden. In that way the wall shatters the illusion that I’m not human, shatters the idolatry I’ve made of my own strength and ability. It isn’t that I’m not strong. I am. Strength has brought me to this place. But, strength ultimately fails because true strength is vulnerability. To quote Paul: “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The love that I have experienced and am experiencing at this particular time in my life also shatters some illusions. The illusion that I’m separate from others; the illusion that I don’t need others; the illusion that I can’t trust others with what seem to me the dark, shameful parts of my inner life, the parts that really aren’t anything different than any other humans experience with great frequency.
In the end, you see, we cannot make our transformation happen. Conversion is not a project or a goal. God is not something to be achieved. And we cannot, finally, bridge the gap between us and God. Only God can do that. But we can wait. We can acknowledge our full humanity. We can love one another. And, perhaps most difficult of all, we can allow ourselves to be loved and known, most especially in our weakness. In the end, we can even learn to thank God for the walls that come along, trusting that, in the end, we will see that everything is grace.
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