Day #34: Risk taking

They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, Jesus threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves.
Mark 11:15

 

Some days, you do flip the tables. The day after Jesus shows patience in the temple, he returns and commits this drastic protest art/social movement, inviting the temple visitors to radically rethink their relationship to God. Jesus throws out those who market salvation via consumption (of the currency exchange for tithes; the purchase of doves for sacrifice). Jesus invites the temple visitors to bring their whole, bare, vulnerable selves to God and that that will be enough to save them, whatever it is they need saving from. It is this moment that cues all the dominoes that will fall until Jesus hangs on a cross. And yet Jesus takes the risk. Resilient people have been burned, threatened, lost friends—they know what’s at stake in their actions. And sometimes, they take the risk anyway.

Ruth, a perennial personality in these last 33 days, also chooses risk when she approaches Boaz late one night and essentially says, “thanks for your donations but I deserve to be more than a charity case to assuage this community’s guilt that so get it together and marry me.” And her honest, unconventional proposal works (but that’s another story). The point is that this is a real risk for Ruth: she’s a widow; she knows marriage isn’t as secure as it appears. She knows, better than anyone, the heartbreak she’s risking and, for all that she is a charity case, she’s pretty stable at the moment. She could continue with the status quo, gleaning for survival, for a long time. But she decides to risk connection and risk the possibility of new, healed community.

Takeaway: Resilient people have walked through the fire; they know it burns. And they know it warms. They’ve experienced pain, but they’ve realized if they spend their whole life avoiding pain, they’ll also avoid joy, love, belonging, hope. Tomorrow, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of the last week of this practice. What do you want to hold in this last week of thinking intentionally about resilience? Are there risks you’re weighing, and are you trying to rig the scales in favor of the decision that scares you less? Try to hold that risk not in terms of how scary it is but in terms of the possibility of healing, for yourself and your community.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #33: Patience

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 11:11

 

Remember that time Jesus went to the temple and didn’t flip over tables and banish the moneychangers? I didn’t either, until I reread Mark 11 this week. Mark is careful to point out that the day before Jesus storms into the temple and throws out the corrupt moneychangers and commodifiers of salvation, Jesus goes into the temple and… does nothing. Jesus looks around, and “because it was already late in the evening,” leaves. Maybe the disciples were hungry; maybe there weren’t enough people to make the protest worthwhile; maybe everyone was tired from a long day waving palms and dancing in the desert sun. Jesus sees something that doesn’t sit right with him, but he waits before reacting. There’s a certain amount of patience in resilience—a sense that we don’t always need to react out of our emotions, or that our reactions will benefit from more thoughtfulness. In other words, resilient people pick their battles. They don’t exhaust themselves and their collaborators fighting every fire. They pick and choose which fires to fight when they have the water and peoplepower to put it out. For an afternoon, Jesus disrupts the temple economy and kicks out anyone who tries to make a profit off guilt. But not this afternoon. Not today.

Takeaway: Patience is another word for picking your battles. Patience means not collecting and carrying every pebble your emotional landscape brings to the surface. Carrying a bag of rocks doesn’t always makes you stronger. Sometimes it just makes you grumpier.  Where can you be more patient? What battles aren’t worth fighting today? When you notice yourself getting riled up today, take a cue from Jesus: look around the temple and, if it’s metaphorically “late in the evening,” go home. Think on it. Regroup. Gather your energy and your people. You can wait until tomorrow to flip the tables.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #32: Remembering

This day will be a day of remembering for you. You will observe it as a festival to the Lord. You will observe it in every generation as a regulation for all time.
Exodus 12:14

 In the last two days, forgiveness and seeing the good, I don’t mean to say that resilience is about selective memory or forceful forgetting. Resilience is not about glossing over traumatic experiences. It’s about reshaping the memory, finding containers for the memory so the remembering doesn’t spill over and gloop onto every moment of your life. Remembering is critical—you learn to tell the stories of pain in ways that empower you and reveal your strength and grace. This is why the Exodus from Egypt begins with a ritual of remembering. The Hebrew slaves observe the first Passover on the eve of their liberation, at God’s instruction. God gifts the people a container for the memory. God gifts a way to contain and transform the trauma of slavery. In the Christian tradition, Passover becomes the Last Supper and Good Friday. The trauma is different, as Christians anticipate Jesus’ brutal and unnecessary murder, but the practice is the same: to create space in the calendar for remembering, to have a container to put some boundaries on the power of that memory. It’s a process, and our rituals may require some adjusting year to year, but finding ways to remember without being overwhelmed by memory is one way of healing.

Takeaway: Today may be a time to revive an old ritual: light a candle for a loved one; read a favorite story; recite a comforting childhood prayer. If you’re observing Easter, maybe it’s a day to make plans for a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday (next week). Or, take a moment to establish a new remembering ritual today. I recently created a Prayer Jar, where I put the prayers that are too big or too overwhelming for me to carry alone. When I find myself getting overwhelmed by a worry, especially near bedtime, I write it down and put it in the jar, physically giving it to God and giving myself space to rest for the night. Look for containers for the sloshing memories you hold.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #31: Seeing the Good

Better a meal of greens with love
than a plump calf with hate.
Proverbs 15:17

In my previous job, when I worked with teenagers, people would sometimes look at me with sympathy and say, “That must be so hard.” But the teenagers I worked with were constantly astounding me. One summer, I took them to a sweltering, weed-infested community garden on the West Side of Chicago where they were supposed to do yard work… but no one had brought shovels. When I told the kids to wait until the shovels arrived, they instead began removing the thistles by placing their sneakers on either side of the plant and jumping up, hard. They made a game of it. They found a way to see the best in a field of thistles with no gloves or shovels.

Even though I’m vegetarian, I love this sentiment from Proverbs (and am lukewarm on salads, in general). It’s not about what you’re having for lunch, it’s about scanning the table until you see something beautiful. Resilient people have a knack for being in highly stressful situations and pointing out the one joyful thing in that place. Resilient people choose to see the good, not because they are blind optimists, but because the good is what will give them energy to get to the next day.

Takeaway: See the good. When you catch yourself complaining, turn your attention to whatever small good thing is nearby: a plant growing under fluorescent light; the giggling infant at the DMV; the first daffodil of the spring while you’re sitting in traffic. Practice reframing the day, not out of naïve optimism, but because anger is exhausting. You only have a finite amount of energy; why waste it on all the things that make you unhappy?

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #30: Forgiveness

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Luke 7:48

 Whew. Lent is three-quarters of the way over and, piece by piece, a vision of resilience is emerging. Awe, generosity, curiosity, presence, love…. the words weave into a pattern, creating a way forward. Except for that one thing. Resilience isn’t linear—we often think we’ve grown past something, only to find we’re still holding it and need to let it go one more time. Maybe it’s something you did; maybe it’s something that was done to you. There’s that one thing.

The woman Jesus forgives in the verse above is still holding that one thing. She washes Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair, weeping inconsolably. And this is during a dinner! The woman is so consumed with the thing she is holding, and trying to release, and uncertain she can release, that she does not even speak to Jesus. But Jesus speaks to Simon, nearby, and asks him, Suppose one man was in debt 500 denarii, and one man was in debt 50 denarii. If their debts were canceled, which one would feel more strongly? “I suppose the one… with greater debt.” Simon answers. The greater debt, 500 denarii, is a year and a half of wages, if you were lucky enough to get work every day. It is insurmountable debt for a hand-to-mouth peasant. Even insurmountable debt can be forgiven, Jesus says. Even insurmountable pain can be forgiven. Even that one thing. “Forgiveness,” writes poet Buddy Wakefield, “is the release of all hope for a better past.” Resilience is about taking the time to forgive again and again, day after day, releasing all hope for a better past. 

Takeaway: Find a definition of forgiveness that fits today. Choose one of the ones below or write your own. Repeat it to yourself throughout the day. Let it guide you toward resilience.

“Forgiveness is for anybody who needs safe passage through my mind.” Buddy Wakefield

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Louis B. Smedes

“Forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.” Cherie Carter-Scott

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than God.” ― C.S. Lewis

“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” ― Indira Gandhi

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #29: Honesty

She said to them,
“Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara,
for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.”
-Ruth 1:20

 When someone asks “How are you?” it’s easiest to say, “I’m fine.” There are so many reasons to settle for the easy answer: we don’t want to worry anyone, or waste someone’s time with our personal woes, or, worse, have our grief mocked.  But denying the deeper feelings is a coping strategy that only works the first time. (As one friend says, “All coping strategies become coping strategies because they work the first time. The problem is, they don’t always work the fourth or fifth time.”) Ignoring your feelings is a coping strategy that leaves you more and more isolated, because no one else is allowed in the grief. You can spend a lot of energy defending your right to keep kindness out.

When the women of Bethlehem ask Naomi how she is doing after a decade and three family deaths away, she answers honestly: “Call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly (marar) with me.” She doesn’t insist that everything is looking up or that her grieving has past or that she’s happy to be home. She tells the women exactly how she feels. This honesty sets the groundwork for her relationship to the women: the ones who can’t handle her bitterness have permission to move on, and the ones who are ready to accompany her pain know exactly what they’re accompanying. Interestingly, no one ever calls her Mara—the only time Mara appears in the Bible is when Naomi says it. But saying it is an important starting point for Naomi. She can tell her community, “Everything is not okay, I’m carrying a lot of pain right now.” 

Takeaway: In order to heal, we must be honest with ourselves about the magnitude of the wound. A band-aid won’t work on a broken arm; a cast won’t work on a sliced finger. If we insist, “it’s no big deal,” when the pain is breaking our hearts, the lie denies us the possibility of ever transforming the pain. The broken arm goes on aching even with a band-aid. Practice honest feeling today. When someone asks, “How are you?” give an honest answer. And when you ask someone else the same question, ask for an honest answer. I work in a building where people answer honestly, “How are you?” It means the beginning of the day is often slow and it takes a while to get settled (especially on Mondays), but by the time we begin working, we know all the emotions sharing the office. We know who needs extra tenderness; who has extra energy to give; who needs space. The honesty at the beginning of the day means there will be extra kindness during the day.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #28: Love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18

Of course it was only a matter of time until Love showed up in #40DaysofResilience. Like 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love is patient; love is kind.” Love contains the qualities of resilience, and love makes us resilient. When you respond to trauma, disaster, setbacks by finding something to love, you are being resilient. Love is that great good engine of resilience. You are finding goodness in spite of pain. For recovering perfections (raise your hand), it can be a intimidating to think that love is perfect. But what the verse above says is that we are made perfect by love. If you have love in your life, you’ve already reached perfection. You don’t need to be perfect anymore. The word in Greek also often implies completeness; so it’s not so much that love has anything to do with being perfect, but that love is so complete that perfectionism is a false aspiration. Your ability to perfect or please is completely unrelated to your capacity for love, because you are already loved and there is no need to earn it.

Takeaway: Love boldly. Love widely. Move through the world assuming that love is looking for you, that love is on its way to meet you. Tell someone you love them; do something loving; do something you love; assume the best; assume those around you are trying to love as best they know today. What more is there to say about love? Everything. But you already know it. Your lungs were made to love.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).