A weekly blog about relationships, belief, and personal growth, written from a position of hope.
Those who go first sometimes leave a map for others to follow. Like markers along the road, we come across the path others have forged. As fellow travelers, we do our part to keep the road clear and offer any insight or direction for those coming after.
In our personal Iives we leave identity markers. The things that shaped up, the spaces we created and occupied for a time—they become rest stops for others on the same journey.
I was listening to an interview with Audrey Assad, and she put into words what I’ve always felt about the aim of my own life, particularly in writing the blog:
“I see myself as someone who is building rooms for people to sit in in different spots on their journey, and every time I go through something I build a room around it, and then I walk forward and build another one, and people who come after me can use those spaces.”
The worst place to find yourself is not a different place than you were before but a lonelier place. As we grow and change we often find ourselves emotionally or spiritually homeless. I love Audrey’s picture of rooms to occupy as you move forward.
I think of cabins built by early settlers and left for the next pioneers to occupy as they ventured further into the unknown. I imagine days, weeks, months of hiking in the wilderness, family and belongings in tow, wondering what refuge your seeking will find.
I think the metaphor of creating and leaving space for others might be one of the most meaningful objectives we can set for ourselves in life. What better way to love your neighbor than to house them when they’re homeless? Keep building rooms, my friends. We will all need a place to stay at some point or another.
How do you handle problems, cope with stress and difficult circumstances, or process grief? We are different in how we approach these things, and I realized I start by describing. In an almost postmortem fashion, I begin breaking it apart.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and I heard a phrase recently that turned a light on in one dark room of my heart. The phrase was, “describing to defend.”
I immediately stopped the interview, sat with the realization, and rewinded to catch it again. I learned I can explain why it happened, unearth the roots of the cause, trace back all contributing factors, and it hurts less—for a while, at least.
If I can understand where someone is coming from, why they are the way they are, the pain they cause seems less impactful. My natural curiosity, my desire to learn, my craving to understand others—they’re all useful traits.
However, they can delay the real work that needs to be done. It can stunt the necessary healing. Being able to categorize and explain doesn’t do away with anything, it just makes the stored trauma more organized.
There are good principles I’ve tried to include as I shape my paradigm of the world that I believe might have contributed to my misapplication:
They’re fantastic principles, but they can’t allow you to deny the grief work when pain enters your life. You still have to say, “That really hurt!” We don’t become immune or invincible by understanding the other. If anything, we may train ourselves to temporarily be numb as we await our own falling apart.
And outside of ourselves, if we become am impartial observer to what’s happening, we just might diminish our ability to truly empathize with the pain of others.
I caught myself recently trying to rationalize, explain, and answer someone who was struggling. I felt like I understood their situation, therefore, they needed my “knowledge.” They just needed me to listen.
Learn, share, repeat. It’s a process I’m committed to, and I appreciate you continuing to read along with the journey. I don’t express it enough, but I am tremendously grateful for all who have kept up with the blog over the years.
As a reminder, many of you have reached out via email, and I encourage those of you who haven’t to send some feedback my way. Did anything resonate with you? Are you learning something right now? Do you agree or disagree? Whatever it might be, this is your space.
Peace and blessings!
Some of the castles we toured in Ireland were decorated with furniture twice the age of our country. Crazy, right? The bed in one of the chambers we walked through was over 500 years old.
We are like the Mark Zuckerberg of countries. We hit it big early. We’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time, but we are obviously still learning. To much of the world we are adolescents, and I think it’s partly why so many assume Americans are arrogant in a sense.
I remember a beach trip my friends and our families took years ago. We were kicked out of the go-kart track for ramming each other. What else could you expect from teenage boys?
One of the dads, angry at the go-kart attendant who was talking back to him said, “Son! I’ve got shoes older than you!” That shut down his youthful arrogance quickly. We still tell the story more than a decade later.
One of the most remarkable sites I saw on our trip was the Cliffs of Moher. They are said to have been formed 320 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period. It’s hard to even fathom that amount of time given the blip our individual existence is.
A 500 year-old bed, a thousand year-old country, all seem like infants to those cliffs. Maybe we are all children, relatively speaking, making mistakes, trying to get along, attempting to figure out the world, getting kicked out of go-kart tracks.
Here today and gone tomorrow, we try to learn from those who have gone before and make a worthy contribution when it’s our turn. We try to move the ball forward before the unstoppable hand of time moves past us and we become a part of the history a tourist reads about hundreds of years from now.
There’s a saying that goes like, “Be nice to everyone you meet, because everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I was reminded of this in one of the cathedrals we toured in Ireland when I stumbled upon a prayer book written by people passing through from all over the world.
Two recent entries in particular stood out to me. I’m assuming they were written by a couple that was there together. The first read,
“Lord, help us find the faith we’ve lost, and help us help others do the same.”
And the second,
“I have lost my faith when my most precious and beautiful daughter was lost 7 months ago. She was only 23. This has ruined me. Help!”
Written just a day before we were there, someone had stood in the exact spot I was standing, crushed from their loss but hopeful enough to write a few words in desperation.
It took me aback for a second. As I flipped through more pages, I realized this was not the only one of its kind. Many had spilled their hearts, the words laced in grief and sorrow, while others expressed praise and gratitude.
It was a sobering reminder and encouragement. Suffering is a binding agent for humanity. It’s a common denominator for all who have walked the earth. For centuries we’ve cried out, in Psalm-like fashion, in our hearts, homes, churches and cathedrals.
We’ve gravitated time and time again to the promise of a loving God, a God who is with us, Emmanuel, in the suffering. And the story continues, the prayer books keep getting filled.
No one is immune to the pain. In the double-edged beauty of living we accept the good and the bad, so it’s not only helpful but imperative to keep sharing in our suffering, because one of the most important messages we must continue to perpetuate is...
...you are not alone.
When you read this I’ll hopefully be driving through the countryside of Ireland. As I write, Lacie and I are sitting in the airport waiting to leave. There’s something about public places, particularly where people are waiting, that fascinate me. Like the hospital a few weeks ago, I’m surrounded by so many stories.
There is a Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart version) looking character eating a bag of Skittles a few seats down. Something on his phone is making him smile. Maybe it’s a picture of his grandkids who he hasn’t seen in months, and he’s now one flight away.
The guy sitting closest to me is taking an online course. His hair is cut like he’s in the military, and his build and posture suggests that might be the case. I wonder where he might be stationed next, what war he might be called to, what pain he might one day experience—or just what career he’s studying to pursue.
The man who just walked up is arguing with someone on the phone. Apparently he’s not putting up with their fecal matter anymore. The more I listen the more I realize he’s probably just a talker. You know those people that sound like they’re mad but it’s just how they communicate?
One woman walks up to the counter and asks, “Am I in the right place? I honestly haven’t flown in thirty-seven years. Do you think I have time to go grab some coffee?”
It’s refreshing to pay attention and realize there are a million intricate lives all around you, serving as a backdrop to the one narrative we call our own life. I’m so often reminded of a word I’ve written about before--sonder.
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
So look up every once in a while. Life has a surplus of simple delights if we are willing to pay attention. And who knows, you may go from being the extra in the background to a new character in another’s story, as lives entwine and become even more vivid and complex.
You haven't missed your calling
From where I sit in this hospital waiting room
Accept the invitation to live
The lighted window
It was worth it
The subtle sounds of a life together
Made for the now-what
When holidays are hard
Sharing in our suffering
To my doubting friend
Ten years down the road
How long, Lord?
A season of doubt