Quote from The Zen of Cats by Bernard Gunther:
“Who you think you are can’t survive, but who you really are can’t not survive.”
In my fifties I worked with a Spiritual Director in an attempt to find out who I was. I had always been a chameleon, adapting to fit relationships, any relationship, even someone chatting in the line at the grocery. I’d done this since childhood, but finally decided that I was tired of not being sure who I was if no one else was around either physically or in my head.
To discover my whole real self involved looking at shadow parts that I didn’t admit to, even though they were obvious to others. One of the ways to do this was to work with my dreams. If we start writing them down as soon as we wake up remembering them, we can begin to discover what they are saying to or about us. Some of the characters in my dreams and therefore in my psyche, weren’t very nice. They were, in fact, very different from the persona I considered my ‘self.’
One day, after a somewhat disconcerting session with my Spiritual Director, I went to visit my mother in the nursing home. Mom was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and didn’t even seem to notice me, never-the-less recognize me. So, I sat next to her bed and just held her hand. I was in inner turmoil over the possibility that I wasn’t just the friendly, generous, caring person that I liked to think I was. As I sat there, I was trying to convince myself that this negative side of me wasn’t real.
Mom had a roommate who had only been there a few weeks, but in all that time she never seemed to notice me or the nurses when we came in and never responded in any way when anyone spoke to her.
As I sat there silently, rationalizing about my feet of clay, the roommate raised up on her elbow in her bed, looked straight at me, and said clearly, “You aren’t who you thought you were, are you?”
As I stared at her dumbfounded, she lay back down, closed her eyes, and never said another word in my presence. About two weeks later she died. We really are all connected. I just hope God can use me someway in the last days of my life to help someone else in the tapestry.
So much for denial! Obviously, even when I am psychologically jamming my fingers in my ears and singing Jesus Loves Me at the top of my inside my head voice, God can speak loudly and clearly when it’s needed to grow more honest in order to become more loving.
I’ve always struggled with unrealistic expectations and the depression that follows when I’m forced to face the realities of our human imperfections (including mine) and a seemingly hopelessly imperfect world.
One of my many disillusionments has been how imperceptible are the differences even the greatest of us makes. For every plague we cure, another one is born. From every war we win, the seeds of the next are sown. For every race or nation emancipated, we project our inner evil on another one. For every answer we discover, a new question arises.
I cling to the hope, that in the overall picture of eons of evolution, that there is progress imperceptible to us in humanity’s short history, but recognizable to God.
Sometimes in the crucible of my own struggle to become the person God created me to be, no matter how humiliatingly limited that potential may be, I get a glimpse of a tiny, almost imperceptible new strength, understanding, and freedom in my willingness to love. If I can resist being overwhelmed by the multitude of areas where I still fall short, I can focus on the next breadcrumb in the spiritual trail God has scattered for me in my daily life.
The key word for me is ‘tiny.’ My illusions are large with fairy tale size expectations.
My husband was a realist, who lived in the moment, and was able to focus on just the next task. I once had a dream in which we were at dinner on a river cruise. The waiters kept bringing small appetizer like courses, one after the other. My husband happily ate each one as it came, while I refrained, waiting for the main course. At some point I realized that there was no main course.
I cannot lie, it’s still frustrating. Sometimes, I have overwhelming dark days of discouragement. But they aren’t frequent, they don’t last long, and usually I can follow God’s bread crumbs out into the light again, feeling a tiny bit stronger and wiser and a tiny bit more able to love. Grace can turn dark times into what stretches us and increases our capacity not only for persevering, but for joy and love.
Some of those bread crumbs are found in blogs I follow. Two particularly (but not limited to these) are: Unshakable Hope and Make Believe Boutique
The many sources of bread crumbs vary greatly from Scripture, nature, friends, books, movies, TV, dreams, memories, and even the comic strips. When we look for God’s breadcrumbs, they are everywhere.