Standing in the line to vote, I’d brought my rolling walker with a seat to use if standing long brought on pain. Three different poll workers kindly asked if I’d like to go to the front of the line. I said no, because I could sit down any time I needed to. They noticed the woman behind me with a bandaged foot and asked her the same. She also said no, there were chairs every six feet. She and I began to chat about the challenges of aging and life in general right now. She shared some difficulties, but then recounted with a light in her eyes how they had turned out to bring about some good changes in her life. I reacted with delight, recognizing grace and a faith we shared. We bonded there in a line, six feet apart, with masks. It was one of those blessed moments of connection. We parted reluctantly after voting and as I drove away I realized from other things that she had probably voted red, while I voted blue. But I also realized that she went back to her life reaching out in love to those familiar faces whom she understood and trusted, while I went back to reaching out to unfamiliar faces, with lives so different from mine. Both of us doing our best to help others and to share the faith that saw us through the hard times.
The problem with a political solution is that it doesn’t take into account that we are born with very different personalities. And though as we grow through stages of life, we can become stronger in undeveloped aspects of our personality, there’s a timing to the process that isn’t under our control.
I once wrote an article called Aliens in the Nest after recognizing how different I was from either of my parents and how different my five children were from one another and at least one of us, their parents.
It takes grace to love across these differences. It takes both time and grace to develop strengths in our weaknesses. What we can handle with the grace of faith now would not have been possible for us at an earlier stage of our personal spiritual development. God gives us grace for the moment.
We cannot force others to be where we are. I keep coming back to the importance of realizing with heart and mind that I and all others are loved completely at our worst, but are also still unfinished at our best. Legislating for others, no matter how strongly we feel and even if we ourselves would with grace be willing to sacrifice our own life for what we believe, doesn’t work. Our call is to help others find that love that frees us all to grow and risk and accept suffering and die knowing we were loved at each stage of our journey.
To survive, I have had to get more realistic over the years. This morning’s newspaper had advice on surviving Holiday depression. Inevitably, this kind of advice includes the suggestion that you think of people worse off than you are.
From the time I was very young, this advice sent me deeper into depression. Thinking about all the hungry children, all the homeless, all the seriously sick, and the war torn countries was overwhelming. Even today, if I focused on just the many friends and family I have that are experiencing heart break, pain that limits their lives, and fearful financial situations, I’d curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb. Because I’ve learned from experience that I can’t fix anything. At best, all I can do is put a band-aid on things that appear to need much more than that for healing.
I do better if I remember the hard times and heart break that I myself have survived in the past and remember the little things people did that helped me not only get through those times, but grow stronger. Then I pray that God will show me the people that I have the resources to help even with just an emotional band aid like a call or card if they are lonely, some homemade soup if they are sick, a lift to the store or out to lunch if they are home bound, and a charity to support that I can trust to reach across borders to people I don’t know. But perhaps even more important, I can share a story of how God got me through a hard time. I know that these are band aids, but sometimes a band aid gets us through the day and we can only live one day at a time. If we all share what God has given us, however small, we can bring hope to others.
For me who naturally lives in the ideal land of possibilities, it takes both faith and perseverance to find grace when facing the harsh limits of human reality. I can only stand up to my inner Greek Chorus, that keeps me frighteningly aware of my frailties, by focusing on God who simply says over and over, “I love you.”
Some twenty-five years ago by the end of my mother’s fourteen years of dying by inches from Alzheimer’s, I really wasn’t strong enough to devote myself to holding her hand and sitting helplessly with her at the foot of her cross. It was partly because of my own emotional weakness, some because of selfishness, but ultimately because her suffering shook my faith in God.
Now, I’m being challenged once again to seek grace to live that out as my husband’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis progresses. Some personalities are naturally reasonably good at accepting reality, however harsh it may be. But I’ve always been a change agent, a problem solver, a person that is good at finding alternative solutions.
Now, I know that there comes a time when that is not what we are able or even called to do, no matter how naturally good we are at it.
We are called to find grace in our weakness. But that is terrifying and only done by staying aware that though we are not good at this, God is and God is with us.
And grace comes only in the present moment. That is where God meets us. And learning to live in the present moment is a whole new way of being in the world for many of us. Some of us live in the past, while others focus on the future. I’ve always focused on the future with its infinite possibilities. So my first challenge is to only ask where is God in this moment and reach for His hand. My second challenge is to accept that God isn’t asking me to solve anything, but to trust and stay with Him in the circumstances, like Mary at the foot of the cross of those we love most.
I’m studying the book of Ecclesiastes in a Scripture Class at my church. We are using a book by my favorite Rabbi, Rami Shapiro. He boils Ecclesiastes down to accepting the reality of the present moment without judging it as good/bad, happy/sad, bright/dark. There’s none of this gritting of teeth and bearing things in hope for a reward of heaven or a star in our crown. It’s about accepting everything in this moment: myself, others, pain, joy, beauty, ugliness and by accepting the now…whole, we experience the grace, the transcendent in it.
God is in the reality of the present moment. It is all we actually have. But it is everything.