30 April 2012

delayed impact

Some things in life 'hit you from behind' suddenly, but expectedly (even deservedly), and impact you immediately. (read: getting belted in the bum with a thick, wooden, hole-ridden paddle).

Other things in life 'hit you from behind' suddenly, but unexpectedly, and some of the impact you experience instantly, but the rest of it comes more gradually. (read: getting rear ended in your truck on the freeway three times in less than two years).

In the former case, i waddled away having regretted the huge mistake i had made, and vowing (hoping) to never do it again. (Thankfully, this only happened once in my life.)

In the latter case, after the initial blow to my vehicle and my body, i felt fine and walked away from the incidents, having only to worry about contacting insurance and the body shop to ensure that the repairs got covered. Shock had initially and temporarily stabilized my system and enabled me to function in the ways i needed to respond appropriately to the unstabilizing event.

But it usually took a day or two before the shock wore off and the full impact of the accident was felt in my body...pain in my head, neck and shoulders...living on 'Advil Cocktails' for a couple of days...flinching every time i looked in the rearview mirror when i was driving...having occasional visions like this...

By the third time this had happened, i knew the drill.

But when you lose your job, it's a whole different drill.

When the initial blow arrives, you feel shell-shocked and panicked at first. And that shock sends your body and mind into 'strategy for survival mode'. You immediately begin to brainstorm other job possibilities. You start contacting friends, former colleagues, even strangers for leads to new opportunities. You pull out your resume to edit and update your professional information, and even initiate the process of getting it out to potential employers. And you freak out over the mysterious 'gaps' in your occupational timeline (cursing the day you thought it would be fun to drag the bag of custom-made dress shirts owned by the CEO of the company for which you were working as an 'errand boy' along the concrete walkway, thus ruining each of the six $500 shirts, and earning you an immediate termination...you KNEW that day would come back to haunt you!).

You do this because if you don't, you are terrified that you will begin that horrifying, paralyzing descent into the murky depths of uncertainty and despair.

You do this because, initially, you just can't believe that what has happened to you has really just happened to you.

Then some sense of 'reason' comes into play. You start playing games of 'chess' in your head...'If THIS happens first, then THAT might happen next'...'If i move THIS way, then THAT possibility might appear.' This leads to you not only losing what little sleep you were already clinging to, but also beginning to lose your greater sense of the reality that is confronting you square on in the face. Yet another form and extension of denial.

Then what is confronting you square in the face hits you, not from behind, but right IN your face. You get angry, enraged, flat-out pissed off at what has happened. You wonder to yourself, or even to someone intimately close to you..

'How the HELL did this happen?
WHY did it happen? To ME? To US?
Who the FLOCK do they think they are for doing this to me?
And where i can buy a rocket launcher?'

You do this because, initially, you never imagined that you could experience so much hurt from just one incident in your life.

You do this because if you don't express that hurt in a safe space and a somewhat healthy way, then it will come out of you at inappropriate times, in unsafe spaces and unhealthy ways onto others, especially innocent passers-by.

You do this because if you don't, you will be eaten alive, from the inside out.

Then...a strange sense of 'calm' emerges out of that frantic fog of over-compensation and anger-administration. You find yourself surprisingly enabled to function and communicate a sense that in the bigger picture, things are going to be okay. YOU are going to be okay. You begin to talk less frantically about trying to nail down the elusive future, and more philosophically about how terror elicits trust and fear catalyzes faith. Your inner barometer is balancing out. Your sense of self is stabilizing somewhat. You're not out of the woods by a long shot, but you feel like finally, from somewhere far beyond, you've been given a flashlight.

You don't exactly know where this comes from, but you receive it for the mysterious gift that it is, and ride the wave of it as long as you can.

You do this because, down deep, you don't have a friggin clue what's waiting for you beneath it all.

THEN...the deeper pain surfaces.

Not just in your head, neck and shoulders, but in your arms and legs, your esophagus, your lungs, your stomach, your heart, your soul, your entire being.

You feel this because you are grieving a loss.
A loss of a job, a way to make a living, a way to support your family.
The loss of a calling, a vocation, a sense of satisfaction in making a difference, however small, in others' lives and in the world.
The loss of a COMMUNITY.
A loss that leaves you feeling apathetic, anxious, ashamed, and ALL ALONE.

The shock that had enabled you to get out of bed each day and meet with people in town and correspond with others far away and kept you awake and moving through it all is eventually dulled and stilled, and cannot protect you any longer from that horrific, paralyzing descent into uncertainty and despair.

In fact, you discover that in reality, you've been in that descent all along.

Now you're just feeling it. For real.

And there's not a damned or blessed thing you can do about it.

Except FEEL it.

And live IN it.

And INTO it.

And (hopefully) THROUGH it.

And you know that these are words that you have shared with countless people over many years who were traveling through their own seasons of loss, their own cycles of grief.

And you realize that these words don't mean a damned or blessed thing to you now.

Because this is YOUR season of loss, YOUR cycle of grief.

And you want to go apologize individually to every person who was forcibly subjected to suffer through the indignity of having to sit still while you subjected them to this litany of words.

And you want to seek out every person and community and institution who ever invested their time, energy, resources, patience, friendship, mind, heart or soul in you in order to help shape you into the person who was able to serve in your calling effectively and joyfully, and thank them from the bottom of your heart for their belief in you, and apologize to them for failing them now by failing in your calling so profoundly and publicly.

And you want to return to the time and place where you felt like you at least somewhat knew who you were and what you were doing and where you were going.

Because you don't have a friggin clue about any of it anymore.

i'm writing these words from a place that was very formational and transformational for me in my personal, professional and spiritual life.

Princeton Theological Seminary.

Over three years living here, i spent a lot of time in buildings like this.

Studying things like this.

And most of the time, feeling like this.

But i keep returning here every couple of years...NOT to relive these kinds of memories...but rather, because through the times of sheer agony and ecstasy, moments of painful self-examination/recrimination and joyful celebration/exultation, in this beautiful setting and even more beautiful community of fellow strugglers and sojourners, i discovered more fully and freely than ever before who i am and whose i am, and caught a glimpse of what i was called to do and where i was called to go.

From the first time i visited as a prospective student on a rainy weekend in March, 1994, some of the most pivotal and profound moments i've had here have been in the balcony of Miller Chapel (the lovely building pictured above), by myself, in the second row pew on the far left-hand side, by one of the windows. Just being in that space with nothing happening and no one else around, i feel the presence of so many who have sat there before me...wondering about the reality and presence (or lack thereof) of God, their identities as broken and blessed creatures, and the shape and direction their life journeys will take from there.

And in that still and silent space of Spirit, the same thing always happens, in some form or another.

i enter discreetly.

i breathe deeply.

i sigh.

i cry.

i remember.

And remember.
And remember.
And remember.

And eventually...

i surrender.

Usually just for a few brief moments.

But in those moments...

i an not a failure. i am a follower.
i am not a solver. i am a seeker.
i am not a loser. i am a lover.
i am not a doofus, dingleberry, or degenerate.
i am a devoted doubter.
A paradoxical pilgrim.
A wandering wonderer.

And i'm thinking...a little more clearly than before.

And i'm breathing...a little more deeply than before.

And i'm be-ing...a little more peacefully than before.

A few pure moments of blessed bliss.

And then the moments end.

The sudden surprise ceases to be.

And you realize that you're still unemployed. (but thankfully, NOT in Greenland.)

And you recognize the wounds of shame that are still open and hurt like hell. (but thankfully, there are others that are starting to close and heal.)

And you fantasize about the day that you won't perceive yourself as useless,
And you won't conceive of a future filled with emptiness, 
And you'll be able to receive the gifts that are buried in the hopelessness,
And you'll be able to empathize with the ones traveling their own versions of the excruciating and exhausting and excellent journey, each and every day.

(but unfortunately, that day just hasn't arrived.)



  1. It seems when we are our at the bottom, Our Lord becomes bigger and we decrease in our ego, and how beautiful it is even in the loss and humility to feel free of the hindrances that were in the way of a honest intimate walk with our Lord. Broken and much more able to sit still and hear His voice and know we are still is beloved and HE smiles upon us with His favor. God works backwards. He surprises us and comes in the back door and works things out so much better than we ever could imagine. While we are feeling like we are being tossed down the Jordan through a rocky pebble bed being polished with each turn, finally on the other side of the Jordan we can say the Lord has done great things, Blessed be His Holy Name. Pure Faith and trust gets you through and out of it a great testimony that God will use mightily<3

  2. Sorry I've fallen behind on reading the blog. This was a great post. Such a roller coaster ride of anger, pain and little optimism to close the piece!

    I am happy that you've realized that you are grieving. I wasn't sure you recognized the symptoms in yourself. While you may not hold much stock in the advise you would give yourself, I think you should find comfort in knowing that it's a normal process, you know what the stages are, and most importantly, you know that it is a process that has an end. You will not feel like this forever.

    I also think that in addition to the pain of losing a "normal" job, there is probably added pain caused by being in a position of caring for a community of people. When I first thought to write this, I thought it would be unique to pastors, but I think anyone's whose vocation causes them to want to care for a group of people will have a similar problem if that group fires them. In my mind, it seems like it would add in extra helpings of betrayal and other forms of negative feelings that already exist when you lose a job.

    Reading your posts keeps making me think of the concepts of "opening" and "closing". In Shintaido, we do many exercises to open our bodies, minds, and hearts to allow us to make connections to the heavens and each other. I believe this sort of opening is necessary when you are trying to care for a group of people.

    As a result, if something bad happens, such as a loss of your job, I believe it is normal for ones heart, mind, (and body) to close in response to the pain. Closing keeps us safe. We feel stronger and less vulnerable.

    But it also makes us feel alone. By being closed we are not allowing ourselves to open our connection to the heavens and receive any energy from above. Similarly, we are not allowing ourselves to be loved and supported by those around us.

    1. hi rob...sorry i missed your very thoughtful comments until just now! 'opening' and 'closing' are vivid and powerful images for this journey that i (along with many, many others) am traveling right now...thanks for being 'open' to me in the midst of all this... :)