Life review is a common spiritual practice in which I lead my hospice patients. It is an opportunity for them to tell me about such things as their childhood, career, time spent as a parent, or their adventures through life. Often life review becomes a pathway to healing those lingering regrets, deep guilt, or broken relationships. Ultimately, it is a practice that can lead to the acceptance of one’s mortality and embracement of his or her belief in what comes after death. I found this quote recently which seemed to reflect this aspect of my work beautifully!
Whatever your beliefs, may you be at peace with the ebb and flow of your life.
“We see the water of a river
flowing uninterruptedly and passing away,
And all that floats on its surface—
rubbish or beams of trees—
all passes by.
Christian! So it is with our life…
I was an infant, and that time has gone.
I was an adolescent, that that too has passed.
I was a young man, and that is also far behind me.
The strong and mature man that I was is no more.
My hair turns white, I succumb to age, but that too passes away;
I approach the end and will go the way of all flesh.
When visiting with many of my elderly hospice patients it is very common for an individual to repeat the same story…over…and over…and over again, nearly verbatim. I have found with many of my older men, they tell the story of their business successes—the good ‘ol days when they were able bodied and in control of their lives. For others, it’s the betrayal they endured, or the road trips they took, or the unforgiveness they carry, or the grief they still bear years into their widowhood.
As I sit with these individuals anticipating the next part of the story, I wonder what my story will be. What will I be fixated on?
Will I talk about my work as a chaplain or my role as a mother? Will my monologue be made up of the same two or three pearls of wisdom from lessons of the past?
In my causal observations it would appear that our focus in life becomes the tale we tell. Of those elderly men retelling the stories of the business years, for instance, many of them rarely speak of their familial relationships.
I also question why a particular story gets stuck in the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of the pyche. For those who speak of their working day accomplishments, have they been unable to surrender to this season of their life that is more, as I’ve said in previous posts, about being than of doing? Does the unfinished business of our lives become that which we relive or at least retell over and over?
How do we avoid this? And can we?
As we age, are we doomed to be left with only enough brain cells to share that which has been burned into our memories for whatever reason—out of pride, fear, or loss? Dementia certain plays a significant part in this story-retelling, but can it be avoided otherwise?
I do meet many people who do not repeat the same stories. These are the ones who are not stuck in the past. Neither are they fixated on the future. They are the individuals whose lives are lived out in the moment; who journey free of the baggage of their past and are unattached to the outcomes of tomorrow.
As we settle into 2015, let us consider the stories we are already writing in our lives.
What memories are you creating? Are your obsessions on the daily pages of your life, or are you remembering to balance your goal-chasing with purposeful play? Do you spend just as much time with your coworkers as you do your family and friends? Are you burning bridges or mending fences? Are you harboring regrets and resentments or are you setting your sites on healing from your past? Are you living by your faith?
The choices are yours.
Years from now, what story will you tell?
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3: 17 (The Message)
“It was a nightmare,” I told our senior pastor who inquired after church about our vacation. As he slipped back into the crowd of church-goers, I stood surprised with my own words. Was it REALLY that bad?
The week before, my kids and I had headed out Christmas day to meet up with my mom, two older sisters, and their children for a Disneyland adventure! (And oh what an adventure it was…)
I went into the vacation drained on so many levels. At work I had compressed four weeks of patient visitations into three and done what I could to make sure the chaplain covering was in the know. My need for solitude (a necessary spiritual practice) had not been met for months, leaving me unusually strung out and not ready for a week of hotel living. We were two weeks out of my daughter’s bout with chicken pox and knew full well that our son could break out himself while on this very vacation. And, having missed every Sunday worship in Advent, I was spiritually malnourished. Layer on top of all that the usual life stressors and travel frenzy…and it was the perfect storm.
A day into our vacation, my son started showing signs of sickness. Away from home and out of my element, I realized I was dealing with a case of chicken pox different and worse than that of my daughter’s. His high fever persisted for days; his listlessness and lack of appetite showed few signs of letting up. By the time he vomited, I was emotionally spent.
I had become vulnerable.
Brené Brown has done wonderful work on vulnerability. “I define vulnerability,” she writes, “as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Yep. I had all those boxes checked: uncertainty (When would he show signs of being on the mend? How would we get home now that he was visibly infected with a highly communicable disease?); risk (traveling with the chance of an outbreak and facing potential judgment about not vaccinating my kids); and emotional exposure (my emotions were raw and visible).
But vulnerability can come in less suspecting packages than vacations gone bad. Brown continues. “With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.” (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead).
Brown, in her extensive research, firmly believes that being vulnerable can lead to a deeper sense of joy and gratitude. (Check out her TED Talk on Vulnerability. Well worth the 20 minutes!)
I wish I could say I understand her work thoroughly. I don’t. Or at least not yet! But here’s how I see it today. Loving and living are risky businesses. We can through loving another become broken hearted (through break ups, sickness, death, or betrayal) or in living life experience less than ideal vacations, but if we play our cards right, if we are open to spiritual growth, we just might be transformed by those raw emotions, that sense of vulnerability, and discover a depth of gratitude and joy we didn’t anticipate.
I can now laugh about our whole Disneyland misadventure. I can appreciate the joy that did happen that week and count the numerous blessings.
A nightmare? Nope. Just another opportunity to grow. And for that, I am grateful.
I see it more and more wherever I go. People with each other—dining, sipping lattes, riding in cars, strolling down the street—yet solitary, as they remain glued to their personal gadgets.
I got my own smart phone this past May and within days understood the compulsion to look at that damn screen every few minutes for the newest email or text, to search random trivia, or to capture that moment in history by snapping, in many cases, pointless pictures.
These gadgets, coupled with the social media craze, have propelled so many of us into this strange world of See Me. See my life–my humor, my friends and family, my success, my uniqueness, my abilities and interests, my joy, my sadness. We spend life-consuming time on our gadgets, posting and tweeting to keep people in the loop of our lives and yet, we are reluctant or unable to be truly present with someone in person. We seeeach other, but we don’t really knowone another.
My daughter’s liturature teacher spoke of the use of gadgets “atrophying our social muscles” whereby degrading our ability to interact with others. I couldn’t agree more. We are robbed of our real-world human connection in an effort to stay “connected” in our social media realms. (See the links below for two wonderful, poetic commentaries on the digital world we now live in. Watch them both!)
A striking example of this digital disconnect manifested in a recent report received by a renowned restaurant in New York City. Concerned about their rise in bad reviews, they hired a firm to analyze why the restaurant’s number of dissatisfied customers was growing.
Thanks to a comparision of survellience footage from 2004 and 2014, it was learned that today’s patrons are obessed with their gadgets. Sadly, diners are not making the connection that their dissatisfaction in the service or their meals is often because of their social media needs: wi-fi has to be figured out and group pictures must be taken—often with the help of the wait staff—prior to food being ordered; multiple photos are snapped of the dishes served, texts replied to and status updates are made long before the food is enjoyed.
A friend in the restaurant business confirmed this battle to adequately serve customers who are more engaged with their phones than with their surrounding environment. He shared that a married couple came into the restaurant to celebrate their anniversary, then proceeded to spend their time absorbed with their individual gadgets. What kept them from interacting with one another instead of their devices?
My Christian faith calls me into relationship.
Yes, this implies a deep connection with the Divine, but I do not exist solely in a religious bubble of my God and me. I am called to See theOther, and more than that, to Love the Other. When asked what the greatest commandment in the Law was (there were, after all, over 600 Jewish laws!) Jesus responded, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV).
Like I said, it’s about relationships.
I can’t really say when I first heard the word “kin-dom” used in place of kingdom—as in the kin-dom of Godvs. the kingdom of God. What I do know , however, is that I LOVE this image that in God’s realm we are are one family, a beloved community of God’s people.
In the words of Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, “The word kin-dom makes it clear that when the fullness of God becomes a day-to-day reality in the world at large, we will all be sisters and brothers—kin to each other.”*
But how much more difficult will it be for God’s Kin-dom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, when we can’t manage or make time to truly be with one another? What does God’s reign look like when we insist on making life about US?
To be a person of faith, I must look beyond myself—beyond my social media realm, beyond my gallery of selfies, beyond my recent status updates.
I am called by my God to notice the brokenness and injustice in my world and strive to be a vessel of healing. And yet, if I’m obessessly snapping photos of that amazing banana flambe or if my attention is on my phone’s endless stream of data instead of on the person next to me—I just may miss the opportunity to show God’s love by serving others.
People of faith, PUT DOWN your gadgets! Look up. Serve one another. And live into God’s kin-dom come!
*Page 304, “Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 1980s,” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Mary Potter Engel, San Francisco: Harper, 1990).
I was working on the spiritual discipline of gratitude recently.
My body had fallen into another funk in which my irritating neurological symptoms were rearing their ugly heads. The main culprit? Fatigue.
To my disgust, I was once again requiring afternoon naps. My nights were restless and regardless of how many hours, the amount of sleep I did get was never satisfying. I was most frustrated that my activities had to be dramatically minimized to conserve the limited energy I had to expend.
It was a disheartening reminder that my health cannot be taken for granted.
And so the spiritual discipline of gratitude was called forth…reluctantly. Honestly, this is when my inner pessimist comes out to play or in this case, protest.
Not easy being grateful when things are not going well, is it? But what if you are dying? During my week of intentional gratitude, I had an epiphany. There, on the wall directly above one of my hospice patients were these words in big bold print from 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
Be thankful in all circumstances…
I was struck by the profundity of the image. Wow. Even in our dying days we are called as Christians to be grateful. Whether we are healthy or chronically ill, wealthy or destitute, living or dying we are to be thankful…in ALL circumstances.
One of my favorite gratitude stories is told by Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place. This Dutch woman along with her father, brother, sisters and other family members, helped Jews escape capture by the Germans in WWII. They were eventually arrested. Along with her older sister Betsie, Corrie faced the perils of Dutch prisons and finally the Ravensbrueck concentration camp where her sister would die. (Learn more about Corrie here)
The sisters had miraculously smuggled a Bible into prison and used it as their primary source of strength to spiritually and emotionally endure.
After being moved to an overcrowded, flea-infested barracks, Bestie recalled the same scripture from 1 Thessalonian 5:18 and began listing off what she was grateful for: She and Corrie had not been separated but instead had been assigned to the same barracks. The sisters had not been searched before entering their new quarters so the Bible, contraband that it was, remained in their possession. The barracks was overcrowded, but that meant they could share God’s light and love with more women.
And then Bestie gave thanks for the fleas.
“The fleas!” Corrie writes in The Hiding Place. “This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.'”
But Bestie insisted. “Give thanks in all circumstances,” she reminded Corrie. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
Much to Corrie’s surprise, a genuine gratitude did come, however.
It was Bestie who overheard a guard adamantly refuse to enter their barracks because of the flea infestation. The fleas. Although the women had noticed an unusual absence of guards, all was now clear. Since the guards were avoiding the fleas by remaining out of their building, the sisters had been able to hold regular worship for their fellow prisoners.
Yep. Thank God for those tiny, irritating creatures.
I’ll end with these words from writer and poet, John Milton.
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
So practice being grateful everysingleday, no matter what comes your way.
Even the smallest blessing can be found. Let your daily “transcendent moments of awe” not only enhance your experience of life and the world, but let them prepare you to gracefully face your own mortality.
Into your dying days, may gratitude be ever flowing.