“I just want to get back to the way things were.” I have heard and personally spoken some version of this sentiment countless times. Life has taken a painful or tragic turn, and even without idealizing the past, we look back to a time when things felt simpler, safer, or more stable.
The difficult reality in many situations is that there is no going back. We return to a geographical location, but it no longer feels like home. We resume our routine spiritual practices and find they cannot restore the passion we once had. We try to “pick up where we left off” in a relationship and notice the scars of betrayal remain.
Major disruptions in life thrust us into an involuntary transformation that can take us many different directions, but never “back.” Some aspects of this transformation were inevitable. At some point we all become more aware of our limitations, our vulnerability, our aloneness, and our mortality. Other transformations feel tragically personal. For example, when a person’s eyes have been opened by trauma to the gross injustice and abuses of power so prevalent in the world. Maybe a paradigm related to faith has been shattered. Such things cannot be forgotten or “unknown,” and can cast a dark shadow over other aspects of life.
The loss encountered in such experiences (of innocence, security, hope, etc.) is real, warranting genuine lament. But then what? Where does one go when their eyes have been opened to the fact that they are not, in fact, in the garden, but in a wild land of beasts, thorns and perils?
Most of us have experimented with at least a few options. We can claw and fight to reassemble pieces of our prior reality, making a life among the ruins. We can deny the truth and embrace a world of fantasy (the world offers many from which to choose), often aided by costly strategies that numb our pain. We can succumb to the despair and give up.
Maybe there is another way. What might happen if we shift our energy from denying what is and take an active role in the transformation that is underway? Mourning must come first, for in mourning we feel our way through the loss and come to a place of accepting our new reality. In doing so we begin to find freedom to influence the way that loss changes us.
Now that I am keenly aware of my limitations, my mortality, and the injustice of this world, where should I choose to invest my time and energy? Having come to see more clearly that life and calling are more complex than I realized, what does it mean to walk in faith? Recognizing how lonely we can all be, even when others are in the room, how might I be truly present with others?
You may notice that embracing the transformation into which we have been thrust often entails more questions than answers. This too, is something to be embraced. For in reflecting on these questions together, we invite the Spirit’s continued activity until the work he began in us has been brought to completion.
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