Dare to stay in your pain. Nouwen’s words ring true. Leaning into pain in the moment does not cause relief, but it does make your heart more supple and better able to handle life’s shit without breaking apart. The heart breaks open so that the things that we have placed on it are able to fall inside. Only God can put things in our hearts through the path of life he makes known to us throughout the day. As we traverse the path and the rough, tough parts break the heart open, truths fall inside and God keeps them hidden there.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I’ve had some trouble trying to understand the second phrase in this verse from the Psalms. “In your presence is fullness of joy” brings two mind two difficult questions for me. When am I in God’s presence? What is Joy?
At first glance, these questions might seem easily answered. After all, isn’t God omnipresent and isn’t joy that deep gladness we have knowing we are in God’s loving hands? For me, there is more of a mystery here than comes to light in these somewhat simple answers.
If I’m constantly in God’s presence, then how and why do I sin? Even if God is everywhere, I must acknowledge God’s ubiquity in order for it to have an impact on my life. I suppose it is a little like the perspective of a small child. I remember a time when our children were quite young, around 4 and 1. The oldest had just received a Christmas present that included a bunch of marbles. I was using a camera to capture the moment, but since I was behind the large video camera, he ignored the fact that I was in the room. His mom was behind the wall in the kitchen. He dumped the entire container of marbles out on the floor and they went everywhere. His mom heard the commotion and said, “Oh honey, why did you do that?” His reply was, “I didn’t, David [his little brother who was sitting there watching] did it.” The whole thing was caught on video.
I don’t believe he would have blamed his brother if his mom had been there present with him. We tend to behave differently when we are in the presence of others. Just take the anonymity of the internet as another contemporary example. There is a ton of evidence to the fact that people think no one is “watching” when they post text, pictures, or videos online. What we do when we think no one is watching reveals a clearer picture of our true character. It that is true, then it must also be true for our actions before an ever present God. So, we must be mindful of his presence to experience fullness of joy. But what is joy?
For me, this is even a harder question. Some writers think that joy and happiness are the same. Others say happiness has to do with circumstances and joy is unrelated to what is going on around us. Joy is somehow deeper, more related to our frame of reference than to our current situation.
When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, we have the opportunity to experience a deep peace and gladness knowing that we are traversing the path of life that God constantly reveals, bit by bit, as we are able to receive it. So I can be sad and still experience joy. Joy has nothing to do with happiness. Full joy is God’s grace in my life to live through each moment, good or bad, as though God is right there with me. Moreover, I cannot begin to understand joy without grace because I don’t have it in me to see moments as God sees them. According to His Word, all opportunities, even trials, are a means for me to become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
In His presence is fullness of joy. When we acknowledge God’s moment by moment presence with us on the path of life, we can experience full joy. This is another example of His grace and mercy at work within us. When I look at the opportunity in this moment to experience God’s loving presence, I see two equal roads.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
So, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Grace and peace,
Can I live with myself today, just as I am? This is a learning process. I do not accept all of who I am. God does, but I find myself too complicated, too self absorbed and too confused to fully accept I am who I am.
I find it interesting that when Moses asked what he should call God when others ask, God said, “I AM WHO I AM.” God fully knows himself and he’s not afraid to name and accept all that he is. If I am made in his image, then I wonder if I can accept I am who I am?
A new day of recovery brings with it the mystery of a pilgrim making progress on God’s path, the path of life that God makes known to me every day. When the rhythm of my life syncs with the pulse of the path of life, then I am who I am. My ups and downs become copacetic to me when I keep in step with the Spirit. I do not hike too slow or too fast. The periods of rest are refreshing, not annoying, because I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere. I pause to take in the view. Each breath is a deep, cleansing breath. After a long breath that raises my chest and expands my rib cage, I can say to myself, “I am same sex attracted” without shame. And somehow in that pause along the trail, I can live in peace with who I am in the context of a heterosexual marriage. These are miracles because my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak.
So today is another hike down the path of life, the path of recovery. I hope to have the curiosity to discover more about who I am in God’s image and the courage to act accordingly.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Today is my hundredth day of sobriety. These past three months have been the hardest of my life. Leaning into my own pain is one thing, but watching the lines of pain crease the faces of my wife and sons is heart breaking.
I have come to know the steadfast love of the Lord differently. The cry of my heart is:
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit . . . I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity . . . and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
My journey on this rugged path began when I was finally honest with myself about my condition. I want to live a life of honesty. I realize that Jesus is the Truth and that truth is something I must practice each day.
“Jesus is the light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
Until one hundred days ago, I lived in the shadows. Like the older brother in Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, I was lurking in the shadow. I believed I was obedient and working hard for the Father, but I was hiding part of my life from myself, from others and from God. I tried over and over to break out of the darkness, but I was always lured back. I know now I was powerless to control my addiction. On September 23, I stepped fully into the light, first with myself and then with others. On that sunny fall day perched on the steps of an old Capital Hill home amidst trees draped in golden leaves, I pledged to be honest to myself. I understood that God knows me completely, loves me completely, and by His disruptive grace, forgives me completely. I hope and pray I will also be able to love and forgive myself.
I am a pilgrim on the path of recovery. This will be my journey for the rest of my life. I am surprised by the unique challenges and joys of each new day. I live under God’s “severe mercy” and am thankful that I am able to share my experience with you.
Grace and peace for today,