Sometimes we are given the gift of seeing our fears and our wounds in the plain light of day. This doesn’t happen nearly as often as we’d like, for if it did we would find healing to be a much less daunting and seemingly impossible thing. Our fears often remain hidden, well below the surface where they could be seen for what they are.
These things don’t surface at our command, not usually at least. They arrive unbidden, with stealth and surprise; they often catch us off guard and trigger reactivity instead of a gentle response. Perhaps that feels like bad news, because we don’t have as much control over our fears as we’d like.
And yet, at the same time there are great opportunities here for growth and healing. If we can learn to be ready for these moments, to be able to recognize and respond to these opportunities for transformation, then we’re really getting somewhere.
I am grateful for Audra Abt’s sermon several weeks ago, in which she talked about how fear plays into our lives. She offered a powerful insight about how the Lenten disciplines we take on tend to have a direct relationship to the fears that are most dominant in our lives. That really hit home for me…I realize now that almost any Lenten discipline I’ve ever taken on have been clearly related to my fears.
Think about it: using herself as an example, Audra shared how she tried to read the whole bible one year during lent. Her fear? Not feeling like she was “Christian” enough. (I would add that if Audra isn’t Christian enough then we’re all in a lot of trouble.) This year I’m trying to memorize hymns for lent. My fear? I worry about getting our church into the rut of doing the same hymns over and over again simply because I don’t don’t know enough church music by heart. We’ve all taken on Lenten practices of less junk food, more exercise, less stress. The fears? Mortality, aging, becoming sick. It’s all there. The beauty in this is that in coming up with seemingly benign Lenten challenges for ourselves, we accidentally bring to the surface some much bigger issues.
In an interview on Krista Tippet’s On Being, Bishop Desmond Tutu speaks of his exhilaration at boarding, after years of apartheid, a flight crewed by two black pilots. He said that it made his heart soar, and yet when the plane hit the “mother of all turbulence,” he was shocked to hear himself asking whether, without a white pilot in the cockpit, the pilots could handle it. They handled it just find of course, but here too was a moment when the long-term damage, the wound of apartheid, made itself known in an unbidden ascent to the surface.
Would that we all had the self-awareness and compassion that Bishop Tutu had in that moment, to see his wounds in the light of day, and thus deprive them of some of their power. Our more common response is to play a psychological game of whac-a-mole, impatiently trying to force them back under the surface, if we even see notice them at all.
Perhaps if we can learn to be better listeners to ourselves, to be ready for these moments of surfacing with compassion and gentleness, then we will experience some measure of healing. We may even get so good at compassion and gentleness that we begin to show it towards others as well.