Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. (Psalm 77:19)
I am becoming more and more convinced that the way to growth, particularly in the spiritual life, always involves going through rather than around. The spiritual journey is not an easy one. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires that we be willing to face, and walk through, all of our stuff. In order for us to grow, our mess cannot be avoided or denied. As a wise saint once said, "There is no way out, only through." That is how God forms his life in us, by leading us through. It requires absolute trust and total surrender. It requires us to face our own struggle and pain and sorrow and shame, rather than simply ignoring it or running away from it.
Take shame for example. It is a theme that has been popping up in my life pretty regularly for the last few weeks. And I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I have learned through the years to pay attention to repetition. Whenever something continues to pop up in my life, especially when it comes from several different sources, I can usually conclude that God is trying to tell me something. And in this case he was trying to tell me that shame was a significant issue in my heart and soul. That probably doesn't sound like a big surprise to you, but it actually was to me. Don't get me wrong, I knew that I had significant issues, most of which revolved around my desperate need to derive my worth and value from my life and my work and my world. My sense of constantly living with the name Not Enough. If you've heard me speak or been reading this blog for long, all of that is not new news. What is new is that I had never labeled any of that shame before. But that's exactly what it was.
And when someone is in shame their first priority becomes, "How do I get out of shame?" Which is where the whole idea of moving through came into play. Because shame is not something I need to escape, but something I need to embrace and move through. It is not something that only needs to be healed, but something that needs to be transformed. And the only path to genuine transformation is through. I must be willing to enter, shame and all, into the cocoon of contemplation, so that God can get his hands on it and transform it into something much more beautiful and life-giving--empathy. Love is the only true remedy for shame, and contemplation is the place where love is born within me. In contemplation, God is able to get his hands on me, to draw me into his passionate embrace, and to whisper his words of deep affection in my ears so that shame loosens its grip on me and love takes hold of my heart and soul and life. Then and only then will I be free of shame and able to offer that same love--and empathy--to those in my life and my world. Who could imagine? God actually wants to convert my shame into love. Only God could do that. Only God is big enough to take something so ugly and so hurtful and turn it into something so beautiful. All we have to do is be willing to go through.