Gardening at the Monastery

Daphne Reiley

Forgiveness of deep hurt takes time just like gardening and clearing a bed of weeds or those invasive plants we planted thinking they were beautiful only to find that they had taken over.  Those invasive plants are invasive because they are very good at staying put, of sinking tendrils of roots deep in the soul of the soil.  Those tendrils stay put sometimes when the remainder of the plant is pulled or dug up. They wait for the right conditions: moisture, warmth, nutrients; then they emerge and the pulling starts again.

When we have been deeply wounded, that wound runs deep.  Regardless of how much pondering and figuring out and releasing we do sometimes, the pain remains – there remain tendrils of the pain deep in the soil of our souls.  Those tendrils wait, sometimes for years, for the right conditions: remembrances, music, texts, events, pictures – contemplation on a rainy day at a monastery; then they emerge and bring fresh pain and tears and a pleading to be done with it.

Seemingly, those tendrils will always remain.  Yet, with persistent, deep work on the soil of our soul, even those tendrils can be removed, freeing us from the vestiges of the original pain, from a certain dread of those things that brought it to mind, from the restraint of relationship and commitment to others that sometimes arises with deep hurt.  Persistent, deep work; the kind of work done best in the quiet hours, in the isolation of a monastery, perhaps in the woods where one can release the pain in tears, in final questions, in prayers and pleading.

After all that, there is the offering of forgiveness, naming those very personal ways in which someone has wounded us, ways in which it is embarrassing to have been wounded – only available to those to whom we have bared our souls.  Saying out loud to God, and in our hearts and minds to the one who wounded, that we forgive.

Hard work it is, leaving exhaustion – physical, mental, and emotional – in its wake.  Exhaustion and an odd sort of empty peace.   Where those tendrils had remained is now empty.  Yet, not really empty, for if we pause long enough, bravely enough to feel that emptiness, we find God.  God’s promise has always been that He will be with us in our struggles, that He will give us strength for the battles we must fight, that He will give us rest.

The peace that fills the place where the tendrils used to be will set its own tendrils, deep within the soil of our soul.  That peace that passes all understanding.

Psalm 55 and the Throes of Honest Grief

praiseBy Joe LaGuardia

Like many who grieve the loss of a loved one over the holidays, this past Christmas has been particularly difficult for me.  I lost my father over two years ago, but the waves of grief (see chapter 6 in our book!) come at me in different intervals.  Sometimes I can stand and resist; other times, grief wipes me out and its hard to surface.

As an introvert, it is also difficult for me to express this grief.  I have a good support system, but putting my feelings into words is not always easy.

I am not alone in this challenge, and Daphne and I have taught people for years that the book of Psalms is God’s set of prayers for us, gifted to us, that helps us find the right words to say when we need to talk to God.

No wonder there are psalms of celebration, lament, hope, grief, despair, anger, joy, and blessings.  No human condition or emotion has escaped the scope of the psalms in the fullest expression of our soul to God.

For those grieving, I encourage you to check out Psalm 55.  I have been praying this psalm every day since the beginning of the week, and when I stumbled upon it, I kept praising God that there is a psalm that puts words to my deepest emotions.

There are movements in the psalm that might be familiar to others who are grieving:

V. 1 – Provides words for those who feel abandoned.  The poet pleads with God, “Do not hide yourself from me.”  Many people think that feelings of abandonment is a sign of weak or absent faith.  Quite the contrary, revealing those feelings to God is an honest affirmation that God will respond.

V. 2- Expresses those times when the noise of the world crowds in around us.  It is deafening, and we need solace.

V. 4- Affirms that those who grieve truly have a broken heart.  Our grief is real.  It is not a figment of our imagination, nor is it a process we can simply “get over.”  Acknowledging that fact can be a frightening but liberating experience.

V. 6– This verse is my favorite.  In the midst of grief the other night, I told my wife that sometimes I just want to run and hide.  This is normal (though, again, very frightening).  This verse gives a poetic reminder that I am not alone in my feelings of running, of choosing “flight” over the “fight” instinct:

I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee.”

There is no better way to say it!

V.  13 – There are times when our friends try and help us, but only provide cliché or vacuous platitudes that make matters worse.  This is not their fault, but the closest friends will know when to speak and when to listen.

Historically, this verse gives us a deeper clue into the heart of the author of Psalm 55: He or she has been hurt by a friend, and a promise had been broken.  This is the source of grief.  Although the source of our grief may be different, we do understand where the author is coming from: words matter, and sometimes our friends are no friends at all in matters of heartache and loss.

V. 16 – This verse marks a turning point in the Psalm.  The author, once expressing all of the honest feelings that accompany grief, can turn to a posture of hope and trust in the Lord.  There is an expression of hope: “The Lord will save me.”  Later, in verses 19 and 23, there are expressions of trust.  The Psalm ends with a declarative statement, “But I will trust in you!”

V. 22 – As in many other psalms, this one includes an invitation for others to join the author in praying to God and coming to God for help.  Since God is in charge (see v. 19), then anyone can come to God and be honest with God.  As Christians, those of us who are in Christ, do not fear bridging that divide between our lowly positions on earth and God’s majestic presence on the heavenly throne.  We should follow the call of the author: “Cast your burdon on the Lord, and God will sustain you!”

As I was praying through this psalm yesterday, I stumbled on a devotional by F. B. Meyer who quoted an anonymous (at least he didn’t give the source) poem that sums up the geography and movement of this psalm.  It moved me too:

Oh for the faith to cast our load,
E’en while we pray, upon  our God,
Then rise with lightened cheer
.

Amen.