I take comfort in the words of Isaiah (8:23—9:3) that I read this week:
Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of the gloom a light has shone.
In fact, I repeated that verse all though Advent, as I contemplated the arrival of light in the nativity story. And I find solace in the theology of medieval German Dominican priest John Tauler, who wrote:
The soul must raise herself to the divine splendor if she is to receive the clarity of the light. But this being nigh is nothing else than an intense desire for God with perfect love in the light of faith; this makes the soul receptive of the divine light.
Nowhere does this popular preacher mention a perfect recital of the Our Father or becoming president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, or perfect Mass attendance. Nowhere does he instruct us to fast for 90 days or say 31 rosaries. Just the desire to please you will please you, like Thomas Merton wrote in one of my favorite prayer:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Why am I always trying so hard to win your love and approval? Perhaps because I didn’t feel it from my own father growing up. Or because I am aware of your standards of love (per 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, Love is kind, Love does not envy, Love does not boast, Love is not proud, Love is not rude…”), and I always get about three lines down, and then blow it. Big time.
Or maybe, I have in mind your greatest commandment (Matt 22:36-40): to love you with all my heart, mind, and soul, and to love my neighbor as myself. Loving you is easy for the most part, on my good days anyway. Loving my neighbor I’m getting better at. I’ve stopped yelling at the preschool administers who take three weeks of vacation in the middle of winter. Simply because they can.
But loving myself? Therein lies the problem. At least according to my last four therapists.
After eight years on that dang couch, I’m just now starting to wrap my arms around the scared little girl in me and tell her that, really, it will be okay, and that the world isn’t as terrifying as she thinks it is.
I recently came upon this entry in my journal, written about six weeks before I was hospitalized. On that day, extremely sleep deprived, I sketched on a piece of scrap paper a rough profile of “me,” so that I could begin to learn how to love her:
Why is this so painful . . . finding my inner sanctuary? I’m at my sister-in-law’s vacant apartment in desperate need of sleep, since I totaled a whole three hours of sleep last night courtesy of Katherine’s new sleep cycle. Instead I can’t stop the torrent of tears, the many conversations inside my head—what my therapist says, what my doctor says, what Eric says, what my mom says, what friends say.
All the voices, the questions, the conversations make it impossible to nod off. Instead I take up my weapon and make war with the commotion on the frontlines of my mind.
I feel like giving up right now. After all the medication adjustments, the therapy, the supportive friends and family, I still feel like dying. Because I’m so tired in the fight towards wellness, the pursuit of “normality.”
Medicine, I know, won’t cure me. And therapy will only get me so much better. The real battle rests within me. How badly do I want it? How willing am I to yield all my instincts towards pleasing others—as a wife, mother, friend, and writer—in order to simply live?
Because when you take it all away—my husband, my kids, my friends, my career—who am I?
I sit here right now attempting to sketch her, as an artist who has taken up the pencil for the very first time. I review my list of 20 positive traits, an assignment from Wednesday’s therapy session. But that provides a mere outline of her essence.
Who am I for real? I ask over and over again, through my tears, through my breaths, through my visions of waterfalls. Take away the sense of humor, the religion, the blondish hair . . . what do you have left?
I desperately want to know so I can throw my arms around her and love her for the first time in my life.
Maybe this is my new mantra—“Love her.” Because until I get there, nothing else truly matters.
Somehow, God, I think you’re telling me that the desire to love her is the first step. That I don’t have to love her perfectly just as I don’t have to love you perfectly or the preschool administrators. It’s enough that I have the desire. The desire alone, Father Tauler says, will bring me into your light, where Isaiah says darkness is dispelled and gloom is no more.