Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lenten Reflection



"Weeping Nude" by Edvard Munch

Yesterday, I linked to this Lenten Reflection from my Facebook page. Perhaps if I had merely posted the link, and left my ‘commentary’ out of it, it would have been a virtual non-event, quickly and unceremoniously buried in what is the swift-moving stream of the Facebook News Feed. Instead, I prefaced the link with these words: “The only kind of Lent I can conceive of or practice right now…” and thus began a firestorm of sorts. Now, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the comments that followed on my Facebook wall. Less than a handful of friends responded publicly, and those who did were either empathetic or, seemingly, on the same page.

It was the private response my words elicited that planted the seeds that blossomed into this post.

On the one hand, I both understood and appreciated the motive of the people who began addressing me privately. As a culture, we have been trained to protect the ones we love by keeping their personal business private. And for God’s sake, there are still plenty of private details I’d prefer to keep under lock and key, thank you very much. But, I have to admit that I was struck, in this particular instance, by the immediate instinct of others to move the conversation behind closed doors. Perhaps my confusion stems from the fact that I had already willingly posted those words way out in the open, for my nearly 700 Facebook friends to see. Transparency was not exactly something I was running from, if my medium was any indication.

But then it occurred to me. The folks who engaged me outside the realm of Facebook did so using a very particular type of language. They used words like “dark,” “disturbing” and “desperate.” And as I examined the way they addressed me (privately), and the words they used in doing so (words we tend to associate with socially unacceptable emotions), I began to understand their attempts at engaging me via a different forum. I began to imagine that perhaps, in addition to feeling concern for me, they may have also been embarrassed for me. They might have concluded that I’d be less likely to publicly humiliate myself (any further) if they quickly pulled me aside, and offered me a more private audience for my melancholy. Perhaps they felt it safest for me to air my “desperation” (their words, not mine) in a setting more akin to a therapist’s couch, rather than from the much more public podium I’d utilized. I think they may have even hoped to shield me from appearing hysterical. IN. PUBLIC.

And while I can see how my status (and the blog entry that prompted it ), might seem desperate or disturbing to some- neither of those adjectives (nor the associated feelings) were what prompted me to link to the post. Nor were they foremost in my mind as I reflected upon it. You see, I don't believe that post, or the sentiments it contains, to be overwhelmingly depressing or dark. To the contrary, actually.

I think that our feelings- of loneliness, confusion, pain, and isolation, are given the most power to create desperation if and when we bottle them up or try to bear them alone. What Ronna and Anne Lamott are expressing, even advocating, (and that which I found myself drawn to and agreeing with) is the idea that being open and honest- not sugarcoating the hard stuff- is what makes it all bearable. It's what reminds us that we're not alone...that everyone has hurts and battles and scars that mirror our own- it's the universal human condition! And where we find release and relief from those hurts, those agonies, is in sharing them. I don't think it’s so much about issuing ear-shattering cries of desperation for their own sake. But when given an outlet, a voice, they are much more likely to live and die as struggles, perhaps even crises, rather than eating us alive from the inside out, harbored as smoldering secrets, individual shame, and singularly shouldered despair.

The articulation of such ideas is precisely why I've always been drawn to writers like Anne Lamott. (And Mary Karr. Sue Monk Kidd, and now, Ronna Detrick.) Because they're not likely to shy away from talking about the really shitty stuff. And precisely because of that, they seem to be able to get a handle on it. To bear up under it. Even to thrive in spite of it, while also finding the strength to help other people do the same.

I think we most often stay silent in our hurts and struggles and failures, because we are afraid that if we call them out into the world, that we will be shushed, shamed, or silenced. (Especially as women.) But I also think that the power that we (again, especially as women) possess is the tenderness and truthfulness that are necessary in order to carve out safe spaces in which unfiltered real life and gritty true stories can find expression. No matter how heartbreaking, life-altering, or power-structure-shaking they may be. It is precisely in the telling of our tales, the airing of our secrets, and the sharing of our former shame, that these shackles begin to loosen and relinquish their power over our lives. The hurt begins to dissipate, the wounds to heal, the shame to evaporate. And the Phoenix rises out of the ashes.

So, yes, when I posted what I did- I meant it. Wholeheartedly and unapologetically. I have struggles- sometimes it feels like more than my share. Big questions- the kind that overwhelm and, sometimes, even threaten to overtake me. There are days when I'd like to give in- to pound my fists and flail around on the ground throwing a hissy fit worthy of a 2 year old's reputation. (In fact....is it considered bad form to admit that occasionally my behavior is frighteningly similar to the aforementioned scene?)

I often wonder if casting my gaze downward, putting one foot in front of the other, and settling for contentment in the stead of joy isn't the most practical and reasonable concession I can make. There are hardships and hurts that I haven't finished grieving- and I certainly sense that the world's position on that is that I ought to gloss it over and just get on with it.

So I guess that my point in posting what I did, is to begin to free myself (and in the process, other people) to unleash our voices. To legitimize our collective hurts, as well as the pain that is uniquely ours, and in doing so to watch them begin to diminsh. (Although truth be told, I don’t believe that there’s a whole heckuva lot of unique pain out there. Take comfort, friends!)

I want to empower myself, my friends, and even complete strangers to ignore the societal pressures and protocols that tell us to shut up, get over ourselves, and file pain and heartache away as private matters. A one-woman load. I want to loudly challenge (and ultimately, convert) the voices that tell us we'd better stop being so messy in the public square. That we need to quiet down and fall into line. I want other women to quit trying to conform to the patriarchal constructs that insist that the deep throbbing language of our hearts, and the loud, prophetic echoes of our individual and collective voice are sentimental or silly.

Because I believe that the more often we say these difficult things out loud- these big, scary words and world-shifting ideas that challenge the prevailing notion of what is socially acceptable to 'put out there', the more likely we are to find truer paths to healing. To kindness and goodness. Toward community and compassion. In the direction of peace on earth, good will toward all women (and men).

17 comments:

Makeesha said...

It's interesting to me that those who understand and aren't shushed by well meaning friends and churches are those who didn't hear despair or darkness at all in your facebook comment or the post you linked to.

Lauren said...

Interesting, but not surprising, I'd say. I think that those who own and unleash their voices have much less fear in general, and are able to see all of the shades of grey in what just looks frighteningly dark and black to those who are still being silenced. Thanks for chiming in, friend!

Robyn Jones Clark said...

i agree... i didn't hear despair in it.. just reality. :) love you, my sweet friend..:)

Ronna Detrick said...

Lauren: As you might imagine, I'm totally tracking with (and supporting) your words. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Speak. Scream. Rage. Cry. Vent. Be totally honest. Tell the truth. Live out loud.

There are SO MANY messages that tell us to play it safe - and keep others safe from our voice. And again, as you might imagine, I TOTALLY disagree with them.

I can only say this because I've lived in this world of editing, censoring, and saying what's expected, approved, appropriate on behalf of everyone else...constantly silencing myself, my heart, my deepest truth.

Keep speaking, Lauren. I hear you! You're worth hearing!

Alana said...

I didn't hear despair there either, just flat out honesty. My mother died a month ago, and in the beginning I would go out with a happy face and tell people I was doing well...after a few episodes of that I realized that wasn't too healthy and began to be honest when asked how I am doing if...if it is a bad day I say so...simply giving the sadness going on inside a voice has helped with my grief. y

JP said...

I love the pic! I struggle with depression and have to live with those feelings and yet still remind myself of what's to come and what I have been promised in Christ daily!! Glad I have a Savior who identifies with our suffering. May He continue to meet you in your specific struggles.You are such a beautiful person. LOVE YOU!!!! Monica Pitts

JP said...

PS I had to do that under Jon's account , but it was me :)
Monica

Christine said...

I love this. I literally finished reading Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions a few days ago and it resonated with me deeply. Ithink those of us who are in touch with our true emotions didn't really find anything despairing about that blog post. It didn't seem out of the ordinary at all to me. I think the key is what you said here: "they're not likely to shy away from talking about the really shitty stuff. And precisely because of that, they seem to be able to get a handle on it. To bear up under it. Even to thrive in spite of it, while also finding the strength to help other people do the same."

That's what I see when I read Anne Lamott. Sure, she is blatantly honest, sometimes BRUTALLY honest about her struggles in life, sometimes to the point of making you cringe - but there are few of us who can deny having had similar feelings. That's LIFE. And the thing about Anne is that she always returns to truth in a fresh way, and through the tremendous struggles in her life, her faith is firm because of and amidst them.

So, I'm glad you spoke up!

Anonymous said...

some say my tongue gets me in trouble - but you never have to guess what i am feeling! i had lunch today with an older member and she started in tears and then shushed herself - saying "these are things i am not to speak of". how sad i thought and i instantly reassured her that at my lunch table is a safe place for any conversation. she got off her chest what she needed and soon the laughter started again. wouldn't that be great if everyone could feel free to do that - think of all the angry car horn honkers, the hand slapping parents, the grumpy old men, etc. that could benefit from sitting at a table where you feel safe to say what aches in your heart - let it go and you are FREE! move on!
<3 u lauren!

Kristin said...

As I feel like I'm currently moving out of a stage of "desert years" and into lusher green, I look back and wonder just how much time may have been spent tidying things up to be presentable. Sweeping things under rugs, and surface tidying is tiring work, and doesn't really help heal the gaping wounds in the floor.

Also, the closest I came to serious public exposure (if you will)...I was amazed at how much good came of it, despite the discomfort and pain of the experience. Airing the less than pristine laundry in public can be painful, but amazing things can come from it.

Amber said...

Thankful for my "real-deal" friends and hubby. If you can't be your honest self, what's the point? The best friends are the ones who can sit with you in your desert, listen to you and say to your face, "That really sucks." They don't try and fix it, they just love you in it. As a mom, I'm the furthest thing from "having it all together". I just want to love, experience passion and live my life with purpose. Unconventional is fine with me. Thanks for sharing.

Lauren said...

robyn- thanks for being one of the few i don't think i could ever drive off, not matter how gritty i get.

ronna- you know how deeply i've appreciated finding your words in the wilderness. thanks for taking my hand, urging me on, and showing such compassion.

alana- i am so, so sorry for the loss you've endured :( i'm glad to hear, though, that you're allowing yourself to shed the mask of 'everything's fine", in order to grieve your loss with honesty. i feel certain that your healing will be deep and enduring, because you're taking it at your own pace, without apology. may you have all that you need to get you through this desert. ((( hugs )))

Lauren said...

monica- i too have wrestled with depression, and that particular desert is blistering, and can be so very lonely. one 'comfort' i've found in those times, has been the company of other women who knew the road i was walking. but that sort of companionship requires a level of honesty and vulnerability that, frankly, is too scary for most. i also find that when i allow myself to say out loud what's going on inside, instead of stuffing it down in an effort to alleviate other's discomfort, the depression begins to dissipate. i think we feed depression with silence, and cripple its power drastically when we bring it out into the light for a public flogging ;) easier said than done, i know.

Lauren said...

stine- yes, Yes, YES! i don't think i've ever cringed in response to anne lamott (or anyone else telling the brutal, no-holds-barred truth) without simultaneously breathing a momentous sigh of relief. there is freedom in setting our truth free- freedom for us, and freedom for those who know that they need to let their own 'demons' take flight, but are hesitant, for whatever reason...

thanks for listening, and for chiming in. you are one of the few raw & beautiful souls who makes me feel truly free to roll around in the desert sands as long as i need to. you also remind me of the beautiful watercolor sunset that's being brushed across the sky above me, if only i'd open my swollen eyes and cast my gaze upward...

<3

Lauren said...

"anonymous"- not sure who you are, or if you'll come back to these comments or not, but thank you for telling your story. there certainly are generational 'rules' and taboos that make these issues even more convoluted and complex for women of older generations. i think it is the echoes and reverberations of those times and their social mores that continue to affect what is considered socially acceptable today. sure, great strides have been made, but there is still a long way to go. and certainly, your gentle drawing out of the woman at your lunch table was one more brave act that brings us that much closer to the sort of transparency that has the power to heal- not just on an individual level, but systemically!

Lauren said...

kristin- having had the opportunity to observe (albeit from a distance) some of your "desert years" it is wildly encouraging to hear you speaking of lushness and greenery! i particularly love this part of what you said: "Sweeping things under rugs, and surface tidying is tiring work, and doesn't really help heal the gaping wounds in the floor." amen, sister! therein lies the irony. if we burn up all of our energy polishing the exterior, while neglecting the broken bones of the house, we'll just keep spinning in circles of productivity that ultimately keep us busy, but get us nowhere. running to stand still, and all of that. but if we can muster the courage to do the more taxing work of throwing back the rug and getting to the cause of those rotten floorboards, then we'll find that the healing begins to radiate outward, and the 'superficial' tidying takes care of itself!

Lauren said...

amber- i agree with everything you said! which is why i find it perplexing how it is so often those who claim to love us most, who would also have us silence our stories, and temper our tales of pain and heartache...