We have moved house a lot over the past few years, for one reason or another. This has meant a change of schools, too. When we moved in 2012 the local education authority took nearly two months to put Prince into school. Apparently they had to decide that he needed a special school (despite his previously having been in a special school since Year 1). Initially they even suggested I go and look round the local secondary school(!). Four months after Prince started school, Frank’s job fell through and we realised we had to move. It was good timing and God timing because we moved closer to Frank’s parents and within a month or two Frank’s dad began the cycle of hospital admissions and discharges, and we had to arrange care for Frank’s mum, whose dementia was severe enough to warrant 24-hour supervision. So we moved here, which meant another school change for poor Prince. This was a very difficult thing for him to do. People with autism find change difficult to cope with and he spent the next 11 months detesting his new special school and trying to think of ways to leave. This included, he confessed, trying to be so naughty that he would be permanently excluded. Being autistic, his idea of ‘very naughty’ was actually very mild, bless him, and as I was going through yesterday’s reading from The Little Way of Lent I recalled what Prince had said.
I wonder if sometimes we too do the same as young Prince, especially when we’re hurting or damaged by life? Do we push the boundaries to get God’s attention?
Why is my life so awful if you really love me, God?
Do you love me now, even after I’ve done that?
I’ve been there. I even did my own version of Prince’s ‘trying to do something very bad’ because I had such little sense of self-worth and didn’t believe I was worthy of love. In hindsight, it wasn’t ‘very bad’, it was probably something which happens fairly regularly, fallen as we all are, but I thought at the time that it was dreadful. I saw myself as the same as Peter, denying knowledge of Christ when he’d sworn his love just hours before.
I think this is probably a similar thought process to self-harming, in whichever medium that manifests itself. I know from Celebrate Recovery that self-harm occurs in as many different ways as there are different people. There’s the obvious physical act of cutting or hurting oneself, and then there are addictions and alcoholism, but hurting oneself can also present as bad relationships (or a string of them), eating too much, eating too little, self-sabotage (wanting to achieve something but doing things that prevent you from achieving it), even poor hygiene. We can become so distressed that the reasons we do things are not clear even to ourselves and we continue the destructive cycles that make us miserable. Sometimes we hurt those around us too, either deliberately or as a non-intentional effect. Sometimes, when we have been badly hurt, we even push people away, never letting anyone close. We push them away before they get the chance to hurt us, or we deliberately hurt them because we are confirming how horrible we are and how unworthy of love. Sometimes it’s all so complex that we don’t know where the pain begins and we end, or the other way round. It’s like that quote, attributed to Einstein, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. The cycle of pain and hurting is insanity.
But there can be different results. Healing can and does take place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rather wary of those who claim to have been ‘healed from addiction’ instantaneously, as addiction is much more complicated than just the physicality of it (although I have never met anyone who claims to have been healed in this way). For the vast majority of us, healing takes time. Years. Decades. Maybe we never fully reach the place of healing until we reach heaven? I don’t know. But I do know that if we’re prepared to be open to God, He can and will use the years of destruction and change our ashes into beauty, give us resurrection joy in place of suffering and death. It takes courage – more courage than anyone who has not been through it can imagine. The courage to get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other is enormous.
Then there’s forgiveness. What if you, like me, know that you could never and will never do anything anywhere near as awful as that which has been done to you? I mean, we know that all sin separates us from God, don’t we? But what if what you have experienced has been so, so awful that you don’t know how you can ever get over it, or how to even begin to forgive?
It has taken me years to get my head around this, because I thought that God ought to keep a tally card or something… Doesn’t justice mean that ‘bad people’ get punished? I grew up being taught that the criminal justice system was there to protect the ‘goodies’ from the ‘baddies’ and that if someone was guilty of a crime they would be sent to prison. But it doesn’t mean that. ‘Not guilty’ is not the same as ‘innocent’. There are so many, many victims of crime, like me, who will never see earthly justice. But is our earthly justice the same as God’s justice?
Is this grace?
The answer, if I’m not afraid of looking at the truth, is no. Horrible things happen every day to people who never deserved them and there are no straightforward answers. No easy answers. No answers at all, really, just choices; choices we make every day, step by step. My choice – only by grace – has been to seek healing, to live in a manner which searches for God in all things, and to share His abundant grace. This is the narrow road. It ain’t easy. I make mistakes. I fall. God picks me up. Forgiveness is something I have to do repeatedly. Each time I ask God to take care of it because the hurt is too big. I cling to Him like I’d cling to a lifebelt in a stormy sea. Crumbs those waves are big! Without Him I might drown. So I cling all the harder. And, with Jesus, I’m ok. I hope you can say the same. As I write I pray for those who are finding it hard to find the value in anything any more. Maybe you feel like you want to give up. Maybe you’re so, so angry at all the injustice – all the pain, all the hurt, all the fighting, all the tears. I won’t tell you ‘if you just trust Jesus everything will be fine’. I won’t because that’s a lie. But, one step at a time, you can learn to walk again. He will be your guide for each step. He will be a light in the darkness. He will be your hope.
‘Of everything Jesus taught, the admonition to “forgive your brother from your heart” is perhaps the most complex. The pain of injustice and the feelings evoked by being wronged touch the depths of our humanity… Feeding resentment makes forgiveness difficult…
‘When God’s mercy reigns in us we can acknowledge wrongdoing for what it is without becoming a slave to its effects. Forgiveness from the heart does not overlook accountability and it does not require that I let someone who has wronged me back into my life. Jesus doesn’t expect me to open myself to repeated injury or ongoing injustices, but He does ask that I forgive, that I pray for those who hurt me… Forgiveness from the heart is freeing because the pain of the wrong no longer controls my life and no longer suffocates my relationship with God and neighbour.’
‘Humility and hunger for God are synonymous.’
From The Little Way of Lent
by Fr. Gary Caster
‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.’
Psalm 25:4-5 (NRSVA)