"...stand on your place of pain, your Ground Zero, and create something beautiful" -- Makoto Fujimura
Everyone from Liz Gilbert, Brene Brown and now, visual artist Mako Fujimura are championing vulnerability as the path to bravery. Citing weakness as the way of transformation. It is the narrative of the cross -- that the way up is down. That from our weakness Christ is made strong.
Frankly, I do not want this to be so.
Perhaps I am a glory vacuum, where I suck it all the dust bunnies towards me and hope that in my cells and marrow, that dust and ashes will turn into art. That they'll turn into beauty as the pieces of life filter through my veins and comes exploding out in perfectly formed sentences and thoughts. Then, I reason, then
, I'll have arrived.
Recently, my writing was rejected. There's nothing like failure to show you how your ideals don't meet with reality. You see, I think that I thought awhile ago that writing bravely -- writing words that were a bit scary to publish -- would also result in more "yeses" than "no's." I thought that bravery (a la Brene Brown) would be my ticket to glory. I thought that I could use vulnerability as a ticket to somewhere other than being out on that limb, waiting to see if my word offerings were taken as gifts or not.
It turns out brave is never easy or comfortable. And, it turns out, bravery is
entirely about glory. It's just nothing like I thought.
You see, it's never been my own glory project
. Truth be told, that stings. I want to hoodwink Jesus' crown of glory and take it for my own, all surreptitious-like, and cover it in nice pretty Christian bows that sometimes feel more comfortable than "vulnerable," "raw," and "rejected." It comes out in all sorts of ways. I fail to delight in the people right in front of me and ravenously eye others' successes. I lose the dance of language. I lose the ability to see and be grateful for little blessings -- sunshine, breeze, a good night's sleep. These, friends, are luxuries that I begin to feel are rights. Instead, I get an empty pit in my stomach when I hear "Unfortunately, after careful consideration...". Because as my stomach sinks, as my anger and envy increase, when I get comfy with cliche, then I am becoming a shell of who I was made to be.
So right now, I'm practicing the fine art of taking every thought captive. That means this for me: I will not eat away my sadness. I will not resolve away my frustration. I will not lash out at my family because I am bummed. I will not make myself look better than x,y,z successful people so I feel good about myself.
No, none of that is brave.
Friends, bravery is standing in your pain and owning it.
I confess my pain is so very minor. I am healthy, I am not fleeing persecution, I have a roof over my head. I am free and safe and loved. But we all have pain; we all are overwhelmed with panic, fear, pain and depression. We're overwhelmed by the state of the world and the state of our hearts. We're overwhelmed with the future and fixated on the past. Frankly, I'm tired of living so much in my own head where it feels as though the planets revolve around me.
Bravery is admitting failure
. It means I confess my sins to my children -- often feebly, weakly and without enough empathy. Sometimes my offerings are very paltry. But I pray that they grow into abundant grace as they are somehow mysteriously multiplied by a Spirit that lives outside and inside of me. Because when I admit my weakness, when I own up to my own pain and the pain I've caused others, then there opens a wide space for healing by hands that are not mine.
But bravery always has cause for hope. It is the hope that when things are dead and dying that there is always and forever hope of resurrection. You see, when I get focused on my own glory project, I try to squeeze out new life like the end of toothpaste tube. You know what this is? A yucky mess. Glory only comes from dying first.
And it comes unexpectedly, like a joke, like a hero soaring out of the sky, like a royal proclamation and like the dawn of each new day.
Glory always comes when you least expect it.
So the task my friends is this: to take your pain and make beauty, like Mako Fujimura said. This is the tending of the soil of our age. This is the dutiful work of showing up, digging our hands in the dirt, and planting bulbs. And then we wait while all we have to show for the hard work is dirty fingernails. When the world around us is blanketed in snow, when all is dead and dying, there is the promise of spring curled up in winter branches (as my writer friend, Christie Purifoy
writes in Roots & Sky
). So our good work is to tend the garden and wait.
That means that I eek out words. They are my offering and my garden of delight. Sometimes they fumble and other times they sing. But they are true and they are good work. So I plant words and I wait. I give them away for free
. I have no idea if some words will produce a large harvest and others will fall on rocky soil. But that is not my problem: to follow and micro-manage my words, to baby their reception like tender shoots that perhaps need to die to give life to the ones next to it. No -- my job is to throw them out there, liberally, like a sower.
When I get caught up in the Sower's song
, I get caught up in the song that has been passed down through ages. A song that has been born in baby's coos and is echoed in galaxies we cannot yet know. It's a song that bursts from the color yellow, that trembles in the spring sunshine, and hovers between the wings of birds. It's a song that I cry and ache in deep groaning when my body bore my children, with all the messy glory of becoming. It's a song that all peoples, places and languages, all political affiliations and classes must bow their heads to. It is the song of the trees, of the dirt, of the mama washing dishes and rocking babies. It is the song of redemption and it is much grander, kinder and gentler than my own song that I squeak out of my own two lips.
When I am caught up in the beauty of the only one who rightfully deserves glory -- where glory is a rough-hewn garment instead of a haughty crown -- then, and only then, can I see that my own glory project was just infantile posturing. Immature grabs at power, prestige, making a name for myself. And there is no healing there, just empty aching.
Shall we try on this new bravery together friends, though it feels a bit odd and awkward? For bravery is simply this: Stand in your pain. It is your gift. Scatter it liberally. It will not return void.
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