“Come on girl! Why can’t you get over it? Just let it go!” these thoughts ran through my head.
So a Mary (not the Mary) asked me a tough question recently: “Heidi, what is that suffering inviting you to?” Oomph. I knew enough not to answer immediately, but to allow the question to percolate through the filter of prayer. But I was not expecting the way in which He would lead me to the answer.
When it comes to human suffering evidence suggests that roughly one-third of our suffering, difficulty, and pain is uncontrollable, unexpected and unavoidable. The remaining two-thirds is caused by our reaction to that one-third. The idea being that we ourselves create much of our own suffering. If you have stuck with me through my long blog posts (I really am trying to be less verbose), I hope you have picked up a theme about this self-made two-thirds often being rooted in our false self (ego, pride, vanity, shame, and thinking distortions to name just a few).
Our common human experience is that we do not want to suffer, do not like to suffer, and do not want to be hurt or in pain. And when we do suffer we want to escape it as quickly as possible. Much of our prayer life can center around trying to find complete healing, strength to let things go, and petitioning for conditions that won’t make us suffer. But have you ever noticed that the more you brace and defend yourself against suffering, the more reactive and less responsive you are? This requires a ton of emotional, mental and spiritual energy. What we resist tends to persist, and what we embrace we can move through with grace. But ouch! I am suffering. Why on earth would I embrace it?! Wouldn’t grace free me from it?!
Let it Be or Let it Go?
So I began to consider the difference between letting it be versus letting it go. Is there a difference? And is this the invitation I am given in my reflection on suffering? Will this invitation to discern the difference lead me to greater and deeper love despite the suffering?
Ultimately, faith is an invitation to enter into a mysterious love and union – not knowing how it all works, just that it does work. So I went back to Jesus asking Him to sit with me in my practice to ‘pause, soften, breathe, pray, surrender’. I invited Him into my personal desire to ‘see everything, judge little, forgive more because love transfigures everything’. And I reflected on what it means to suffer (in the midst of this ‘coronacoaster’ there seems to be so much global suffering!).
In this reflection, the Lord kept showing me the last two bits of these meditations: ‘surrender’ and ‘love transfigures everything.’ Words hold enormous power within our brains. They are stunningly important to how we are formed and how we cope (or fail to cope) with all of our inner and outer ick. In the wee hours of the night, while reflecting on this invitation in the suffering, surrender was the first word brought to my attention. I ‘think’ I know what it means and I ‘think’ I have learned to practice it over and over again, but what does it really mean? What does it mean for me to really surrender? What am I surrendering to? Let go the ego, the identity is definitely high on the list, but is there something more?
“Heidi, I gave you the word surrender, so use it!” But surrender means to yield to power, to give up my own possession of something. Got it, but what does this really mean in relation to suffering? The break down of the word sat with me: sur-render. To render is defined as “to cause to become.” The prefix sur means over, above, and more. To cause to become by something over, above and more.
Letting it be is welcoming God in; letting it go is asking Him to leave. Let be the suffering and the hurt. It is real. Let be the one-third. Often we try to let this real pain go, we do not want to sit in it. We want to wiggle out of it. But God is in it! It is the other two- thirds that we need to let go: the corrupted processes, old neural scripts, false narratives and so on that do not serve us well but rather take us away from the love of God and our true inner nature.
But how come this is so hard?! Why are so few of us open to letting go of our ego and sitting in the suffering? “Because you gird yourself” is the answer I received. Now this was in the middle of the night and so I sat on that word ‘gird’…is that even a real word? Gird. It’s a funny word. It calls to my mind the idea of bracing for something. When we grow up “girding” ourselves (out of deep layers of ego defensiveness) we do not want to let be. In girding ourselves we begin to cover up our innate good will toward each other. Ill will starts to seep in and we want to blame someone for our suffering.
When I woke that morning and began to write this all down. I looked up the words surrender and render and, yes, gird (it means to prepare for action; to encircle or bind with a belt). When Nouwen’s conception of Jesus as God-who-suffers-with-us kept coming back to me I decided to pick up where I had left off in his devotional You Are The Beloved and do you want to know what it said?
“From Action to Surrender: It is important for me to realize that Jesus fulfills his mission not by what he does, but by what is done to him. Just as with everyone else, most of my life is determined by what is done to me and thus is passion. And because most of my life is passion, things being done to me, only small parts of my life are determined by what I think, say, or do. I am inclined to protest against this and to want all to be action originated by me. But the truth is that my passion is a much greater part of my life than my action. Not to recognize this is self-deception and not to embrace my passion with love is self-rejection.
It is good news to know that Jesus is handed over to passion, and through his passion accomplishes his divine task on earth. It is good news for a world passionately searching for wholeness.
Jesus’ words to Peter remind me that Jesus’ transition from action to passion must also be ours if we want to follow his way. He says, “When you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go” (John 21:18).”
It is in letting be the suffering that we come to find a further surrender, an ego-less space within and humility begins to take on more room. It is in humility that we come to a deep, new opening of mind and heart that allows the movement of love in, by, through, and for us.
Oh how He loves you! I pray that you can hear in a new, dazzling way God saying to you: “I am with you. In all the worry and concerns, pains and sufferings. I am with you. You are my Beloved.”
Heidi Lepper Barrett
|Heidi Lepper Barrett is a native born Californian (Santa Barbara to be exact!) who made her way to Iowa after earning a Ph.D. in Social/Personality Psychology from the University of California in 1996. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Iowa, Heidi began teaching at Drake University in 2000. That was also the year, at age 30, she was baptized Catholic alongside her first newly born son. Heidi is married to Joe and they have two sons.|