I got in my car, alone. Put it in drive and headed down the road. I adjusted the thermostat and settled in for the hour and a half drive. About 30 seconds later, the tears came. They came in great waves of grief. They came in the kind of shedding that you can feel coming up from your center. Those pent up tears that feel like a great exhale.
I have been in a long season of letting go—a long season of being redefined. I had to let go of my Protestantism in order to embrace the Catholic Church. Although joyful and wonderful and I wouldn’t change a thing—there was a letting go, a goodbye, and a kind of grief. I knew that by saying “Yes” to Jesus’ call to follow him into the Church many people would say goodbye to me. Not everyone could hang with me, I knew it. Counting the cost, you know?
That was a warm-up to all the letting go that was to come. And there has been a lot of letting go. And each letting go comes with its own grief, its own goodbye, its own invitation to count the cost and to take a step of faith.
It doesn’t seem to get easier though. Maybe it would if my heart became calloused or if I became indifferent. I don’t want to be that person, though. I don’t want to be someone who is hardened by life and cold to people. And that’s a fine line to walk, isn’t it? Because on one hand I do not want to be a slave to the opinion of the herd. On the other hand I want to respect your perspective as an individual. And so, I move through life with empathy, but also with conviction. I do hard things, but extend grace to myself and others when we cannot do the hard things. I will not bow to the world, at the same time being so sad for the state of the world.
Sometimes it all gets a little heavy. Like I have been holding my breath for a long time or struggling to breathe behind a stifling muzzle….er….I mean….mask. And then that moment comes. Exhale. Let. It. Go.
Let it all go. The sticky pedestal behavior that enslaves me to the opinions of others. The expectations that the world or the universe or God owes me something. The disappointment about the way things have turned out. The possibility of the future being the way I anticipated it would. Let it all go. The lies the enemy tells me about how I have failed. The lies of the world and even of other Christians that I must purchase any happiness I experience by suffering. The misguided notion that I am getting what I deserve. Let it all go. The scathing criticisms labeled as fraternal correction. The assumption that I won’t be the villain in someone else’s story. The possibility of not being wrong. The idea that I have to (or even could) earn love.
Exhale that shit.
You can’t inhale all the grace God wants to give you until you exhale all the bullshit.
Sometimes you can’t exhale until you are alone. Or maybe that is just me, who still has an addiction to the opinions of others.
Rilke wrote in the Letters to a Young Poet, “What is needed is this, and this alone: solitude, great inner loneliness. Going into oneself and not meeting anyone for hours—that is what one must arrive at. Loneliness of the kind one knew as a child, when the grown-ups went back and forth bound up in things which seemed grave and weighty because they looked so busy, and because one had no idea what they were up to….And when one day you realize that their preoccupations are meagre, their professions barren and no longer connected to life, why not continue to look on them like a child, as if the world on the expanse of your own solitude, which itself is work and achievement and a vocation? Why wish to exchange a child’s wise comprehension for rejection and contempt, when incomprehension is solitude, whereas rejection and contempt are ways of participating in what by precisely these means, you want to sever yourself from?”
We are embarking on a new Lent. I am well poised to embracing some inner loneliness. Because as I exhale all the built up tension, what I breathe in is solitude. The kind Rilke talks about. And this is what I must guard this Lent. I have friends who guard it for me and strangers who would take it from me. “I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.” (Rilke) As I embrace being alone in this world, I accept the task of guarding my own solitude.
Are you holding your breath? Exhale.