It started at the labyrinth.
I'd been invited to serve for a week in January 2016 as a spiritual director for a group of graduate students who were completing a residency in Arizona. I was glad for the opportunity, having served in this capacity before and been blessed by it.
But I did not realize the extent to which I was bringing a weary heart with me.
As is so often the case, God's grace was present as I sat with the students each day. I saw insights happen, and my heart grew in affection for each one of them. But outside the sessions, my heart was taking its own difficult path.
One afternoon, I used my extended break time to walk the labyrinth at the top of the property. I made my way there and began the steps. Step by step and turn by turn, I sought to contemplate the turns my spiritual journey had taken over the course of my life, just as I'd done when walking labyrinth paths before.
But as I drew closer to the labyrinth's center, I noticed my heart was not attending to those meditations at all. Instead, it was addressing God in a firm and direct voice.
"Go away," it was telling God. "Go away."
I stopped and stood still, shocked to discover what was being said in a very loud voice in the center of my chest. It felt as though my heart, in speaking these words with such force, was pushing God away with both hands.
It had been a long season of loss.
Most recently, there had been the loss of our two cats, both 16 years old, within two and a half weeks of each other. They had died after coping with different strains of illnesses for 18 months. Toward the last six months of their lives, we were administering fluids twice daily, stopping by the vet's office at least once a week, and watching their food intake and activity in the litter box with vigilance each day.
Eventually, they died.
They had been like our children, since we have no children of our own. They had personalities wholly unique to themselves. They loved each other and us in their own particular ways. In the mornings, Diva would sit with me at my desk, teaching me more about contemplation than I could ever have learned on my own. During the day, they followed me around the house, asking to be attended to. At night, the four of us would gather on the bed and have family playtime.
And now they were gone.
And I was tired and sad and angry about it — this much I knew.
But I didn't know there was more.
On that day in the labyrinth, it was as though a zoomed-in lens on my life pulled back, shifting my gaze of awareness from what I could see right in front of me — the loss of Solomon and Diva — to what had unfolded in succession over the previous four years, which was loss upon loss upon loss.
In the previous four years, I had:
- Lost my closest friendship of 15 years through a painful breach we could not repair
- Lost another close friendship of 10 years
- Gotten entangled in the breakdown of a friendship shared by two other good friends, which led to a messy aftermath
- Walked with Kirk through the loss of his mother to cancer
- Walked with Kirk through a difficult season in his life with God
- Walked with a close friend through the acute loss of her husband
- Named an experience of sexual assault from my teen years
- Lost the expression of my sexuality for a long season through the healing process and its aftermath
- Tended to the kitties getting sick over eighteen months
- Lost both of the cats to death
There was even the loss of Still Forming, in a way, as I'd noticed and heeded an invitation along the way to shift my one-on-one ministry work to that of facilitating a community. This had meant saying goodbye to what this online space had been for many years from its beginning. It had asked me to let go of one era and open my heart and soul to a new one.
I thought I had been handling it. As each of these losses came up, I'd been as responsible to them as I knew how to be.
When I named the sexual assault for what it was, for example, I went straight into therapy. While in therapy, I also worked through the loss of the friendships and all the messy entanglements they revealed. I adjusted my approach to relationships in my life due to what the therapy taught me. And I continued to meet with my spiritual director every single month.
Even still, my heart had landed here: telling God to go away.
I realized, that day in the labyrinth, that I was angry at God. And I think that anger went something like this:
What the hell, God? What the serious hell? I've taken each loss like a punch in the gut, and instead of folding, I did the work. I was responsible to it all. I did what I knew was right to do. And now I'm tired. I'm done. Are you done yet? Can you please stop now? I'm over this. I don't have more to give. I can't take any more. Please stop. Actually, you know what? Just go away. Please, just go away.
But he didn't.
Instead, he sat with me at the corner of the labyrinth for several more months as I processed my anger.
I'll share how that unfolded in my next post.