In his book, Invitation To Love, Thomas Keating writes:
“On the spiritual Journey there is usually someone in our family, our business or in our community whom we cannot endure, someone who has a genius for bringing out the worst in us. No matter what we do we cannot seem to improve the relationship. This was the nature of my envy towards my brother monk. He had not done anything to cause it. God simply used him to reflect back to me what my problem was. Thus, the person who gives us the greatest trouble may be our greatest gift from God.”
I cannot tell you how many bells rang for me when I read these words. And so began the story of my own surrender.
I was brought to my knees in frustration and desperation over a relationship that I perceived to be very difficult. No doubt there were major faults on both sides, but at the time I was full of what I can only call justifiable outrage at the treatment I received. In my case the person in question was my boss who was near the end of her career.
In my desperate state, I asked God to help me. “There is no way out, Grace. You will have to ask her forgiveness,‚Äù came the response. “But that will kill me. I haven‚Äôt done anything wrong!‚Äù I said. “I know the feeling,” came the answer from deep within. And that was when I understood that the true meaning of the cross is where belief and faith intersect. I realised that in order to be healed, the old self would have to be annihilated in the process. (To paraphrase Ken Wilber: “When the self is confronted by God it is not made content. It is made toast!”)
For the next three days I actually felt my ego die away. It was a metaphysical death. I had the feeling that I was sharing in the crucifixion. I hope this does not sound blasphemous or frightening, because although it was a very painful experience for me, I also understood on another level that I was completely safe in God’s hands and that everything was going to be just fine, because crucifixion is not the end of the story but rather the beginning!
I was being held in a very special way that defies any description. I don’t remember too many specific details but I do remember that I cried an awful lot. There was a Bible in the house that I hadn’t read for years and as I flicked through the pages, the scales fell from my eyes. We take this as a metaphor but I know that in that evening my eyesight literally improved. Some of the words were jumping out of the page at me, as the depth of relevant spiritual truths were revealed.
And yes, about three days later, I gradually began to feel the stirrings of joy and new life in the spirit. The resurrection is absolutely true! I had been born again anew and every cell in my body knew it. I couldn’t stop singing. I was on the mountain top for the best part of the next year and it was literally years before I was able to talk about the experience with any clarity.
Once I had been healed, I wrote my boss a letter of apology for any offence or hurt I had caused her. I created an opening for correspondence between us, though it never actually came. Instead of a personal letter she sent me a short reading from Hebrews. I took it as a personal message from God. Every time I come across this passage, I think of her.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.”
At the end of the day you cannot really change anyone else’s behaviour. It’s not your business to anyway. You can only respond to your own conscience and hopefully try to do God’s will. Sometimes it feels like it will kill you. The human imperative is for self preservation and we flee from suffering at all costs, but if we can somehow embrace it, God is able to transform it into something beautiful.
There can be no ascent without descent. That is the only way we can let go, give up our false programs for happiness and in the process go beyond ourselves to glimpse our deepest and unconditional nature. As our ancestors noticed long ago, in order for a seed to grow it first has to be planted – and this is precisely the crux of the matter – as few of us are willing to hang around long enough to take root. We tend to avoid anything that frightens or discomforts us; we flee from our suffering, not understanding that what we are fleeing is our own transformation. When you’re in the grips of the false self you will believe, like I did, that surrender is a dirty word.
Over the years, I have struggled for the best way to tell my story but I have never found the right words until now. There was something so profound in the words of Fr. Thomas about ‘God uses other people to reflect back our own problems’ that I had to bear witness to the truth of them.
In the midst of our pain it feels like Hell but the Divine Therapist makes no mistakes and, if I’m sure of one thing, it’s that the hairs on our head have been counted. He won’t rest until he has taken His children home. God used my boss as a servant to break me. Like the wild and wilful filly that I am, He knew it would take someone even stronger to tame me and so he sent me the most self righteous creature he could find to do it. I now find it amusing. Nothing less than that bad experience would have brought me to my knees before God to ask for His help and healing.
And what, I hear you ask, of my ego now? It has not been an easy ride. God created this wilful creature and He knew what He was doing. I suppose He gave me a big ego for a good reason, and with His divine help. I am in the process of finding out more. I continue to trip myself up through my spiritual pride and suffer the consequences, though slowly and surely I am getting better at trusting God. I have really had to learn to conform and obey! Not a very popular word in my vocabulary but it seems to be creeping in despite my anxieties.
Isle of Skye
Highlands of Scotland