What is it that we need to bring us spiritual renewal in these dark and uncertain times? With what attitude should we face adversity or the possibility of adversity? Things in our country and world are looking a bit bleak and frightening and we don’t know what will happen next. How are we to deal with this, and what spiritual resources can we call upon to support us in this journey?
As always, we start with ourselves. Are we holding on to resentments? At whom are we angry? There are lots of people in our world today with whom it is possible to be angry! There are lots of situations towards which we could hold resentment and grudges. How can we allow ourselves to let go of the right to hold on to anger? You notice, I did not say, “to let go of the right to be angry”, for we do have that right. Anger can propel ourselves to right and good action. However, holding onto anger, and nurturing it in the presence of self-pity and resentment, can and will lead to destruction. Holding onto grudges tends to be fueled by self-pity and the sense of entitlement that allows us to stew in the face of injustice and improper treatment, rather than stepping up and setting proper boundaries, or accessing the resources needed to work towards both individual healing, along with societal justice and change. The ability to forgive, other than being a gift of God, comes from the deep acceptance that we are ALL fallen, that we are ALL in this together, and that I, given the right circumstances, might be just as capable as you in engaging in hurtful actions for which someone might need to forgive me! Pride seems to be so tightly entwined in the tendency to hold onto grudges and resentment.
And then there is the other side of the coin. To whom do I need to make atonement? To whom do I need to apologize and ask forgiveness? What is my part in the conflict or destruction? How do I need to change? Sometimes we even need to forgive ourselves for behaviors and attitudes that put or kept us in harms way!
But forgiveness and atonement are just the foundation of spiritual resilience. We need to go beyond this foundation to even deeper repentance, growth and transformation.
I believe that the first two resources to draw upon are hope and trust. We both hope and trust that God Himself is working through the mess to bring transformation and change to both each individual person as well as to the world. God perpetually calls the world, and each person in it towards greater righteousness and love. So, the question to be asking is, “How is God calling me to grow and change in this situation? How can I respond with deeper love and compassion towards both my neighbor (whoever that might be in the moment!) and towards myself? I add “towards myself”, because many of us are prone to the sin of perfectionism, which can give birth to a viciously destructive self-attack, which actually interferes with the ability to love anyone!
We get to acknowledge how difficult and painful are the situations we might be finding ourselves in. Our feelings of fear, anger, loneliness, overwhelm, and even despair are normal. Anxiety and depression may be fueling increased irritability and self-destructive, compulsive behaviors such as drinking or pornography. We may struggle to get up in the morning. We may be crying more, or have a harder time getting work done or starting/finishing projects. These are normal! We get to have compassion towards ourselves, rather than anger and self-attack. We get to forgive ourselves, as well as ask forgiveness of others, rather than get defensive and self-justifying. Acceptance and compassion towards ourselves and others, come from the radical acceptance of our universal human frailty and fallenness.
However, it doesn’t stop there. From this self-compassion and love can then come resolve to find the internal and external resources to grow and change. We don’t have to stay frozen and stuck. By God’s grace, and perhaps with the help of others, we can find different ways to respond and transform. We can unlock our innate internal creativity and problem-solving abilities. Rather than be frozen in uncertainty, we can bring curiosity to the situation. We can be open to exploring other possibilities and different solutions, that we may not have thought of before. We can be curious about how God is going to solve this, with and for us.
However, it is hard to do this in a vacuum. We need support and love from others. We may need to start being honest with other people (as well as with ourselves!) about how we are struggling. Its ok to do that. Most of us want to give love and support to others. We just might have difficulty receiving it! This might be your opportunity to receive, for a change!
Finally, what are the virtues to which we are being called? Here I like going to the Beatitudes, as well as to the book of Galatians for guidance. Blessed are the merciful, the peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…… We can ask, “what does this mean to me and my attitude and behavior, NOW, in THIS situation?” These are hard questions, but God does indeed give answers when we listen. And sometimes the answers might surprise us! We can also turn in the Bible to Galatians 5:19-23 for a list of the behaviors to avoid, (which include hatred, strife and contentiousness) and the fruits of the Spirit to pray and strive for, including love, joy, peace and longsuffering.
Now is the time to be engaging in all our spiritual practices and resources, so that this can truly be a time of transformation and healing, not just for ourselves, but also for the whole world.