I turned off the M5 at junction 7 on Monday evening. I haven’t done that for a long time… The old familiar Worcester ring-road with its queues of rush hour cars and those stunning hills rearing their heads into the sky brought back the memories of frequent trips to Malvern a few years ago. It was a significant place in my journey with 3 annual ‘sowing seeds’ prayer teams between 2001 and 2003 and countless subsequent visits to encourage the friends I had made. As I have written before, it was a Bethlehem place for me, a place of birth and breakout – so doubly sweet to find myself spontaneously returning.
I was delighted to be back in my dear friend’s house and hear her stories: so much has happened, so many prayers answered in surprising ways – so many grandchildren! It was even better that there just ‘happened’ to be a few ladies coming round that evening to share and pray: it was as if I had been set up to re-connect!
BUT… this was strange: I felt different to how I used to feel in such settings. I felt quiet and empty rather than full of talk and vision – somehow lacking confidence and charisma. OK, I’d been at my oldest friend’s funeral a few hours before and only decided to stop off here on the way home as I left Bristol – and it all came together so well it was clearly ‘meant to be’. But in the past I had gone into Malvern carrying words of encouragement – to lead, to pray, to preach – and this was so different… Because, I think, I am different.
I am your archetypal extrovert – or at least I was! I used to thrive on social settings and as a natural leader (what my husband calls ‘bossy’!) I could ‘talk for England’! Friends used the adjective ‘bubbly’, perhaps others would have said ‘loud’ 😉 Now I suppose my certainty and drive comes out in my writing instead! How am I? Perhaps I am depressed? Or maybe I just like my space and lots of time to be quiet these days: if it’s about where we get our energy from I think I have become more of an introvert and a lot more picky about who I see. Sounds awful… but it’s about knowing I just can’t be the answer for everyone and I can’t actually save the whole world! I would never have put it like that in the past, but the way I threw myself into so much and gave myself away, drove thousands of miles, pushed myself to the limit, perhaps I did have some sort of Messiah complex – or just a ‘need to be needed’. I called it ‘using my gifts’ and ‘investing what I had’ which sounded much better!
I don’t despise the person I was, but for better or worse, suffering has changed me. I would like to have more energy and purpose again and I certainly don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater… that’s why it was so good to be back in such a safe place on Monday, recognising that I was among friends who love and respect my journey and accept me as I am. It is amazing to know our lives have been inextricably woven in with others’ – by God. But I have also been stretched and moulded by the pain of the past 3 years and can no longer be that youthful, eager and energetic woman… the cost has to be reckoned in.
It sounds miserable and I am sorry. I do not want to be a ‘mother of sorrows’, always grieving, always burdened. I long to be joyful and carefree again… but though my son is out of sight, he is not out of mind: choosing to trust remains a daily effort. Oh, I am SO grateful for respite, for freedom, for a new lease of life: it cannot be an accident that I was in Malvern, my ‘breakout place’, at such a key time in my story. But the emotions, the expectations, have changed beyond recognition.
I have been reading Richard Rohr’s daily mediations: the Center for Action and Contemplation send them out daily by email. Under the recent topic of True Transformation he says: ‘There’s a difference between change and transformation. Change happens when something old dies and something new begins. Transformation happens when we personally change in the process of outer change.‘
It is true that my outer changes have worked an inner change. I would hope that was the work of God in maturing me, rather than a giving in to hopelessness: I hope I am not just quieter, but more peaceful, more ‘quick to listen and slow to speak’ (James 1v19). I would like to think that without the adrenaline and human effort I am actually more ME.
Rohr also says that when Jesus wanted Thomas to put his finger in the wounds he wanted him to: ‘face and feel in his body the tragedy of it all—and then know it was not tragedy at all! In that order. That is how wounds become sacred wounds. This is the pattern of all authentic conversion in the Christian economy of grace: not around, not under, not over, but through the wound we are healed and saved‘. And I believe this too: I am somehow more whole because of what I have suffered alongside my son.
Even more than this, he goes on to state that ‘the great revelation signified in Jesus is not only that God participates in our suffering, but also that our suffering has life-giving elements for the evolution of humanity, or “Christ consciousness” (Ephesians 4v23-24). The primary story line of history has been one of ‘redemptive violence’ where the killing of others would supposedly save and protect us. Jesus introduced and lived a new story line of ‘redemptive suffering’ – our suffering for others and for the world makes a difference in the greater scheme. No love is lost in the universe, but it is building up and helping to create the eternal Christ consciousness. As Paul so courageously and trustfully puts it, ‘I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Colossians 1v24).’ That is what I would call intercession, or living out the prayer.
Rohr then says: ‘When we finally allow life to take us through the Paschal Mystery of passion, death, and resurrection, we will be transformed. At this stage we’ll have found the capacity to hold the pain, not to fear it or hate it or project it onto other people. Actually, it’s really God holding the pain in us, because our little self can’t do it. But the Big Self, God in us, can absorb it, forgive it, and resolve it. We know it is grace when we no longer need to hate or punish others, even in our mind. We know someone else is working through us, in us, and for us…’
Holding the pain. There is part of me just doing that – or maybe God is doing that in me. After all He knows all about the suffering of humanity and it never ceases to amaze me that He can be full of joy and life, ‘the God of all Hope’ (Romans 15v13), at the same time as watching so much of His creation in such pain. People blame God for the suffering in the world – but He didn’t cause it, we did: He grieves over and waits for every lost and hurting child of His just as I grieve over and wait for mine. But I am learning to hold the pain, just as He does – as a fact and as a prayer.
So is that good? Is that personality change? Yes, definitely. And is that OK? Yes, definitely. Perhaps that is the personal breakthrough that this visit to Malvern signifies: I am being transformed from glory to glory to be more like Him.