I'll give you fair warning; this post is sappy. It's about feelings. It's about relationships. It's about being sad. And it is about being loved. If this is not your cup of tea, please check back another day.
The older I get, the more I find myself haunted by a deep sense of sadness. Everyday occurrences that I once hardly noticed now often trigger pangs of regret, guilt, and the temptation to replay a memory, and rewrite the bits that still hurt.
Let me give you an example. When I see kids sledding in the snow, or even a film or a commercial that includes a sled or toboggan, it stabs me like a knife. Why? Because of a memory it brings up.
When my girls were young, I was working on a loading dock during the day, and attending the university at night to earn my undergraduate degree. If I had an exam coming up, or a paper due, I would have to pull an all nighter. Consequently, my girls' memory of me during those seven years is primarily one of being asleep on the couch.
One winter I promised them that I would take them sledding. When the day arrived, I was asleep on the couch after being up all night completing a paper that was due. They couldn't wake me up. When I finally opened my eyes, the sun was down, and my girls were already tucked in bed. When I went into their room, my youngest looked at me with big, sad eyes, and simply said, "We waited and waited Daddy!" It turns out they had both gotten dressed in their winter gear, and sat on the floor watching me sleep for some time. The older one, having been through similar disappointments before, finally gave up. The younger one waited much longer.
Not such a traumatic event, right? For me it is. That particular memory has come to symbolize all the times I wasn't there for my kids because I had "more important" things to do. And now they are grown and gone. I cannot recapture those opportunities to be "Daddy."
One more brief example; the other day I was in the store and a song came on that represents a particular relationship I had some time ago. It was a silly song; the kind that two people who think they're in love may choose as "their song." I hurt this person, who deserved better. When ambushed by music in the car, I can simply change the station or shut it off. In this case my only choice was to leave the store.
There is a safeguard against such sentimentality. I know it well. You become thick-skinned. You cut off all feelings. You expect everything to hurt, so you put on angry and aggressive armor. Then nothing can touch you. I don't like that Jake. Most people that have met him don't like him much either.
In the last few days I have found myself feeling a very similar kind of hurt when I see campaign signs or hear folks talking about the election. I trusted. I believed. There's some guilt mixed in there, which is one reason why these feelings seem in the same category as failures in past relationships. I didn't give enough of myself. I expected others to do the work for me.
To escape such sadness tinged with guilt, I'm inclined towards avoidance, transference (blaming) or anger. Each offers temporary relief, but none bring real healing of the wounds.
Confession is probably the healthiest first step towards healing. Admitting to God, and preferably another person, my faults, my sins, committing to an amendment of life, and being assured of God's forgiveness. The next step is usually harder, however; forgiving myself.
Today I received a healing balm from a source that I didn't expect. I suppose I should have anticipated it, but I didn't. It came as I was administering Holy Communion.
Discussing the theology of the Holy Eucharist is a big topic, and one that maybe we can tackle another time. For now I'll just mention my early impression of Holy Communion.
Having been raised Baptist and Pentecostal, when I found myself in the Episcopal Church I wasn't so sure about all those "Romish" shenanigans they did up at the altar. The first part was ok; singing, bible readings, sermon, prayers. But all that magical stuff during the second part felt kind of, well, pagan to me. But I went ahead and received communion with my family anyway.
About six months later, I noticed that my personal prayers after communion were often the most focused and peaceful prayers of the whole week. I also noticed that receiving communion seemed to be affecting those around me in a similar way. I finally had to grudgingly admit that whatever they were doing up at that altar, it was clearly of God, and was affecting me and everyone else. Personally, that's all the Eucharistic theology I need. When we receive communion, something happens, and that something is of God.
When I administer the sacrament, I offer it as I look the person in the eye with the words "The Body of Christ." I then place it in their palm with the words, "the Bread of Heaven." I'm not suggesting this is the only way, or the right way, to do it; it's just the way I do it.
As I administered communion this morning and we shared that special moment, I felt that "something" happening. My heart began to literally ache because of my love for each of those precious souls. Soon, the ache was transformed into joy, as I received their love for me.
This relationship, of love flowing between us at that special moment, was the way the theological reality, of receiving the outward and visible sign of God's grace, became manifest. Some of those folks were young. Some were old. Some were conservative, and others were liberal. Some were Democrats, but others were Republican. It didn't seem to matter to God. The grace flowed, and it was a glorious thing.
Some of the wounds caused by life may never heal. And I may always be shadowed by a deep sadness. But, thank God, there is more to life than that.
In the end, it is a matter of recalling what the point of living is all about; of honestly answering one of the most primal questions; what do you want?
I want to give love, and be loved. And that is what I experience when I gather with my brothers and sisters to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Thanks be to God!