Our life is not exactly super together right now. That’s not good when you are supposed to be the Sunday School leader. Thank God, truly, for friends who don’t skip a beat, and fill in for me, when I am having trouble just showing up in life.
The teacher, a gifted man, was in the middle of talking about stories. Our stories. The stories of church, of faith, of the souls before us. And not the shiny, pretty, heroic stories we often focus on. His point was that our stories, if we can be brave enough to tell them, have ugly parts…messy parts…bad parts…scary parts…pages where it hurts to look. And, it’s what helps people understand us, and draw courage from our words, when we share these messy parts.
In the middle of this lesson…HE shows up. Vest still on from his job in construction. Sort of dirty. Burly, like a biker. Big like a bear. Veteran. Tough looking. The look that makes me grateful that he’s the one who has been out protecting us. I’ve met him once before, here in this same class. And, I confess, when he opens his mouth, I think, “Well, hello God. Welcome to church. I’m listening”
It only took a minute for him to hear the point of the lesson, when he began to tell his story to this room full of strangers. Mostly (sadly, I think often) middle age, white people, who live relatively nice lives.
He said, that often ours stories go into a room before us. And, when our stories are hard, they define us, like a giant scarlet letter A on our chests.
He had been sober for quite some time. Done with drinking. Done with drugs. No longer homeless. But, struggling. In fact, he quietly confessed with a sob, that he recently tried to commit suicide, and had spent several weeks at the Veteran’s hospital.
“Remember those Excedrin commercials that said ‘I have a headache THIS big?” he said with his huge arms stretched out wide. “Then, they take a little pill, just this big,” he said making his fingers just an inch apart. “And boom, they feel all better,” he continued. “Well, my pain feels THIS big,” he said, stretching his arms wide again. “And, the joy only feels this big,” he said, drawing his fingers back in to just an inch apart. Then he cried.
He mumbled about how he was probably talking too much, and how no one wanted to hear him “go on and on talking like this.” Except we did. The entire room was mesmerized. No one was embarrassed. No one looked away. We were soaking up his every word.
“Dr. Julie” as he calls her, one of my best friends, had invited him to church after meeting him in the surrounding neighborhood. She sat lovingly behind him, patting him on the arm. My other dear friend, Jennifer, went and got him the Lord’s supper of Sunday School, the last donut in the box. I went to get Kleenex. One for me, and one for him. No one should cry alone in my book, and there is almost nothing that makes me tear up more than a big man, brave enough to cry tears, while he bears his soul.
And, while he sat, bravely telling his story, I thought, I still can’t bring myself to tell mine. Too ashamed. Too scared. Too tired. Too weak. And, really, it didn’t need to be told then. No one’s story did. His story was the one we all needed to hear in that very moment.
The moment, to me, was like a glimpse into what I have learned from a wise Quaker man, is called “the shekinah.” That is, little pauses in the universe. Little holy moments here on Earth when our souls feel alive and the hairs on the back of our neck stand up at attention. It’s all the wonder and mystery and possibility held in one precious glimpse.
But, it got me thinking about life. And our purpose in it. My purpose in it. And, all the time we spend trying to figure that purpose out.
Some know it from a young age, others find it when they are older, wiser. Some souls seem to never find their purpose, and that searching often seeps off of them like a distinct smell. And, others have it, but just cannot seem to embrace it in all its glory and pain.
Sometimes, I wonder if we miss it because we are making it too big. Too much. Too hard.
We confuse it with the roles we think we are supposed to play in life – sister, daughter, wife, mother, partner, friend, boss, leader, follower. Or we confuse it with our work – nurse, teacher, waitress, student, stay-at-home mom, businesswoman, entrepreneur, stylist, lawyer, minister. Or we confuse it with how others see us – neurotic, passionate, bossy, strange, addict, arrogant, failure, successful, happy, angry, positive, tired.
What if our purpose in life is to JUST BE? Just be who we are.
Harder than it sounds. At least for me.
What if we are to be all the roles we are, in the times we need to be them, for who we need to be them for? To feel all the things we feel. To be brave at times and needy in others. To allow others to need us and to fill those needs in our own, unique and talented ways.
What if we tried to love ourselves the way God loves us? Would we see the purpose in just being us?
What if we started to look at each day differently? After all, we aren’t promised tomorrow.
I woke up and got out of bed today. That is enough.
I said a prayer today and let God love me. That is enough.
I said “shhh” and comforted a little one when he cried. That is enough.
I worked hard, using the talents given to me. That is enough.
I didn’t drink today. Or overeat today. Or take that pill today. That is enough.
I took that medicine today. That is enough.
I spoke words of kindness to someone who needed it. That is enough.
I provided a roof over our heads and put food on the table with love. That is enough.
I sat still and quiet and thought about what makes me grateful. That is enough.
I said no to a situation that put me in harm’s way. That is enough.
I was brave today and spoke the truth. That is enough.
I was myself today. That is enough.
My friend showed up at church. That was enough. And, in so doing, that former addict, former homeless person and struggling man, fulfilled a purpose bigger than I bet he could even imagine. He reminded a room full of other needy souls that our purpose in life is to live our stories and just be.
Today, I pray that we can all tear off our scarlet letter A’s and say “I am enough.”