The Cost of Spirituality

By Jennifer Christy

 

“There are 5 things you should be careful about praying for,” my friend, Johan, warned me during one of our visits.  I often take my spiritual queries to Johan when I come across something in my spiritual studies that puzzle me and I need a sounding board to fully understand the concept. He is a great source of wisdom and information regarding stuff like this for which I have come to benefit from many times over the years of our friendship. For the sake of this post, I’m only going to relate my experience with one of the 5 things he warned me against. I had asked him about the Law of Charity.  Charity is often mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, but I wanted to understand it on a deeper level. I wanted to know his experience of Charity through his own personal spiritual journey. He gave me a crooked grin before he glibly answered, “be careful about what you pray for.”

Even though it has been said that Charity is the pure love of Christ, understanding it and achieving it is not an easy journey in and of itself.

At least for me.

Urged by the promptings I had felt over the last several months when I embarked upon developing a deeper and richer spiritual life, I came across the scripture urging true followers of Christ to pray for Charity. I remembered my friend’s warning, but I felt I was ready to face what came just so I could progress on my journey.

“Be careful what you pray for.”

When I started praying earnestly for the feelings of Charity to fill my heart, as predicted by Johan, I was “blessed” with several experiences that really stretched and tested me in ways I never expected. I was literally brought to my knees in utter despair after each experience – hardly able to breathe for the tight bands around my chest as I became stricken with the ugly sobbing. You know the kind – tears and snot running down your face and you’re gasping for breath as you feel like your heart is going to implode and gravity seems extra strong as it pulls you to the ground and you can’t even lift your head?  Yeah, that.

Johan had warned me that in praying for Charity, the Lord might send someone who I had negative feelings about to start the process.  And sure enough, circumstances brought this person front and center in my life within a couple of months. I was forced to deal with this person, the Petty Tyrant, aka, my ex-husband and father of my children, whether I liked it or not. I had cut off all communications with him for months previous because of the constant conflict and inability to resolve any problems we were having. Nothing was ever resolved and communications would dissolve into petty arguments. It got to the point where even a mere email notification from him made me ill.

After I reluctantly agreed to communicating with him again, our encounters were civil, but the more time we spent communicating over the concerns of the children and then on to things that were going on in our personal lives, the more the old, raw hurt I felt toward him began to surface, until one day, during a conversation, he began telling me things that seemed to pierce me to the core. It felt like I had a great big cyst full of black anger roiling and brewing deep inside. A wound that had been festering for 5 years, hidden deep inside, so deep, I was numb to it and almost had forgotten it was there. But that afternoon, it erupted unexpectedly and I let it out of my mouth and gave the Petty Tyrant the tongue lashing I had been storing up since our divorce. I hung up before he could say anything and I fled to my room and the ugly sobbing began.

For weeks afterwards, I felt an empty hollowness inside; like a great sucking void where that black anger once was. I had just released my anger on the Petty Tyrant. Shouldn’t I feel better now that I “released” all that anger? But, why did I feel so off? I was in daze; on autopilot, just going through the motions of my day. I started binge eating thinking perhaps I could fill that void with food, but 5 lbs. later, I realized I couldn’t cure this uncomfortable feeling with food. This wasn’t a physical emptiness; this was an emotional black hole that was sucking the life out of me. I had to do something! I couldn’t live this way anymore.

I turned to another friend, Brigham, who is a professional therapist, for help.

“You’re angry still,” Brigham said bluntly. “You have a lot of anger.”  Flustered, I assured him I was NOT angry and I reminded him that I had quite effectively released my anger on the Petty Tyrant. I wasn’t angry anymore.  Just empty! Why?!!

Brigham didn’t back down from his position on the matter. “You’re not going to feel better until you get rid of that anger.”

I left his office, miffed. I could hear him chuckle as I went downstairs to my car. I love Brigham, he’s a great friend, but he was dead wrong about my symptoms.

Or so I thought.

That night I couldn’t sleep. “You’re angry,” Brigham’s voice kept whispering in my mind over and over until, agitated, I threw off my covers, sat up in bed and said aloud, “I’m done!” It felt so good to say it, that I said it again, “I’m so done with feeling this way!”

I grabbed a notebook off my bedside table and my purple ink pen and I wrote a five page, front and back, letter to the Petty Tyrant. What I had said to him over the phone a few weeks before didn’t hold a candle to what I wrote in that letter. I wrote about all the things he had done that hurt me and the kids, and why it hurt me. I called him every name in the book and then made up some more names. I was vicious and cruel and mean as hell while I sobbed and hot, angry tears streaked my face and landed in large droplets across the pages containing the pain in my soul.

I was breathless by the time I passed my pen over the page to complete the last sentence of my black anger letter to the ex-husband. I stared at it for a moment and then read it. And read it again. And again.  A new wave of tears came and I fell back on my bed, clutching the letter to my chest and let the pain wash out of me with choking sobs and groanings that seemed to come from my very soul.

It was a long time before I could get up and on shaky legs, I went to the kitchen and got out the lighter.  Over the kitchen sink, I lit a corner of the pages and watched in fascination as the blue, green, and yellow flame moved silently across the page, eating up the anger fueled words. Negative, angry words, like cancer that marred the pure whiteness of the pages in slashes and tears. The edges of the papers curled black and crumbled into the sink, melting into black ruin. I dropped the pages and watched the fire consume what was left.  Long after the flames died, I just stared at the ash before I turned the knob of the faucet to wash the last semblance of my anger down the drain.  Gone.

It wasn’t over yet.

I returned to my room and picked up the notebook again, and this time, I wrote as if I stood outside of myself and time. I wrote about all that I did know about my ex-husband and the challenges and struggles he faced. I wrote down what he had shared with me about his fears and struggles while we were married and afterwards when we were both in a space to discuss freely why our marriage didn’t work out while we searched for closure. This process took longer than writing the angry letter. I suppose having to look at the situation differently, from his point of view, and shift my attitude about the conflicted relationship really forced me to evaluate things on a higher level than what was required to vomit up the black anger. I had to make myself look at this from a higher perspective now that I did not have the dark energy holding me down.

I began to see a different person emerge from the pages of my notebook. A person who was just as confused, lost, and hurt as I was, doing the best he could with what he knew how to do. Tears came again, but this time, softly and slowly as I began to feel something warm settle around me and fill me with what I can only describe as unseen light. Sweet sorrow trickled through every part of my being. Sorrow for the anger I had for him. Sorrow for the mistakes I made. Sorrow for the pride I wrapped about myself to protect my fragile feelings. Sorrow for the ending of a marriage and the displacement of our family.

Then forgiveness followed. It’s difficult to describe that feeling, other than it was a feeling like everything was going to be okay. A feeling of reassurance that there was nothing more to be done or said and that I could really and truly accept my life now as it is.  Gratitude soon followed and then to my amazement, the yawning, sucking void inside me was filled with a soothing and healing sense of peace, love, and joy…ahh, but words can’t seem to adequately describe this awesome feeling that settled over me and moved through me to fill not only that empty void, but my heart as well.  I fell into an exhausted sleep, wrapped in the warmth of peace that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. A depth of peace that made me feel as though I was one with all around me – truly connected and alive!!

During the weeks that followed that experience, I noticed that friends and family members would make unsolicited positive comments about my demeanor and even my physical appearance. They noted I seemed “bright and happy” and that I looked “radiant” and had a “great” smile. Even strangers would look at me differently and talk to me in passing while at the grocery store, or at the gas station, always with a smile and some sort of compliment. I felt buoyant and full of this light others seemed to see in me. I felt good and at peace.

It suddenly hit me that I had been blessed with the gift of a tiny seed of Charity. I understood that there was no way I could have been giving that gift with the anger still festering inside me – anger that I thought I had explosively “released” on my ex-husband; anger that I thought was resolved when those divorce papers were signed all those years ago. My spiritual journey had been blocked by the all-encompassing anger that was spilling out into all areas of my life, subtly and quietly like a poisonous gas whispering through the chambers of my heart, effecting my life until it was making me sick emotionally and physically. I didn’t even recognize it for what it was. I had to have an outside observer point it out to me, and only an outside observer that I trusted to be fair and honest with me.

Now, I have this precious seed of Charity which I guard as if more precious than gold or diamonds. The next part of my spiritual journey is to cultivate this most precious gift bestowed upon me by the All-knowing, All loving source of Life itself. And the person most deserving of my new-found gift is, of course, the Petty Tyrant who is actually a Master Teacher.

And so, it continues….

 

 

 

 

photo credit: Guilherme Yagui loneliness is such a sad affair via photopin (license)

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