Years ago I got caught in a pretty debilitating depression. I let things snowball to a point I felt I had little or no refuge left. Every part of life looked bleak including my own bedroom. On weekends I would lie in bed all day and look at piles of laundry, fast food wrappers, stacks of unopened bills and just junk. Blech. It literally made it hard to get out of bed in the morning (or sometimes in the afternoon). One could sprain an ankle on the way to the bathroom. At one point it became difficult for me to imagine that the room would ever be clean. I would lie in bed and pray, “please, someone come and get this sadness out my house.” To my great surprise, one time, someone did.
Overwhelmed by everything I had to face in my life at that time, I didn’t know where to begin. I had to break everything down to the smallest simplest task. So I bought some rubber gloves and made a call. “please,” I said, “help me get this sadness out my house.” It was a short but extremely difficult phone call.
I didn’t want to face the truth let alone admit it to someone even though he already knew. In fact he had been waiting for the call. I had no excuses. It was as bad as I thought it was. All I could do was just inhale and pray a prayer aloud to God in earshot of a friend, “help.”
My friend showed up. It was humiliating to be sure, but the way he tore through piles of garbage so easily was surprising to me. It was shocking that we were actually going to get this done in one day! I was going to have a clean room and I barely knew how to wrap my brain around it. He helped God change my imagination. I found out I liked being able to see the carpet in my room. I ended up with a space I could go to to be alone and not feel like a failure. At very least it had become a place stained with the love and prayer of a friend.
While it didn’t fix everything in my life, it certainly impacted everything that had to be dealt with. All of it. That is a kind of grace you can’t ever pay back . But in response it has made me want to be a better man. It moved me. I needed to be moved. One of the particular qualities of grace is how it moves us. It moves through us and, God willing, it touches others.
Lent, as a time of reflection, introspection, and honesty can seem like it is supposed to be a inward time, maybe even a lonely and isolated season. But that would assume we have all the power in us to fix ourselves. It’s tempting to approach lent like a new year’s resolution. “I’ll lose weight,” or, “I’ll quit smoking.” but lent is not about will power. It is about grace. It is about being moved, not about being stronger. Its about expecting transformation in the very places where it seems we can do no good on our own.
The hope of lent is that we can dive into the dirtiest, scariest ugliest parts of who we are and find the love of God has beat us there. Sometimes just letting other people see what is going on in the depths can help us see that. If they can love us there, why couldn’t God? God is better at it. It will change our perspective and shed a little light where we can only see darkness. Its our job to just buy the rubber gloves and make the call.
So rather than facing ourselves alone, this is a time open ourselves to the grace, the help we need, to lift our imaginations high enough to at least picture living in a room where you can see the carpet. Now is the time for us to help each other imagine better lives for each other and a time to act accordingly.
So let us reflect and let’s also make some appointments with pastors, counselors, priests, best friends, small groups, doctors, dentists and spiritual directors. Maybe even a maid service or mechanic is in order. They have all heard the word, “help,” before.
We need not be exhibitionists. Not all beans need to be spilled. But we can pick one area where we are stuck or an area of sadness where we are trapped in the limits of our imaginations and just say, “help.” It probably won’t fix everything but it it will give us grace. And given time and a little cooperation, it indeed eventually will change everything.
Rejoice. God brings you to life. God is doing this for me also and it will move us where we didn’t think we could go. Even after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he still had to have his bandages removed by his friends so he could live the life that had been given him, …even if the bandages did stink. If you find yourself unable to pray any other prayers this lenten season, you can always turn to God and to others and breathe this small utterance: help.
It was friends that helped me recover my space and my mind. So much baggage left the house. So many “things” held in a vice grip that I needed to let go. Letting go is hard. It was the love of gracious people that held me up and encouraged me. “My House” has been transformed and I have found joy flooding the empty spaces.
A friend and I are practicing Lent this year. It was something you mentioned on Ash Wednesday via FB that spurred me. She was brought to it by a post on FB by her pastor. We are adding things that will bring us joy – for her crocheting booties and hats for preemies as well as listening to music everyday. For me, drawing and walking everyday as well as getting involved in a church community (again). For both of us we are are practicing planned prayer and devotions. We are giving up a thing or two as well that keep us from drawing nearer to the grace and mercy offered us by God.
I like just doing good in small. Little prayers, or just staying in touch with a friend to shift focus a little. It can make a big difference.
But this is just one little story on how I have depended on the kindness of strangers to sustain a spiritual life.
Which is a high compliment from an artist such as you. You are exactly the kind of person I write for. One who knows, one who asks, one who knows better. Cheers friend. All I have is yours.
i… really love this. Thanks for your phenomenal insight.
I, too, have been touched and transformed by this particular act of grace. What a precious gift it is! Thank you for sharing your story and reminding me that even though it can be beyond embarrassing to let someone else see the messiest part of our lives (literally or metaphorically), the relief and hope that come as a result are worth the momentary pain. Blessings to all who are courageous enough to ask… and gracious enough to respond with compassion and love.
I am fortunate to have such gracious friends. thans for your note Margaret. I pray lent gives you oodles and oodles of gracious moments and that you can oolde grace for others too 🙂
Doug, Thank you for this. Not surprisingly, I had a very similar situation. One in which my ‘help’ call went out to my sister in Portland. She was on the next plane to CA. Your tying it to Lenten Grace is a blessing to me as I read this and continue to open myself to grace into my inmost brokenness.
Thank you. Beauty will save the world..and all its dirty rooms. Peace this Lent.
This entry reminds me that I, too, was given “help” in various ways through a particular seminary professor who recommended that I be checked out for a learning disability. It turned out that it was confirmed, and then some. I am a much, much, more whole person than during my PLNU days because of “help” in the form of psychiatric science. Thanks be to God for the minds who work to heal the… …well… …mind.
Also, I have always admired your vulnerability. Strange as this is, it brings me to think that I can, too, be vulnerable as a means of grace to others.