So I've been reading a book for the past few weeks. It is by far one of the hardest books I've ever read. It is called "The Inner Voice of Love" by Henri Nouwen and it is an edited version of his journal during a particularly difficult time in his life. Each "chapter" is something Nouwen refers to as a spiritual imperative, something that must be clung to to overcome. Some have been easier than others and some have not applied to me. However most are powerful and terrifying. I decided to keep a journal of my own thoughts whilst reading his. These are my thoughts concerning the first imperative, Walking Around Your Own Abyss. In summation Nouwen details that we must be willing to face our own abyss and realize that filling it will take time. It won't be filled all at once but we should nonetheless take small steps to slowly see it filled.
Also sorry for the long post, emotions sometimes can't be word-capped.
My abyss… My abyss is deep. Sometimes I want to cry out because I think it is deeper than anyone else’s. Too deep to fill. I want to give up, to run away, to hide from it and never speak of it again. Hiding behind platitudes and masks is easy. Looking into the darkness stretching beneath me is hard. It scares me like nothing has ever scared me before. How do I fix this? Is there even a way to overcome such a wide chasm? Thankfully it lies underground; the only way to truly see it is from the edge. I can usher people around and away from it most of the time. Directing their attention elsewhere is simple enough that most never know it exists. They can never know it exists. They would run too quickly if they ever how deep and dark it is. Their smiles would too quickly turn to disgust and their eyes would frantically search for something easier to look at. Their legs would respond with such vigor, leaving no time to explain but only empty space where they once stood. I would be alone again, both glad they didn't stay long enough to become enveloped in my shame but secretly wishing they had stayed only a second longer. Just a moment longer of their warmth would have helped in breaking the chill in my soul.
I occasionally take handfuls of dirt here and there and toss them hopefully into the abyss. I dig into the earth around me and feel accomplished with every grain as it scrapes along my skin and finds its way beneath my nails. Carrying it to the edge, the weight of the soil feels wonderful on my arms. My head lifts just a little bit higher against the gravity around me. The journey is long enough to tire me; my shoulders ache and shiver to hold the dirt up. My legs weaken enough to remind me that it won’t be easy and each step gets harder. As I stand on the edge and release the handfuls or bucketfuls into the hole for a second I want to smile knowing each speck of dust brings the bottom closer and closer to the surface. In moments the smile fades and my head falls towards my chest. Before a breath is finished the dirt has left view and disappeared into the dark, leaving me to realize how pointless handfuls can be. My mind races with calculations and the numbers of handfuls needed grows exponentially. With every zero added to the end a nail is placed in the box around my heart, sealing it away. Trying to protect it against the hurt and pain that inevitably would come in attempting to fill the crevice.
I walk away from my abyss.
The path is hard to follow but it eventually leads me to someone else. They are haphazardly throwing load after load into their own abyss. With a feigned smile I offer to help. The work is hard and dirty. Sweat dripping from our brows we bend and strain our backs against the weight of each shovel full. When we can work no more the hole seems just a little smaller. It is enough to feel accomplished. They smile at me; I smile back knowing something has been done. They offer to help me fill my whole the next day. With an aloof persona I assure them I don’t need help. I’m doing just fine with my own darkness. I come up with some excuse to remind myself that I don’t want their help, or that their strength is better saved for their own struggle and need not be spent on mine.
Trudging back my crater starts out as a speck in the distance, something I could easily overcome. Hope fills my lungs and I think for just a moment that I can do this, I can fill it. As I approach closer and closer the crater grows and grows. Bending down I fill my hands, my pockets, my shirt; anything I can fill carries dirt with me to the hole. Reaching the edge, the heaviness unbearable, I toss all of it in. Again before fresh oxygen can fill my lungs the darkness consumes my effort. I hit my knees and weep, the darkness oozes up out of the abyss and creeps in around me. Just before it closes in I see someone in the distance dumping a load of soil into their own abyss. I struggle to my feet and begin trudging in their direction. Maybe, just maybe this time I can help them and let them help me. Maybe I can set my heart free and allow them close to my shame. Maybe…
God, remind me that each grain of sand is useful and worthwhile. Remind me that darkness will become light and that the abyss can be filled. Remind me that it does not go on forever and that hope is not foolish. Help me to know that handfuls can be meaningful and that grains of sand do add up. Show me that progress can be made no matter how small it may seem. Teach me to allow you to aid me in my abyss, teach me to confront it head on and allow others to see it as well. Remind me that not everyone will run at the sight of it, that it is not too big for you or those that love me. Help me God. Amen.