When we were little, many of us learned that God made a garden called Eden and God put the first two people there – Adam and Eve. Then God gave them everything they needed and one thing they didn’t need – which was a tree in the middle of the garden called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God told them not to eat from that tree. But Eve did, and her eyes were opened – and everything got all kinds of jacked up after that.
I was taught that Eden is a story about temptation. That our nature is to do the opposite of what God says to do, and that causes problems for us. But since I was little I’ve been wondering if this story is also about the dangers of trying to know what is good and what is bad. Maybe it wasn’t just defying God that screwed everything up for poor Eve- maybe it was that she insisted on Knowing Something Unknowable.
Maybe wanting to know what will be good for us and what will be bad for us causes all our trouble. Because we should all be ready to admit by now that we suck at knowing the difference between what is good and what is bad for us.
If you ask folks what their wildest dream is many would say: winning the lottery, even though this is often the kiss of death for families. We want MORE STUFF- even though it’s been proven again and again that after our basic needs our met- more stuff doesn’t make us happier. We collect and hoard and hold on tight to our money- even though we KNOW that giving feels better. We want to be smart- even though happiness and intelligence are inversely related. We trade our time for cars and fancy clothes and shiny houses and then we realize all we’ve gained is more stress and higher bills- and in the end – we just want all that time back. Stuff that tastes good makes us feel bad, but we eat it anyway. We say things that feel good to “get off our chests” and we feel awful about it later. We want to become famous even though we know that fame destroys. We are desperate for perfectly “typical” kids even though parents with special needs kids consider them the biggest blessings of their lives. We avoid poverty even though God promises us the Kingdom is there. We avoid heartbreak by any means necessary even though that’s where the peace and connection and meaning is. We act like we are perfect even though nobody trusts perfect. We really want to be loved but choose being envied again and again.
I receive oodles of emails (from non-religious folks) saying: “Why do you think you’re so broken? Why do you wallow in brokenness? You are WHOLE.” And (from religious folks) I often hear: “You need more Jesus. Jesus is all you need.”
But for goodness sake. Jesus promises not to leave us ALONE, he doesn’t promise not to leave us HUMAN. And to clarify – I don’t want to be “whole.” I want to be busted up and beautiful. While I’m still here, I want to be FULLY HUMAN.
I talk about my addictions because everything beautiful in my life right now came out of the ugliness back then. And still does. I talk about my Lyme disease because I didn’t become strong and peaceful until I learned to surrender to my weakness and mania. I talk about my intolerance and jealousy and sadness and neurosis because those things make me HUMAN and I think that being a messy hypocritical, busted up human is a brutiful honor.
I talk about my flailing marriage because ( and a year ago I’d have ripped your well-meaning head off if you’d predicted this to me) the truth is that my marriage had to be shattered before it could be pieced back together. My marriage was like a busted arm that The Doctor had to re-break before it could heal right. A year ago- it all fell apart. Yes it did. And I about died. But now. Just a year later – my marriage is excruciating and real and true and deep and GORGEOUS for the first time. For the very first time. It also still sucks. It hurts and burns and refuses to leave me in peace – like every crucible does. But damned if all that discomfort didn’t turn out to be the good stuff. Like the Velveteen Rabbit – maybe neither people nor marriages become Real until the shine and newness rubs off and they look ugly and worn out to the rest of the world but real and soft and comforting and lovely to the one who holds them. This past year has been a special slice of hell for me and Craig- and I never, ever thought it would get better. I had no outward hope for a long while– but I kept showing up, and so did Craig. We kept fiercely and relentlessly showing up. We did NOT commit to each other this past year. We individually committed to the Spiritual Practice of Showing Up.
And last week I looked at Craig and thought- Holy SHIT. I think I love him. For the first time. For the first time – I respect the hell out of this man. It took a year of tears and faith and sweat and therapy and prayer and more tears and it will always be hard. It will always be hard and that’s okay. We have proved to our kids and ourselves that We Can Do Hard Things.
And so- when I talk about this stuff- this messy stuff in my life – I have a PURPOSE. I’m not “wallowing in brokenness.” I’m trying to suggest that maybe THE BUSTED UP STUFF IS THE GOOD STUFF. We resist that idea because we really, really suck at being judges of things. God didn’t ask us not to judge so we’d be nice people. God asks us not to judge for the same reason Craig asks me not to cook- because We just plain SUCK AT IT. So we should just leave that tree to God.
I’m trying not to judge my own life by the world’s standards because my suspicion is that often – our bad is God’s good and our good is God’s bad. The last are first and the first are last. When we start seeing clearly- we learn that it’s always opposite day. In my life- the brutal ALWAYS transforms into the beautiful. And so after thirty eight years I have learned this about what life is offering me: IF IT’S EASY AND SHINY- BEWARE. IF IT STINGS A LITTLE – SIT TIGHT, GET CURIOUS, AND THEN LEAN IN.
I used to say: I’m broken. Fix me. Then I grew up a little and said : WAIT A MINUTE. I’M NOT BROKEN. And now I’m a real grown up so I say: Of course I’m broken. And I love, love, love myself that way. If you’re comfortable with that – come sit with me and we can laugh and cry and be broken and beautiful together. But don’t try to fix me- I didn’t ask for that. I just asked for some good company in which to be human.
Be Still in your garden and trust that you don’t need to decide what is good in your life and what is bad. You can stop striving for good and resisting bad and instead – surrender to all of it. You can stop judging your circumstances and your life and your people. Striving for good and resisting bad is the source of all of our worry, all of our stress. All our problems stem from our refusal to surrender to what IS. To what life is and who people are. Let it be. Let it come, whatever it is. Breathe deeply and know that if you let it come and feel it all – it won’t kill you. It will pass away soon enough and leave you better, kinder, softer, and stronger. Let the brutal make you even more beautiful.
Author of the upcoming memoir LOVE WARRIOR — PRE-ORDER HERE
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