One of Anne Lamott’s friends said mournfully that he’d lived his life like the professor on Gilligan’s Island. While he found time to fashion generators out of palm fronds, vaccines out of algae, he never got down to fixing that huge hole in the boat so he could go home. Then Lamont asks, “How many people actually do?”[i]
Many of us never fix the hole in the soul where the pain leaks out. We suffer a nagging loneliness that we’ve grown accustomed to, but there’s more to the pain we are feeling.
It goes deeper.
For the apostle Paul it was shame. Before he met Christ on the road to Damascus, he traveled like a warhorse from town-to-town, killing and imprisoning Christians. Then once he became a Christ-follower, he felt the shame of his actions. It was the one thing he wanted to forget. It haunted him.
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven” (Philippians 3:12-14, nlt).
What haunts you?
Where do you feel the most pain in life?
Many of us dismiss the haunting nag at our soul. We call it a bad relationship, a terrible job, or a church that does not feed us. But usually it goes deeper than that. These are symptoms of a larger demise. Our souls have a vacuum that can only be filled by God’s presence.
Sometimes we ask people to love us as though they were our god, and when they fail to meet our unspoken expectations, we feel unloved and broken. Henri Nouwen writes, “When you experience deep loneliness, you are willing to give up everything in exchange for healing. But no human being can heal that pain. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart.”[ii]
Maybe you have the shame of a one thing. The best way to move on is to forgive yourself and allow the pain its space. God can heal us if we open the secret places to Him. It will take time. But healing needs forward movement. Change is a process. “… because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Forward movement is feeling God’s love poured out into our hearts.
And shame can no longer disappoint us, because we fill the hole in the soul with hope.
We look forward to what lies ahead.
We forget what lies behind.
We forgive ourselves.
When I did my life inventory in those early stages, the hardest thing to believe was that God loved me, forgave me, and had a future for me. I could believe it for anyone in the room at that time, but I could not believe it for myself.
But when I felt shame, he displayed love. I think this is how Paul felt as he looked back on his life of persecuting the church—shameful. But when he reached forward, he grasped hope. And hope never disappoints.
It is only through hope that we can crawl through the river of despair to find freedom.
[ii] Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 37-48.