Expectations for Life and Why God Loves Rock Bottom

broken
Photo credit; Hugo Bernard

*I use a masculine pronoun for God in this post simply out of convenience.

A couple good friends and I closed down a Starbucks the other night, catching up after not being together for several months.  These are two of my people – the ones I can get REALLY real with, ask the deep questions with,  and speculate about the point of ALL of IT.

One theme that each of us has struggled with at different points in the last few years is having our expectations for the way life works completely thrown back in our faces.  We thought that if we only worked hard enough, played by the rules, were nice to everyone, and sacrificed ourselves….then, the kinks of life would unravel, we would suddenly find our true purpose and financial security, we would be treated well by all, and would live out the rest of our lives in relative ease and happiness.

Along the way, my friends and I have each discovered that life doesn’t play by the rules, at least not the rules that we were raised to believe. Rather, the best-laid plans can fall apart before our eyes. The people we struggled to understand and love often turned their backs on us or remained just out of our grasp.  Many goals we worked so hard to reach were finally achieved, but with a bittersweet taste left in our mouths as other troubles rose up to join the ones we thought we’d left behind. And when the quiet moments come, we wonder when the other shoe will drop. Was all of our striving for naught in the end? Is life only, as the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, a mere chasing after the wind?

We have each fought hard to cling to life, to let it dance us, to doggedly pursue hope time and again.  But as one of us asked the others, if working hard and doing all the right things doesn’t get one anywhere, what else is there?

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I once heard Anne Lamott say somewhere that God loves rock bottom.  Part of me hates this.  Like, what….God needs us to get suicidal before he can work with us? We need to be beaten down again and again as “punishment” for all of our good intentions and hard work?  And why is life so timely?  You barely start to crawl up from one clubbing only to be throat punched by some other trouble.

I guess if God loves rock bottom, he’s either absolutely hateful, or there is something good that can come from it.

But if I’m honest, the more God bloodies me, the more resilient I’m becoming.  It’s getting harder to knock me back down, and takes bigger blows to get me there.  This kind of battling makes one see what is really worth getting upset over, and it reveals my ego’s own pettiness in the past for getting so riled up over the dumbest of things. Every once in a while I get a little brave and Captain Dan-ish, screaming: ” Is that all you’ve got?  You really think that’s gonna bring me down?”, with a belligerent yet still timidly respectful middle finger held out in my mind.

Remember that praise and worship song from a couple decades back, Refiner’s Fire? I used to like the song, but now I laugh when I hear it because of how superficial it is.   It’s a lovely melody always sweetly sung about how we are simply delighted to be refined in God’s fire to become holy and pure. I can’t help but wonder if the writer of that song had ever suffered.  Suffering is not sung about in major chords to an audience of swaying and softly sobbing onlookers.  Real rock bottom with God feels like a shit-hole, like you’ve been abandoned and there’s no hope for much of anything. When God burns away parts of you that you thought were necessary for your identity and security….that freaking hurts like hell….especially in the dark nights when you’re not sure if he will rescue you when he’s had his way with you.  I think appropriate music for what God often takes us through is much more along the lines of minor chords and death metal, followed up by some mourning bagpipes once he has successfully broken us to pieces.

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Having expectations has never really helped me out much in life, though I still seem to latch on to them. Very few things or people have actually turned out the way I’d expected or hoped.  In fact, the more expectations I have, the more disappointed I end up being all the way around.  But we cling to our stories, don’t we, as though we had such great control over much of anything in the first place?

As I get older, expectations around fairness seem to be absolute folly even though I haven’t been able to rid myself of them.  Life isn’t fair, never claimed to be fair…yet we always put that demand on it. Where did we get that from?  Even the God of the Gospels wasn’t fair in how he treated people.  Maybe he was just, but he wasn’t fair.

It’s like that line from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe….Aslan isn’t safe, but he’s good.  God isn’t safe, but he’s good.  Life isn’t safe, but it’s good.

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How do we know that life is good, that the Divine big picture is working in our favor and not against us?

Though I hate to admit it, I’m coming to realize that rock bottom part is the only thing that can truly show us the inherent goodness of all things.  But it’s really hard, because if we fight against rock bottom, we are so blinded by our suffering that we can’t see anything but ourselves and what we “think” we’re losing. But if we breathe through rock bottom, and let the suffering shake us hard and then pass through, we can find that something pure, something real, remained. Our real selves. The divinely infused core that is connected to all things, is loved completely, and is well.

Even if it seems silly, I believe that from rock bottom springs forth deep magic.  It is the same resurrection magic that transformed the suffering of Jesus into hope and transcendence. Didn’t Jesus say all along that to truly live, to truly understand what is real and lasting, we must die to ourselves? (Or, in Julie’s commentary, we must die to who we think we are – our identities, our stories about ourselves and others, our illusions about the permanence of what is around us).

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So, maybe God really does love rock bottom…not because he wants to see us in pain, but because he knows it is the one place where we can finally be freed of facades, and all the games we play, and all the belief systems we construct, and all of our expectations for how life should work.  Maybe, as Don Miguel Ruiz says, we are born into this life and fall into a dream…and maybe we need a hard shake (or many hard, gut-wrenching, strip-us-bare shakes) to wake us up again.

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