Thursday, November 1, 2007

Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting

Friends of ours are in crisis right now. So one of the most important things I feel I can do right now is to be a friend. This is not easy. It is not easy to witness suffering in those you love deeply. And since this particular crisis includes (but is not limited to) a separation and an impending divorce, another challenge is not to get drawn into taking sides. I have struggled to try to see things objectively, but also to be fully present.

On Monday, I got an email from our social worker, informing us about a child who was available for placement. This child has a significant disability, which includes certain behavioral issues. Göran and I sat down together that evening. We found ourselves doing research on the Internet to learn more about this particular disability. We talked. We wrestled. And gradually we realized that we did not have the experiential or the physical or financial resources to successfully take this child in. We had to say no.

And these experiences have left me reflecting on the nature of love, and also on my own limits and failings. Love means going the distance. I'm there for someone, no matter what. When they really need me, I drop whatever is happening and I help. I give of myself completely. I stay until the job is done. Limits mean I only have so much strength. I can only do so much. I do the best I can, I give till I can give no more, then I have to stop. I have to accept that I cannot solve every problem in my life, so I have to focus on solving the ones I can. Failings mean I have screwed up. I have done things that hurt me, that hurt my loved ones. I blinded myself, I denied my role in wrong-doing, I did not take responsibility.

How do we know the difference? How do we know when to say we will go the distance no matter what the cost, and when to acknowledge that we've gone as far as we can go? How do we know when we are incapable of doing what is demanded, and when we are capable but just don't have the will? How do we find the will?

Life is messy. Faced with circumstances such as these, I have found myself on my knees frequently, praying for help. Praying for God to help me and to help those I love: give us strength, help us see clearly, give us courage to face what we have to face. Praying to help us not get overcome with the fear that paralyzes, that sends us running when we need to stand firm. And this morning as I prayed, as I was aware of my own weaknesses, I realized I need to fast now too. I need the clarity and the humility and the calm that comes with fasting. I realized that some problems demand that seriousness. The real problems in life we just can't solve without prayer and fasting.

But then on the bus ride to work this morning, I was blessed with a moment of peace and clarity. Göran had a little puzzle book. He opened it up, and he and I worked on a puzzle together. That seemed like an image to me of how to move forward. In that moment, I realized that even when life seems too complex and too messy to get a handle on, it is also exceedingly simple. It boils down to just being present in the moment that is given to us, just focusing on one thing at a time, on the problem at hand, and being grateful for the people in our lives. Recognizing the good all around us, even when the bad seems in the foreground.

Yes, I've made mistakes. I've screwed up. I don't know why the wrong things I've done didn't do more harm than they did. How was I so lucky? And yes, life can hurt sometimes. It can hurt so bad we think we can't survive. But we can survive. We can find the strength we need, even when it's not obvious. Yes life is messy. Yes, we often don't know how to move forward. But yes, love is worth it. And yes, if we pray for understanding and strength, if we put ourselves on the line, if we are willing to fast, if we give our whole hearts, we can even transcend our limits. Miracles can happen.

It is time for some fasting and prayer.


MoHoHawaii said...

The LDS church is insane not to let you give a talk in sacrament meeting. I've been to lots of sacrament meetings in my life, and let me tell you, they rarely give me the sense of uplift and love that your blog posts do.

I have a comment about foster care. I've observed a skill in some "helping" professionals such as nurses, psychotherapists, etc. The skill is holding back, that is, being able to love in a way that does not give their all. When I first noticed this trait, I thought it was a fault. Are we not supposed to give our all for others? After I had more experience and got to know some of these people more intimately I learned that the helping professions are prone to burnout. The ones who survive (and therefore the ones who are able to help the most people) are the ones who know how to give what they can, not what they think they ought to.

I hope you and Goeran do find a suitable foster care situation eventually. I know you would be wonderful foster parents and make a huge difference in the life of the child you cared for.

Forester said...

I have not been able to fast for a couple of years now, due to Depression. If I don't eat, I quickly go downhill and crash. I don't really understand why this happens. I miss being able to fast to seek guidance or to help others. Fasting can work miracles. The simple act of denying our body physical nurishment while feeding our spirit is an amazing concept.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - In the training we were required to go through in preparation for foster parenting, it was stressed how damaging it is to kids each time they have to be placed in a new home. To minimize this, we were warned that it is crucial to say no if we feel a placement won't work. It may feel hard to do, but in the long term it is better for the kids.

Forester - I feel the central aspect of any successful fast is spiritual discipline, prayerfulness. Avoiding food and water is just a tool to help us achieve this turning of our hearts in a conscious, sustained way toward our Heavenly Father.

One way for you to "fast" might be to deny yourself something specific. You could still eat, but don't eat meat, or don't take dairy, or don't eat desserts or sweets. Ideally it would be something that requires you to pay attention, something that, by avoiding it, will help you remember that you are fasting.

Beck said...

Miraces DO happen. Sometimes that land in our laps, other times they come after much work on our part, and other times they take prayer and fasting.

And sometimes miracles happen when what we are seeking and searching for DOESN'T happen. Did it NOT happen because we didn't work hard enough, fast long enough, pray earnestly enough?? Did it NOT happen because we weren't "worthy" enough???

It's amazing how the desired miracle is replaced with another totally unexpected miracle that wasn't even thought of before. The miracle of my children is just one example of that fact!