Someone asked me the other day where I'm at in my journey. She was talking about the traumatic loss and transition I've endured in just about every single area of my life over the past few years. "Do you feel like you're on the other side of it?" I didn't really know how to answer that question because I don't think she fully understood what she was asking (though I know she certainly meant well.)
I'm in a much better place than I've been in a long time. Although I'm painfully aware of how fragile it all is, life feels good right now. And I haven't been able to say that truthfully in years.
But that doesn't mean I've gotten over—or even through—my loss.
I think the idea of "recovery" from loss is a harmful and misleading mirage. It's unrealistic to expect that life could ever go back to normal after catastrophic loss of any kind. In a way, life will be forever divided by before and after. And to strive to go back to normal—to return to how things were and how you felt before your loss—is like trying to get somewhere on a treadmill: exhausting and impossible.
I don't know if I'm meant to come out on the other side of my heartache. At least not in the usual sense.
I'm discovering what it's like to live in the delicate tension of sorrow and joy. What we deem to be opposites are not actually mutually exclusive. They can be—and maybe they should be—embraced together. We don't move out of sorrow into joy, as if we've recovered from our heartache. Instead we learn to choose joy even when that seed of sorrow remains ever present.
Jerry Sittser, in A Grace Disguised, said it so beautifully:
"I did not go through pain and come out the other side; instead, I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow. I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am."
What happens in me matters far more than what happens to me. It's not my experiences that define me, but my responses to them.
So instead of making it my aim to get through what's happened to me, I am learning to focus on my response to what's happened to me. As with most things, it all comes down to choice.
That's the reason "choose" is my One Word for this year. Because I need constant reminding that even when I have nothing else, I always have the power to choose.
While I can't control what's going on in this world or in my life, I do have control over my responses to those things. So today—same as yesterday and the day before—it's entirely up to me to choose how I will respond to pain and sorrow and loss. I need to continue to choose to face, feel, and work through it, rather than to avoid it. And I need to continue to choose joy and trust right here, right now.
So if you're wondering where I'm at in my journey, know this: You can always find me right here, in the middle of the tension between joy and sorrow, grief and gratitude, weakness and strength, questions and faith.
Join me here, won't you?