ONE MAN'S JOURNEY: Part II
(Jimmy J continues with a quote from Paul Tillich.)
He says it so much better than I ever could:
Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the Savior, or that the Bible contains the truth. To believe that something is, is almost contrary to the meaning of grace.
Furthermore, grace does not mean simply that we are making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against special faults, and in our relationships to men and to society. Moral progress may be a fruit of grace; but it is not grace itself, and it can even prevent us from receiving grace.
Too often there is a graceless acceptance of Christian doctrines and a graceless battle against the structures of evil in our personalities. Such a graceless relation to God may lead us either to arrogance or to despair.
It would be far better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace. If we accept without grace, we do so in the state of separation, and can only succeed in deepening the separation.
We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen as long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it.
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness.
It strikes when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged.
It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility and our lack of direction and composure has become intolerable to us.
It strikes us when, year after year the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.
If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of the experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition-nothing but acceptance."
I didn't know what had happened, but I welcomed the relief from grieving that it provided me. I was raised as a Presbyterian, but after high school had drifted away from religion. I had decided I was an Agnostic. I didn't deny there was something to faith in God, I just felt I needed proof and hadn't seen any that satisfied me.
However, a fellow pilot once described to me a mystical experience he had when he was preparing to commit suicide. (I won't go into the reasons why he had decided to end it all.) He was in a motel room with the pistol in his mouth, when he suddenly felt an overwhelming feeling of love and acceptance. He aborted the suicide and that single experience lead him to a life of devoted evangelical Christianity. So I had at least heard of such an experience. I wondered if it was going to lead me back to the church as it did him. It didn't.
I was enveloped in grace for some months and was able to begin living life again with some enthusiasm and sense of hope. While I had lost my ambition to achieve more material success, I still had a need to achieve in order to feel "worthwhile." I decided to throw myself into climbing as a way to honor Kevin's memory. It had the additional benefit that as my skill increased and I managed to do harder and harder climbs, my self esteem improved. (Surprise, surprise!) If this were Hollywood the story might end now as they lived happily ever after. It doesn't because, unfortunately, I'm a slow learner.
The grief began to creep back into our life in certain ways. My wife would catch a glimpse of a young man who, from the rear, looked like it might be Kevin. When it turned out it wasn't him, she would spiral down into a valley grief. And that would drag me down. I was not strong enough for her to lean on and to give her comfort. And our daughter was having her own issues as she now felt the weight of trying to comfort us fall on her shoulders. But we soldiered on with our fieldpacks stuffed full of the weight of grief.
My wife and I joined a bereaved parents group, but it put us face to face with our grief when what we wanted to do was get it behind us. (This was only recognized in retrospect as is much of what I know today.) We left the group before we accomplished anything meaningful. We also counseled with a minister and found no help. We were not church goers nor did we think we would find what we were looking for in church.
All this time I kept recalling the way I felt when I had been in that state of grace. Just thinking about it and how it felt often helped me to go on and I ardently pursued trying to feel that way again. But it wasn't to be.
The years dragged by and we were up and down. Always trying to live up to the poem but not quite able to really experience happiness. One day I was on a climb with two partners that were 25 years my junior. It was very hard and I was struggling. I fell a couple of times. When we reached the top I did not feel the rush of success and boost to my self esteem that I usually felt. I was 55 and that day felt even older ......useless and worthless at that moment. I dropped out of climbing and went into a funk. By now my wife and daughter had a life that was very separate from me. I tried to become a member of the family again but it was not a happy nor comfortable reunion. I didn't know how to feel worthwhile still. My work gave me satisfaction but it wasn't enough. I was not an easy person to live with
My wife and I separated. (We didn't know it at the time, but the divorce rate among parents that lose children is quite high.) We could not help each other and my self esteem was in the toilet. I moved in with a woman that I thought would make me feel better about myself. It didn't happen and we broke up. I woke up one day and realized that I was out of ideas and energy. I couldn't fix myself, so I made the decision to see if some one could help me.