Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

No more of these dumb statements, please

These days I am reading Kate Bowler's fantastic memoir called Everything Happens for A Reason ... and other lies I've loved.

Bowler has Stage IV colon cancer.

She is also a young mom, a brilliant professor, a wife, a follower of Jesus.

She cites, at the end of her book, a list entitled: "Absolutely Never Say This to People Experiencing Terrible Times."

I feel compelled to share.

Here is her short list, along with her commentary:

1. "Well, at least ..."

Whoa. Hold up there. Were you about to make a comparison? At least it's not ... what? Stage IV cancer? Don't minimize.

2. "In my long life, I've learned that ..."

Geez. Do you want a medal? I get it! You lived forever. Well, some people are worried that they won't, or that things are so hard that they won't want to. So ease up on the life lessons. Life is a privilege, not a reward.

3. "It's going to get better, I promise."

Well, fairy godmother, that's going to be a tough row to hoe when things go badly.

4. "God needed an angel."

This one takes the cake because (a) it makes God look sadistic and needy and (b) angels are, according to Christian tradition, created from scratch. Not dead people looking for a cameo in Ghost. You see how confusing it is when we pretend that the deceased return to help you find your car keys or make pottery?

5. "Everything happens for a reason."

The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. I've had hundreds of people tell me the reason for my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my unfaithfulness. Because God is fair. Because God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussels sprouts. I mean, no one is short of reasons. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering your own. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.

6. "I've done some research and ..."

I thought I should listen to my oncologist and my nutritionist and my team of specialists, but it turns out that I should be listening to you! Yes, please, tell me more about the medical secrets that only one flaxseed provider in Orlando knows. Wait, let me get a pen.

7. "When my aunt had cancer ..."

My darling dear, I know you are trying to relate to me. Now you see me and you are reminded that terrible things have happened in the world. But guess what? That is where I live, in the valley of the shadow of death. But now I'm on vacation because I'm not in the hospital or dealing with my mess. Do I have to take my sunglasses off and join you in the saddest journey down memory lane, or do you mind if I finish my mojito?

8. "So how are treatments going? How are you really?"

This is the toughest one of all. I can hear you trying to understand my world and be on my side. But picture the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Got it? Now try to put it in a sentence. Now say it aloud fifty times a day. Does your head hurt? Do you feel sad? Me, too. So let's just see if I want to talk about it today because sometimes I do and sometimes I want a hug and a recap of American Ninja Warrior.

 

Do you love her as much as I do?

I highly recommend her book. It is incredible.

Stay tuned for her very short list of statements to try if you want to speak a word of hope and help to suffering friends.

Until then ... silence is a great option. Along with a hug or a home-cooked meal.

Most of what I love ...

I heard a poem yesterday ... or I should say, a part of a poem.

I am not sure who the author of the poem was.

I am not even sure I have the phrase right.

Nonetheless, I have been captured by its truth, this little, potentially misquoted, phrase.

Here is it:

"Lord, most of what I love mistakes itself for nothing."

I urge you to read that phrase aloud, perhaps several times in a row.

S-l-o-w-l-y ...

Most

of what I love

mistakes itself

for

nothing.

A cup of hot coffee made by my husband, often delivered to me in bed.

A late afternoon phone call from one of our adult kids, full of news of their life.

My mom's smiling face as she pulls out of our driveway with a fresh loaf of my homemade sourdough bread.

My dad's voice on the phone when he hears it's me calling ... "Hey, Al!"

The resilience of a student I know who is rising up and out of generational poverty.

The prayers of a faithful elderly widow friend.

A hot bowl of stew on a chilly night.

A lovely glass of dry red wine.

A sunset on a Thursday night.

Fresh sheets on our bed.

The friendly wave of a neighbor as I leave for work.

The smile of an immigrant new to our community whose language I do not speak.

Should I continue?

What things (or people) you love tend to "mistake themselves for nothing?"

What might you do to force yourself to see the gift these ordinary, everyday, often-overlooked gems actually are?

Why do you think this poet starts this statement by addressing God?

Is this sentence a prayer?

If so, how might it become yours?

"Lord, most of what I love mistakes itself for nothing."

(God, I pray I am quoting this poet correctly! But if not, what a fantastic mistake I have made. Forgive me.)

How important the empty days ...

I always forget how important the empty days are,

how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything,

even a few lines in a journal.

A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged day,

a sinful day.

Not so! 

The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally,

is to let it rest,

wander,

live in the changing light of a room.

(May Sarton, 1912 – 1995)

There is your task ...

Psychologist Carl Jung said : "Where your fear is, there is your task."

I am not sure what Jung meant by this. Nonetheless, it has impacted me as I have battled fear lately.

Here's how:

* First, it has caused me to get very specific about the details of my fear. Though it is a strange way to hone in on something like fear, I have asked myself "Where is your fear, Alice?"

Being forced to look clearly and seek intensely for the source of my anxiety, the exact location of my worry, has proven fruitful.

You can't fight what you haven't named.

* Instead of seeing fear as an enemy, as something to be run from or suppressed, I have taken Jung at face value and have started to view my fear as my task.

I ask the fear - "What are you here to teach me?"  "What do I need to learn from you?"  "What do I need to let go of in order for you to dissipate?"  "What misguided ways of thinking are causing you to grow out of proportion to reality?"

There are deep lessons to be learned when we are afraid. I don't want to miss them.

* When I approach fear as something I can learn from rather than something I should run from my whole mindset changes.

I no longer feel in the grip of fear. Instead, I feel empowered by my own curiosity. Fear is not something to be afraid of (see what I did there?) but something I can learn from, grow through and eventually leave by the wayside once it has served its purpose. Once I have done the work.

What I have been discovering is that there is something underneath fear that needs attention. 

When I see that deeper issue as my task, as a thought or a belief or a circumstance that is asking for my focus, the true work begins.

This has actually turned into a rich time of exploration of some issues that were badly in need of some scrutiny.

I leave you with some questions:

Where is your fear located?

What is underneath it?

What might it have to teach you?

"Where your fear is, there is your task."

Get to work, friends ...