"Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude."
There are some days I just have to kind of drop everything to write. To get some words out, however incoherent. Writing, like art, has always been a way for me to process thoughts, or feelings. I write a lot because I feel a lot. I paint a lot because I feel a lot.
Feeling the world- not just seeing or intellectualizing it- propels life forward progressively. For me (now in my life, which certainly wasn't always the case), allowing feeling is not debilitating or crushingly painful: it simply is. We all feel- I've finally accepted it.
And I let feelings flow, I let things happen to me (that is how art happens too)- though I don't let them toss me around, so to speak; or destabilize me. It's a way of being vulnerable all the time, and requires being firm and secure in something other than feelings, because feelings are fleeting- guides, certainly, but not anchoring truths. They're good to have, but not as motivating directors.
Which I am fine with. The alternatives are either ignoring them or worshiping them, both of which are much worse than simply allowing them.
And I've learned to put my hope and character in something bigger than them anyway.
I think it has always been clear to me, whether I could articulate it or not, that what we feel when we look at this life- when we behold nature, when we experience loss, when we experience joy; whatever it is that is happening to us that prompts some internal response- says a lot about what we believe this life is really all about. I guess I didn't always know, but I could always sense something.
And so when I go to write about feelings, somehow, I find myself returning to writing also about truth: something I have learned to rely on when feelings are not ideal. Not as a crutch or a cop-out, or because I haven't developed 'strategies' for coping with feelings (I have been forced to develop many), but because truth has a way of anchoring me and holding my soul and identity upright the way nothing else can or does, or was ever intended to.
I have been lucky enough, at the ripe old age of 28, to personally know no one with cancer. I have lost no one close to me specifically to it, and I am blessed to say no one in my immediate circle has or has had it.
Like most people though, I've watched friends really hurt because of it. I've watched it take their fathers, mothers, in-laws. Back home in Illinois I can remember the story of every human being who has ever come up to me at my art shows and said my cards and art- and their messages- were the perfect bits of beauty for their aunt (mother, friend, friend-of-a-friend) who had cancer.
One woman, who had cancer herself, had come to one show for three consecutive years and would always find me: 'I give your cards to all my friends in treatment because they need to be inspired, and they need hope.'
Even then I thought, 'if I never did another thing of any value with my whole life, it would be enough to give hope to one other human soul.'
It's amazing how when we learn what really matters in life, it always comes down to the little, unacknowledged, un-credited things we do for others- out of love for something that is bigger than ourselves- being most important.
But the past 48 hours have somewhat changed my story. I have a family member (distant, but still family) currently fighting for their life from the grips of this horrible disease. It's the first time I've ever gotten an urgent phone call. The first time I've called and texted my mom a few times a day to see what's going on, what's changed. The first time I've ever had to think, in real time, about what it means to experience life, and experience and anticipate death.
And yes- it brings up feelings.
Feelings that are weird, that can't be put into words; feelings that simply suck, feelings that seem a little beyond comprehension. Feelings that test faith. Feelings that, I'm only now seeing for the first time in my life really, are prompting me to remember: "God, it is vital that I hinge my hope on trust in your inherent goodness- on you alone."
At all times. When things are fine and when things are not. When my feelings are too heavy to carry myself. It goes back to the quote I noted above:
Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude.
In the eyes of most of the world, joy and suffering don't inspire an equal degree of gratitude. Maybe an equal degree of lessons learned, for those who believe that suffering can be a great teacher. But joy and suffering both meriting an earnest 'thank you' takes a very particular worldview and ultimate understanding.
I just wrote about it yesterday: life is a miracle, and I'm grateful for it. When it's good, when it's bad; when it's joyful and when it hurts. Even though I may feel a certain way, life itself- given to us as a free gift from the mind and heart of a creative Creator- is still a miracle.
Only having someone to thank can I actually live with an attitude of thankfulness- real, true, deep gratitude, without wavering- for everything, joy and suffering alike.
It could only be a sense of pure love in the heart of a person who even in pain finds true hope. It could only be pure love in the heart of a person who even in suffering is grateful- not just okay, but grateful.
It could only be God- with His essence of pure love, His identity as pure light, with no darkness at all- that inspires real optimism in a person who is grateful even when life makes no 'sense' at all.
Even when life isn't good. Even when sickness is present. Hope would seem pointless when death is near- unless we can put it in something bigger than death, bigger than our own pain, bigger than feelings that all seems lost.
I sense- because I know every human soul longs for it- that we know we can.
It is not an arbitrary part of our design. It points us right to a dire need for the peace and knowledge of the hands that made us.
Even though we hesitate. Even though we doubt. Even though we run through the mazes of our minds trying to make sense of it all when we know we'll never quite get it to make sense.
God has taught me in these moments more than I could teach myself. I could rationalize death, intellectualize it, even wonderfully explain it in a way that makes living and loving in this life to the fullest 'enough.' It could be beautiful that way, even, to a degree.
Or I could choose to understand what happens by looking simply biologically, chemically, non-emotionally. Things change and pass in and out of being and nothing is really 'lost,' just transferred into something else. That's beautiful too, to a degree.
But I don't think it would be ultimately true.
There are a lot of answers that make sense, but they stem from feelings, not truth. They don't satisfy my soul. They don't universally say enough.
But God- love for God and of God- satisfies my soul.
That love was made to be my ultimate sustenance and dependence. When I'm sad. When things don't make sense. When I'm alive and when I'm nearing the end, or when I have to watch it happen to someone else.
It's such a huge paradox of living that every fight I put up against the idea that I can navigate the meaning of existence without God- without belonging to anything or any One, who deserves my attention, love, identity, and whole life- will feel like a cyclical battle with and against myself. Because it is. And I'll never win in the end.
The heart has to heal. It cannot be- in my heart of hearts, in everything that makes me human- I know it cannot be that death is meant to sting forever, meant to rob us of peace forever. It cannot be that something as organic and inevitable as the lives of those we love changing states crushes us permanently. It cannot be that the fear of the end of our own lives prevents us from living.
We are meant to mourn, yes; to feel sad, to be hurt, to not understand. And we are also meant to be healed. That is what God does, that is what Love does: love heals.
I know as much about why God takes us when He does as I do about why He creates us when He does- which of course is not much at all. But I am learning this: it's a little self-blind of me to get angry about the way we leave the world if I never really try to investigate the purpose of why we're lucky enough to be here in the first place.
We get a lifetime to live. We're not here on our own merit, and I learn more and more each day that it doesn't make sense trying to live like we are. We get a lifetime to choose Him, to have hope, to see what ultimately matters, to get on with the work of trusting Him even when He- like any good artist- is creating with us something we cannot yet fully see.
So what can I say in conclusion, with a no-less confused and heavy heart?
In life, death; sickness, health; decay, growth; love, loss and in all other things, the truth that will stand forever: He is still good.