As we know the expression “thin skinned” refers to someone who almost instantaneously reacts to a perceived slight, or actual negative whatever, and subsequently, if not simultaneously, over reacts.
I swear these days, unwittingly, my skin is so thin as to be translucent and so is John Everett’s. Lucille on the other hand is a woman of profound inner peace but I also have told her that between John and I, his adopted Dad, and the three little ones, she really is the mother of five.
John and Lucille are still in the extreme early stages of grieving with the earthly death of Dominic and with Christmas approaching things are tough on everyone.
At such times, try as everyone might to remain centered on Jesus, focused on the needs of others, emotions are like a roller-coaster ride.
It is crucial at such times to be on guard for satan can trip us up rather easily when we are weakened by emotions or too much thinking and then the grief, the sense of powerless in the face of death or any serious loss either pours out in quiet tears and ache, or explodes into some form of misunderstanding or hurt directed at the very ones we love and who themselves are burdened with, struggling through, the raw reality of grief.
Yesterday one trusted friend sent their own Guardian Angel to help me and another said I had pushed down too much of my own grief while trying to be present and serve the family and that if I did not express, simply, gently, my own grief, it would pour out unexpectedly, and in a manner which might cause others pain.
Well that happened, triggered unexpectedly and now after a night of little sleep, much profound, yes shame, and no little confusion, fear too because I have really messed up with John and Lucille, in a word done the absolute opposite of what I have been trying to do since Dominic died, namely turned from an affirming, loving, supportive presence, into yet again a thin-skinned over reacting person everyone wants to just keep their distance from.
Lest you are worried this is heading to a ‘woe is me’ diatribe, quite the contrary – for since Advent is the time of awaiting for the All-Merciful One to be born amongst and for us as a child, coming to bring to us though His life, Passion, Death, Resurrection, fullness of forgiveness, Advent then is a time of waiting to be touched by forgiveness, by love – however our waiting must be proactive, in a word I must make the first step towards other on the journey for forgiveness, first towards Jesus in the person[s] I have wronged and then towards Jesus one on one, preferably approaching Him on my knees with a child’s heart beside Him, with Him in the manger.
One great help is to do as a friend wrote to me. He was falling into depression and wanted nothing more than to abandon his vocation when he got a note on the back of a holy card which was of the Pieta.
My friend contemplated Jesus in the arms of His Mother, Our Lady cradling the lifeless adult body of the very Child she had cradled in her arms at His birth.
My friend asked Jesus if he could take His place and rest in Our Lady’s arms himself.
Jesus agreed and my friend rested in the arms of Our Blessed Mother and within moments he began to be filled with hope, trust, and re-commitment to his vocation.
So early this morning, while celebrating Holy Mass, I asked the same and already things are settling down. Grief, fear, confusion, hurt beginning to ease – but these are just the first baby steps on the journey of forgiveness which must be taken without knowing IF I will be forgiven, but certain “I” must truly, fully, forgive.
Thus, while praying about taking the next step, contact with John and Lucille, without any of self or self-need present, simply focused on Jesus and them, I heard echoing in my heart some words from C.S. Lewis and remembered and briefly re-visited an old classic The Secret Garden!
[The Holy Spirit, as we know, can use anything to bring us to His illumination of where the Father is asking us to follow Jesus.]
In his book A GREIF OBSERVED Lewis notes that: “Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
The roller-coaster of emotions as a mobious strip of unabated thinking!
No wonder nerves are frayed, tempers short, wrong words spoken, reactions over the top!
So where with Lewis’ observation is the Holy Spirit inviting me to follow Jesus?
Right into the arms of Our Lady Pieta every time the thinking cycle begins, as often and for as long as it takes, without expecting this struggle will be over anytime soon, or rather when I want.
Grief in its own way is a grace and grace unfolds according to His tender time table.
Right into the arms of Our Lady whenever I know I am sad, edgy, thin-skinned, needy and to hold her hand and walk simply towards and with, in this instance John and Lucille and if my first words must be asking forgiveness, then those are the right words, or if they must be words of a type of heads-up that I am having a rough, edgy day, those are the words which must be spoken.
Right into the arms of Our Lady accepting with joy and gratitude whatever John and Lucille in their own suffering are able to give and not expecting nor seeking more, again for as long as THEIR journey takes.
Thus I was brought in my turn to THE SECRET GARDEN, not to dwell there, rather that door was into another garden, the one the Holy Spirit was offering me to encounter Jesus in.
First, briefly, about the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett: it is the story of an orphaned and emotionally wounded girl thrust into the home of a widowed and so hobbled by grief Uncle the man ignores his own crippled son and flees grief and people to travel the world in pointless flight.
After, on one of his rare passages back to the home, the widowed father experiences inner stillness by a stream he risks going through the garden door and soon the family is regenerated.
As the human family all our collective and personal disintegration is rooted in the Garden of Eden, compounded by our own experiences of deeper disintegration through own sins and sins inflicted upon us by others.
It is in the Garden of Agony that Jesus takes upon and into Himself all disintegration, sin and the consequences of sin, for every human being as one family and for each person.
There is the third Garden, the secret yet not secret Garden of the Resurrection, which within each of us is accessible in the core of our being, where Jesus knocks at the garden door, the door of our being, asking to be invited in. [cf. Rv.3:20]
The Lord Himself tells us that as His beloved we are indeed a garden enclosed [cf. Sg. Of Sg. 4:12].
It is this enclosed garden, the heart which is the true dwelling-place where I am, where I live and it is the place both of quest and encounter, for it is the heart, my heart, that prays, enters into communion of love dialogue with Jesus, with the Father, with the Holy Spirit, so the heart is also the place of attentive listening, accepting, of truth and obedience, of fiat, yes and of suffering and grief, for it is also the place of sweetness of love and joy, thus the whole mystery of salvation continues to unfold in the heart at prayer therefore in my heart, in the entire I of being, I must be present to Him with whom I am speaking! [cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #’s 2563, 2710, 2562, 2655, 2700]
So in and from the garden, the heart, the journey of forgiveness begins, which means risking vulnerability, interiorly to embrace the grief and fear and confusion, exteriorly to not hide it from others so they will know when I am edgy, not for them to change anything, but for me to be simple and accept this is a very human, filled with the unexpected, journey, this grief and all it contains, this in imitation of Jesus loving and forgiving.
Which is why I have a tight grip of Our Lady’s hand and no way am I letting go!