Anyone who suffers to any degree post-traumatic-disorder or syndrome will tell you what seems to most people as logically being a little thing, a slight word, a minor event, can be the trigger for a major spike of emotional turmoil and discouragement.
What to non-sufferers would be experienced as a mere pin prick, for those with PTSD, it is a major gash.
What most people, when told to ‘suck it up’ or ‘forget it, it’s no big deal’, are able to hear and follow through on, for PTSD sufferers is akin to being dismissed, rejected.
Of course flowing from what is experienced as serious rejection is deep and painful loneliness, which itself spawns severe doubt about one’s own self-worth, about how other[s] feel towards us, about God – a trifecta of pain!
In this reflection I will focus on the first of the three: rejection. Later on the loneliness and doubt which spread from rejection.
To be honest I’d rather not give a personal example, as it is rather hard on the ego and should not be misunderstood in the telling as some act of humility: it is brutally a deep hurt some of which is rooted in my ego and overly sensitive nature and some lays at the feet of my protagonist!
Like most falsely-accused, condemned, punished - all without due process - priests in this utter poisoned climate in the Church caused by the actual vile sins and crimes of a few, numerous are the priests engulfed by the relentless whirlwind – thus we tend to find trust extremely difficult, tend to be hyper-sensitive, and, for our experience indicates it to be so, believe we are unheard, certainly by those with power over us, often even by family, sometimes even by God.
There is another reality I struggle with, am confused about, as a man – acceptance of how my age may play a part in how others relate to me.
This being ‘older’, though I don’t see myself as old, seems to determine some people’s approach.
I do remember being shocked when I turned 50 and could no longer carry a bale of hay in each hand and fling them up onto the top of the hay wagon. My body was betraying my heart and over the next few years I went from being one of the men in the field picking up and tossing the bales to the old guy driving the tractor hauling the wagon.
Not my choice, my assignment!
Yep, that part of the aging process experienced as rejection still bugs me, I still complain to the Lord about it, am still somewhat shocked, not by what I perceived at the time as rejection, but that I still am in denial about the normal impact of aging on the body, while in heart and mind, in determination, I do not believe I am old! – well some may argue I am simply in denial!
I mention the above haying experience because perhaps, with love and respect, in the background it was/is a factor in the event I will now describe before reflecting on the matter of rejection.
In our little family my adopted Son is, rightly, with his wife whom I love as a Daughter, in their sacramental union as spouses and parents, the ones with the grace of state to make the myriad of decisions and choices which are the nitty-gritty of Catholic family life.
So no matter the pain which I may experience from decisions they make I do trust that in the main they are selfless and loving.
Truth and reality, of course, are not always internalized by the recipient as intended by the dispenser of a particular truth or reality, hence be it within a particular family or within Church or world community, misunderstandings, hurt, anger, even war results.
No wonder Jesus urges us to love one another, treat one another as we would yearn to be treated.
If we all really did that what a wonderful world the sun and the Son would shine upon!
Briefly then, given the huge amounts of snow which have fallen, and it snows again as I write this, I asked my Son if he had cleared the roof of the family home.
Snowflakes are tricky little devils, falling so lightly, uniquely, one by one, but they have this herd compulsion and so pile up on the ground, huddle together in tree branches, cling to hydro wires, and camp out on rooftops.
Put together their original lightness of being becomes communally ever expanding weight until roofs and sometimes entire buildings collapse – not with the giggling of children who deliberately collapse some snow house at play - what is crushed by this snowpack is dangerous, expensive and sometimes people die.
Serving in northern parishes I have no little experience about the consequences of the weight of snow on structures, the urgency and methodology to safely remove the snow, and shared all this with my Son and I also reached out to one of the Uncles who has expertise in the loadbearing capacity of roofs.
When the time came to do the job Uncle was called upon, I was pointedly told to stay away, not needed, and for good measure the Uncle was told not to bring me.
Given the struggle with PTSD this apparent rejection snapped something inside of me and as yet, days later, am still drowning in confusion and pain, fear and discouragement – all the classic symptoms!
With my face on the ground before the Icon wall here in the hermitage I have struggled not to flee the pain, not to assess blame, rather to understand the sequence of events, my reaction, and to pose to His Most Sacred Heart the question: How in this can I be of meek and humble heart like Yourself?
First I became aware of a pattern, the pain of which mostly suppressed because my loving Son simply, for reasons unknown to me, doesn’t get it – or perhaps he fears my aging and eventual death as abandonment – either way, not untypical between men, between fathers and sons, nowadays between bishops and priests, to borrow a famous movie line: what we have here is a failure to communicate.
Second the male ego thing was faced: the “guys” were doing a guy thing and this guy, for more than four years now, has been shut out – good for babysitting or covering the business when someone needs to be there for deliveries – but not for much else, not the hockey games or the movies or clearing away snow…………….yep no longer feeling acceptance as a man among/with other men.
That hurts deeply my pride I admit, but also has my sense of self-worth/worth to the family, in shreds.
What I have failed to communicate, granted that is subjective because, though I have long since stopped trying, I have spoken of the need to be treated as a complete person, the need to be, as it were, one of the guys, the need to…..well you get the point….but those spoken to obviously do not get it and so I feel as if wormwood has become my portion.
Rejection slams into us when someone, usually someone we love or of authority over us clearly either blatantly or by habit, refuse to show us the active and expected kindness, love, respect we need – or – rejection slams into us when, perhaps without proof but at least it is how things seem, internally we feel unloved, unwanted.
The former may be a minor, passing event, soon forgotten by the actor because it was not their intention to reject – however the latter, because it is interiorized, can linger and grow like a cancer, especially if there is no experience from the original actor of some form of reassurance.
Rejection hurts as if acid had been poured into our beings, an acid which has tentacles that seem to drag us into a dank, dark place of an evil creature slithering about within our consciousness, our very thoughts, bumping up against our souls in a relentless litany of memories and words, dredging up every experience of rejection from the first to this latest.
It is a place which, should we attempt to turn around and see from whence we came here, what lies behind is shrouded in mist; should we seek to look around and see the parameters of where we are: nothing but impenetrable darkness seemingly without limit.
In this isolation and turmoil, thoughts and emotions swirling like biting dust in a storm, understanding the how and why of rejection is illusive.
Intellectually we cannot even articulate the specifics of what rejection is, but in our souls, hearts, guts we sure can feel its lash, taste its bitterness, be crushed by its weight.
There is something similar within the impact of rejection, the dark hopelessness of depression and the scary dankness of un-availed grief.
Crawling around in the vast darkness of rejection, hounded by the slithering liars who abide there, we are baptized, some of us ordained, in a word as these sacraments are always operative a flicker of light, a spark really, is offered.
From where, from whom?
The spark becomes a flame, the flicker a steady light revealing there is a limit to the darkness, there is a way out, but this light, this way is offered, is gift, is invitation.
Dare we, dare I, accept it, follow it beyond the darkness, for as the veil of darkness thins, and the slithering ones who cannot abide light withdraw, I begin to see the outline of a garden – not a flower festooned garden in bright sunlight, more a grove-garden, an olive garden – and even with the full moon, it is still night in this garden!
For we who believe in Christ, trust Him even when it seems He is asleep in the boat or somehow inattentive to our cries, the choice always is to be where He is – or where He is not!
Nowhere in the Gospel accounts of Jesus in the Garden of Agony is it recorded that He tried to understand how, or when or why, of His own being rejected, not only by those whom He had come to redeem, to reveal the Father to them, that is the crowds He spoke with, neither did He analyze the blatant rejection by His friends, the Apostles, who turned from His Agony and went to sleep!
Rather Jesus, alone in the depths of rejection: taking on all human rejection, that from Adam and Eve to our own selves rejecting God in anyway, every experience of one person rejected by another, the sin of the one doing the rejecting, indeed all the weight and repercussions of all human sin since the beginning until the end of time – yes Jesus, alone, took all this pain and mess, darkness, took it all on and cried to His Father it was all too much!
The chalice was way too full and really, best it passed by BUT ah, His love for the Father, for us, so much greater than His pain and agony, His terror, love overcomes all and how tenderly, definitively He says to the Father: “Not My will….”, yes not what I want or what would help Me feel better, not what would spare Me…..”Your will be done.”
Will we, will I, follow Him into the Garden, refrain from rejecting Him but rather offering my own pain as a wee comfort for Him?
There is no promise, if I do follow Him into the Garden, of rejection being any more understandable, less painful, nor that those who reject will ease up.
Just being: with Him!
I am not there yet.
I stand on the threshold where the darkness is halted by the light, where the choice must be made to step into the Garden or staying put like one in bondage, hesitant, untrusting, or huddled some distance away in fitful sleep, hoping if I close my eyes like when I was a child the boggy man will go away because if my eyes are closed he can’t see me!
There is no spiritualizing or denial of real pain or struggle in this, for that would be disordered.
There is drawing on grace to see, to think, to respond as a disciple of Jesus should.
There is freedom too, for as mentioned Jesus offers, invites, does not impose.
Rejection is imposed.
And steals, more than perhaps we realize.
I do want to enter the Garden, to be with Him, accept the gift of participatory pain as means of being closer to Him because once I hear His beating Heart I will know a depth of acceptance and affirmation, a lavishness of love and joy beyond imagining.
But I hurt so much and I know that the entrance into the Garden is a real saying “Your will be done Father.” – Translation: once Jesus heals this pain down the road there will be another one and another and……
Yes He will each time strengthen, touch, heal, give love, joy, grace but the distance between the moments of all that is filled with pitfalls and pain and slithering creatures and I am easily scared of the dark.
So, Mother Mary, take my hand please, help me to walk into the Garden because I am way too little to get there on my own!