When you have a near death experience, you begin to live life with a more focused view of what’s ahead. I often think to myself that one has to in order to survive the constant threat of dreariness you become a victim of. You yearn for more days, for more experiences, and at the same time, you find yourself unable to ignore the peripheral view; memories of bygone days that seem unwavering and perpetual. Nothing wrong with that, in all honesty, it is all part of processing grief and change in life.
In my own journey with suffering, I have found that if I can keep my mind on positive things, these thoughts become life-giving in return. It has helped me remain balanced as I have faced so much discouragement with my current health and emotional status. I know that those of you with life threatening illnesses, broken relationships, shattered dreams, loss, and adversity understand what I am talking about. You desperately want to move on, and yet can’t seem to find the willpower to let go of certain things that defined you.
Today, I decided that I would spend some time in retrospect. I went there, friends. I went to that place that has brought me both laughter and tears. Oftentimes, in your own affliction, you will find that the voyage through contemplation is necessary and invigorating. I recalled the experiences that formed my system of belief as a child learning all I could about God and the mysteries of life. One thing that stood out to me was how I was taught (culturally as well as religiously) to be emotional about my responses to spiritual matters as well as life’s quandaries.
I learned that in order to be somewhat righteous, I had to judge everything and everyone by the only standard that mattered, the Old Testament Law, and my own views on any particular matter. It is sad and shameful, I know, but at the time, I did not see it that way. That “holier than thou” mentality followed me throughout my high school years and most of my college years. In fact, it was while I was in Bible College that I had a catharsis of sorts about all that. It wasn’t but until my last couple of years at my alma mater, West Coast Christian College, where I finally took one good look at myself in the mirror and decided I did not like myself much.
It wasn’t a type of inferiority complex, but I honestly did not like the person I had become. I was judgmental, resentful, stubborn and I’m pretty sure I was even arrogant at times. It pained me to recognize that there was a tree full of bad fruit in me. And I began to shed that image by painfully removing each rotten piece of fruit I was producing. I prayed without ceasing for God to create in me a pure heart — a more loving and accepting character that would reflect His heart for humanity. Would you believe me if I told you that I am still in that metamorphosis stage? I thought I would be done by now, but it took my illness to expose a less than desirable crop in me. And so, the pilgrimage continues.
In the past six years since my open-heart surgery as well as all the health setbacks that have followed, I have made amends with myself as well as with several people. Some of these were people who hurt me deeply, and others were people whom I have hurt deeply. It has not been easy, albeit necessary. On those nights when sleep is hard to be found, I often think about who else do I need to apologize to, or how can I improve such and such relationship, etc. I admit it’s an uphill battle that has to be conquered! What about you? Are there memories, or baggage in your life that tends to come to the surface on sleepless nights? Unresolved issues? Past hurts that need to be dealt with?
If you have ever watched the 1986 British film, The Mission, it is a period drama about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in 18th-century South America. (Directed by Roland Joffé and written by Robert Bolt). It has Robert Deniro as the main character. Mendoza was a man full of hatred and pride, who captured and sold indigenous people he hunted in the jungles of South America. He ends up murdering his own brother in a fit of rage and cannot shake the guilt and shame of the man he had become. He yearned for redemption but did not feel qualified to receive it. I remember watching that movie several years ago while I lived in Georgia and worked with young people at a church in Buford. In fact, we used a clip from that movie as a way to evangelize unbelievers by showing them that they can be forgiven and find redemptive love. It was during a “rave” we had with young people that we showed the pivotal clip from that movie, and I remember feeling unsettled in my heart. I had to find a private place and cry a while. I remember thinking to myself; “God, can that be me? Can You please redeem me and transform me like that?” It wasn’t the forgiveness part what I struggled with, it was what comes after; the transformation. I so wanted to be a different person…
Since that day, I often revisit that scene in my head. The sentiment has not changed. I still want to be righteous, and pure, and just an honest and good human being. The only difference is that I do understand and have accepted God’s grace in my life. He has forgiven my grievances of the past, and continues to extend His precious grace to me even now, during these tumultuous times. Life is hard. Suffering is real and is enduring, at least for this season. I want to encourage you to find time for contemplation. While you deal with the unavoidable pain of your circumstances, I challenge you to forgive, ask for forgiveness, and find joy immersing yourself in the arms of grace. It is the only place you will find peace for your anguished soul.
I have included a link to a youtube clip from the movie I mentioned above, in hope it will encourage you as it did me. Let’s heal friends. Together, let us find the cure for the things that keep us up at night so that we can continue chasing life.
(Note: the heavy armor he carries is meant to symbolize his guilt)