from pain to gain

Uncategorized Mar 10, 2021

Years ago, a neighbor came to my door fighting mad.  My kids were playing out back, and they were screaming and hollering and having a great time.  That wasn’t the source of Pete’s complaint.  He was angry that our dachshund Brandy was jumping around and barking at all their antics.  He wanted the barking to stop, and he wasn’t at all shy about telling me so. 

My first reaction was defensiveness.  In my heart I met his anger with anger.  That was followed by frustration.  How was I supposed to keep a yappy dachshund from barking?  The only way was to move the dog into the house every time the kids were outside.  

I didn’t voice either of those reactions.  I listened.  And in listening I learned that Pete’s wife was dying of cancer, and that the yapping dog was making her last days or weeks miserable.  My compassion kicked in, and I said that I would gladly move the dog inside.  He didn’t seem appeased…he still went away mad.  But I realized that he wasn’t really mad at me.  He was angry that his wife of fifty years, the love of his life, was being taken from him.  And while I couldn’t shut the sound of joy out of his life completely…the kids would still be playing outside…I could deal with the dog. 

That isn’t the last dispute I’ve had with a neighbor or a friend.  Just recently someone wanted me to curb an activity that brings me joy, again because of bothersome noise.  It felt like they were overstepping their rights, and it broke my heart.  I cried for a while.  Worse than that, I harbored all kinds of retaliatory scenarios, and one night I awoke at 3 AM replaying them over and over in my mind. 

But most nights before I go to sleep, my husband and I read this prayer from the Order of Compline:  

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.”  

This became the first prayer of my nighttime lament.  Then I prayed every prayer I knew by heart:  the Lord’s prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the prayer of St. Francis (“Make me a channel of your peace”)…the prayers came in snatches, and I would follow their threads. 

What happened was nothing short of a miracle.  A feeling of unexplainable joy welled up within me.  I couldn’t put my finger on it…it just presented like a warmth buzzing in my chest, flooding me with love and compassion for my disputant.  Then I drifted off to sleep with the sure knowledge that in my heart of hearts I wanted to bless and not curse the one who had hurt me. 

I still feel some of the pain of loss, but the gain is so much more. 

Love, Liz

“We are all so laden with semiconscious resentments and suspicions, discordant desires and half-baked beliefs, that we need constant tutoring from the ancient church, our older brothers and sisters who can teach us to ‘read the book of our heart.’”  
                                  Tish Harrison Warren, Prayer in the Night

Photo of me with Brandy and Court, 1990