I believe the most spiritual things we do are the least spiritual. It isn’t the amount of great inspirational books we consume, or the amount of prayer circles in which we engage that most effectively develop our spiritual eyes. It is when we engage in the most ordinary things in life that we learn to see God.
My spiritual life on this day consisted of giving sips of water to my wife who can no longer hold a cup, can barely swallow, and doesn’t know for certain where she is. She asks the same question every thirty seconds because she doesn’t remember that she’s asked it. Delirious, disconnected, and demented we watch her slip away from us.
This is what dying looks like. It sucks with a loud noise! It isn’t graceful. It isn’t sweet. And it sure as hell isn’t pretty. Not the version I’m watching, anyway.
About a week and a half ago Tricia began slipping into long seasons of confusion, not eating, and not being able to feed herself. Her hands and arms are no longer much help as her MS has progressed upward. Her voice is very frail and her speech is slurred when she does attempt to speak. The painful shift in our reality culminated last week when she no longer recognized our daughter.
My point in sharing this entry isn’t to point out how challenging my life is. Nor is it to spin myself as some kind of hero. I’m not. I hate it and wish I were anywhere but here most days. Death’s waiting room is a crappy place to spend any time. The point of this entry is that our most spiritual place is right where we are. Taking up our cross is taking up our reality. This season is just about showing up and giving someone five spoonfuls of sweet potatoes and letting them ask us whether it is morning or night fifty times while we do it. My heart hopes that in those five bites of food she gets from me that she’s reminded that I love her and that I’m here.
What is it that has felt the least spiritual to you today and yet may be the very most spiritual? You may have only thrown a ball with your son, but you made a memory that will shape his life. You may have taken your daughter to the movie, but it impacted her because you gave her the gift of time. The conversation you had with your spouse between soccer games and the grocery store may have felt mundane to you but it meant the world to them. It is those things for which we live. Not the big ministry opportunity, or the great epiphany on the hillside with the guru. It is those five blinking spoonfuls of sweet potatoes that are exactly where God has us. Let’s not waste them and learn to see God in our reality.
When reality finally catches up with us it confronts that which we think we’ve already come to grips with. In other words, we only think we know what we believe about something until we are actually confronted with it.
We often discover that maybe we adopted our beliefs in a vacuum. We can’t know precisely how something is going to feel until it finally shows up on our doorstep. This is when we realize that maybe reality isn’t quite as easy as it seemed in the vacuum.
When Tricia and I were newly married we were those people who judged the young parents of children in dining establishments and movie theaters. Fit-throwing, noisy toddlers were not going to be a part of our family because we were going to make sure our children knew how to behave in public. Not too many years later I found myself carrying a screaming two-year old of my own out of an Italian bistro in Green Hills after she suddenly decided she didn’t want to be there any longer. Covered head to toe in Fettucini Alfredo from the mini-meltdown we were apologizing to every patron we passed as we gathered our belongings like scavengers and took the long walk of shame out the door. Suddenly, my ideas about what I thought I would do in a situation vaporized before my eyes as the unending siren swell of my own child’s voice in an otherwise quaint little eatery became my glaring reality.
I used to have pat answers about divorce until some of my best friends were confronted with complicated and painful realities in their marriages resulting in the end of something that neither of them had categories for nor could have anticipated.
I had all kinds of solutions about addiction and what alcoholics looked like until I woke up one day and realized I was one.
Many of our cut and dried views regarding sexuality work great until the day one of our teenaged children come out to us. Reality suddenly has a face and a name and we love them.
Living wills, discontinuing curative meds, and medical powers of attorney, which allow me to make choices on behalf of a loved one, are where I live now. It was much easier when this was all a hypothetical vacuum before reality took a dump on my doorstep.
Reality rarely shows up dressed as it was in the brochure.
We are going to be changing my wife’s care plan as she continues to struggle with degenerative MS. She is no longer going to be on meds that aren’t working for her. She’s no longer going to be whisked off to hospitals and emergency rooms at the first sign of a crisis. Even with the gift of great friends and healthcare professionals to help me think it all through, at the end of the day, reality doesn’t feel like I thought it would. It makes what I thought would be a cut and dried decision another peek through the dark glass known as faith.