Resentment is like a Kidney Stone

I had been having a hard time with _______ for a while. Toward the end of my hour long prayer shift at the chapel this morning, I finally relented and decided to “deal with it.”
I sat there and thought about the hard time I’d had with _______. I wondetra1red why the slightest interaction with _______ bothered me and why I took umbrage at ______ remarks. This really had been a mystery to me for quite some time. As I sat there, finally willing to bring this mystery to God in prayer, it occurred to me that it is because of resentment.

I’ve talked about resentment a-plenty in retreat settings. Heck, I could give a pretty good talk on it right this instant if you called me (5 minute, 10 minute and 20 minute options). I can even recommend to you a great song that addresses it and helps you see that forgiving another does not require that they act first (apologize) but that it is its own thing that frees you, who have unknowingly been its prisoner. I’m just showing off now. Back to my story…

The first line of St. Francis’ “Prayer before the Crucifix” pleads that God will “Enlighten the darkness of my heart.” As I sat there, newly aware of this resentment, I prayed/thought about that line.
The metaphor for resentment that came to me this morning involves [last chance to turn back and go to another blog post] kidney stones. tra1Resentment is like a kidney stone. What was I really asking when I asked God to “Enlighten the darkness of my heart”? I began to picture this resentment toward _____ as something like a kidney stone. I saw it as a calcified, mummified, gray stone. It doesn’t make its home in my kidney, but in my heart. It occurred to me that resentment is not the same as brand new, fresh hurt and anger, which is a living, breathing thing. Resentment is this unprocessed, un-dealt-with mass of old hurt and anger.
By asking God to “Enlighten the darkness of my heart”, I let all the spot lights, motion detector lights, laser beams and compact tra1fluorescents bathe the inside of my heart with light, even to bathe this stony thing with light. There it sat. I could see it as plain as day. It had been there for a long time. I thought it was my little secret which I could keep hidden. Well, these things don’t remain completely hidden since we don’t actually control them. It is obvious to others there’s something there that has not been dealt with. Now that it was exposed, for me to see and acknowledge and recognize, I felt something like relief. The mystery had been revealed!
tra1Next, I thought about the promise to have a heart made of flesh, not of stone. (The googler just told me that is from Ezekiel 36:26.) My entire heart is not made of stone but this one resentment is a stony thing that occupied space in my heart, for sure.
This morning, before the rooster crowed and somebody’s dogs scratched at the door, I made the decision to take that stone and hand it over to the Lord. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of reacting. I’m tired of dreading my inevitable interactions with ________. I do feel a little different now, five hours later.  There are more steps to take from here, though. That place in my heart where that ugly mass of old hurt and anger resided needs healing. If it is not healed, the thing might reappear in the same spot. That healing will happen through prayer. I know this can happen. Many years ago, I shared an apartment with someone who was hard to livtra1e with. A wise friar advised me to pray for her. I was able to get over myself and over my resentment when I prayed for her. I began to see her differently and even felt compassion for her. That’s what I must do now.

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Why I’m Writing a Prisoner

This morning, after piling my 2 fried eggs atop toast and covering it in a glob of green chilies (a taste acquired in New Mexico), I pulled out my pad of lined paper, a plain white envelope and one of the decent pens we own, not one of the cheap 50 pens we’ve acquired from the months we’ve spent in hotel rooms with my husband’s job over the years. I sat down at our dining room table and began to write. I hardly know this guy. He is the friend of a relative of a relative but I know they love him and vouch for him that he’s a good guy, despite his recent circumstances.

Why I'm writing a prisoner.
Why I’m writing a prisoner.

This is the second prisoner I’ve written over the past four years. When my friend’s relative spent a year in the federal women’s prison in West Virginia. I wrote her about once a month. I took my cues from her. As she wrote me a letter, I wrote one in response. Honestly, I loved getting back into the habit of writing actual letters again. This is what Pope Francis promises us is part of our encounter with the poor. It is an exchange, where there is something to be found for both people. Its not just a one-way giving spree. There’s satisfaction to be found in the exchange. As a person who is 41, I have had the pleasure of living in both worlds: the by-hand and the digital world. Over the years, I’ve let go of the boxes and boxes of cards and letters people sent me when I lived away from home (Spain at 16, Maine at 17, college at 18, Costa Rica at 20). Those cards accompanied me during my time away from the familiar. My Aunt Bonnie was the best and most consistent card writer. Her slanted left handed scrawl was unmistakably recognizable. In her honor, I bought a box from a yard sale this past Saturday. It will allow me to write down people’s special dates and to sort the cards into folders so that I can be totally on top of these things just like she was. I miss so many birthdays, anniversaries of deaths and weddings that it’s really shameful. I hope this system, bought for $2 will help me be more like Aunt Bonnie.
Since I live primarily in this digital world, it is easy to forget that some folks have been thrown back to 1993, technologically speaking. These include my pal who is in a hospital in Washington, DC, who treasures the cards sent to her by friends and family, my grandma in Wisconsin and this guy who is in prison.
tra 1So, what do I write to the guy? Well, I guess I start with the premise that I don’t have to be extra clever or profound or even extra interesting. I just start writing. It turns out that it took me four pages this morning to tell him all about that friend of mine who is in the hospital in Washington, DC. I told him about her lifelong ministry to the poor, something she was doing way before Pope Francis helped make it trendy again. I described visiting her at her office about once a week for over a decade and the circumstances surrounding her recent hospital stay. As I wrote to him, a clever phrase did come to mind and I took the liberty of re-writing it neatly in the margins, “Just because her body is in a prison doesn’t mean her heart and mind have to be.” Nice, I thought. I need to find out if he’s allowed to be sent books or at least photo copies of pages of books (every prison has differing rules). There are probably people with more profound things to say than that, like Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor who described life in the death camps. Someone like Nelson Mandela. I’ve never read anything he wrote but the guy spent decades imprisoned. Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul the Apostle, there are lots of other people. For us, on the “outside” we can read what they have to say and admire them for being so deep in the midst of such desperation. I’m guessing that a prisoner would read another prisoner’s words with an even greater understanding of the journey they are on.
So, when I write to this fellow, I know I’m getting a lot out of it. I got to spend 30 minutes thinking about how much I love and admire my friend about whom I was writing. Re-reading my own writing is a strange pleasure, especially when it has come together and is actually pretty good stuff. In my first letter (this was my second letter, written in response to the one he sent last week), I was very blunt about my intentions for writing to him. Being a Christian is pretty easy sometimes since there is nice, concise instructions on how we are supposed to do this thing. If you look up the 7 corporal (“bodily”) works of mercy, you’ll see that visiting the sick and visiting the imprisoned are actually spelled out right there for us. I don’t expect to visit him in prison but my letters are a way to distract and maybe give him something new to think about for a few minutes, which is like a visit. I don’t know where the correspondence will go but I think I will just keep telling him stories about all of the wonderful people I’ve met in my life. I was blunt about my intentions.
St. Francis himself was imprisoned too. That was in the 13th century so I guarantee you he didn’t have a window, 3 hots nor a cot. We could come up with a long list of imprisoned people we’d have loved to correspond with throughout history. In the meantime, if you don’t plan on visiting someone in prison then I suggest you ask God to help you find someone you can write to in prison. I recommend spreading the word around. According to a statistic I just read, it looks like about 1 in every 300 Americans is currently in prison or in jail. Put out an APB on Facebook and ask folks to tell you the name of their aunt, godmother, stepdad or brother-in-law who has been locked away for a time. I rely on the people we know in common to vouch for the guy so I know I’m not getting mixed up with someone who is a danger. If you need help finding someone, I can help spread the word for you. It is taboo to talk about our relatives and loved ones who are in prison but with statistics like 1 in 300, you’ve got to figure that just about every single person you know knows someone who is in jail or prison right now.
So, that’s why I’m writing to a prisoner. It’s also why I think you should write, too.


How this relates to St. Francis:
1. If St. Francis’ prison term was happening right now, how would you get his address? What would write to him?
2. Like Pope Francis, St. Francis was all about seeking out those who are on the margins. Ask God to show you who are on the margins that you can reach out to.
3. In typical colorful medieval metaphor, it is said that St. Francis’ “whole body was a tongue” which means that his whole being actually spoke the Gospel even louder than his voice preached it. As we mediate on the instruction to visit prisoners and we recall that our hero, Jesus was brought to trial, convicted and sentenced to death, how can your actions speak, telling the world you believe this stuff?

When Love is Your Mission

My months of effort on a particular project were finished as I waited for others to see it through to the next stage. The obstacles and opponents outnumbered and intimidated me. One morning, while in the middle of that ordeal, I was a guest at the home of friends when I discovered a quote pinned to their wall. It is from a very thick book which I do not claim to have read: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (although in 1992 I watched the fabulous Flying Karamazov Brothers, a juggling troupe). Anyhow, I snapped a photo of the quote with my smart phone (as you do) so I could keep it at hand. I want to share it with you in case you’ve created something you love, in which your mission all along was love and now you sit back,anxiously watching the obstacles pop up in front of it, wondering if a mission of love is enough to power it through to the other side of its opponents.

Here’s the quote:

“..love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, trawith all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it — at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.

It is a quote which assures us of breakthroughs. We need other people to give us a break, to cut us some slack, to lay off, to crack open the door, to do us a solid, to make way for a breakthrough. When love is our mission, that fact is more important that the details of the actual project. I want to believe that when love is the mission, that mission will see the project through to the other side. We now have a little solar powered machine wandering around Mars because a team of people had a mission of sending it there and worked on that crazy endeavor. Sure, they are into robotics and geology and solar panels but I guarantee you that it was love (of discovery, of exploration, of being the first at something) that motivated them. Whatever your own project, if it is in a holding pattern, as St. Francis’ plane was above my lovely home state of North Carolina for a long time today, double check to make sure that love is your mission and if it’s not, re calibrate some things so that it is.
traHere’s the connection to St. Francis of Assisi: he wanted to find his way in this world. He tried many paths with many fits and starts. Following his dad’s footsteps as a merchant did not work out for him. Being a solider was a bad match. The monastery he ran to stuck him in the dishwasher’s area without even a change of clothes and he was left trying to figure it all out, likely entertaining the fleeting thoughts that he really had lost it and had just made a series of big mistakes. The Lord brought the right people and circumstances into his life to help him find his way. It was around the time he would have “sense(d) in horror that in spite of all [his] efforts [he] is getting farther from [his goal] instead of nearer to it” that a path emerged from the wood and he knew which way to go next. All along, love was his mission and it saw him through to the end of his very short yet influential life of service.