“I believe contemplation shows us that nothing inside us is as bad as our hatred and denial of the bad. Hating and denying it only complicates our problems. All of life is grist for the mill. Paula D’Arcy puts it, ‘God comes to us disguised as our life.’ Everything belongs; God uses everything. There are no dead-ends. There is no wasted energy. Everything”
― Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer
I would not have believed Richard Rohr at one time. Surely my sins and failures are a much bigger deal than my denial of them!
Contemplative prayer has gradually shoved my illusions and misconceptions about myself into the light. I’ve seen how my wounds and failures influence my identity and decisions.
The pain from the past plays a larger role in my daily interactions and relationships than I care to admit. My failures are often tied in some way to my pain. It’s all a part of who I am, how I see myself, how present I am for others, and whether or not I’m present for God.
If my pain and failures play such a large role in my perceptions and actions, then any hope for healing and wholeness is tied to my ability to face them with bracing honesty. Shame and denial only leave me far worse off, as they create a dissonance when I experience the pain and shame I deny.
As I’ve let myself accept the possibility that God desires my healing, wholeness and restoration, I’ve begun to ponder the possibility that Rohr is on to something when he writes that everything belongs. It’s not that everything has been desired or predestined by God (I’m no Calvinist), but everything must be acknowledged and faced.
I can still remember the shock of reading that “God uses everything.” It almost seemed like a blasphemy. Even my sins? Really?
At first I had to play a game with myself, pretending that something like this could be true. Does God really want to see and use it all?
What I’ve found in my limited experience is that every sin and every failure speaks to something deeper that takes me closer to God’s presence and truth. There is a desire or a wound that is linked to that behavior, and if I don’t face everything without shame, I’ll never bring it all to God.
I could very well let my shame or illusions define me, clinging to what I have instead of the unknown love that God offers. I could let my pain simmer below the surface while denying it and wondering why so many parts of my life appear to be burning up.
If everything belongs, if it’s all grist for the mill, then I have nothing to lose in unreserved honesty toward God. I have nothing to fear in my self examination. I can only lose if I guard myself with shame and illusions.
Facing ourselves as we are requires a great trust in a loving God. Sometimes we can’t imagine a loving and merciful God who believes that everything belongs.
I take comfort in my own experience of God’s mercy and in Rohr’s assurance:
“The people who know God well—mystics, hermits, prayerful people, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator.”
Learn more about contemplative prayer in my book: Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayer for Anxious Christians.
Photo by Jonathan Wheeler on Unsplash