So said the Buddha. In the months that followed his death and burial, I felt confused, afraid, and lost. I tried to help my mother manage her grief even as I struggled to handle my own. To say that my life unraveled would be an understatement. Within twenty-four months of his death, I left the ministry, began a new career altogether, and went through a divorce. Were it not for the fact that the new job involved consulting with churches across America, an irony all its own given my mental/emotional state, I would not have been in church at all.
When I left the ministry and, soon thereafter went through the divorce, I stopped going to church almost entirely. But I had to get away. I had been pretending everything was O.K. in my life when it wasn’t. I was tired of playing roles. Somewhere I once ran across the following line: “When the pain of being the same is greater than the pain of being different, you will change.” Change was coming, but not yet.
Virtually everything I said I believed, I rejected. What I did not reject, I questioned, and I carried a quiver full of them. “Where are you, God?” “Why did you let my Dad die?” “What am I supposed to do now?” “Where are you, damn it?” “Why don’t you answer me?” “Do you even care?” “Does anything matter?” “Does my life matter?”
On hundreds of occasions over the years, I had counseled others who faced similar circumstances to believe in a caring, compassionate God. But, when grappling with grief and doubts of my own, I found it hard to believe God cared about anything or anyone.
I even had a few questions I wanted to ask Dad, too. Like, “Where are you?” “Are you dead or alive?” “If you’re alive, where are you?” “Will I ever see you again?” “I tried all my life to talk to you, to feel you were listening to me and, on the day you join my church, you up and die? What the hell is that?” “Is this whole thing a cosmic joke, or just an illusion?” “What was it like to die?” “Painful?” “Fearful?” “What will death be like for me?” “Will I be afraid?”
I lived in a kind of spiritual limbo for several years following his death. It was not until the afternoon of my awakening that I began to see how his death, indeed how everything in my life, had been a portal into Presence. The words of Jesus would finally make sense: “I am the door.”
Though at first we typically resist them, a crisis, any crisis, is a doorway Life opens to us. Given the nature of our conditioning, however, it often takes a crisis to awaken us. For some who are deeply entrenched in conditioned religious thought and expectation, or whose egos are fixed and strong, it may take a series of crises to wake them up. You have perhaps known someone who experienced a crisis, only to have it followed by a series of additional crises of equal or greater severity. Who knows but what they needed them. Yet, even with crises, some people never get it.
Pam, my wife now of several years, insists on setting her alarm clock to wake her up at 6 A.M. She seldom plans to get up, however, until 7 A.M.
I have often asked her, “Why not set the clock for 7 A.M., instead of being awakened several times, only to hit the snooze again and again?”
Her typical response is, “Because it takes four alarms to fully awaken me.”
Next time you hear of a four-alarm fire, you will know that the severity of fire is so great that more than one truck and one team of firefighters is needed. You will also know it took both the death and the resurrection of Jesus for those closest to him to wake up to his spiritual identity and to that of their own. Although he had said, perhaps over and over again, “I am the light of the world,” and “You are the light of the world,” none of this began to dawn until the darkness of his death.
As my own eyes began to open, I noticed a profound difference in how I responded to every event in my life, no matter how inconsequential. For example, I used to resist anything I interpreted as an obstacle upsetting my happiness or interfering with the pursuit of my goals. Shortly after the awakening, however, I boarded a commercial airline destined for Atlanta. It was 7:45 A.M and we were behind schedule by thirty minutes already. Presently, the pilot informed us, due to an electrical problem, the plane would be delayed even longer and could possibly be grounded altogether.
Before the awakening, I would have been frustrated by this kind of minor disruption, even inclined to take it personal, as if airline officials were plotting a way to complicate my life. The resistance would have manifested itself as complaints to myself and to passengers seated around me. If none of that was sufficient, I would call someone on my cell and complain.
This time, however, I didn’t resist. Nor did I complain. I was noticeably surprised at myself. I saw it as an opportunity, almost as if it was supposed to happen, the reason for which was mine to discover. So, I watched and listened. I became present, so to speak, and looked for the message from beyond, or a stranger I was supposed to meet. I reached for my notepad and began writing of my experience. You are reading its results. Perhaps this happened to me for no other reason than you might read about it now. If you watch, you are likely to see what you’re destined to see. Who knows? If you are awake, you will know.
Where could you possibly go to find a healthier, happier, and more stress-free way to live than this? If you have not yet awakened, it is understandable why many of my words seem odd to you. You perhaps feel inner resistance to some of them, too. But, as you awaken, you will know for yourself the truth in these words. You will cease to resist what is given to assist you in knowing God.
By resistance, I am not suggesting that you lie down and let life step on you. Nor am I saying you pretend to be happy about everything that shows up, although the New Testament does say, “In everything give thanks.” Some things are difficult to accept and a few things are very difficult. But, on the spiritual path, you will begin to instinctively know, since nothing is ever accidental, anything may serve as a portal into Presence. Your destiny could not unfold without the appearance of these things. In other words, everything serves a higher purpose. There is a beautiful way Eckhart
Tolle makes this same point in A New Earth. He writes: “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.”
More profound words have seldom been spoken. When you remember them, as well as apply them to your life, they have the power to transform both how you receive and how you respond to everything. No less equal in beauty, and more familiar to Christians, are the words of Saint Paul, “All things work together for good to those who love God.” If this is true, why resist anything?
The sudden and unexpected end of my father’s life was the surprising and unanticipated beginning of my own. How could I resent something as amazing and perfect as this? The self-confusion, as well as the questions and doubts, have disappeared. Sure, I still question things, but there’s none of the background cynicism, the latent resentment, or existential fear like before. There is only a profound awareness of Presence and, with it, gratitude and joy. These remain to this day.