Friday with Michael Spencer
Holes in the Soul
Back in the day, I got a psych major in my undergrad work. That’s pretty ironic, believe me, in more ways than you can imagine.
I can’t say I learned a great deal, but I did begin a lifelong journey of making observations and drawing tentative conclusions about myself. If I would have paid attention to all I’ve discovered about myself, I’d have a very different life. Some psychologist can tell me why I routinely ignore the lessons I’ve learned and repeat all the same mistakes.
One thing I’ve learned is that I’ve got some holes in my personality that go a lot deeper than I can understand. They are caverns in my self-understanding; potholes in the soul, so to speak. Like a series of tunnels that connect with points in my past and experience, these dark places are imperfectly mapped, sometimes frightening and very, very real when you fall into one.
What I’ve found in some of those dark places can be amusing, irritating or terrifying.
Of course, I’ve learned to avoid these traps whenever possible, and some of the time I’m successful. I have the most well known holes in my soul marked with warning signs that I respect. The trouble is that you never know when a new hole is going to appear, often in the most unexpected places. And you never know how that dark place in your soul is going to help you understand what you’d rather not even thing about.
When it became apparent that my wife was going to go down the road to the Catholic Church, I fell down one of those holes. It was, in a word, an overpowering dark place of fear and anger. It came from someplace in me, but I couldn’t see where. For many weeks, it was my world.
In that hole was everything I heard about Catholicism growing up in a fundamentalist church more than 30 years ago. In that hole were a collection of fears about things I thought I understood and had under control. In that hole, was my fragile concept of vocation and marriage.
I fell into that hole and stayed there for a very long time. All I knew was how I felt. Feeling and fear were everything. I was thinking, reasoning, talking and asking questions, but I could not pull myself out. My journey out of this irrational, fearful darkness was slow and may still be incomplete.
The other night I picked up my son for dinner. I noticed that he had pierced his ears.
I have no problem with this sort of thing. He’s almost 21 and engaged. I don’t tell him how to live or dress. I have dozens and dozens of friends with pierced ears. I teach a lesson on this very issue in Bible class. I’ve told my son a dozen times that I don’t care, God doesn’t care and it’s not an issue.
But there I stood, and for that moment, I was falling down a well of feelings from another place in my soul. I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and disappointment. I had failed as a dad. My son was going down the wrong road. I was hurt and wanted to say how I felt; to express my disapproval.
It was, in a word, irrational.
Now in just a few moments I recalibrated myself back to rationality. My thoughts and my feeling matched back up with what I know and believe, and those moments in that dark place of irrationality faded away.
Now, why am I talking about this? More iMonk whining and dirty laundry? No, something different.
How much of our lives do we spend reacting entirely out of those places of darkness, fear, irrationality and disconnected feelings? How many of our conflicts and problems come because we are deep in a hole, and do not recognize where we are?
How many of us are dominated by aspects of our history and experience that we are unable to view truthfully and rationally? Instead, we are speaking and acting in ways that are destructive and hurtful to ourselves and so many others?
I wonder how many of us are dealing with our spouses and our children out of places of darkness, but we are so submerged in the darkness and so afraid to see where we are that we will fight to the death anyone who challenges out view of reality?
When I listen to Christians speak- especially pastors and other leaders- I hear a lot of anger. I wonder where it comes from. I hear anger from Christians over things they say they believe deeply about love, truth and justice, but what comes out from so many is confusion and bitterness, but they don’t realize this is happening. They are unable to see that they are living out of fear and irrationality.
Years ago, a friend- an older man- was widowed after caring for his sick wife for many years. Six months later, he remarried. But his son, a good Christian man who I knew to be a loving and reasonable person, went completely over the edge objecting to his father’s marriage. His behavior was embarrassing…and it didn’t take a great deal of insight to see that his feelings came from places within himself that he could not acknowledge.
I can point out this fellow as an example, but I believe many of us are as conflicted and live out our lives in similar embarrassing conflicts. And I believe that if we can find a place where we can see what is happening to us, we will realize that these “holes” of emotion and irrational fear are not where we want to spend our lives.
The answer? Certainly we need to ask for insight in prayer into how we are living our lives, what we are living “out of,” and who we have become.
We also need spiritual direction, or at the least Godly counsel of those who can gently help us see the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the effects of our words and actions.
In our personal journeys, all of us should begin to map out those dark places we are aware of, and we should consider how we can grow in ways that will not lead us down those roads so easily.
Where we’ve done damage, and where we’ve insisted we were right and rational when we were, in fact, irrational and wrong, we should go back and make amends.
Somewhere, we need a community that can come to know us with an honest awareness of our personal “potholes of the soul.” In the honest acceptance of others, perhaps we can learn to accept ourselves with grace, contentment and compassion.
I will never come to a place where these “holes” of fear and emotion are not part of me, but I can live aware of them, transcend them by the grace of God, accept forgiveness and continue the journey on a better path.