I have an aversion to clean slates and starting over. Those things have their appeal and their place as well, but as a practice or rhythm for life they don’t work very well. Especially where humans are involved.
Rachel Joy Welcher wrote, in her poem, Tangled, “When will you realize, oh my soul… That is is not within your power/to untangle joy from pain?”
There are no real clean-slates in relationships. Where we’ve wounded one another, we cannot simple wipe the person and the wounds they’ve caused from our lives and move on as though those pains, those people, never existed. Even where we must end the relationship, the wounds that heal leave scars.
This week I read a poem this line from a poem by George Herbert that stopped me.
I will lament, and lovefrom The Temple (1633), by George Herbert
I am having a hard time putting words to what that quote from George Herbert stirred in me. Maybe it’s because it tugged at my soul like the question in Welcher’s poem. Maybe it’s because though I realize I have to take the joy with the pain, I still crave things not being so tangled up.
Sometimes I think I get stuck because I see both the black and the white of it. And there is a lot of grey. A lot. I can’t clear-cut the wrongs from my husband or sons’ lives like they do in the Douglas Fir forested hills of southwest Oregon. Heck, I can’t parse out my own wrongs from my life without digging myself into a deeper hole. But although the lament comes with the love, the joy with the pain, there are some clear lines to be drawn and clear ends to relationships that need to take place. There is a time, as Mary Oliver put it, for a clear and announced, “Yes! No!” There are boundaries we should not move or remove. But here in the already-not yet, our walls are overgrown with thorny Bougainvillea. Our relationships are a bittersweet drink of joy and pain.
As a Christian, I see my life, and all of life, more and more as a garden to be planted right where I am. With the dangers and delight that are sure to come. Rather than a slate or a white board to be wiped clean. There will be weeds and thorns even after I clear a patch of heart. There will be droughts I have not control over and floods that will drown what I’m trying to grow. There will be lessons to be learned about climate and shade and the need for light, especially on the things that want to hide in the dark.
I will plant myself right here with these people and thank God he hasn’t left me. He’ll tend to my heart. And I will lament and love.