“You have had a hard life,” she said. I deflected the comment.
Later, musing in the early morning, I had to agree. I, like most people, have had a hard life. I have made bad choices. I have made choices influenced by a family environment I didn’t understand. I have made choices before I understood my own gifts and personality. And choices I did not make, circumstances beyond my control, have contributed to this “hard life.”
So what is there to say about a hard life? How do any of us reckon the costs or benefits of a life? And once we have put life’s experiences in the cost or benefit column, what do we say about the total we arrive at?
I think the best we can say as we look back (in my case after embodying that life for seven decades) is something like this:
I lived through it. I survived. I turned some costs into benefits and some benefits into costs. Many times I even contributed to the total sum. I spent a lifetime learning who God is and what role such a God plays in my life. I learned to use my passion wisely. I learned to give away what I know when it is appropriate. I learned to use my voice for encouragement; I learned to use my voice for protest.
I learned to find beauty and wonder in small things: long times of uninterrupted silence and the chirping of a small, exuberant bird on my balcony at sunrise; the giggle of a child and the wisdom of an old friend; the warmth of a bright sun and the plopping of raindrops from a gray sky; a clever or beautiful turn of phrase and the greedy luxury of a long book; a bowl of cold green grapes and a many-flavored meal when I am finally hungry; the joy of opening the blinds to a fresh new day and the closing of the blinds to a welcome darkening of the world around me.
I learned that when I need instruction in life, I turn to the life and words of Jesus. When I am battered from all sides by outright lies or the ill-considered use of the word truth, I am learning to trust his Truth. When I mourn over the pain and evil in the world, I am learning to trust his promise of a beautiful new Age.
As the Serenity Prayer counsels, I am continually learning to accept the things I cannot change and to change the things I can. And, most crucially, I am learning to recognize the path of wisdom to choose these processes appropriately.
Sometimes I create ease in my life by denying situations that should be taken seriously. In other times of self-pity, I think that some hard things are just too hard to bear. But I have learned that whether life seems easy or hard, I live in the available and coming Kingdom of God. I rest in the conviction that no matter how easy or hard I take or make life, I am safe in the love and grace of God.