I used to believe growth was inevitable. But I have come to realize that even change can be outrun by those intent on avoidance. As kids, we tend to embrace change with curiosity. Our youthful wisdom invites growth as necessary. But somewhere along the way, we became obsessed with pleasing our egos. We grew to fear failure, and pursue only that which is safe, secure, or certain. Failing is no longer an option, because we must preserve our sense of self and pursue success. To fail means letting our ego down.
“The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling or changing or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo, even when it is not working. It attaches to the past and present and fears the future.”Richard Rohr
How long can we survive avoiding failure? I don’t mean survive in the “no longer breathing” kind of way. But how long will we feel alive? Do you feel fully alive when you are avoiding the fall at all costs?
Learning to embrace the fall as a necessary motion is the definition of my current season. Understanding the pain of failing is no small task, nor is it necessarily an enjoyable one. Yet without the fall, I would not value the rise. Would I even be able to recognize my need for growth without a stumble?
If it is still unclear, I am a huge fan of grace. When we fail, we are offered grace for those mistakes. We are invited to learn more about what went wrong and where we can grow. For those of us who follow Jesus, grace holds an even bigger definition for our story. And yet…
“The ego clearly prefers an economy of merit, where we can divide the world into winners and losers, to any economy of grace, where merit or worthiness loses all meaning. In the first case, at least a few of us good guys attain glory. In the second case, all the glory is to God.”Richard Rohr
I keep wishing I could write about something other than the last year, but frankly, the last year was deeply screwed up on so many levels. My heart is still working through the shattering and sorrow of all the grief before and yet to come. Reading the words above about ego framed so much of for me in a way that felt like coming home again.
Over the last year, I felt very alone, very often. You may be wondering if I’m single or widowed; perhaps I lost someone during the pandemic. The answer does not matter. My loneliness still carries weight. Somewhere in history, our culture absorbed the wrong idea that grief has a time limit. There is a measuring stick to which our losses are held, and if we carry our sorrows too long, we’ve broken an unspoken but commonly understood rule.
Writing this piece has taken weeks. Not only because my schedule didn’t line up, but out of panic. I am tired of writing about the great shitstorm of 2020 (apply your own context). But when I realized the block was coming from this deeply rooted and unwelcome belief, I had a choice to make. Somewhere in my story, I agreed to it. I started to wish we could move a little faster through the trauma of last year. My choice came in the form of awareness. Now that I see the broken understanding, I can fall a little further into healing. I may not want to write about the losses we’ve all suffered, but I need to. And so do you.
Learning to fall is how we rise. While my ego would prefer to tell you that my own work as a coach and years of counseling have prepared me perfectly for this moment in time, the truth is, I’m still failing. I’m still figuring out how to heal and at the same time – how to embrace my ego with some humility.
A year ago, I recognized the collective grief of the masses. I decided to pursue the change in career in that moment, but what I did not realize was the level of grief I would encounter that is attached to a lack of humility and accountability. At one point or another, every single one of my clients (and friends, frankly) is communicating deep wounds they did not see coming. These losses are ambiguous. Finding a rift in beliefs between colleagues, family members, and even occasional acquaintances is leaving us isolated in ways we didn’t expect.
But the ego connected to what we call “cancel culture” is devastating. We have a certain level of pride connected to our ideals – our “rightness.” And this is no garden-variety pride. It is the pride that destroys with no regard for human life. It is the fear of failure made manifest: If I cannot destroy you for your folly (which may take on myriad forms), I will be perceived as weak.
This economy of merit, as Rohr describes, is the breaking point. After all the infighting is done, and the dust is falling on the tall and small alike, we will remain broken. Why? Because we have shattered one another to find our own sense of wholeness. In the pursuit of right vs. wrong, we have secured our crowns and wielded flaming swords to shame and dismiss those in opposition. Completely devoid of relationship or context, we have opted to correct “our fellow believers,” forgetting entirely that we must be in fellowship to do so. But how many of the people you’ve belittled or berated on the internet (or in person) do you cultivate relationship with?
Trying to make sense of these losses – the often disenfranchised, easily dismissed grief – is nearly impossible. Discussion of the pain can feel like gossip, which we all know is one more thing for Christian culture to condemn you for. Even when you know in your heart that gossip is not your goal, you still find it difficult to sort your thoughts or your role in the rifts, all out of a fear of being cancelled or being further excommunicated. Is that even possible?
My relationship to the church has changed dramatically over the last decade. I’m grateful for the growth. But the rapid division we are witnessing in local churches over the last year is so nuanced. Learning to embrace accountability and growth is painful, and exactly why we have people leaving their churches in droves. We are offended by accountability because it is informing our ego of our mistakes. We have made repeated missteps and seem fully disinterested in changing course. I won’t go into the impact, involvement, and evolution of Christian nationalism here because as I said, the nuance is unending. But the outcome is the same – we continue to cancel and abandon relationships out of a confused sense of pride and a desire for religious and cultural meritocracy, all while proclaiming only grace can fulfill us. This is a thought distortion at the highest level: A brokenhearted misunderstanding of how to love well and hold others in high regard, honoring their life as valuable without needing to justify our own existence or beliefs.
I can’t pretend to offer any answers. But I can offer space. Compassion that if you are like me, carrying a heavy heart over ambiguous losses and relationship breakdowns that you never expected, you will never walk alone. It is in the shelter of one another that we find life – celebrating our differences as strengths; embracing our failures as hope and the promise of a better future for humanity.
When I consider those in my fellowship – the people who love and hold me close, despite our differences – I am undone with hope that mercy will prevail when we make mistakes. This is the growth we need to pursue; that we can fail in relationship and still hold one another in high regard, based purely on our inherent value as humans. That we can remind one another how to offer grace for the most uncomfortable circumstances. That my tears will be honored and carried; respected and held with kindness. That we will rise from a fall because we are never truly walking alone. While we may feel alone, our feelings are simply information. Reminding us that we are craving connection – we are designed to be in relationship with others. Never once did we receive a promise that it would be simple or uncomplicated. But we did receive a promise that love is worthy anyway.
“If our hearts are turned to stone, there is hope we know the rocks will cry out. And the tears aren’t ours alone; let them fall into the hands that hold us. Come away from where you’re hiding. Set aside the lies that you’ve been living. May this place of rest in the fold of your journey bind you to hope. We will never walk alone.” Stephen Daniel Mason / Matt Odmark / Dan Haseltine / Charlie Lowell