When the Bottom Falls Out
What do you do when the bottom falls out? Suddenly you find yourself holding on for dear life as your whole world slides off its axis. For years you have counted on your health, your marriage, your sobriety, your financial security, a friendship, a pet, a job, healthy parents, even your faith—- until one day what you thought was a certainty proves otherwise.
The marriage disappoints. You fall off the wagon. You lose a parent, a friend, a spouse. The doctor hands down the dreaded diagnosis. The bank account is abysmal. You suffer another miscarriage. The adoption falls through. Your child is suffering.
After throwing fists in the air, stomping the feet, teaming buckets with briny tears, hollering numerous expletives into the ethos, and resorting to magic tricks to salvage what once was, you find yourself standing alone in the haunting silence.
Welcome to the new reality.
You wallow. And it only seems fair. We need time to lick the wounds, swim in the pit of self-pity, get blistering angry, and pick up our egos flattened across the unmerciful pavement. But then what? At some point, standing at the crossroads, one must make a decision as to how to proceed. Mind you, plenty of people never get over the loss and disappointment, and either spend their lives spewing venom or nearly disappear.
But there is another way.
William Faulkner suggested that the most successful human beings are the ones who learn how to adapt in life. When the bottom falls out, they shuffle the deck. They are not afraid to play host to whomever and whatever comes knocking at Life’s door: Beauty or Beast. It requires daring, vulnerability, and stamina to live into the new reality.
I hang on like a life preserver to what Thomas Merton said, “Perfect hope is achieved on the brink of despair when, instead of falling over the edge, we find ourselves walking on air.”
Being human is certainly not for pansies! It requires some muscle, a resilient heart, and a faith in the unseen and unknowable. But take heart: God is hugely invested in you finding your way through to the other side. There is no one who loves a redemption story better than God.
Trust that God will send new coordinates for the way forward. But you have to open your eyes to the signs. Pay attention to the Sunday sermon, yoga wisdom, a Rumi quote, even the message tucked inside your Chinese fortune cookie. Read the Psalms and the Lives of the Saints and gain strength from those who have suffered and prevailed before you.
Lean in when the bottom drops out. Although every fiber of our being wants to hide, isolate ourselves and send up the white flag of retreat. What we actually need to do is circle the wagons. As John Donne so astutely reflected, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” When one suffers, we all suffer. Vulnerability is seen as weakness in our self-reliant culture. But the irony is that what we each have in common is our fragile humanity.
I love what the author Barbara Brown Taylor said, “If there is anyone in the world equipped to care for people body and soul, we are. We can see spirit as well as flesh. When we look at people, we see them whole, the way God meant them to be.”
Our greatest purpose and honor is to be there for one another— to collect the tears, sit shiva, take turns carrying the burden, and even sneak in a laugh here and there on the journey to the other side of pain and disappointment.
And finally, we surrender. We bet on Love. We muster up enough courage to say, “Thy will be done.” And then we watch our story begin to arc in the direction of our salvation.
Live in Hope,
P.S. Maybe there are no present clouds in the sky and the forecast is sunshine for miles in your life, thank God! Live in a state of crazy gratitude! Then, turn your gaze in the direction of another who is trying their best to fight their way through the storms!