Keep wondering why we are here. Life must have some design – we can't just be randomly wandering. I suppose I keep asking, because living with pain makes me need a reason. My life isn't a series of pleasant events. I can't choose on a whim to go out for supper or drop in on a friend for coffee.
I have to plan my day, fit in rest, time pain killers for maximum effect. More than anything, I have not to mind. And that takes a huge amount of psychic energy, not to mind doors closing, to be consciously grateful, to find every small speck of joy or contentment. And be cheerful. So it matters that it is FOR something. That there is some purpose, some meaning.
So I was cogitating, something that I have plenty of time for, when my mind isn't too puddled with pain. And it came – life is a gift. It makes all the difference because my Protestant upbringing had echoes of Pilgrim's Progress. Back then, the underlying belief was in original sin, so childhood was a time for training and learning self-discipline.
I hadn't really seen the ramifications till I stood back with another view. You learn what you think, or are told, are the rules without questioning: life is hard, we are faulty, we are also judged. Phrases floated through my mind: day of judgement, hell fire, sacrifice, original sin. And that sentence from the General Confession, “There is no health in us.” Sometimes I felt I had been entered in an obstacle race. I couldn't stop running and no one asked me if I wanted to compete.
Yet through it all, like shafts of sunlight through cloud, were flashes of beauty and joy. Harriet Vane said in Gaudy Night that she always thought life could be good if she could only reach it. I knew what she meant. Because my brother was institutionalized when I was nine, it was desperately important for me to placate, obey the rules and try to be “good.”
Now the clouds shifted. I rolled the thought round in my head, tasting it. “Life is a gift.” Wow! How different. My vision cleared and the way ahead looked surer, sunlit. A gift? Then goodbye to “should” and “must”, to “try harder,” and self blame.
Life is suddenly voluntary, not mandated. It is the difference between giving a present and being taxed. I feel I will make the same choices because my core values are unchanged, but with a willing heart and a feeling of designing my life, rather than obeying orders. It is CHOICE.
Now rather than taking a deep breath and sticking it out through pain (because that's what is expected), I can choose grace. It is as if no longer am I performing my life to God's exacting standards. I am painting a picture with my life and offering it lovingly, willingly to God.
Once, years ago, I heard these words in my head, “Life is my gift to you; joy is your gift to me.” And joy is my gift as I look at the beauty and kindness of life.