Tag Archives: anne lamott

I’m going to love you, anyway

Last night I finished Anne Lamott’s beautiful book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.   There is so much goodness in this short book that I could go on and on about it but there was this one line that arrested me which I needed to get down in writing before the impression it made upon me was forgotten.

Before I share the quote, some context.    She is riffing on Saint Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:6ff) affliction, something he could not shake but it helped him learn humility and reliance upon God’s grace.   She alludes to this passage in the context of admitting her own character defects, like being judgmental and conceited.   These are “thorns” she would rather not have and wrestles against them, sometimes successfully, other times not so much.   And then she writes the line which stirred my soul:

We don’t know if Paul was ever healed of his affliction.  I do know that being told I could keep my awfulness made holding on to it much less attractive.

I don’t know if Anne meant this the way I took it, but when I read these words what I heard God say to me was,

Chad, you can keep the stuff that is making you miserable if you wish. I am going to love you, anyway.

This is such good news to someone like me, who, historically would hang on to my character defects like Gollum holding onto his precious ring.   What’s more, I would cling to them even tighter if I thought that your love for me was conditioned upon me letting them go.  

Paradoxically, my disease often led me to cling tighter to the things I suspected were preventing people from loving me well.    Maybe this is because I’m super stubborn.  Maybe it’s because my disease needed this in order to thrive.   If you won’t love me for who I am, it told me, than I’ll just act out. 

But upon reading Anne’s line above, the insanity of all of that made sense to me.   I heard God say to me that he was going to love me regardless of my “thorn.”   God’s love for me isn’t conditioned upon me letting go of my awfulness.

Surrounded by God’s unconditional love makes holding on to my character defects, my disease, my awfulness far less appealing.   My addiction has, upon this realization, nothing or no one to rail against or stubbornly defy.  It has no one to blame, no one upon whom to justify it’s self-damning cycle of insanity upon.

God says to you and I, hey, you can continue being miserable if you’d like, I’m going to love you, anyway.    Somehow that makes hanging on to my junk seem like a colossal waste of time and energy.    Would you agree?

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Acceptance is the key to all my problems and I’m angry about that

I both love and hate this:

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

(Big Book of AA pg 417). 

I know this to be true but it’s so damn hard and I’m struggling with it.    I have been agitated, angered, saddened, shocked, and hurt by what I have been watching on the news this week.   I want to say I am feeling all of these things about the children that are being detained because their parents – heroes in my eyes – dared to want a better life for themselves and their family.    I want to say that it is their cries that are breaking my heart and making me feel so agitated.  And to some extent it is.  But if I’m honest, it’s more than that.

The truth is, the real root of my anger is directed toward the people who are OK with that.   I’m angry that there are people who I know profess Jesus as their Lord who are OK with treating immigrants like they are trash.    I’m angry that there are people who lack mercy and empathy but seem to have plenty of law and judgment to dish out.

But more than that, I’m angry that I can’t change any of it.   I’m angry at myself that I have anger towards those people rather than mercy and love.   I’m angry that I cannot seem to accept the world as it is or people as they are.

And more than that, I’m angry that my refusal to be merciful and accepting of “those people” means I am no better than them and I’m left with nothing but my own self-righteous anger to stew in.

I’m angry that deep down I know the Big Book is right, and until I accept them as they are where they are for who they are that I will never be happy.

I’m angry that God is asking me to extend mercy to the merciless.

Mercy is that thing I want all the time from God and everyone, which I’ll give aplenty to those who demand nothing of me personally but will horde from those whom I think should know better.   Why can I have so much mercy for the addict who has lied a million times and ruined everyone’s life but none for the pious elder brother who has never left home?

If I don’t find a way to love the latter I’ll once more become the former.  I know this.

So I picked up Anne Lamott’s meddling book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, and began to binge.  I knew I needed to gorge myself on mercy lest I die of thirst.    She diagnoses me on the first pages.

Mercy means that we soften every so slightly, so that we don’t have to condemn others for being total shits, although they may be that (Okay: are.)  If I do so, it makes me one.  As Father Ed Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses.  When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return.  It seems, on the face of things, like a decent deal.

When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like, especially a truly awful person, including ourselves, we experience a great spiritual moment, a new point of view that can make us gasp. It gives us the chance to rediscover something both old and original, the sweet child in us who, all evidence to the contrary, was not killed of, but just put in the drawer.  I realize now how desperately, how grievously, I have needed the necessary mercy to experience self-respect.

All I have to do in order to begin again is to love mercy, if I am to believe nutty old Micah.

Micah. She is, of course, referring to the prophet whom God told only three things were required of us mortals:  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.    I am a pro at dishing out justice.   But if I’ve learned anything over the past few years, riding the justice train is my fastest ticket to relapse unless it is tempered with gargantuan doses of mercy (for both others and myself) while staying low, low, low to the earth.

The path for me is acceptance.   I can only get there if I remember to love mercy.

Mercy.

I’m struggling this week having any for some folks, but I’m crawling up to the table like a beggar famished for some crumbs and asking God to give me some.