Light pushes past the heavy curtains of my San Francisco studio, and outside I hear the J train hiss and clatter by. Saturday morning brings a welcome pause when I lie in bed with my eyes closed and let discussions on the radio provoke my thoughts for hours. Later my mind will play with these ideas over breakfast and some really good coffee.
This Saturday, however, my happy ritual is tainted by the problems that seem to be everywhere my eyes fall. The bathroom sink is plugged and disgusting despite my best efforts at managing long hair. My Internet router has quit working, rendering my computer something of an expensive typewriter and my phone without purpose. Piles of dirty laundry and things that need sorting remind me I have been out lately and not home cleaning. Finally, my mind recalls all those really important things I have needed to do for so long.
It’s clear my day intended for renewal needs to be spent instead on all these urgent practicalities. All of these are inconvenient, but not insurmountable. Everything will be fine.
I remember a time when I wasn’t so sure. Several years ago I took some serious risks in a stubbornly optimistic pursuit of dreams. When the local economy tanked, so did my situation, ushering in a time of limited work, health issues, medical bills, and the weight of considerable debt. I struggled hard with such little effect that it seemed my life might just fall apart around me. I read somewhere that most Americans were two paychecks away from homelessness and wondered, “How close am I?” My struggle seemed as devoid of meaning as it was overwhelming.
It may be true that most success stories contain a serious low point or even several, but I have come to understand that many people permanently exist under the weight of debilitating pressure, living in a place where trying to overcome even little challenges, like those this morning, is like staring up a sheer cliff. Thankfully, I made it through. Thank God for the people who where there to help me out of that place.
This Saturday morning, I can see someone in my life is there right now.
My girlfriend is chasing down her dream of being an opera singer, and like the proverbial artist, she often struggles to make ends meet despite brilliant talent. Most people think of her as high energy and positive all the time, but I see her after the performances of life – exhausted, nauseous from accumulating stress, and often wondering how she’ll pay the next bill.
Our relationship started well but has been falling apart. I adore her and am happy to be her cheerleader and comforter, but her heart is filled with dreams of performing opera, leaving little room in there for us. I am beginning to see that this girl with such charm and caprice may need something more internal and foundational than all the encouragement and caring I could offer, and sadly I feel myself ready to give up.
My thoughts turn to a belief I find both beautiful and difficult, that our strength is given to benefit others more than ourselves. The Bible calls God the Father of compassion that He comforts us in our troubles so that we care for others with the same comfort we received, and what an incredibly vibrant community would exist where each of us is concerned more with the needs of others than with our own. It seems opportunities to do so can be significant and challengingly counterintuitive at the same time.
Now I see the meaning of my time in that place of struggle might be found in this very moment.
On this chaotic and cluttered Saturday morning I realize the throes of my particular struggle have indeed equipped me to better help someone in a similar predicament, and more important than fixing all my little problems is helping people with ones they might not otherwise overcome. The opportunity with my girlfriend is unmistakable and I resolve to take it, even as I consider letting go of our relationship. Somehow, thinking about stepping away reminds me to pause, consider the mark I leave on another person, and pass on the blessing I once so badly needed.
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