Yesterday, I wrote about standing on wounded feet, a reflection on Truth and spiritual transformation based on The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. You can choose to stay if you so desire, but until Truth works in you, you'll have to stand on wounded feet.
The alternative, of course, is not to stay. And in that case, you end up like Brooks Hatlen. (How are you all liking these pop culture media references? I promise it's not going to be a thing.)
Brooks was a long-time inmate of Shawshank prison, the man who ran the prison library for many years. After decades behind bars, he is paroled and goes to live in a halfway house. The world has changed so much since he's been locked away from it, and nothing he knew in prison works out here in the real world. One night, after trying to stand on wounded feet, he makes the agonizing decision that he just can't do it. Part of him wants to commit a crime, just so he can go back where he knows, but he understands something else I mentioned yesterday: that wasn't working for him, either. So in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the movie, Brooks narrates a letter he's written to his prison friends. As he closes the letter with, "I've decided not to stay," you see him climb atop a chair and place a noose around his neck. He kicks the chair away and hangs himself, below a fresh carving in the beam that reads, "Brooks was here."
That is the inevitability when we decide not to stay.
It's hard enough to be here, not knowing how to live. Not knowing what works in a place like this, in a life like this. It's hard to get our bearings, to understand just how much everything has changed in that time that we've been locked away in spiritual darkness or in personal Hell. It's hard to stand on wounded feet long enough to figure it out, long enough for this place to work in us and make us feel like it's not just a place, but it's our place. That's why I said yesterday that spiritual transformation is so hard - so many of us cannot stand.
At the same time, once you've seen this place, it's hard to go back. You suddenly realize all that wasn't working there, either, and while maybe you know how to live there, you wouldn't want to do it any more. You couldn't give that much of yourself back to that former place to make it work the way it did. You've seen too much. You know too much. As happy as those days seem looking back, looking forward, they seem like Hell. You see that now. You can't go back.
So what is left when you cannot stand and you cannot turn back? The answer is stifling. The answer is a stifling. It's this feeling of things just closing in around your neck, and you can't breathe. Something inside you is breaking. Something inside of you is gasping for air, but there's none to be found. You can't stand, so truth isn't working in you. (Truth is never passive; you have to be present to it.) You can't turn back, so safe haven isn't an option. So you lay down and die because there is no other choice, and you feel the paralyzing fear choking the air right out of you. Call it fear. Call it doubt. Call it exhaustion. Whatever it looks like for you when your wounded feet fail, that's what it is.
It's an agonizing death. It's like life is slowly being cut off from you at this very moment when you are most in a place to receive it. It's like if you could just reach out one more time and sense something that is real, something that doesn't cut right through you but something you can actually connect with, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it wouldn't be so much. But it is, and you can't, and you're dying and all that's left of you is this inscription:
_____ was here.
You were here. You were right here in this place with all of this truth, all of this freedom, all of this ability to be the very thing you were created to be. You were here in this place where real life pierced your phantomed soul. You were standing right here on wounded feet, trying to make it work, and you just couldn't stand any more. But you were too broken by truth to turn back. You were too transformed to go, not transformed enough to stay. And in the in-between, in the tragically in-between all-too-close place, you died.
It's heart-wrenching. As a person in ministry, I see this all the time. Yes, already. People who are so close to touching this absolute truth that is working in them when they decide they cannot stay. And I just want to scream at them, BUT YOU'RE HERE. I want to look in the mirror and scream, BUT YOU'RE HERE.
For the man who cannot stand, that doesn't seem to matter. For those of us who see how painfully close you are, it's excruciating. So I guess my word today for those of you trying to decide right now whether you stay, please stay.
I know it hurts. I know it's scary. I know it's hard and your soul is broken and the truth seems to hard to swallow and the weight of the world is heavy and so much has changed and yet so much hasn't seemed to and it's the toughest place to be, but please stay.
To the girl in the mirror, please stay.
I mean, you're already here.