I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Stephanie Jenkins‘ reflections about spiritual direction and the contemplative life:
The wide expanse of sky
echoes your heart’s desire
and you glimpse for
a clear moment
the wings of your own soul soaring.
It is time to stop
tinkering with borrowed dreams
that you wear like an
stiff-collared, pleated skirt,
your arms limited
by taffeta sleeves.
It is time to shed the layers
and slip into
your own luminous skin.
Tentatively, at first,
you begin to disrobe.
Cantankerous voices mutter
your behavior is offensive,
oblique. As you persist
in your unraveling
of thread and fiber,
buttons and lace
the rumble turns to shouting:
Angry venom bubbles over,
poison eyes, clenched fists.
But you are fully naked now,
not a shred of the old dress left.
The voices are lost in the rush of wind,
and you realize
you are flying.
Sometimes we choose to disrobe and sometimes life strips us bare amidst our loud protests and bitter wailing.
Infertility. That was the diagnosis that caused my own life’s unraveling. My husband and I, young and in love, had plans for a large and happy family, fulfilling the biblical imperative to “be fruitful and multiply.” But after years of trying, of tests and treatments, we had produced nothing but bitter tears and broken dreams. Life was not going according to plan.
I was devastated.
All my life I have more or less gotten what I wanted—or at least what I was taught to want. I faithfully marched along to the persistent beat of social norms and expectations. I have (almost) always been a good girl, an A student, a productive citizen, a church leader, a perfect daughter, a model teacher, a faithful friend, a doting wife.
And for most of my life, this had meant that things worked out pretty well for me overall. I did the right things, and I got the results I was supposed to get. I was a good little girl all year long, and Santa Claus brought me lovely gifts on Christmas Day. This made me feel pretty good about myself. I knew the game, and I could play it well. I was winning!
Infertility. Like a punch in the stomach, it hit me hard. Infertility stripped away my perceived order of things. Infertility forced me to realize that life isn’t like those math tests I used to ace—if I just prepared well, tried hard—no biggie. Infertility taught me life is messy and frightfully painful, that I am not in control, and that God is nothing like Santa Claus.
And for those lessons, I am deeply grateful. In the painful wilderness of grief and depression, I was laid bare. Everything I thought I could count on, everything I thought defined me, was suddenly and completely stripped away. I was entirely naked and vulnerable.
In my fear, as I dangled over the chasm of this grief, I desperately tried to pull myself out or at least hang on. I was terrified of falling.
But somewhere, in the terrible darkness, I heard God say, “Surrender.” I heard God tell me, “Let go.” I heard God speak to me, “Stop trying to make your own light, and just fall.”
And I did. I learned to let go, to free-fall into the darkness. And I learned that falling, as it stripped away the things that hinder, could sometimes feel like flying, and that both flying and falling were drawing me deeper into Love. Love is bigger than the darkness. Love is greater than the pain.
Over the last few years, through tender care and intentional practices, through learning to hold both my own goodness and my brokenness before the One who loves me, I have largely healed from the grief of infertility. The wound is tender still, but it no longer throbs and bleeds as it once did. This is evidence of Love at work.
I am no longer freefalling into grief. But now in this spacious place of health, I look at my life—which doesn’t look at all like what I’d planned—and I sometimes think, “Now what?” It’s tempting for me to fall back into the old pattern and look for Plan B. “What am I supposed to do? I’ll do that.” However, I know now, this is no longer my way.
As a monk in the world, I am called to live authentically into who I am at the core. Infertility stripped off the false pretense of perfectionism and control and made me see that Love is bigger. And I am called to choose Love each day. I am called to strip off the demands, the deadlines, the pressure to perform and conform. I am called to live in to and out of my heart.
My sacred symbols have become the feather and the leaf. Whether I am flying like the feather or falling like the leaf, I am surrendered to God who is greater than I.
I am loved. I am Beloved. That is more than enough. It is in this great Love that I am naked and unashamed.
As a Southern California native, I love the warm sunshine, beautiful beaches, and colorful sunsets this slice of the world has to offer. I live with my wonderful husband of twelve years in Los Angeles, where we both teach in the public schools. Though teaching middle school English is a sacred work that I enjoy, I am learning that my true vocation is the spiritual life–discovering the pulsing Beauty that shimmers in all things. On this journey towards ever deepening Love, I have been enriched through my practices of yoga, art, and silent times in nature.
Your post was such a blessing to me. It’s been a long time since I passed through the throes of infertility, but your powerful words brought it back vividly. And the message for me in my 50s is just as powerful–let go, rest in the beauty of each day. Thank you!
Thank you for giving voice to your experience, for falling and flying, for being present to your experience and allowing Love to meet you. Thank you for words that usher me home to myself. Thank you.
Thank you for your beautiful words and your courage in sharing your nakedness. Your words challenge and encourage me in ways my words cannot begin to express. Thank you for being you – you and your words are precious gifts to all with ears to hear and eyes to see.
I remember so clearly that day I knelt by my bed and with tears surrendered my infertility to God. Thank you for expressing all the pain and emotion I experienced. And today years later there are still situations that require me to let go and trust. Today I needed to hear to “stop trying to make my own light and fall” and the thought that falling could sometimes be like flying has spoken life to me all day. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.
I am now 63 years old and I remember so clearly the days of which you write. Living with infertility is growing into a way of life on the edge. It takes enormous courage to live the prayer of surrender everyday. May your life be full of flying.
Achingly beautiful…dare I pray this prayer, to be stripped of all that keeps me earthbound?