“What’s the lesson for me in this?”

March 1, 2012

I was writing a reply to a reply to a comment I made to a NYTimes editorial this morning, the piece about what happens when secular and religiously affiliated hospitals merge.  I was trying to explain that, to come at it from another angle, the Catholic Church could probably resolve the issue on their end if they figured out what they are supposed to learn from this opportunity, in terms of their own spiritual growth.  So, I thought I’d write a little bit about this attitude here.

What I try doing, especially when I encounter something different from what I expected in a situation, or I feel stuck, or other people and I seem to have reached an impasse, or I just don’t like an outcome to a situation, is to try taking a step back and asking, “What could be the lesson for me here?”  Just posing that question shifts my perspective a bit.  If I open my mind and heart to seeing if there is another, new way to understand the situation, I often get some sense of what I could learn from what’s going on.

It could be that when a friend asks me about something difficult going on in my life and breaks off the conversation before it’s over I am experiencing something similar to what she once told me happened to her when someone else abruptly ended a very emotional conversation they had initiated — she now gets to play the other role, I play hers.  Seeing it this way, I don’t take so personally what seemed like her drawing me out only to dismiss me — it may be her opportunity to realize why her interlocutor in the prior situation felt moved to act the way she did, and I can learn that it’s all a big kaleidoscope and no one turn of the tube has any more significance than any other.

It could be a situation in which I can’t necessarily ensure that a meeting I attend on behalf of one of my children produces the result he desires, and I realize that my primary role as a parent is to love my child, not to produce particular results at meetings, no matter how much legwork I do or how “right” or “fair” the desired outcome appears to anybody.  This may also allow me to see the needs of the other people involved more clearly.

It could be trying to get someone who may want to reimburse me for something I’ve done for them see that repayment is not a punishment, but an opportunity to let me have a turn at singing the melody instead of the harmony, so to speak.

It could be my repeated experience of taking a person up on their offer of help, and finding the help is not there, which then gives me the chance to realize that maybe that’s a version of “There’s no room at the inn” and an helpful impetus towards going deeper and finding the trust that things will work out in some way I can’t see, instead of using it as an excuse to become bitter or taking it as an invitation to think about it in terms of whether or not I deserve such experiences.

Because in the end, I think, we see how these scenarios we find ourselves in have no profound significance, they’re just classrooms in which we relearn perspective  — about ourselves, about our relations with others, about our relation to the universe, about what is and is not important.  And once we do, we see it doesn’t matter how we got there — any sense of “unfairness” in how we learned our lessons melts away.

Where I see the system bogging down is when people and (religious) institutions mistake an interim stage in their spiritual education for some point at which their education is complete.  I had a friend in college who was about ten or twelve years older than I, and who had been through a lot, who once said to me, “Di, I knew when someone told me I was going through a stage and I didn’t bridle at that, that I was becoming more mature.”

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