Bottoming Out

Recently I had what one might call a salutary experience. I was repairing a door jamb for which I had to get down on my knees. That is not easy for me but I managed it, painful though it was. Then disaster struck. I couldn’t get up, and no one was around. The pain intensified. My left leg, the one with lymphoedema and other nasties, was useless. My right leg felt weak and unreliable and wouldn’t provide me with enough spring to get up. My cries for help became more desperate, finally turning into sad little whimpers. Eventually, after what seemed an age, I managed to get onto my bottom and edge myself into the building. I had reached the point of wondering whether I could continue or would give in to the pain, when someone came past and helped me to my feet. I felt both silly and relieved and inclined to laugh at myself for making a mountain out of a molehill.

It is very easy to make mountains out of molehills, but we don’t always laugh at them. Trifling setbacks or negative experiences can be allowed to loom large in our lives, making us prey to self-pity or unremitting anger. We can magnify the shortcomings of others so that we no longer see them as they are, only the monsters our spite or misunderstanding has created. That is especially true for those of us who engage with social media on a regular basis. We can see the world through a distorting lens and fail to realise that we may contribute to the distortion by our own unthinking attitudes or the way we voice our complaints. We may see ourselves as beacons of light set high on a mountain when in fact we are more like little molehills down on the plain that people stumble over. The experience of being powerless, of having to rely on others, can indeed be salutary as I have said, because it it reminds us of our dependence on one another. More than that, it teaches us that when we need help we may have to rely on the most unlikely people, on apparent chance or on other factors beyond our control. In short, there is no such thing as D.I.Y. salvation in any sense.

This morning there are many people who need help. Most of them are unknown to us. They are ‘out there’ in South America, Syria, Yemen; in the next town, the next street, next door:  easily forgotten or ignored. Just occasionally, we may register that we too need help. We ‘bottom out’ so to say, and that is when we discover that our pretensions to self-sufficiency are absurd, that grace is all around and we must rely on it to get us out of the predicament in which we find ourselves. We have only to ask and grace will be given in abundance — not necessarily as we would like or choose, but given nonetheless. That is worth thinking about. Whether the need be material or spiritual, our own or another’s, let us pray that both we and they may be as open to receive as we are to give.

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20 thoughts on “Bottoming Out”

  1. You are the first person I have come across who has lymphoedema, which I also suffer from! Ihope you get the help/ medication you need, so many people seem not to have heard of it! And you are spot on, we need to accept help and not always be the gracious giver. Not easy, when one has always been the strong one, the lynch pin as it were. Thank you for this post! Praying for you.

    • Praying for you, Diana. My lymphoedema is a side-effect of having a sarcoma removed so it’s grin and bear it — which, to be fair to myself, I generally do. But you should have seen my self-pity the other day. Ginormous, as they say!

  2. Spot on, as ever Sr Catherine. I’m always struck by the line from “brother let me be your servant” which says “pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too”. Bless you – prayers as always..

  3. You regularly say what I wish I had said, probably more so in this blog than any other time. I now wear a ‘panic button’ which brings a couple of responders, 24/7 – this service is provided by the Local Government here and if it is available to you, I recommend its use. Lying helpless on the floor provides a strong opportunity and motivation for reflection and resolutions.

      • Heed Stan’s advice, Dame Catherine. It may be more than your amour propre that suffers next time … You may never need to push the button but it could be a lifeline. (I am well-practised in this line of nagging as I had this conversation many times with the mother-in-law until she finally conceded much to everyone’s relief).

  4. Salutary…I’m grateful. Having just come through a situation that left me battered – offering to the clergy team an opening conversation on post-Covid, creative thinking, which was promptly shut down by both Curate and Rector – grace and comfort was immediately given by other clergy, and through your blog today.
    Molehills seems right, though in this analogy it is the connecting ‘lanes’ between them that may open into daylight: all the thoughts and prayers become greater than the parts.

  5. The clergy in the last twenty years have become so submissive and risk averse. It is disappointing and I think says something about the way that they are ‘brought up’. More training than education is needed I would say. Education being a subversive activity of course! I hope your situation evolves well.

  6. Thank you – like this comment from Linda, I feel there is an unfortunate emphasis on training good administrators (no doubt seen as necessary with such large parishes), rather than those focussed on good pastoral care, or those risk-takers who are open to adapting existing patterns.

  7. I learnt a bit about myself on this one. Being annoyed from behind a keyboard at home, rather than work. The frustrations at this time can easily escalate, and create a stumbling molehill, which is useless to everyone. Accepting help and knowing that I need it, and being a bit humble about it too. Thank you.

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