It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry If I Want To

or Why FEAR is Like Hot Sauce – Part III’

Recently my colleagues bought me cake and a signed card with lovely wishes for my birthday. A [false] social media alert had triggered their interest and they had pooled together to congratulate me.

I stammered something about it not being my birthday but they clarified they had then done research and found my date of birth on our staff database and that it was only a few weeks prior.

I managed to thank them and mutter something about being a birthday ‘grinch‘. However, when left alone, I was overcome with a wave of emotion, humiliation, condemnation, and hot tears.

Why did such a lovely guesture catalyse such a flood of emotion?

As I paused to examine my feelings, I unearthed a deep sense of failure, unloveliness, lack of dignity and embarrassment layered there. These sadnesses about my life are emphasisesd at each anniversary of my birth as though mile markers taunt me to show my lack of progress or as a measuring rod, to highlight my lack of stature.

When my colleagues tried to cheer me for my birthday, I felt like a door to a private room of grief was suddenly thrown open, a door I was hoping to keep closed. Memories of relationship failures, griefs about unmet expectations and unrealised dreams came tumbling out; fears of social indignity and disrespect met the light of what I fear most of all, the knowledge of these failures in the faces of my colleagues. I felt crushed.

I looked down and focused on my work and I cried silently in the office that afternoon.

Joseph Campbell writes,

It is by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.

Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.

The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.

You find the jewel,
and it draws you off.

I don’t talk about my birthday because it reminds me of the failures of my life. I have not achieved XYZ and am still struggling with questions of identity, purpose and direction. I’m not where I feel like I should be and I am I feel shame.

My response to being warmly congratulated by friends, alerted me that there was a cave I needed to enter, a cave of vulnerability and to sharing my life experiences with my colleagues, my life story, with others that could yield a treasure of friendship and connection that I have not yet experienced with them.

Instead of pretending to be ‘A-Okay’, and a little distant, my story with all its honesty and griefs, could indeed be a treasure to encourage other people who feel they are failures, unlovely, undignified or ashamed.

What is it about Abraham?

Abraham Lincoln  (1809 – 1865) was the 16th President of the United States serving between  1861 and 1865.

Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War— preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, strengthening the federal government, and modernizing the economy. Largely self educated, Lincoln has been consistently ranked both by scholars and the public as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents.

He is an example to all of us to “never give up.” Born into rural poverty, his schooling lasted less than a year, but he taught himself by avid reading.

abraham 1

 

Lincoln is consistently used in illustration as a man defined by struggle. Articles such as this below, outline Lincoln’s failures and successes:

  • 1831 – Lost his job
  • 1832 – Defeated in run for Illinois State Legislature
  • 1833 – Failed in business
  • 1834 – Elected to Illinois State Legislature (success)
  • 1835 – Sweetheart died
  • 1836 – Had nervous breakdown
  • 1838 – Defeated in run for Illinois House Speaker
  • 1843 – Defeated in run for nomination for U.S. Congress
  • 1846 – Elected to Congress (success)
  • 1848 – Lost re-nomination
  • 1849 – Rejected for land officer position
  • 1854 – Defeated in run for U.S. Senate
  • 1856 – Defeated in run for nomination for Vice President
  • 1858 – Again defeated in run for U.S. Senate
  • 1860 – Elected President (success)

abraham 2

 

Another Abraham of history, Abram of Ur, the Chaldean, suffered many set backs to become “father of history.”

Fore-father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Abraham was aptly named “father of nations” [Gen 17].  However, Abram and his wife Sarai were barren throughout most of their lives.

Told by God to leave their home country, the family journeyed from Ur to Haran, and from Haran to Canaan. Still no child eventuated. God promised to Abraham, his children would fill the land as the stars filled the sky and bless the whole world [Gen 15]. Still no child eventuated.

Finally God promised Abraham, that his descendents would be rulers and kings would come from him [Gen 17]. God sealed the promise with an unconditional covenant in which the punishment would fall on God if ever the covenant were broken. Eventually a child was born.

Abraham was 100 when the child was born and Sarah past her child-bearing years. Yet God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. Obedient until the last Abrahm, believed that God had a purpose and so obeyed. Abraham’s hand was stayed at the last minute and a ram provided in place of his son.

Generations later, kings and nations of have descended from one man and his aged wife. Moreover, through Abraham’s descendents “THE king” was born and all the nations of the earth were blessed.

abraham 3

 

The point is, the two Abrahams and their stories give us the big picture. In the moment, we cannot see the point of crises in our lives. We cannot see the narrative we are living.

When we look to the Abrahams of history we can be encouraged to no give up, to endure the hardships because greater men than us have, and their struggle has yielded great things.