Friday, February 12, 2010

Of compartments and spiritual growth

The word has cropped up in news articles a few times in the past few weeks. Articles about high profile individuals involved in scandals that take your breath away when you hear about them. The word is ‘compartment’, the verb form being ‘compartmentalize.’
To put it in perspective, this is an action that we all know about. It is one we probably use every day. For example, think of the clerk at the coffee shop that greets you with a smile when you make your purchase in the morning. You will not know about the argument they just had with a family member before they left for work. You will not know about the pressure they feel about unpaid bills. The reason is that they tuck that memory and the feelings that go with it, into a little compartment, just out of sight, so that they can function in their job of serving us. We do the same thing when we greet our family after a difficult day at work. Or at least we try – not letting our sadness or hurt or anger come in to the conversation about the other person’s day.

The problem occurs when we split our life up into segments that have labels of good and evil, holy and unholy, prayer and hate, on them. Putting those elements of ourselves into separate compartments allows us to visit each of them without being affected by the others. When that happens, the part of me that is a person of prayer never gets to deal with the part of me that is so hateful. The part of me that is my compulsive, greedy self, is able to go to the behaviours involved, without being reined in by the part that knows right from wrong.

Why do we create those kinds of compartments?

First, because we like what is in the dark ones: we are in a conflict of interest, and so we eliminate the conflict by having the separate compartment. Second, because whenever we have thought of eliminating the dark one, we realize we can’t. The struggle is too hard: and so we eliminate the struggle by having a separate compartment to go to. Third, because we do not trust God to see us through: maybe we do not trust that God is even aware of this struggle. Maybe we do not know what the Cross and Resurrection were about. Maybe we simply cannot believe that God cares about our struggle. Maybe we are afraid of God, and so we try to hide the dark stuff even from Him.

Here is the first secret of dealing with the compartments and the stuff in them: we do not have to start by emptying the dark ones out. We do not have to change our whole lives in order to be people of wholeness and integrity. That is not what the Cross and the Resurrection were about. No, what we need to do is take down all the walls of the compartments so that the dark stuff simply stands in the light of the ones that contain our prayer (even our ancient history of prayer), our desire to have a relationship with God, our deep down wish to be holy.

The beginning, in other words, is simply being honest with ourselves. We will feel a sense of peace, not of despair, when we let the light of the tiniest bit of holy inside ourselves, shine on the dark stuff. When the compartments know about each other, we will feel great relief. We might even smile. We will know what the Cross and Resurrection are about. They are about healing, not about a requirement for perfection. Start today – enjoy some light. You will know what to do with the dark stuff.

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