By thinking out loud, sharing my inner doubts and darkest feelings, I often find myself emerging into the Light. But not always.
Two weeks ago, I was angry at how my beloved Packers held hostage my sickened heart; that stunning losses could so affect me seems idolatrous. I am a hospice chaplain, after all, familiar with sudden death, but also a die-hard Packers’ fan. And I was dying after their sudden collapse and overtime loss. So I blogged, between sobs and outbursts, to appropriate some kindness for myself.
To sort things out, escape the funk I was in, and find some comfort or peace, I revisit my youth when football was fun, full of collegiality and family support.
Back then I was first told (by Dad), “It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.”
That worked back then and even now, sort of.
Fast forward five decades, to last week when I’m playing a highly contested racquetball game deep into an overtime tiebreaker. I tell myself and my opponent something similar:
“Win, lose or draw, it’s been a great game.” Charitable, even kindly, sentiment. But was it true?
Yes, at least on this occasion. Four points later I win out, but that’s not the point. I’d have been okay with losing. So what gives with the new attitude? I wonder.
Time to blog, if I am to fully embrace this “new” outlook about winning and affirm values that give life. Discover the secret of contentment in all circumstances, and I’ll bottle it up for future occasions, instead of bottling everything up inside me.
Was it really true for me that it only matters how I play the game, not the outcome? No way. I play to win. But, if I play well enough to win, that feels good. And that’s while I’m on the court and after.
It could also be that escaping a funk is as easy as acting my way into a new way of feeling. Feelings are like the tail, not the head, right? And in my head I know not to let the tail wag this dog. For my two poodles, tail wagging happens without thinking, mostly unstoppable and can’t-help-myself habitual. Would that such happy feet and habits of the heart typified me when I suffer all kinds of loss.
Exploring a third option, the Serenity Prayer comes to mind:
Lord, grant me the Courage to change the things I can, the Serenity to accept the things I cannot, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
Applying this prayer to my funk over the Packers’ loss, I now (wisely) realize their fate was nothing I could control, only my response (of acceptance) is. Hence, as for the Packers’ loss, funk over.
And as for the racquetball game? That’s something over which I have more control; still I must (courageously, wisely, with serenity) decide in advance to enjoy the moment, no matter the outcome. Funk averted.
Therein lies some wisdom to help me reframe my outlook, extend kindness for myself and others. Something I’ll helpfully share with those experiencing very real or prospective losses. Loss of abilities, of companionship, of dreams, loss of life itself—I minister in such heavy situations every week.
In losing “it” and blogging about it, I escape my funk to be present with people in their suffering, no matter the outcome. Reflect on good times and bad, with regrets and pine for do-overs, if you must. Play “what if” games and torture yourself into a funk, like I did two weeks ago. Have fun with that.
Better yet, leave at the door one’s past hopes and future expectations, in order to be fully present. At the bedside of those dying from something other than a Packers’ loss, I choose to be present. I pray for Wisdom to know what can be changed or not, for Courage to face death, and Serenity to accept one’s fate.
And that, my friends, is a kindness that frees the heart held hostage. And a way to win at life.
Dietrich Gruen is a hospice chaplain to the elderly and dying, father of three adult sons, husband of one wife, working out of Madison, WI, where he leads fierce conversations on hot topics.