‘God is in the Obstacle’: Hope in struggle

‘God is in the Obstacle’: Hope in struggle March 21, 2023
God is in the obstacle
{Photo by Ogik Jatmiko for Scopio}

There is something archaeological about moving—the artifacts of past lives and forgotten experiences we unearth, the evidence of emotional layers long since covered over. When I moved in 2019, I came across a 4×6” piece of paper on which I’d written in large letters, “God is in the obstacle.” The words were likely written four or five years earlier, tacked to the edge of my bathroom mirror so I could let the meaning sink in.

By the time I found the paper, lost to the back of a drawer with mismatched earrings and old lipsticks, I’d forgotten what those words meant to me. I do not contend that God is the obstacle; or that God puts obstacles in our way like some cosmic game designer trying to frustrate our impulses. So the phrase clearly resonated for me in another way. I expect what I got from the phrase is that through our experience of the obstacle, we encounter God. Perhaps in a way, because of how we humans tick, we even need the obstacle to encounter God.

Non-acceptance as obstacle

About this, I don’t know how to generalize. I cannot tell someone the painful disappointing dreadful unthinkable thing that has landed in their life will bring them to a restorative encounter with the all-ness I call God and associate with love. But I can tell how it happened to me.

Around the time I scrawled the words “God is in the obstacle,” my husband of five years (close companion for ten years, in total, by then) went through a disorienting time and quite suddenly and unexpectedly left our marriage. Betrayal was involved. Because of this, you might think I was too consumed with anger to be fully heartbroken, fully bereft. But no. Our breaking felt like the loss of half my body. My heart was shattered for interminably long months that ran together in a flood of tears. Two and a half years after the parting, we ended up divorced. While we pieced together a friendship, our shattered marriage was not puzzle-pieced back together. And during those most bitter months, I wrote and tacked to my mirror the words: God is in the obstacle.

I’m not sure I ever experienced an obstacle as painful as that loss, yet obstacle is a funny word for it. What I was facing was a stripping away of something, not an immovable obstacle. What I faced was a void where I had formerly had dancing in the kitchen, shared mornings in bed, laughter and hugs, camping by the lake. If there was obstacle in the experience, I came to see, the obstacle was my struggle to accept the loss.

Pathways to Release

My prayers have long been simple—often a short phrase repeated like a mantra. During this time of sudden loss, I inhaled and exhaled short prayers. At some point during this period, the prayer-mantras evolved into nearly-always “thank you’s.” Something like: Thank you for showing me the way. … Or, thank you for providing for (insert person I love). I started praying with gratitude as if various obstacles were already removed. (This spiritual practice was shaped, in part, by insights I gleaned from quantum physicists—not that I really understood them.)

The thing is, this practice changed me. Over many months, I began to heal and to be genuinely happy. Eventually, I knew I would be content no matter what the outcome to my marriage and no matter what challenges I faced as a result of the upheaval (and whole chapters of upheaval were still to unfold). At the time I was coming to understand brain plasticity, the malleability of our minds. What I experienced in my gratitude mantras was brain plasticity at work. But it was also more than that. For me, the whispered or imagined “thank you” was a deepening experience of surrender.

{Photo by Pamela Torres for Scopio}

Something about the suffering of that time opened me. I sometimes wrestle with the why of this: why suffering or loss or pain so often opens our eyes and hearts, or maybe just tires us, causing us to surrender to the divine flow that is always carrying us. Surely, I spent much of my life resisting the flow because I trusted myself alone. Obstacles usually arose as a result of my or someone else’s unskillfulness, those obstacles being the “causes and conditions” of many choices, to borrow generous Buddhist language. Whenever I did pause my attempts at self-rescue long enough to enter “the flow,” it was because of an obstacle. My exhaustion at banging against a wall has always been what awoke my desire for surrender and rest, for help.

In the years since that 2015 crisis, I have faced many struggles, but I am astounded at how okay I generally feel. Somehow, way opens. In saying this, I am not denying the hard stuff. It happens; it is part of the obstacle. The difference is knowing there is something larger than the obstacle—and perhaps the obstacle is the way to it.

Wren, Winner of a 2022 Independent Publisher Award Bronze Medal.

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