I often play fetch with my two year-old dog, Hank, in the house. This is sometimes hazardous, as the toys we're playing fetch with don't always fly through the air in the exact line that I had intended, and often end up hitting lamps or candles or other things that it would be better not to hit. Add this to the fact that both our living room and our dining room floors are hardwood with large area rugs in the center, and fetch in the house, as I'm sure you can imagine, becomes something not for the faint of heart.
The other day when Hank and I were playing fetch with his new Nemo squeaky toy he got for Christmas, he got so excited that he dove off the couch next to me in order to run after Nemo. In his excitement, he misjudged where he would land and instead of hitting the area rug with all of its traction that would allow him to take off running, Hank landed on the slippery hardwood floor. In an instant a look of panic flashed on his face just before his legs slipped out from underneath him and he went sliding. Hank slid into the love seat on the opposite wall, then sat there stunned for a moment.
I don't know how many times life has brought me to a similar place. Maybe you've been there too? You know, when we're barrelling through our lives without a care in the world--hustling after our achievements, keeping a full social calendar, working out everyday, eating well at every meal, earning our money, staying informed, and then getting to bed at a decent enough time that we have no trouble getting up and diving into the same routine all over again.
Until that one morning when our feet go to hit the floor so that we can barrel through another day at breakneck speeds only to have our legs slip out from underneath us--we get let go from our job, we get the diagnosis that we weren't expecting, a loved one gets sick, our partner dies, our depression and anxiety meds suddenly stop being effective, our child begins to struggle in school. And just like that--without rhyme or reason--we're sliding. Unable to gain traction. Panicked as we try to steer ourselves away from objects in our path. Until we stop. And sit. Stunned by what has just transpired. Unsure if moving forward is even possible--or wise.
In these moments it is easy for us to look at our lost footing--our loss of comfort or wellness or companionship--as something that we have to "come back from," or "push through" in order to "get back to normal." But what if the slipping and the sliding are not the anomalies that we have been led to believe they are? What if they too are regular parts of our lives? What if "normal" isn't avoiding the slips and the slides, but rather is moving through them?
In her book, "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times," Buddhist nun and author, Pema Chödrön, writes, "To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again."
To live is to be willing to have our legs slip out from underneath us over and over again, trusting that the slips and the slides are not anomalies, but neither are they the way things will always be. They are merely moment truths, and they are not the final word--just the next word. So we don't have to panic when they happen...even when it's hard. Even when it hurts.
Learning to slip and slide with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.