"All happenings, great and small, are parables whereby God speaks. The art of life is to get the message." Ken Gire
Have you ever seen the movie National Treasure? (Strange place for us to begin, I know. But just stick with me here…)
It’s a fantastical and unlikely plot (unless you’re into conspiracies, in which case, yeah- it
could happen) about a secret treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, created and in part, endorsed by some our founding fathers. While the movie may not win any of those coveted cinematic awards, it’s a fun distraction, with drama, action, comedy and romance.
Oh yeah, and that treasure!
At first glance, there’s nothing too complicated or deep about the flick. A lot of conflict, some playful banter, bad guys, heroes and a heroine. The usual stuff. Nothing overly complicated or hard to follow, save for those historical clues that I’m not convinced even the best of professors would be able to decipher. But one of my favorite things to do is find deeper messages and meaning in the most unlikely of places. National Treasure has proven to be such an unlikely place. Let me explain…
It’s been a challenging couple of months, for more reasons than I can fit into this one blog. There’s been no shortage of heartaches, from our kids facing deep struggles to friends facing life-altering diagnoses. Standing by helplessly as friends and family suffer loss and pain has been an almost weekly occurrence. And let’s just say I don’t do “helpless” well. At all.
Admittedly, I’ve had my own pressures and deadlines, along with some personal health complications, all of which has felt like the weight of pushing a boulder uphill.
In the midst of it all, I’ve been working tirelessly to complete this next draft of my manuscript on deadline. Not to mention the mental, emotional and even spiritual exhaustion of battling those internal voices that question, “when it’s all said and done (or written and done), will it have all been worth it?"
Were you to be a fly on the wall for some of my conversations with God as I pour out my pain, confusion and frustration, you might wonder “can she say that?”. I assure you I can. You can too by the way. He already knows it anyway. The truth is for me the “authenticity” is more to keep me honest and prevent the “tie it up with a shiny bow” prayers from infiltrating.
For me, those conversations are necessary. But in the midst of the “hard stuff”, so is keeping my eyes open to all the other things going on around me, big and small, that are glimpses of joy and light and life in what sometimes feels like a darkened place.
It isn’t always easy to spot them. Particularly when there are so many challenging things fighting for my attention. Sometimes I have to work to keep my eye out for those glimpses. And, I often resort to asking God to help me see them. Because the reality is, I don’t think we can see the whole picture clearly without them.
I’m not looking for ways to ignore reality or pretend like hard things aren’t happening. I grieve those things and at times I wrestle with what it all means. But finding good things in the midst of it? For me, that is essential. It would seem that science tends to agree. Our brains work best and we are most regulated emotionally when we’ve learned to hold what are seemingly opposite emotions in tension with one another.
In fact, it can actually help prevent certain regions of the brain from attempting to shut down other regions. While there are complex systems at work in the brain when it comes to emotions, some regions “take point” for certain things. For example, the left prefrontal cortex seems to play a larger role in processing sadness while the precuneus and limbic cortex regions of the brain seem to play a larger role in happiness.
Further, chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, those released when we feel happy or joyful, have a salvific quality for all regions of the brain, helping us manage those more difficult emotions when they arise. A sense of integration and wholeness is best found when we allow ourselves see joy in the midst of pain, and allowing the different areas of our brain equal playing time.
So what does all that have to do with our movie?
I’m glad you asked.
At one point in the film’s adventure, our fearless protagonist follows the historically flavored clues to discover hidden in a wall a pair of special, multi-lensed glasses that are critical to reading and understanding the treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
It isn’t until our leading man, Benjamin Franklin Gates (go figure) is in a bit of a pickle with the law that he discovers there is more than one way to see through the glasses. It turns out that in order to see the clear path to the treasure, it requires allowing the different layers of the lenses to be held in tension with one another, allowing one to look through multiple lenses at one time. When held together at just the right angle, the map to the ultimate treasure appears.
And so it is with life. At least how I’m seeing it. True, there are difficult things happening in the lives of my loved ones and even in my own life. True, those things are sad and deserve to be acknowledged and processed through. But what’s also true? In the midst of it all I have seen some incredible things. People coming together to support one another, to love on one another. People praying for one another and showing up in tangible ways like preparing a meal, cleaning a house, offering financial support, or simply a tender hug and their presence. And it’s impossible to truly see those things and not feel joy. And it is beautiful. And it heals my soul.
This week is my anniversary. By the time you read this, I could be literally soaring through the canopy of a Costa Rican rain forest, in spite of figuratively going through some valleys at the same time. Talk about holding things is tension! But I will experience all the joy God sees fit to give me while I’m there. Because I know it will be fuel to get me through some of the tougher stuff that will be waiting for me when I get back.
I realize you may not have the ability to hop a plane and physically find a place to get away from it all. It’s rare when that is an option for me as well. So, we must get creative. We must find those experiences, those moments when we can recognize the joy and express it. We may need to hold some lenses in tension to find it, but I believe it’s there. Sometimes, we just might need to be the one to create it.
And if things happen to be difficult for you right now, I’m sorry. Know that I see you. And I pray you find there are beautiful people bringing moments of light into your darkness too. Take good care of yourself and try to find your moments of joy, even if they seem small. The effects will be cumulative, and your brain (and heart) will thank you for it.
And if things are going well in your life, which I really hope they are, perhaps you can be the helper. Find moments to be a light for someone during their struggles. Be a hope-bringing. A presence-giver. Look for the need and fill it. It may surprise you to know that the research seems to point to the benefits of that as well, for both the giver and the receiver. (Check out https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-giving-is-good-for-your-health/ and other articles on the benefits of helping and giving.)
One more thing. I can’t let you go without showing you that this seems to be another place where faith and science agree. (Hebrews 13:16 NIV) tells us “…do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” And then there’s this; a passage we’ve visited in previous blogs… “Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NIV).
And in referring back to the importance of finding those “glimpses” of light and joy we spoke of earlier, we see this; “…I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8 The Message.)
It’s exciting to me when I can see science and faith in agreement on how we’ve been created to function best in the context of healthy relationships, with each other, within ourselves, and yes- even with God.
We really are better together and together we can help one another to clearly see through our own various lenses and find our own treasures in the midst of struggles.
Want to take this topic further? Check out some of these resources on healthy heart/brain integration, and interpersonal and intrapersonal effectiveness: Your Faithful Brain: Designed for so much more! by Dr. Leonard Matheson; Your Faithful Brain Ignited: Igniting the Heart-Brain Connection at the Intersection of Faith & Science by Agovino & Birkemeier; Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson; Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Check out the archive at wwww.itsmyoutloudvoice.com/blog for additional pieces on these topics.