After the Mugging
There’s an old saying—actually I’m not sure how old it is—but it is a saying, and it goes: A conservative is just a liberal who got mugged. Now I know that half of you reading this are already traveling down the road toward being offended, but before you get there, please know that I’m not trying to make any political points here. Looking past the obvious bias and the merely political to the larger point implied: what happens when our idealistic notions of the way things ought to be slam headlong into the way things really are?
I mean, when it comes right down to the way the wide world works, how often do our expectations and experience really match? The road behind is always littered with the wreckage of unmet expectation, which eventually begins to alter our perception of the road ahead.
A woman confides to me that she doesn’t know what she believes anymore. She remembers church and worship experience from a decade ago when everything felt bright and alive and afterglowing. Now she comes to sing familiar songs and waits for familiar responses but they are nowhere to be found. She studies and hears nothing, prays and feels nothing. She is beginning to wonder whether God ever really existed at all or just doesn’t exist for her—if somehow, somewhen along the way, he just let go of her hand. She hasn’t given up, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep telling herself that the way it used to be is still out there somewhere.
I tell her that though God does very much exist, the way it used to be may not. As she reaches back for the way she used to experience her God, she is reaching back through years that include a devastating church split that separated her from the people and community she loved; years of not being able to replace those relationships or even begin to trust new ones; and a physical assault by someone she knew that left her in bruised therapy—and swimming through the deep end of the legal system.
Just how are we supposed to understand God and his love after the mugging…as we’re still sitting in the wreckage of the way we always thought things would be, ought to be, were told it should be?
Before the mugging, it’s easy to imagine the world as we wish, to unquestioningly follow the principles and beliefs of those around us, feel secure in the arms of our expectations about God and life. After the mugging, we must somehow bridge the disparity between expectation and experience and deal honestly with a risky world. The days of unquestioned following and thoughtless faith are over. The honeymoon is over, and we are left with a choice to make.
We can double down, try harder to recapture the way things used to be—just as an older child may revert to infantile behavior when seeing a younger sibling still being cradled and suckled in mother’s arms…or we can berate ourselves for our unbelievable naivete and stuff all our beliefs along with old toys and teddy bears into a sack for the thrift store. Or, maybe, between the extremes of nostalgia and naivete, we can allow ourselves to release the restrictions of expectation and fall into a different kind of embrace—one completely unexpected and unlike anything that used to be.
After the mugging, there is a window that opens on a different view of life and love. One that appears harsher at first, but on closer inspection is only a differing quality of light—a more piercing light bringing out finer detail—and a moving from the perspective of one who is embraced to one who can embrace.
Before the mugging, we may feel that we are loved, but it’s only after the mugging, in the healing moment we stop trying to recapture what was and fully embrace what is, that we ever begin to know it. Because it’s only after the mugging that we can really feel love, empathy, compassion, not for ourselves, but flowing from ourselves to those trying to heal after muggings of their own.
We start our lives as receivers only, and we remain receivers for the rest of our lives. Embracing that is where the humility and childlike vulnerability come from. But the journey from receiver to giver is the journey we’re here to take, and that journey is milestoned with the scars of life’s muggings.
Even the really deep ones.
Especially the really deep ones.