Experience, the most sacred part of life
Every year in June I remember. Some years I remember on the day, and I get somber and reflective about what ifs, how I’d be different if… Most years it just pops into my head on a beautiful summer day, triggered by who knows what, and I think, “oh yeah, that happened.” It was more than half my life ago. I was 19 years old, still more teenager than adult. I was young, naïve, idealistic. I was not at fault. I did nothing wrong. I trusted. I believed. I wasn’t thinking about having to protect myself. He was my boyfriend. I was thinking about love, confused about love, learning about love, in real time.
These things can’t be taught, only experienced. This kind of knowledge never comes from a lecture or sermon or Bible study. It comes by experience.
I learned something that day, half my life ago on a summer afternoon. I learned something terrible and disorienting, and the experience changed me. I would be different if I had not experienced it, and on most years I mourned that. I wondered, how would I be different? I thought, I’d be more confident, more exuberant, less passive, less timid. Maybe. I’ll never know. I do know that experience changed me, somehow. I don’t know how, but I know I’m different because of it. I also know I’m different because of every experience, not just that one.
Experience is the most sacred part of life. Our experience. My experience. Your experience.
We walk with Christ. We follow Jesus. We experience Jesus. He is with us at every step, in every experience. What we experience, it’s the heartbeat of everything in our lives. It makes us who we are. It gives us context and perspective. It shapes how we see things and influences what we believe.
Experience is what Jesus uses to integrate us, to make us whole. Sometimes it feels like fragmentation, or worse, disintegration. But that’s the beauty of redemption. God takes all the pieces, every single experience, every fragmented shard, and he uses each and every one to shape us into our whole and integrated self. That makes every experience sacred, every piece of us holy. Even what we label as depraved, it is sacred to God. Even those experiences we see as horrific and evil, God makes them sacred. He redeems them.
I’m not saying an evil act is good or sacred. I’m saying the experience is sacred. It’s sacred because I experienced it. It’s sacred because a human bore witness to it. It’s sacred because it was experienced by one created in the image of God. That’s what I think Paul is talking about in Romans 8. Nothing can separate us from our Source. We are not alone. We are never alone. No matter what we experience, God is there, and because of his Presence in our experience, what we experience becomes sacred.
An evil act can fragment us. Abuse can disintegrate. But God integrates and heals and makes us whole. And part of that wholeness has to include the dark shadow-filled experiences because the whole is the sum of all parts. If some parts are removed or thrown out or destroyed, there can be no whole. I think that’s where we get it wrong. We try to become whole without all the parts. We believe we must war against ourselves, destroy what we’re told is depraved or sinful or weak or not God’s design. But we cannot get rid of some parts and still reach wholeness. Wholeness requires all parts to be present.
Look at every person in the Bible. Not one is without shadow. Thomas had doubt. Jacob had a limp, and Moses had a lisp. David had adultery and murder. Sarah had to laugh. Rachel and Leah had rivalry. Tamar had rape. Joseph had slavery and prison. Every single person had a flaw or a dark side or a happened-to-me moment. And not one story ends with God taking it away. Jesus even kept his scars.
God doesn’t want perfection. He wants our heart. He makes a person whole, not by eradicating parts but by integrating every part into one. Wholeness is the absence of nothing. Wholeness means nothing is absent. All parts are present, and they must be to make the whole.
So what happened to me half my life ago, what I experienced, is part of me. It makes me who I am. I cannot eradicate it and be whole without it, and I don’t want to anymore. What I have experienced is sacred. And whatever it is, it is made sacred because I experienced it. The nature of the experience cannot be labeled anything but sacred because every experience is sacred. It is sacred because it was experienced by a person, a human, a child of God. We make every experience sacred because of who we are. The experience shapes us, but it doesn’t define us. We define the experience.
I’m not young or naïve anymore, but I’ll never stop being idealistic. I still trust. I still believe. I don’t want to be preoccupied with protecting myself. I want to keep thinking about love, keep learning about love, keep experiencing love. And I will remember. Remember that every experience is sacred because every experience contributes to my wholeness.
I’ll also remember that God told Moses his Presence would go with him. And I’ll remember his Presence goes with me, too. There’s a surrender in understanding that, and with that surrender comes rest, and peace. I believe it, no matter what I experience.
Romans 8:38-39. John 20:24-29. Genesis 32:25. Exodus 4:10. 2 Samuel 11. Genesis 18:9-13. Genesis 29. 2 Samuel 13. Genesis 37 & 39. John 20:27. Exodus 33:14.