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Guest house in the woods

Your Guest House Can Get Crowded at Times

One of my favorite poems to use for the meditation practice of lectio divina (“sacred reading”) is “The Guest House” by Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks:

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.

Meet them at the door laughing,
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes.
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition, translations by Coleman Barks. HarperCollins. 2004

Within this poem is an invitation to simply acknowledge whatever emotions enter my being on any given day. “This being human” is not an easy job. It is much easier to welcome joy than sorrow or kindness rather than malice. However, when we deny or ignore feelings we deem unacceptable, they simply will not go away. And we miss the opportunity to find out what they may teach us.

“This being human” is not an easy job. We each are a “guest house,” containing a wide variety of emotions stemming from our life experiences, environment, and neurobiological and physical makeup. We are a gift of God’s creation. Yet sometimes we struggle to be aware of that truth. For whatever the reason, some “guests” enter uninvited and stay much longer than wanted. So, we might try to hide those unwanted guests in the basement and put on a smile, pretending nothing is wrong.

As a pastor, I am privileged to listen while people tell their stories of a family member or their own battle with mental illness. Often there is a sense of shame, a belief that they should just snap out of it.

As a pastor who has family members who struggle with mental illness, as well as my own, I thought that maybe if I prayed harder for healing and hope, my family member or I would be healed. After all, I am a woman of faith and believe that God is compassionate and does desire our suffering. “Jesus healed throughout his ministry” I’d think to myself, “so ask, believing in the power of healing.”

And yes, my prayers were answered. They were answered when the Spirit led me to share my feelings with a close friend, and then a physician, and then a therapist. You see the point: you cannot begin to heal until you are aware of your “guest” and then find others who might help mitigate the guest’s control over your life. You would see a doctor for a broken leg or any number of other physical ailments. In reaching out, you will find you are not alone in your struggles.

Remember, one in five of us deal with mental illness at some point in our lives. Quickly show shame out the door and make room for compassion to take up residence.

Mental Health Awareness month is coming to an end. But mental health needs and struggles continue. “This being human” is not an easy job. Remember you are not alone. Reach out to someone. If you or a family member are feeling suicidal or have any ideation of harming yourself or others, here are some resources.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
  • National Hopeline Network: 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)
  • The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 (or 1-866-4.U.TREVOR)

I close with a poem I wrote a decade ago, and with eternal gratitude to those whom God led to help me through my own extremely difficult time.

Depression is a Devil

Depression is a devil
That grips the soul,
and drags it to the depths
of darkness
and chaos.
Devil depression intimidates,
shackles the soul in fear,
numbs the mind.
Keeps one prisoner
in the barren cell
of no hope.

One seldom escapes devil depression alone.
It takes a magnitude of angels:
family & friends,
helpers & companions.
Ones who are willing to risk
reach out;
love;
break through the shackles
of despair,
shine the light of hope,
piercing
penetrating
illuminating the darkness.

Blessings,
Donna

Rev. Dr. Donna Patterson

Rev. Dr. Donna Patterson serves as Anam Cara Chaplain in Residence for Scarritt Bennett Center and directs the Center’s Soul Work program.