Life can be hard. That’s a given. But sometimes, life can feel overwhelming as if we are drowning and can’t find air. What do we do when we’re in that space of despair and hopelessness? I offer a personal story, difficult to share but in the hope that it might be healing to others, and another story in which the circumstances have been slightly altered. Here they are.
I had been in a painful place in my life. If you’ve been on this human journey for any length of time I’m sure you’ve experienced deep pain, too. I felt so much despair over certain situations I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. Yes, I had tried counseling and had prayed. Despite my efforts, I was sinking fast into the “dark night of the soul” and felt utterly hopeless.
So I woke one morning and decided a walk would help. I’ve always loved walking. It’s a way of grounding myself physically and spiritually and often lifts my spirits. I went to a nearby park with a lake. The day seemed to mock me with its sunshine, blue skies, melodic birds and temperate breezes.
After my walk, I sat cross-legged on the cool summer grass, watching the geese and ducks floating on the lake. They didn’t seem to struggle. If only I could find their peace. At least the park was quiet this day. No one was around. No one. All was hushed except for the sounds of the gentle lapping of the waters against the shore.
As I sat there, a deep sorrow welled up in my soul. I began to cry, then sob. I prayed. Yet again. But what good would that do? Hadn’t I prayed endlessly before? Then, from out of nowhere, haunting strains of music caught my ears, drifting across the lake. A bagpiper. I looked around but saw no one. Where was he?
Now, as he played the dissonant, melancholy strains on his pipe, my weeping became deeper. I asked God for a sign. Help me, I pleaded. I need your grace. I need your grace. I need your grace. No sooner had I whispered this heartfelt, urgent petition that the bagpiper began to play “Amazing Grace.” It drifted across the waters and straight into my broken heart. Even as I sobbed, the song comforted me. I felt as if God had heard me, finally, and was “holding space” for me.
Holding space. We hear much today about this, but what is it exactly? I believe it’s an experience where we are met and loved exactly where we are and for who we are. We are not judged. The other person is not trying to fix us. They are simply opening their hearts to us, walking “with” us in whatever may be happening in our lives.
I had the sacred privilege of holding space for others when I did my graduate internship in counseling at a mental health clinic. One woman had come to me in deep pain. She was distressed that her single daughter had turned to drugs and was no longer providing for her 6-year-old child. So the woman and her husband, both in their 60s, decided to raise their grandson.
But one day, while he was in their care, he went out into the street on his bike and was hit by a car. He died. And the woman could not forgive herself, her daughter or God.
My heart broke with her. And I could do nothing but “hold space” for her. I could be present to her feelings of anger and grief and sorrow. I could allow her a healing process that was hers and hers alone. And I could “be” with her through her pain.
That day in the park, after the music had stopped, I rose and walked some feet to the other side of the lake to look for my bagpiper. I wanted to thank him. It had only been a few minutes since he had gifted me with the strains of “Amazing Grace.” But as much as I looked — in the parking lot, in the picnic area, in the woods — no one was there.
Had he been an angel? Or human, practicing on the pipes? It didn’t matter. I left the park that day feeling light breaking through the darkness. I could breathe. And I came to understand that even in the darkest parts of life, even though we may not always feel it or see it, that we are always heard. And loved. That the Divine is always “holding space” — for us all.