Contrition is a state of emotion where we are overtaken by a life-ending grief and it is possible that anyone may be plunged into it anytime. None of us can truly take life for granted (though we do), but equally none of us should get preoccupied by the possibility for such an event occurring, though it probably will at some point. We are best taking life as it is, each day a day at a time.
But, when we venture into what I call an inconsolable contrition – a sense for sorrowful remorse – for one of many myriad of reasons – we are bound to question everything and we are likely to find no satisfactory answers.
We are very likely to be polarised in our faith. We will either run to God or run from God, and only the former method finds any sort of respite.
In being vanquished in many ways, not least spiritually, the effects of inconsolable contrition can hardly be contemplated; they can only uniquely be described; but they can be survived. The truth is there are many situations and outcomes of life that can come in to squeeze us out. Those who read these words, and who have had such an experience, know exactly what I’m talking about. What we have experienced is nothing short of an abomination. We would quickly wonder how God could allow us to go through such pain. But to issue such a challenge to God is to miss the point by a hundred and eighty degrees.
God is the only hope for consolation in inconsolable contrition. And the way we get there, to receive consolation in our inconsolability, is to take nothing else in there with us. This means we need to survive the peril alone with God, with no other idols in sight. The moment we run to something worldly to help in our pain (alcohol, illicit drugs, food, pornography, etc) is the moment the Holy Spirit flees.
But when we can pour our hearts out as the libation for the reality we are suffering, we, in our honouring of the truth, draw toward God.
When we are in anguish we cannot hold back the emotions, so the emotions should be freely expressed, and the emotions should be true to how we truly feel. Part of the therapeutic value of tears, for instance, is highlighted:
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
— Washington Irving (1783–1859)
Given that true emotions have great power, why would we use coping mechanisms that flat out fail? There is no sense in choosing to remain strong when God is calling us, by our circumstance, to a true bearing-up of weakness. Our strength will be washed away and weakness will be our only choice.
Grief retains the essence of inconsolable contrition – the sorrowful remorse that life has changed irretrievably. Stark and polarising emotions become our inescapable reality. There is only one valid option: to be real each moment and pray for strength for each moment... It won’t always be bad.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.