Ten years ago I was teaching college English at prisons in Minnesota. I really like doing that. It was important work. During break one night an inmate came up and told me he wanted me to know what he’d done to be sentenced.
Now, I don’t know if it’s as important a thing here as it is in prison, but you don’t ask someone what he or she has done in prison. It’s a private, personal secret in a very public place, People jealously guard it and sometimes it’s literally dangerous for other people to know how you broke the law.
So when this guy said he wanted to tell me what he’d done I said, “I’d rather you didn’t.” He asked, “why not?” and I said, “right now I’m your teacher and you’re my student and I like you. But if I find out what you did I might not like you so much anymore.”
But he took the chance and told me. And although it was something nasty, I still like him for who he was. It doesn’t always work out like that but sometimes, when you’re lucky, it does.
I know why you’ve come to chapel, what it is you want. In addition to a break in your day, you want the answers. You want someone to tell you what they are, about god and the afterlife and heaven and hell. Most of all, you want someone to tell you it’s all worth it.
I’m here to tell you the not-so-good news but it’s the truth. I don’t know if it’s worth it. I don’t think anyone knows. Some people come to what they think are the answers for everyone but at best they’re just the answers for them.
That’s not to say you won’t find answers. For some of you, you might find answers in the Bible or the Koran or the Buddhist Sutras. And those are legitimate answers but they’ll be your answers and nobody else’s and you’ll only find them after you’ve looked a long time and really hard at them.
You want to know what the secret is and that all the crap you’ve gone through, all the worst stuff you’ve done and had done to you, is worth it. That at the end of the day the good outweighs the bad and you are happy and satisfied and the world is smiles and rainbows. That might be the case. It’s not the case for me or most of the people I know. The world is sometimes a beautiful place and sometimes it’s hellish. Most of the time it’s a balance between the two. I hate to be the one to tell you it never really does get better or easier. Not in the way you want it to: you find the pill or the therapy or make the breakthrough that makes that possible. I used to look for those and it might work for a little while. But eventually you see through that and realize it wasn’t the real answer you wanted.
Life is hard. Maybe it’s meant to be. Maybe it’s better that it’s harder for some of us than for others. I can’t promise you it won’t get harder. You’ll make breakthroughs and you’ll backslide, sometimes worse than before. That’s how life is. Someone once said the only constant is change. A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus famously said you can’t step in the same river twice. The truth is that that’s the truth. You might feel crappy as all hell today and tonight feel like yours is the best life in the world. And tomorrow you might feel exactly the opposite. I can’t promise that won’t happen all your life.
But I can promise you one thing. This is unchanging, no matter how much you search, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how many dead ends you end up following, no matter how many times you scream and fight and curse god and those around you. There will always be someone who will help you. Call it god, call it reality, call it staff, call it the divine in other people, but there will always be people who are willing to be with you. To explain things, to tell you what you might find ahead, to comfort you and remind you that, while the bad things you’ve gone through may or may not be worth it, you are worth it. This is my truth, my good news. No matter how you feel, no matter what anyone says or how the world treats you, you are worth it.