When I’m a Mess

Originally posted on Facebook May 18, 2010. Edited May 18, 2016.

When life hits hard, that sucker punch in the gut;when pain attacks me; when friends turn on me; when the job goes to someone else for reasons no one can put into words; when the losses are overwhelming; when you hear me cry out in pain and you think, man is she a mess, you are tempted to give me platitudes. You are tempted to feed me truths, and at those times, those truths, which I already know, already acknowledge, already believe, have chosen to believe, stop. Those phrases, “God is in control”, “God has something better in mind”, “You just have to trust” and all the other things that you want to tell me hit me like more punches in the gut. They take the wind out of me. Yes, you wound me with truth.

What I hear is that you will not acknowledge the pain and difficulty I am facing, that you somehow think that the pains of life should not be experienced. What I feel is that I am expected to live in some kind of ethereal state of joy that dismisses all problems as meaningless. I feel the pressure to be fake and phony, to pretend that bad things aren’t bad, that painful things don’t hurt, and instead of “counting it” all joy, that is determining it to be joy, or a joy because of a conscious effort of mind and will that acknowledges the result, I am supposed to actually be experiencing joy at the moment of the greatest pains and disappointments.

I have known some people who experienced supernatural joy and happiness at the moments of great pain—the loss of a daughter and of a son. Those times are, I believe, a special gift of God, allowing them to see a window into heaven, or a special measure of grace and comfort poured out on them in their most difficult hours. Do we see this as regular occurrences in life? I don’t believe we do. Nothing in scripture indicates to me that we should expect some supernatural experience at our times of hurt and pain, that we should be miraculously spared the very real human experience of the pain and disappointments of those times. Our Savior was not spared that.

Are there times when God steps in, when the curtain between earth and heaven opens? Scripture shows us times when it does, but these are the unusual occurrences. Our faith is not based on being spared the experience of suffering, of disappointments and of pain, but on the evidence of things not seen. Our hope is not based on the lack of experience of suffering. Our hope is based on knowing who holds us in the suffering, in the pain, in the disappointment. Our hope is in the one who suffered for us and who understands our pain and sorrow. He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. We do not walk in this world with teflon coated hearts, shedding all the emotions of this life without any real impact upon us. We experience grief. We experience pain. We have sorrows. We have fears and disappointments, losses and wounds of all kinds. God meets us in those. He teaches us, He matures us, He completes us, He joins us in our suffering and we partake of His suffering. He works things out in us in those things, in these times of pain. What he rarely does is to MAKE THOSE THINGS NOT HURT.

When you respond to me in my own disappointments and in my own hurts and sorrows with easy words, I feel a loneliness that is hard for me to describe. I feel a gulf between you and me that tells me that you do not understand me, that you expect me to either pretend, or to somehow be in a state that is more spiritual and godly than I am, and in that way I am not measuring up.

I’m sure I have said thoughtless things to others that do not acknowledge their pain. I regret that. I don’t remember all the stupid thoughtless things I have said, so I cannot apologize for them individually, but I will if you would but bring it to my attention. I do not want to make others experience this odd loneliness that enters my spirit when such comments are made.

I have given myself permission to be real. I have given myself permission to be a bit of a mess. I see no paradox in acknowledging God’s goodness, in believing he is working everything together for my good, and acknowledging that the process is painful, is difficult and that sometimes it just makes absolutely no sense to me. I do not understand that light is both a particle and a wave, but I do understand that God is good and things hurt, that I can trust him and not like what he is doing, what he is allowing. These are not mutually exclusive things as I see them.

For the record, this thing of not getting this job is not a big deal to me. I did have about five or ten minutes of shock and of doubting myself, of wondering “what’s wrong with me?” That passed. It isn’t earth shattering. Am I sad? Yes, a bit. Do I feel rejected? Sure. Who wouldn’t? I am also glad that I don’t have a seventy-five minute or more commute morning and night. That isn’t the point of writing this.

When I think of how Jesus walked this earth, he does not seem to have hung out with the pretentious crowd. He spent his time with those who acknowledged their sin, who admitted their flaws, who, when they wanted to see him, they did not hide their enthusiasm (think Zacchaeus or the woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair). The apostle Paul acknowledged discouragement. Trust and faith and discouragement are not mutually exclusive. Trust and faith do seem to preclude pretense.

I do not think I am better than the one who sends me platitudes, but when I’m a mess, I refuse to pretend that I’m not a mess. When I’m a mess, I will still trust, still believe, still hope. If you understand that about me, about the work that God has done in me, you can feel free to simply acknowledge my pain and disappointment. When I need a reminder that God is faithful and true, you can rest assured I will ask for it. When life is tough, I have been known to call up a friend to say, “Tell me that God is faithful and true.” Their acknowledgment shores up my faith, gives me strength and encourages me.

Some friends know me well enough to be able to encourage me with platitudes. Or rather, I know them well enough, know their loving and encouraging hearts enough to know that they totally get that I’m not falling away from the faith, merely experiencing a tough time. It is a fine line to walk with others. It can be hard to know when you can say certain things without pouring salt in a wound and without making people feel more alone than before. For all of us, we might want to be careful. When in doubt, chose the course of acknowledging the feelings of the other prior to expressing the truths that are dancing on your tongue. For me, I have to be careful not to dismiss other’s feelings in a lot of ways. I recently discovered that the thing many of us do when someone mentions that they (pick one) have cancer, once had a sixth finger on one hand, once suffered from leprosy, or had a facial transplant, is to immediately go into a “oh, my cousin Lenny had (name the condition)”, that thing is considered offensive and annoying. I’m gonna do my best not to do that any more.

If I hear of your pain, your struggle, your trial and respond with platitudes, or merely tell you my own story of experience with that, or the experience of someone else I know in a way that causes you to feel less understood, less valued, less heard, please stop me and let me know. I do not want to be insensitive. And when I’m a mess, I will do my best to forgive and to understand if you say the condescending or dismissive thing to me. You probably don’t mean it that way.

The River Called Sacrifice

There is a river called Sacrifice,
and my Savior bids me jump in.
But the current is swift and the waters are dark,
I look back at the place where I’ve been.
I can return to the meadow called Safety and Peace,
but He calls me on, “Jump in.”
“The river’s awash in the blood I shed
as a sacrifice for sin.”

I’ll just dip a toe in, I think to myself,
and see if the water is warm.
I’ll test the flow to see if it’s safe.
But I can’t find a gently steeped shore.
The choices are two, stay put or jump in.
There’s no choice for half-out and half-in.
So I must now decide to stay or to jump
in the river called Sacrifice.

God has sometimes parted the river,
but many are swept off their feet.
It is not a safe, lazy river.
but turbulent, wild and deep.
Stephen was stoned in the river,
Victorious when they thought he was beat.
O, many have died in the river;
Is this somewhere that I want to be?

I look at the current so swift and so dark,
and the end I do not know.
But I leap from the bank at the love on His face
and find peace in the midst of the flow.
I’m surprised when I land to find shallows,
and it gently tugs at my feet,
but as I keep going I know that each step
could carry me down to the deep.

When I jump in there is no going back,
the bank behind me too steep.
But there is a joy in the river,
that mingles with sorrows so deep.
The pain is so strong in the current,
but He whispers, “Be still,” and “Have Peace.”
And my heart is calmed in the midst of the flood
that may soon sweep me off my feet.

I see in the river the martyrs
the saints who have gone on before.
From the prophets of old to disciples bold
they cheer from the far distant shore.
There are faces among them I know not,
but I know now for whom they died.
And they show no regret for the lives that they gave
in the river of Sacrifice.

The river shows me many faces.
It shows scorn and ridicule, too.
It shows gunshots, stabbings, beheadings,
and beds filled with sickness and woe.
It shows me the face of rejection,
the bankruptcies, scandal and strife.
It shows me the wrong accusations;
it’s all in the Sacrifice.

I find Him in the midst of the river,
in a way that I never have known.
I see his love and compassion
and I see wounds–scars for me he bore.
Such mercy, and tenderness found there;
such grace and forgiveness untold.
His love has a depth with no start and no end
in the river called Sacrifice.

Should the current grow strong and o’erwhelm me,
don’t cry and plead from the shore,
don’t pray for my safety, or for my release,
for I’m here in the river by choice.
For my Jesus is in the river
and I share in his sufferings here.
But where he suffered abandoned, alone
I have him with me, e’er so near.

So if you are standing in safety
by the pastures of pleasure and rest,
and you hear his voice calling “Come join me.”
oh, come in, for the water is blessed.
Of pain I can promise you plenty,
of purpose I promise you more.
But the sweetest gift here in the river
is Jesus, the one I adore.

Oh, there is a river that flows here.
It’s name is called Sacrifice.
And it flows with the blood of my Savior;
the one who for me has died.
He bids me join Him in the river
and makes me no promise of life.
But he gives His comfort, and joy and peace,
in the river called Sacrifice.

(revised 6/3/15)

Can you not wait?

In December, Steve was laid off. It was only supposed to be for a few weeks. It’s May 10th. He is still not back to work. He was supposed to go back yesterday, but there is another delay. I was laid off February 10th. I was off for just over two months, and have been brought back temporarily. I am highly frustrated by the delays, the fits and starts, the seeming randomness with which our lives are rolling along. My patience has worn thin and sometimes worn right through.

I’m like Vizzini (“The Princess Bride”), hands thrown up in disgust, bellowing, “I’m WAAAAAAAITING!” The timing of our rescue is outside of my comfort zone. There is also utter humiliation in the situation. We live in a society that boasts that things are in your control. One who works hard enough, is diligent and smart, will succeed. That’s the promise, right? And since we are NOT succeeding, and have NOT been able to land those good jobs, have gone through our savings…then by definition we must be indolent…lazy…stupid. That this is not up to me is something I announce, but in my heart of hearts, that voice keeps whispering that we aren’t trying hard enough, aren’t being smart enough.

Following hard on that whispered accusation is the dark thought that God is disinterested in us. That he cares not whether we are homeless, destitute…and that really, truly, he may be a God of Love, but his lovingkindness contains an awful lot of pain and devastation. Perhaps he has forgotten me? Perhaps I have not met his expectations for me, which seems odd, since he knows that I am dust.

These are momentary reflections, but they trouble me more than I would like to admit, because they reveal the state of my heart—a heart that should be trusting, yet fears and doubts assail; a heart that should be patient, but is impatient for God to reveal himself; a heart filled with pride, that should be humble.

In my impatience I have been contemplating the words of Jesus to his inner circle, those who waited for him outside the Garden while he prayed. He had need of them, yet they could not stay awake. He said to them, “Could you not wait with me one hour?”

In my impatience I hear those words echoing inside, whispering to me, After all we’ve been through together, after all this time, after all my goodness and faithfulness to you, can you not wait with me this one hour? It is the hour when he works in and through me, when he works his own purposes, when something greater than me is happening. Can I not wait and trust for this one hour? This one day? This month? This season? Can I not wait through this one trial? Can I not wait?