Sometimes…we have to grieve the losses in our life before we can clear a space inside, where our faith has room to grow.
-qtd. in Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark, p. 136
Most of us are not, I think, good with pain – our own or others’. We tend to respond to our own in one of two ways: denying, minimizing, and suppressing; or being completely overwhelmed by it, turning into an oozing mess incapable of talking or thinking about anything except how we’ve been wronged. You know the people I’m talking about. None of us wants to be those people. And sometimes I hurt so badly that I become that person anyway, because I can’t keep it bottled up.
But we more often minimize. I can’t count the number of times I’ve met with students who have written about deep life wounds, and when I say, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” they shrug and respond, “It’s okay” or “It’s not a big deal.” But it’s not okay, and it is a big deal, and clearly they recognize that or these would not be the stories they choose to share when I ask them to tell me about themselves. (And I feel honored, every time, that they are willing to be this vulnerable and share this much.)
Most of us do not want to be seen as the walking wounded. We pretend like we don’t have baggage. Because baggage makes us even more prone to rejection. A quick scan of online dating profiles proves that point: person after person who says something along the lines of, “I have a good job and a house and a car, my finances are in order, and there’s no room in my life for drama or baggage.” Maybe it’s just me, but those aren’t the guys I respond to. And not just because I, like every other human on the planet, have baggage and sometimes bring the drama. But because I want to be with someone who’s real about the fact that he does, too: who’s working on his stuff, yes, but who admits when he’s vulnerable and weak, who asks when he needs help carrying his own baggage and is willing to help with mine when it gets too heavy for me. That’s the kind of relationship I want. Not someone who expects us both to live up to an impossible standard that, frankly, sounds pretty damn superficial and boring and plastic anyway.
But it’s so, so hard to own our pain. To admit that when we allow other people to touch our souls, sometimes those people hurt us, and if we love them, we have made ourselves vulnerable enough to allow them to hurt us.
And to reframe that wounding not as a sign of weakness but as a source of strength.
We must learn the language of lament so we can give voice to our faith when praise just won’t do. We must speak to God even when we don’t have anything nice to say. We must keep the conversation going.
-Austin Fischer, Faith in the Shadows, p. 36
I found a hotel room in a coastal tourist town, and I settled in with my stack of books and started reading. And eventually, after several hours of defiant page-turning and copious underlining, found myself sobbing as everything I didn’t want to feel crashed in on me.
Because the pain is there. It’s real. And if we want to be authentic, deep, mature, wise people who grow through hardship, we can’t just skip past it; we have to walk through it. That means we keep walking – we might need to sit with it for a time, but we don’t wallow or stall in it or embrace it as our permanent state of being. It also means that we have to pass through it, not around or over or under.
We acknowledge its presence and its power, contemplate what it signifies and why it happened, let ourselves feel the full burden and agony and shame and grief of whatever we have lost, whatever has wounded us. We let ourselves experience being hurt, because until we do, we can’t truly heal.
At 1:28 a.m., I wrote in my journal, All I feel right now is that God is grieving with me for what has been lost and stolen and broken. I sat in the hotel room and envisioned myself pressed against a divine shoulder, enfolded in invisible wings, God’s tears soaking my face along with my own.
I believe I’m single right now because I have needed this time without distractions to focus on my relationship with God and my own healing. I believe God has told me this, and the telling started with the words, “This time alone is a gift, not a punishment.”
But it still hurts. On many days, it feels more like a punishment than a gift. I’m often lonely. I feel rejected, unloved, unwanted, overlooked, invisible. I struggle to trust in God’s goodness and love and compassion. And it doesn’t matter how much I know intellectually that my feelings have their origin in the ways and circumstances in which someone in a position of power hurt me when I was still learning how to be human. Those feelings are also consistent with the way I have experienced God in my life: as lack, as denial, as coldness. The hand that strokes your cheek tenderly and then draws back to slap you so hard you’re left dizzy and reeling. Goodness and love so far beyond our comprehension that they feel more like cruelty and sadism, the words signifying nothing that’s even recognizable as the qualities they’re supposed to represent.
But as I cried in that hotel room, I tasted God’s tears, too. Like God was not only giving me permission to mourn, to miss what I’ve lost and what I’ve never gotten to experience – but that God was mourning with me.
What if drawing closer to God, developing genuine intimacy with him, requires you to bear something that feels unbearable? To hear him through an ominous utterance, to trust him in a moment of doom, to embrace his strength when you’re weak with a burden? What if it takes real pain to experience deep and abiding hope?
-Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark, p. 54