We come into this world screaming, crying, kicking, naked, in shock, completely and utterly blindsided. It should be expected then, that life isn’t a bed of roses or a pretty little “whatever you make it” or a box of chocolates… No, I’m pretty sure life is a wild roller coaster ride of climactic joys and swift kicks to the gut, in no certain order, with no sure measure of balance between the two.
If only we could tuck our fear nice and neatly in a rhetorical box. Wrap it up perfectly in a big cliche bow of canned comebacks and overused phrases we all regurgitate when we don’t know what else to say.
So many times I’ve been cornered by someone I love in the midst of their own unique horror, finding myself suddenly and unforgivingly called upon for some kind of consolation to some inconsolable grief, anxiety, anger, loss, or pain. And so many times, like everyone else I know, I stuttered and rambled off some sort of random and unfounded nonsense in a feeble attempt to sound wise or understanding or all of the things I like to consider myself when the pressure is off.
I got to thinking about of all this moronic psychobabble-crap we say. The one-liners we fall back on in our braindead attempt to be supportive somehow. The things I’ve repeated at least seven-hundred and forty-nine times, with complete conviction and sincerity, nonetheless. (It always seems like a logical thing to say, unless you are the one listening. Another reason we should talk less, and listen more.)
“It could be worse.” In other words, quit feeling sorry for yourself. Actually, I love the idea of switching gears, going from a place of “woe is me” to “thank you”; gratitude is the best way to renew your mind. But belittling a person’s suffering by making them feel as if their pain is a conscious choice to disregard those who have it worse is probably the most ludacris approach to take.
“God never gives you more than you can handle.” My all time biggest pet peeve. Ever. Completely false, and totally unhelpful. (But I’ll come back to this.)
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” No, it isn’t. Insanity is actually the inability to perceive reality as it exists, and/or the lack of objective reasoning. Maybe some wise guy thought this would be an aha moment; a stroke of genius. Benjamin Franklin was indeed a brilliant man with a great sense of humor. But to a person who is wounded and making bad decisions or is involuntarily overcome with doubt and fear, this is nothing more than pure condescension. I mean that.
“This too shall pass.” Yes, it sure will. But that contributes nothing to the time inbetween.
“Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Yes, but then again no. Weakness is a part of the human condition, and strength is not the ability to overcome weakness, but the perpetual expansion of our talents and abilities within the parameters of weakness itself. The strongest bodybuilders will tell you that in order to maintain a superior level of physique, one must constantly push the body to the limits of its pain threshold, and then keep going… Fifteen times farther. With repetitions. On a regular basis. Pain is not overcoming weakness. It’s discovering our limits and stretching them. It’s literally the homosapien experience. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s growth. Maturation. Pain is loss, in all its forms. The loss of innocence; the loss of loved ones; the loss of time; the loss of things held dear. Pain is always an opportunity… Not to overcome the weak parts of ourselves, but to embrace them.
I’m a terminal optimist. And by that, I mean that I believe things work out for the best no matter what, that everything is wonderful, that pain is for the cynics and happiness is a choice. It’s my greatest character flaw. There’s an undeniable beauty in seeing things from a positive perspective, but there’s an equal ugliness in refusing to see things as they are. The strongest people I know are those who don’t need a fluffy ideology to get through each day. The real warriors are the ones who stand with their eyes wide open, facing each experience with a rawness and courage that only comes from being totally transparent and humbled, rising up unflinchingly in the face of struggles. It’s a delicate balance, a tightrope walk: living in such a way that your faith is unshakeable, not relying on things going right or going wrong. You rely on the infinite power of Christ, walking in blind confidence with the One who calls you to walk, understanding that sometimes success is what happens when things don’t go our way. That is strength.
Some of my greatest triumphs have been the darkest hours of my life. And in attempt to say something encouraging, people have told me that God never gives us more than we can handle. That’s ridiculous. I value the intentions behind the words, and usually it just helps to know somebody cares. But nowhere in the Bible does it say God sits on His throne handing out suffering according to our ability to endure it. It is against God’s nature to bring grief, anxiety, confusion, and strife. The ruler of this world is the enemy of our souls, and there is no guarantee that we get a free hallpass to skip out of second hour. Whether we like the lesson or not, it’s a pure gift that we are given in the teacher guiding us through it. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” One of the most incredible things about God is His ability to use ANY situation, no matter how dark, how evil, how hopeless, and use it to be even more greatly glorified. Our small price to pay is discovering how to allow ourselves to fully experience the pain, instead of rushing towards some empty notion of being okay and refusing to learn from what’s really taking place.
We are a broken species. We are constantly searching for the perfect moment, the perfect relationship, the perfect words, the perfect way of seeing things. What if we stopped looking and just accepted it, all of it, for exactly what it is? Your marriage. Your children. Your flaws. Your losses. Your entire life.
What if we faced each painful moment with reverence instead of fear? The wisdom I’ve spent many sleepless nights asking God to give me is the same wisdom that forces me to be still when I feel like running, to listen when I feel like screaming, to have humility and modesty when I think it’s my turn to “prove” my worth.
Recently, I had my own kind of aha moment. I was contemplating how Jesus compelled Peter to get out of the boat and come to Him. I don’t care who you are, how enlightened or wise or close to God you might be; no human being could jump up without even a nanosecond of hesitation and propel himself over the boat without the laws of physics chiming in and telling him “Wait! That’s physically impossible!”… We are flawed beings in an unreasonable world and no matter how much faith you have, there’s always that brief moment of “but can I really do this?” The answer Christ gives us is patient. It is kind. It isn’t angry at our doubt, or condescending towards our immaturity. His answer is “Trust in ME.”
We are all leaning in to our future selves, stepping away from our prior selves, being given an opportunity to understand our present selves through the eyes and Spirit of Christ. It’s painful. No coin phrase or comfort food or common saying can fix it. And that’s sort of the point… Maybe we can all take a step back, and absorb the pain for once. Allow ourselves to truly feel what we feel. Maybe we become a fuller version of our potential identity in Christ. It isn’t promised to be a free ride. But it’s worth it.
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” –C. S. Lewis