Here’s a confession: Since Halloween, every waking moment when I haven’t been reading or working or faking that I’m an adult capable of handling my responsibilities, I have been watching Hallmark Christmas movies. I was on iTunes shopping towards the end of October, and there was a package of 10 of them for $19.99 which I bought immediately. I have watched every single one. Well, 9 of the 10. There was one that was all about grief and death, and for obvious reasons I didn’t really want any more experience with that. I just love them. I know they’re kind of cheesy, and the guy and the girl will end up together, and Santa will be real, and the town will keep their traditions. There’s basically zero mystery involved. I think that’s why I’m so invested in them. I just need to know that there’s a solid chance that thing will work out for the best.
I was raised to believe that everything works out for the best. I can’t count the number of times that my mom told me, “All things work together for good,” and “No good thing will God withhold from you.” She absolutely believed it too. She trusted God with everything inside her, even when life was hard or unpredictable, or people hurt her, or she couldn’t figure out why things were happening the way they were. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, “Speaking things that are not as though they were.” But sometimes I wonder if, in trying to focus so much on pretending that we are unaffected by the bad and convince others that our faith is strong enough to push through no matter how things look, we might be doing ourselves and the people around us a disservice. I wonder if, in trying to appear as if we have unwavering faith and trust, we minimize our pain to the degree that when other people have painful experiences, they feel alienated. I wonder if people who are suffering look to some of us as we struggle through hard things, and think, “There must be something wrong with me because I’m a Christian too, and all those other people seem to be able to just pray and God helps them feel better, but I’ve been praying for months and I feel like I’m dying inside. Maybe God doesn’t hear me. Maybe God doesn’t love me as much as he loves her.” Does that make sense?
As we try to project this persona of wholeness and strength that we don’t even feel, I wonder if we make the pain of others feel greater by comparison. I don’t think people want us to pretend we’re OK. I think they want us to be real. I think we waste so much energy in hiding who we really are and what we feel because we are afraid of being judged or felt to be less than, and it’s energy that we could be using to hope, to heal, to press in to learning to trust the sovereignty of God. I haven’t been very good at pretending anyway.
Sometimes I think it’s my downfall, my inability to compartmentalize my struggles so that I can fake my way into fitting in and seeming to enjoy life. But when I admitted to myself that the pain I was feeling was bigger than myself and has been for a while now, something I’m not equipped to handle, it opened the door for me to try and process what has happened in my life to get me to this place, and it freed me to be honest with God.
As I’ve read through the scriptures, I see time after time where people were in a place that they never imagined they’d be, and they told God that they didn’t understand. That their pain was overwhelming. That they wondered where he was when he’d promised to never leave them. In all our evangelical culture where we’ve been groomed to never question God because “his ways are higher,” we’ve started lying to him. We’ve started to propagate the thought that you can’t be honest with God about how you’re feeling because then he will be mad at you, and in doing that we’ve created a distance between ourselves and our Savior. I’ve learned that in trying to mend the rift between my expectations and my reality, I have to start with being honest. I have to start with admitting that while I might believe that God is sovereign and in control, I don’t have to like what He does.
Some people think that is sacrilegious or heretical. I disagree. Look at the examples we have to follow in scripture. We have John the Baptist, stuck in prison and awaiting execution who sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Was I wrong? Are you not the One? Should I seek another?” And we have David crying out in Psalm 22, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” And we even have Jesus, crucified but not yet dead, alive and feeling the most incredible physical and psychological and spiritual pain, quoting those same words of David. The Son of God in all his holiness, showing us that it’s OK to tell God what we’re feeling when we’re in the midst of hurt that we didn’t see coming.
Sometimes I read scripture because I’m looking for encouragement and hope, but sometimes I find comfort in seeing words in black and white that reflect the anguish I’m feeling in my own heart. This week, the verses that have stuck with me aren’t verses that bring any real advice or direction to my life, but they have been a sort of balm to my wounded heart in their honesty. The verses that have been ringing in my ears all week are Job 3:25-26: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Maybe I’m one of the only people who has ever been comforted by these words, but that’s OK. I’m used to being a misfit. These words, spoken by a man suffering the loss of his health, his money, his family, but still chosen by God and affirmed as a man who God believed in, give me hope that my brokenness and doubts and pain don’t nullify the purposes of God for my own life. They give me permission to be transparent, free from the fear that my honesty might cause God to run even farther away from me than he already feels.
Rachel Held Evans has become one of my favorite authors. Following her death in 2019, her husband and her close friend worked together to collect writings from the book she was working on at the time of her death and finish it. It’s a beautiful and life-affirming collection of essays called Wholehearted Faith. She writes about how, in order to truly have wholehearted faith, the kind that combines your spiritual convictions with your intellectual and political beliefs and your love of family and life, you have to be honest. She asserts that the Psalms provide a framework for us to do that. She writes, “The God of Scripture is the God who went to weddings, grilled fish on the beach with his friends, and wept at a loved one’s death. And the invitation here is not to pontificate about salvation or write a treatise about redemption; it’s to pray. It’s to present yourself honestly to the God who saw a man who scraped his open sores with shards of pottery, the God who told us a story about a father throwing a fatted calf on the fire to celebrate the return of a long-lost son, the God who himself quoted one of those ancient prayers to wonder whether he had been forsaken.”
This is what I believe. That yes, God is real, but so is my pain, and he cares about it. He’s big enough to handle it and to cover it with his love and his purpose and use it, taking tiny shards of glass and using them to build a mirror that will reflect his own image. I can’t change what I’ve been through or how those events have affected me. I can’t change how they have shaped me into someone I don’t even recognize. But I can tell him that. I can go right to his feet and sit down and say, “This sucks. I don’t get it. I thought I did what you wanted me to do. I thought my mom did what you called her to do. And yet here we are. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” And he won’t turn me away of tell me that I should’ve been better or done better or handled things better. He will say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
After a long time of thinking about things, My Crazy Lady hit the nail on the head. She said, “After so much trauma, it kind of sounds like you’re afraid to trust God, because you trusted Him before and it didn’t spare you any pain. What a lonely place to be, afraid of your Savior.”
“Yes,” I said, “but how do I fix it? I don’t want to feel that way.”
“You tell him,” she said. “And let him help you fix it.”
This is the gift that we can offer to the people in our lives when we’re willing to be honest. The gift of acceptance. The gift of “You’re not alone, because I’ve been there.” In this way, we can offer hope to the people who are wondering what on earth is wrong with them that they can’t just get it together, and pray, and be happy. People like me. If you are feeling today like something must be profoundly broken inside of you because you seem to be the lone Christian that God can’t or won’t help, this message is my gift to you. Be honest. Tell God that’s how you’re feeling. Like Job, say to him, “The thing I was afraid of, the thing I begged you to rescue me from, has happened, and now I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I can trust you, I don’t know if I can open myself up again, but I want to talk about it.” And then, if you’re desperate for comfort, watch some Hallmark Movies and wait on Him to answer you. Best $19.99 I’ve spent in a long time.