I'm about to get my preaching on. I have a lot to say, a lot of points to make, but I don't want to lose in you a lengthy run-down. Be prepared to see a few of these posts over the next few days - simply a continuation of each other.
I hear it often: "You're so strong." It comes in other formats, too: "I don't know how you do it." "I wouldn't be able to face each day like you do." "You have such a strong faith." Often times, I acknowledge the comment as vaguely as possible, not agreeing or disagreeing. Depending on the person or circumstance, I sometimes want to retort, "Do you think I have a choice?" There is no procedure manual. There is no instruction book. There is simply putting one foot in front of the other because you have to. Continuing to breathe because you have to. It doesn't take strength. It doesn't take thought. It doesn't take willpower. It just is.
I want to encourage those of you who find yourselves on this path. Floundering clumsily along the journey you never chose, you will fall. You will sit down and stay put for a while. You will wander aimlessly, not wanting to see what lies on the road ahead. You will feel vulnerable, weak, desperate, and isolated. And you will hear those comments, "you are so strong." In disbelief, you'll forge ahead, having no clue how your legs are moving, or how you arrived in one spot from the last. The misconception of strength will envelop you, as you struggle to define what it really means to be strong. Surely it can't mean moving on, because you won't. It can't mean not crying, because you will. It can't mean suppressing fear or sadness, because you will wrestle with those daily. Being strong simply means: being. Whatever you feel, whatever you think, whatever you emote - doing it. Being it. Living it. That is strength.
Often times, if we aren't already being pressured by others to maintain a societal definition of strength, we pressure ourselves. We fight our feelings of sadness. Of anger. Of fear. We suppress them. Hide them. Ignore them. Discredit them. If someone says we're strong, then maybe it's because we "need" to be, and therefore we have to be on guard against being weak. Whatever that means. I want to share a few examples with you on why it's appropriate and acceptable, to let feelings of weakness, fear, desperation, anger, etc., run their course.
King David, (as in: ruler of all the land, Your Royal Highness, etc.) the author of so many of the Psalms, lamented frequently. He was nearly always desperate, lonely, and insecure. He cried out to his God in the truth of his circumstances. He didn't pretend to be braver than he was. He didn't push aside his anxieties for a show. He didn't hide his heart. He laid it all out there. Nightly. Daily. He didn't understand what he was going through or why, but he understood he would be carried through to the end. He acknowledged where he needed any strength at all to come from, because he couldn't produce it for himself. The man cried all the time. Cried. Wept. Tears. Wailing. A man. A king. If King David can grieve openly and beg God to reveal himself without being punished for it, we can too.
Job, the man who suffered unimaginable loss, was so strong God knew his faith would withstand his sufferings. Let's not forget, Job didn't stand in the face of his trials and brush them off with reckless abandon. He was indignant in his mourning. He cursed the day he was born. He didn't understand why, or how, all of this tragedy could rest upon him. His friends, after being awesome for seven days (sitting with him in silence as he mourned), decided they suddenly knew better and were going to get it out of him why his life stunk, and tell him what he could do to improve his situation. Ugh. His wife - the love of his life - told him to suck it up, curse God, and die. What makes a horrible situation worse? A support circle that does anything but support. Even though Job proved faithful and committed to God, he still buckled under his grief, he still questioned God's plan, and he still wished for death for himself to escape it all.
Soapbox Side Sermon: I feel it's also incredibly important to remember Satan inflicted all of this suffering upon Job on purpose. The devil had one goal in mind: get Job's soul. Get Job to renounce his faith and steal his hope. It wasn't that God placed the suffering upon Job. It was that Satan was so desperate to take one of the good guys, he pulled out all the stops. Be one of the good guys, and defeat Satan in his own game.
Martha and Mary. Remember when Lazarus died, and Jesus wept because he mourned with those who mourned? What did both sisters say? "If you had been here, he would not have died." You think they're saying, "Oh shoot...you just missed him, Lord! Dang, I wish you had been here four days ago!" No. These were heartbroken sisters. Reading between the lines, I hear, "Where WERE you? Why did you not save him? Don't you love him? Don't you love us? Where WERE you?" And did Jesus rebuke them? Did he chastise them for feeling angry and sad and desperate to have their brother back with them? No. He didn't. He simply reassured them their faith was the real deal. Their faith, even in the face of their grief and despair, would carry them through.
Jairus was a synagogue leader who approached Jesus in an effort to save his dying daughter. When I say "approached' I don't mean he stood by, and hoped Jesus would make eye contact with him so he could toss out a request. I mean he fought his way through a crowd of people, elbowed his way in desperation up to the very face of Jesus and pleaded with him, desperately, to come save his dying daughter. Pleading. Desperate. Unashamed, outright begging for help. Did Jesus scoff at his urgency or fear? Was Jesus frustrated that this guy was worried about his daughter? No. Jesus just up and went with him.
Why did I choose these examples? To show you a few things:
- It's important to be honest and forthright in expressing your feelings. You can't hide them from God, so why should you pretend for the sake of others you're thinking or feeling different emotions than what you really are experiencing?
- A continuation of point #1. The Lord knows your heart. There is no sense in being an impostor simply because you feel it might earn you some faith-street-cred. Cast your cares upon Him. He's told you to. He expects you to.
- Being desperate, outwardly mourning, and crying out to God (or what we might deem as "being weak and vulnerable") are all things that people God loved very much did. They weren't punished for it. You won't be either.
You've heard, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." False. What doesn't kill you doesn't kill you. Period. I am no stronger for having lost my daughter. I cry at a moment's notice. Or no notice. I falter in making decisions because I'm afraid to prepare for things when I know the unexpected can and does happen. I don't just suit up and put on because others think I'm strong. I'm a fragile, frail being.
What about, "God won't give you more than you can handle." Um, what? So because we're so "strong", God just pointed his power-finger and said, "Eh...she and her husband are toughies. They can handle their daughter being stillborn." (*poof*) And it was so. And those who are weak don't have to suffer as a result? DID I MISS SOMETHING HERE? No, I didn't. This is just total baloney. In this world you will have trouble (John 16:33) and do you know why? Because sin and Satan are in this world. I lift my eyes unto the hills, where does my strength come from? My strength comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2) I can't handle a lot of things, but I don't have to. It's not because I'm strong or weak or anything in between. It's because I have Someone being strong for me.
Matthew 5:4: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Let it out. Feel it. Live it. You'll be blessed (though it may be hard to see), you'll be comforted, and you'll be reassured that whatever you're thinking or feeling is normal, appropriate, and acceptable.
Romans 12:15: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
There is a time to mourn. In that time, expect others to mourn with you. If they can't, then give them some space until they get a clue. Troubles in this world are guaranteed. Deal with them as troubles, not as events you somehow have to solve or dismiss emotionally.
Revelation 21:4: He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
This time hasn't come yet! So in the present, in the now, there will be death. There will be mourning. There will be crying. There will be pain. These will happen. We are expecting them to happen at some point. Putting on a brave face to get through it for someone else's sake or advice, is fruitless. One day we won't have to cry anymore. But that day is not today.
To be continued...