Here’s what I know to be true: following Jesus is not a “get out of life’s disappointments” free card. As Langston Hughes declared in his poem, “Mother to Son,”
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, and splinters, and boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor—Bare.
And when I find myself in these moments, these feelings of despair, church is, quite frankly, the last place I am likely to turn. I don’t want to hear what I shared with a minister repeated from the pulpit in a sermon. And worse even, as a minister, I don’t always feel comfortable having human moments in front of a congregation.
I feel stifled sometimes; how transparent do I dare be? I am the daughter of a woman who was from the generation that sucked it up and kept it moving…so no wisdom handed down about coping. But if you need help with keeping your feelings bottled up inside you, I got you. With my friends, I am often the one they tell their troubles to. And I often let them, precisely because it allows me to distract myself from my own.
I look at stories like Naomi’s in the first chapter of Ruth. Naomi had to leave her homeland because the food supply dried up where she was. During this season her husband and both of her sons died. Let’s not read so fast past that. Auntie Naomi escaped a famine only to lose her family. She opts to return to Judah, and her daughter-in-law Ruth decides to go with her. Naomi does not have time. Ruth gives her epic borderline homoerotic proclamation about going wherever she goes, and off they go. And when they get to Bethlehem, Naomi declares, “call me no longer Naomi. Call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” (Ruth 1:20-21a)
Well Damn! Glad it’s not just me who feels empty sometimes: the longing, the hunger, the emptiness…the feeling that God has done us wrong. That God is silent. There was a time when I thought it was sinful to get angry with God, but I realize that even being angry with God demonstrates both faith and relationship.
Part of being a believer is learning to manage our expectations of seeing the end result before we are able to move. I believe popular culture has conditioned us to both want and expect a Disney ending to things, that somehow suffering will end in reward. Sometimes discomfort is just that: discomfort. There is no rhyme or reason to it. You haven’t done anything right or wrong. It may be clinical. It may be the weight of other people’s expectations of you.
Acknowledge that. Feel it. Have a human moment. Know there is no shame in getting help when and if you need it. These are trying times to say the least. Be love for yourself. And if you struggle with loving yourself, find out what is it in you that is causing you to create a wall to keep love from finding you. Speak gently and lovingly to yourself. Extend the same grace to yourself that you do to your friends, your co-workers, and your significant others. It’s hard enough out here, don’t be your own oppressor. Our healing journeys are sacred, and it is our divine responsibility to grow, to mature, and to be a light in this world. Even if it’s only for yourself.