I don’t know what to do but stand under heaven, arms spread wide, and be.
Be. “You are God and I am man.”
Be. “Help me, help me, help me.”
If sorrow was liquid, if grief was a substance that could be seen and felt, I’d be drowning.
And someone would help me. “She needs help,” they’d say. And it wouldn’t be an accusation or criticism, it would be a call to draw near. To reach out.
But you can’t see emotional pain, and therefore it seems to hold less weight in this life. And rather than draw nearer, people use it as a reason to keep you at a distance. Like if you’re hurting so much you can barely breathe, it’s because there’s something wrong with you, something wrong with your faith or brain, and not something wrong with the life you’ve lived.
Because people live through worse things. And they survive. Right? So, if I’m struggling to survive and I have a roof over my head and a job I love and a church that feels like home, that means there’s something wrong with me. Right? Some weakness or flaw in brain chemistry?
But when I stand under heaven, I know I’m not being judged. God gets it. My pain is real- maybe even more real than what can be seen. After all, aren’t the realest things invisible to us? Like God Himself? And love? And faith?
She called, sobbing. “I can’t understand you, hun. Where are you? Tell me where you are. I’m coming right now,” I said. The ‘hun’ just slipped out. I don’t usually refer to my clients that way, but it was my natural response to her pain- to call her by a word that would hopefully feel like a hug, even through the phone.
And someone else today, coming by my office to say that she’s trying to get pregnant again after losing her first baby. Her eyes teared up. “It’s so good to see you,” she said.
And I can see the beauty in both of these stories. The screaming pain of the first person, who called and let herself be nothing more than incoherent sobs on the other end of the phone, but who reached out anyway. Who let herself be buoyed by “hun” and “I’m coming right now. Just tell me where you are.”
And the trying again of the second person. The tentative hope reaching through the tragedy of a baby lost.
And I keep saying “hope, hope, hope” to my life. And I feel like life keeps responding with loss and disappointment. And I am somehow both the screaming pain of the first person and the trying again of the second. And I’m the one who comes when called, who reaches out through the pain with eyes that care and a touch that reassures them they aren’t alone.
And it doesn’t feel beautiful, this story I’m living. It feels like pain. But I suspect that isn’t how God sees it. I suspect He looks at me, His beloved daughter who refuses to give up on His goodness, even when she can’t bring herself to choose life, and He smiles a compassionate, proud smile. Because He loves me even when I fail daily, and He knows how desperate I am to know and love Him more- and is there any greater worship than that? To stand beneath heaven and beg, “Teach me how You are better than all the things my heart thinks it needs.”?
This is why I write- not to make sense of the nonsensical, but to make it matter.
It makes it easier to endure if it matters.
When I write, it matters that the sky is gray, and that you cried yourself to sleep last night, and that your car smells like citrus because you dropped an orange peel and now it’s lost somewhere beneath the driver’s seat.
And also, writing seeks out the beauty in the mess and highlights it.
It makes it feel like these lives were living are significant. Every single moment of them.
It’s beautiful, the stories I read, of people triumphing through pain. It’s beautiful how they talk of their tears and their angry prayers and their eventual surrender. And then their hope. Their hope with roots reaching down deeper than before, sturdy and unwavering.
And I ask God questions about that, about the beauty thread through life and about how he sees my life. And then I tell Him how I see my life. And He says, “Do you think their stories felt beautiful to them in the midst of their desert season?”
And I ask Him why He doesn’t meet with me when I put Him first, when I fall to my knees and scream at heaven for something to fill me up on the inside. And He says, “What if I did? What if every single time you prayed, you felt Me as near as a hug? What would you learn about letting your emotions define your truth? What would you learn about which of us is in control? What would you learn about trusting even when you don’t understand?”
“The sorrow? The grief? It’s too much,” I told my therapist. It felt hard to breathe. I thought I might throw up. And she listened. And she nodded that it makes sense that it’s painful. And she reminded me that we don’t yet know how my story will end, that I can grieve what I’ve lost and what I don’t have, but I can’t know that I’ll NEVER have those things.
And I left my therapy appointment with something like an eye roll because even if she’s right, I also don’t know that it’s ever going to be okay. And that thought? It feels like getting punched in the stomach, the wind knocked out of me. And so I ran, terrified and full of need, to God. “The sorrow? The grief? It’s too much,” I told Him. And He bent down low and looked into my wide-eyes and spoke words to my soul, words of strength and comfort and peace in the midst of the panic: “It’s not too much for Me.”
And how do I let that change me inside? How do I let the bigness and trustworthiness of my God be truer to me than the pain? How do I contain more of Him within me than I contain sorrow? How do I breathe when there’s so much loss and so much screaming ache and so much “what if” and “never” swirling about within me furiously?
I can’t think of one not-desperate time in my life since Mom got sick.
I can’t think of a season of my life where I wasn’t trying to swallow Scripture like a pill, guarding my thoughts with a fierceness bordering on panic, trying to hold my entire world and myself together.
I can’t think of a single season where I wasn’t screaming to heaven for help and having to press on alone. I can’t think of a season where I didn’t make excuses for God, speak trust and faith into the air like an exhale- necessary for my existence.
I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t trying to do everything right. To sustain myself. To be okay. To chase after a life worth living.
And I’m so tired. I am so tired of pressing on and fighting so hard and endlessly collecting sorrow and loss and grief within me. I am so tired of containing so much pain and trying to be okay with hurting like I am. I’m so tired.
I am tired of hoping.
And I’m frustrated because, even as I say that, I can hear the Lord whisper: “Where is your hope?”
It is in feeling okay? In having x, y, or z? Or is it in Him?
“It’s in You!” I scream at the sky. “How could You even ask me that when I’ve told You over and over again how I NEED YOU?!” I ask, desperate ache for Him radiating like fire in my heart.
And He’s calm. Listening. “That hope, does it have an expiration date? Is it dependent on what you see Me doing? Or will you cling to it, regardless of the circumstances around you, simply because of who I am?”
And I weep. Because I am in so much pain. But there’s a surrender in the weeping too. A grieving. And I pray over myself: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.” And I ask for a miracle- the miracle of enoughness found in Him. The miracle of joy in the sorrow. The miracle of knowing there’s nothing but the best in store for me because I am precious and held.
And if it’s hope that is really rooted in Him, then I will cling even when the waiting feels like forever.
When I’m in the desert and the God who created rain seems to be letting me die of dehydration, I will cling to hope. Because He is good. Even if I’m thirsty, He is good.
And maybe that’s how the roots of hope grow deeper. We come thirsty. We come thirsty and there’s no water to be found, and we are desperate. But maybe the water the Lord is providing is coming from within. And so the roots of hope reach deeper and deeper for a water with a source that isn’t coming from outside, but within- flowing like Spirit instead of liquid.
I will cling to what is true. I will let hope grow roots. And I will allow those roots to grow down deep.
And when I can’t, when I can’t even keep my promise to the Lord to trust and hope and believe, I will press my hands over my heart and I will pray: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.”
Because I bring nothing to the table.
For every single thing, I’m dependent on Him.
“I feel like my life is one of those meals… those ‘take everything leftover out of the fridge and make it into soup’ meals. And it won’t be good, but it will keep you alive,” I said. I was sobbing.
“I feel like nothing about my life is what God had planned, so now he’s just scraping from the bottom of the barrel to sustain me with things that are ‘good enough’. Just enough to get by. That’s how I feel He is putting my life together. It isn’t magic. None of it feels like His Plan A.”
I sobbed, snotty and swollen-eyed, forcing myself to put words to the sorrow within me.
And then, once I felt emptied of all the misery I could verbalize, I took a deep breath and I said, “But I know, if I asked God’s perspective on this, what He’d say.” And I spoke all the truths and holy, wild love that I felt Him placing on my heart as I sought His face above my sorrow and confusion and anger and grief and fear.
Because God doesn’t have a Plan B. I know that. And He is the giver of gifts that are beyond what we can ask and think and imagine. And I don’t know how, looking at my life, that could possibly be true, but I know that it is. There’s no “piecing ‘good enough’ together” when it comes to God. There’s no “bottom of the barrel” digging. He doesn’t feed us with snakes. Even when I can’t see how he’ll provide fish, somehow He does. With a side of fries. Because #beyondwhatwecanaskandthinkandimagine. 😉
And I thanked Him last night. I thanked Him that He’s all in. Even when I’m not. Even when I want to abandon my own life, even when I want to jump ship and give up on this person in whose body I sometimes feel trapped, He’s all in. Wholly involved. Completely committed to seeing this through.
He is the beat of the heart that I sometimes wish would just stop.
He is the one who whispers, in the midst of my deepest sorrow: “Look at Me. Let your eyes meet Mine. Let Me tell you what is true.”
He is the one who takes my: “Why doesn’t my life feel or look like magic? Shouldn’t it if You’re involved? Not perfect, but redeemed and beautiful and like a story that is going to end well? Where is the magic?”
He takes that and He says, “Look away from what you can see for a minute. Look at Me. Stop trying to see what I’m doing. Stop trying to figure it out. And hear Me, child. Even if you can’t understand how your life is magic, can you trust me when I say that you are? That your existence and tender heart and strengths and weaknesses and the Me you bring into the world, THAT is magic. That is the real miracle of your life. Believe that, dear heart, and trust Me with the rest.”
Tell me that not a single moment on my knees is wasted.
Tell me Your voice is the only one that matters.
Tell me that I can come to You with nothing to offer, not even the ability to sustain my own life, and it’s okay. Tell me it’s okay.
I can’t make any promises to You. I’ve tried and failed. Tell me it’s okay.
Tell me I can be all fear and sorrow and questions and the desire to run, and it’s okay.
Tell me that when I want to run but I fall to my knees instead, somehow a victory is won. Tell me that when I stand back up, even if I don’t feel any better, somehow things are different. Because prayer changes things. Even if I can’t perceive it.
Tell me it’s okay if I’m comprised of nothing more than a scream and the knowledge that You are. Because I remember a time of sunlight inside of me, and I don’t know how this can be reversed. How can I stop being empty hands and yelling from the deepest part of me that You are NOT enough, even if I know that’s not true, but it hurts and where are You and none of this makes sense.
Tell me the unceasing scream forces me to hear You above it- that it’s beautiful in that way.
Tell me it’s okay, that You can make sense of it all.
Tell me that even screaming insides can be taught to submit to the authority of heaven.
Tell me someday I’ll look back and be able to see the threads of beautiful you’ve been weaving through my story all along.
I am emptiness and depression and screaming grief.
But You are life.
I have nothing.
But it’s okay because You are all.
You are I am.
Tell me it’s okay.
Tell me it’s going to be okay, and not because of anything about me, but because of You.
I will not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord.
I declare that good is coming.