I shared this elsewhere yesterday, but decided to expand it and post it here.
This is a topic I have thought deeply about in previous years and previous sufferings, and they are coming to mind again as my family enters these current struggles.
So many people who I’ve encountered seem to believe that courage is always expressed through fearlessness, strength is always expressed through smiles or stoicism. and faith is expressed through calm acceptance or joyful singing without questioning or wrestling with difficulties. I don’t believe this is true.
I have thousands of favorite quotes. One is by Larry Crabb:
“For every one of us, ruthless honesty about what is happening inside of us will lead to brokenness. In a spiritual community, people don’t merely talk about woundedness and brokenness. They leave their comfort zones and expose the specifics, not to everyone, but to at least one other person. It’s terrifying to do so. It seems so weak, so unnecessary, so morbid and self-criticizing. Worse, in many eyes, to admit brokenness means to admit a poor relationship with God. We often hear that brokenness is the pathway to a deeper relationship with God, but we rarely see it modeled. I sometimes think we want others to believe we know God by demonstrating how unbroken we are…Everything in spiritual community is reversed from the world’s order. It is our weakness, not our competence, that moves others; our sorrows, not our blessings, that break down the barriers of fear and shame that keep us apart; our admitted failures, not our paraded successes, that bind us together in hope.”
2 Corinthians 1:4 says: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Yes, sometimes I’m scared and sad and I cry. God designed us with emotions. He gave us both laughter and tears. He never said, “Always laugh and never cry” but he said there is a time to laugh and a time to cry. He said to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Yeshua (Jesus) Himself cried at Lazarus’ grave and He groaned at other times. The Bible says that when we can only groan, the Spirit hears the words within it and translates them into prayers. Having a seriously sick child is a parent’s worst nightmare and greatest fear. Why would anyone think we ought to bear it without a few tears?
I believe that if I never admit that I am scared, confused, hurt, heartbroken…I don’t not feel those emotions, I just don’t share them–and those fears and sorrows can then grow in secret and I am forced to battle them alone. I prefer to drag scary dragons into the light and slay them there, even if I’m shaking in my boots and get singed in the fight. If I can gain others to help me, so much the better.
If I never admit to struggles, how can I be comforted by others? I could erect a strong facade and I’d end up appearing pretty awesome–but at what cost? I have received so much love and support through this battle with cancer BECAUSE I dared to be honest about it. What comfort I cut myself from if I can’t be honest about tears and heartbreak! And what comfort I withhold from others as well. Like the women in my story in Get Real, if I am silent certainly a wailing cry must echo through a broken heart, “You could have helped me through this…but you said nothing!”
I realize that being transparent will cause some to think I am a faithless mess, which I kind of am. I used to be strong and smiling. I knew exactly how God worked and what He liked and didn’t like. It’s only as suffering has broken my heart that I have gotten loose in my joints and very shabby…like the Velveteen Rabbit. I love this conversation in the children’s story:
There was once a Velveteen Rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you….”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time…Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I once told God that I asked Him to make me beautiful, and instead He loved off all my hair. Maybe God’s idea of beauty is different from mine. And you know what? I wouldn’t ever be afraid if He’d just let me stay wrapped snuggly in my comfort zone. Instead, He drags me to the things I fear most, and then helps me overcome it. I mean, what kind of God is He anyway, who forces me to face dragons and learn to be brave?
I have found that when I risk sharing both the ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, victories and failures, good days and bad days, an amazing thing happens. Some come to bring me comfort and some come for me to comfort. “I thought I was the only one suffering this way!” we say to each other. And “I came to you because I know you understand. You’ve been there.” To me, it’s worth the risk of honesty to have such connections forged. If we never share, we become lonely fortresses of professed strength.
The Bible says this: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Eccl. 4:9-12).
I wonder how two can stand together and keep each other warm if neither shares their struggles? An isolated strand can be easily torn apart, an isolated deer can be brought down by wolves, and an isolated person will fall.
I remember when I was a child, we used to play a game called “Red Rover.” In this game, kids form two opposing lines and attempt to “break through” the opposing team’s line. At first, two teams are chosen of equal size, and they form two lines, facing each other and holding hands. One side starts by picking a person on the opposing team and saying “Red Rover, Red Rover, send right over.” Johnny then lets go of his teammates and begins a headlong rush for the other line. His goal is to break through the line by overpowering the kids’ hold on each other. If Johnny breaks through, he chooses one person for the opposing team to join his team, and they both go back and join in their line. If he fails to break through, Johnny becomes part of the other team. Each team alternates calling people over until one team has all the people and is declared the winner. The strength of the team depended on how strongly one held the hand of the other. In life, it’s really God who holds on to our hands, but He can do it through us. Maybe we can’t hold on to the hands of everyone, but maybe we can hold on to the hand of those standing next to us by reaching out. However, I can’t help another person remain strong if I don’t know he is hurting, and I can’t know he’s hurting if he doesn’t tell me. I just assume he’s ok and I go on to pray for those with broken hearts.
Maybe people can’t share with many others, but I think they ought to share honestly with someone.
Anyway, an occasional day of tears doesn’t mean that EJ and I are modeling to our son negativity or weakness or lack of faith. It’s important to us that we model genuineness to him. We don’t want him to paint a false smile on his face if his heart is breaking or he’s scared. That’s hypocrisy. We want him to learn to be honest and let others be honest with him. We want him to bravely endure hardship which includes bravely admitting that he needs help and can’t make it alone. Perhaps JJ is doing so well through this because we are modeling transparency to him and allow him to be genuine about where he is.
JJ doesn’t hide that he has testicular cancer. He jokes about it with his friends. He also express dislike: “This SUCKS!” he announces. We have no idea what the treatment options are at this time, or which we will choose, but we are facing various possibilities. Last night, JJ humorously joked, “If I have to have radiation, will I freakin’ GLOW???” I told him that if he ended up having radiation to not to worry about it. Everyone knows that many normal people gain awesome superpowers by exposure to radiation or toxic waste. Maybe he’ll become a superhero and it’s possible, I suppose, that his super power will be the ability to glow like Zach in the movie Sky High. He gave me THE LOOK that only teens can give. “I’m going to throw this pillow at you for saying that,” he said with pretend disgust.
We have all kinds of troubles, but we are not crushed; we are perplexed, yet not in despair; persecuted, yet not abandoned; knocked down, yet not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
I kind of tangled myself in knots in this post.
On the one hand, I believe that we need each other. We can’t stand or fight alone. We need to be genuine and reach out and hold hands.
On the other hand, I see many, many, many people struggling with great difficulties: Disease, abuse, finances, and so on. Sometimes we barely have the strength and energy to face our own crises without trying to lift the heavy burdens of everyone else.
So I’d want to be understanding if people can’t be there all the time. I’d want to not just accept the wonderful help of others, but also, as much as I can, help others lift theirs. Perhaps those who are stronger at any time can help those who are struggling. Maybe we need to be like a goose who take the center point of the > with flying, but fall back when they are tired. I don’t think any of us are required to be strong for others all the time.
I’m still developing this thought.