you are strong, but you don't have to be
I am very much a member of the “I’d rather break both my arms than make two trips to get the groceries inside” school of thought. I was unloading my Jeep the other day, ten bags on each arm, shaking and about to go into muscle spasms, struggling to close my car door and walk away all Arnold Schwarzenegger-like, when my friend from upstairs walked by. She stopped and said, “Here, let me help you with those.” I laughed, and I said, “It’s okay, I can do it. I’m strong,” to which she replied, “Sure, but you could still use some help.” (This is probably the only time I’ve let someone help me carry in groceries).
I can, in fact, definitely use a lot of help. Enter: my spirituality. I am, at my core, a person of faith. Of great faith. At times, of dangerous faith. Most of the time, some would say, it’s a stupid amount of faith. I feel pretty good about that. And I love that about myself, but sometimes I get distracted from that. (Read: Pretty much at some point every day, I get distracted from that.) I wish I could say that my faith was bulletproof and that I never have any doubts and always walk with a skip in my step and quick – someone sign me up for an infomercial, because I’ve got the secret! I really do wish it were like that. It isn’t, though.
I’ve just come out of a season in which there was a lot of terror present my day-to-day thinking. Terror. Not fear. And not trust, either. Things felt heavy. Everything felt heavy, and I felt so sluggish and also a little blind and like I just wanted to sit and take a rest, because trying to find my way out of that place was exhausting. It was the farthest thing from peaceful. I did find my way, though. Turned out that the fog cleared on its own, like it always does. People tell me that I am a fighter and an overcomer, but it’s nothing like in Gladiator or 300 (I haven’t actually seen those, but I’m assuming that they’re pretty clutch displays of bravery and muscles and such). I am very much a wounded warrior. I don’t mind that. Life has tossed some difficult things at me over the years, which is the theme of my story. But the end of my story, or the “right now” part of my story is that I do choose to accept difficult things when they come at me because I have learned that I can take those things and champion them and tell about them and choose to have an “overcomer” attitude even when I’m not winning, or even when I’m not ahead.
This did not come easily or instantly. People tell me that I should have a reality TV show because I’m funny or something, but I’m really thankful that I don’t have one of those, because I’d be prettttty embarrassed about how I act in hard seasons sometimes. (See: the “I’m not here to make friends” speech I gave my roommate the 2nd week of living here because I would have rather been anywhere but here. See also: a million things that are way worse than that). But anyway, something bad comes along, I brace myself, and I say “bring it on.” Please do not mistake that for bravery. It is not bravery. It is simply a reflection that I know it will teach me something. Please do not mistake that for optimism. It is, for sure, not optimism. It’s more like me saying, “This has happened to me a million times and this is one million and one.” This is all me just going on precedent. It's me knowing that the only way around is through. And I sort of hate that. I am still terrified every time because I know the process will be painful, but mostly because I have been put in hard, dark places in my life that I absolutely do not want to go back to. (Please, Lord, never again.)
I have this crazy theory that it's not just me.
Because raise your hand if nothing hard has ever happened to you.
Or if you’re in a place where you can guarantee that nothing hard is going to happen to you for the rest of your life.
That’s what I thought.
I used to think the way out of this was some kind of super-fortified element of trust within me. You know, something that gets stronger with experience points and different levels like the way it is with Pokemon. (Yeah, I went there.) I’m not exactly sure where I got my idea of trust. For some reason, whenever I feel myself getting sad or disappointed or worried, I automatically think, “Well, this is happening because you’re not trusting God enough.”
And then there was a whole season where people told me,
“Well, the reason why you have depression is because you don’t have enough
(Don’t even get me started on that. DO NOT get me started.)
Hear me say this: That is not. true.
Anyway, I’ve read a lot of books about trust. That’s what I do when I want to feel like I’ve mastered something – I read books about it. That mastery never ever ever comes with the completion of the last pages of said books. There is always, always, always a real life application ultimate challenge “it’s all on the line” sort of test for me. (Oh, good.) I absolutely have to learn things the hard way.
But these books. They paint these lovely pictures of how trusting God completely means that you can just twirl around and run through meadows and laugh and eat ice cream and play and not worry about a thing.
Yeah. About that. That’s not how trust works for me.
Trust is a hard thing. I am nothing if not dramatic, but it is gut-wrenchingly difficult. I'm good at trusting what I can calculate. I'm good at trusting maps that have an endpoint and can tell me what to expect while I'm on my way. I love that app -- gotta love iPhones. And when I don't have that endpoint all mapped out for me, I tend to panic. Those are my two states: trust and panic. Sometimes, they look the same. Trust is usually only a peaceful happy thing when I’m already in a good mood or when I think I “know” that something is going to work out the way I want it to. Actual abandonment of my own agenda and admitting that God is God and I am not? That’s sort of an ugly process if I’m being honest. And that's why that whole idea of twirling around in a meadow thing makes me feel like crap, actually. I don’t think that’s what those authors are trying to elicit, but I read those things and I put a lot of pressure on myself to be those things and most of the time I’m not and that can be damaging because it makes me feel like my faith isn’t good or strong or impressive enough.
Here’s the thing. Trust is not a comfortable thing. I don’t think that trust is the same thing of an absence of negative emotion. If that’s true, I think it must be something we don’t have access to as 20-somethings, because I am always feeling some sort of low-grade worry or anxiety about something. And I’m on a lot of medication. I don't know what's going to happen to you next. I don't know what's going to happen to me next. And that is why I have to go back and look at all those other times when I didn't know what was going to happen, when I had to trust something (Someone) beyond what was right in front my face. I have to look back at all the times when the fog hadn't cleared yet. Trust, for me, looks something like curling up on my couch and having to take a lot of deep breaths until I can quiet my mind. There’s a lot of asking God for comfort. There’s prayer that is usually tearful and there’s a lot of admitting things like that I know what I want, but I don’t know what’s best for me. There’s a lot of fear. There's a lot of ugly crying. The peace is not immediate. There’s a lot of admitting that I’m weak and afraid and that I (still) don’t have it all together.
The good news is that I think we’re all scared. I think we need to know that we’re not alone in that. You’re not. I’m the team captain of the “I’m scared” club – come on in, the company’s great. And we’re thinking of making an official name change to the “I’m scared but I’m doing it anyway” club. I’ve got a lot of friends who are sitting with a lot of uncertainty right now. And they come to me and tell me about it, and most of the time I am sad that I can’t pull out a map and say, “and here’s now to get out of this place that you’re in.” There is no such map. If there was, I would have found it by now and I’d be a billionaire. And so instead, I’ve been trying to think about what I need when I arrive at uncertainty:
You are doing the best that you can.
God is who He says He is.
He can do what He says He can do.
You are strong, but you don’t have to be. You do not have to be good, you do not have to have it all together, and you do not have to take all the groceries in one trip. You can stop and rest. You can ask for help. You probably need help.
You shouldn't ever feel like crap about that.
Trust does not mean that you’re all smiles. You can be afraid and still trust. You can ugly cry and still trust.
You shouldn't ever feel like crap about that, either.
Trust your struggle. I know that's painful. Feel whatever you're feeling. It's probably really painful, really terrifying, and there's probably a lot of uncertainty when all you want is an explanation. Hear me when I say: I am so sorry things are that way. We are all trying. We have to carry each other. It's okay if there's a lot of weakness in this season. You don't have to hide that or be ashamed of it. I'll still love you if you're weak. I promise.
It’s okay if there’s no skipping through the meadow. That day will come.
It's okay if the fog has not cleared. It will.
Every ounce of what you're going through right now is for something.