why your pain hasn't been taken away yet
I remember the very first morning I woke up in my very first apartment in Boone. And I remember that I was pissed.
I got up, grumbled, got ready, and headed out to get in my car to go to the grocery store. And I just sat there in the parking lot for a minute, overwhelmed. I had moved to Boone and I (REALLY, REALLY) didn’t want to. I was still going through (REALLY, REALLY) severe bouts of depression and I didn’t want that either. Things were still hard, and I didn’t want them to be. I was tired of depression, and I was tired of hard things, and I was just plain tired.
22 years old and exhausted, one day I looked up at God and said, “KNOCK IT OFF. NOW. I MEAN IT.” And made a mean face. That really solidified my current level of pissed off, and I wanted to be sure He got the message. (Pissed off was how I expressed sad there for a while.) For a long time, I lost myself. I forgot who I was and what I loved and what I cared about, what I wanted and what I dreamed about. I was lost out in the woods, and it was dark, and I couldn’t see where I was or where I was going or how to get out or if there even WAS a way to get out, much less how long it was going to take me to get from Point A to Point B, if Point B even EXISTED. Or if I’d ever find it. Because I just couldn’t see.
And that was just in response to my own life.
And now I’m out of those woods, and I’m not in that place anymore, and I'm looking at everybody else's lives.
And as I'm looking around, I see a lot of people, right now, wading through things I’ve been immersed in before. By grief, specifically. By friend grief. I have a soft spot for that, because friend grief – when we lost my friend Heidi – is what sort of started my journey with clinical depression. And I'm getting a lot of people talking to me about their hard things and their friend grief, WHICH I LOVE. But my inadequacy monster started to creep up, as it does, and I got stuck for a minute feeling really ill-equipped to guide anyone on anything -- because you guys, I just figured out how to tie my shoes the way everyone else does it instead of bunny-ear-bunny-ear, so how am I SUPPOSED TO EXPLAIN all this heavy stuff. And I can't. I can't explain it. And that's okay, because nobody can. Doesn't that feel heavy? But it's not the end of the story.
People are hurting. People are getting hit hard with things. Slammed. Crippled.
I’ve been sitting here, watching it.
Our friends have died. Our family members have died. We’re losing people we love.
Our sweet mamas and our dads, and their sweet mamas and dads are getting sick, or we’re having to watch people carry hard things and lose jobs and get bad news and get diagnosed with things or wait longer and longer for answers on things. And relationships end and our dreams get derailed and the clouds turn grey and our hearts get a little hard and the wind gets knocked out of us because we just don’t understand. We just don’t understand. But it's not the end of the story.
I was sitting in Panera one day back in March getting ready to meet with a couple of people for what I thought was going to be a time of prayer about the two-day-old piece of news that I have bipolar type II instead of depression. So I'm sitting at this table trying to process the part where I'd been praying for years that my depression would go away, and instead I get handed an even more serious label and condition. A "forever thing," as my doctor called it, meaning that it was something that will require lifelong treatment. ("Hey, God, that's NOT WHAT I WAS ASKING YOU FOR. Are You SERIOUS? Didn't You HEAR ME?" Pissed again.) And I was reading a book by Brennan Manning, having a quiet time and my own little time of prayer, and I came across a passage in which Brennan talks about our wounds and hurts and hard things and why they’re important and can be used for good and to glorify God. And I’m glad I ran across that story before that meeting, because it wasn’t a nice meeting. Not a good one, not a time of prayer, and it marked the beginning of a handful of interactions where people tried to tell me that my wounds and hard things actually make me less able to help people.
And I still hang onto that story. It’s from a one-act play based on the story from John 5:1-4 by Thomas Wilder called “The Angel That Troubled the Waters” – and here’s Brennan’s summarization:
“A physician comes periodically to a pool of healing water hoping to be the first in line and longing to be healed of his melancholy. The angel finally appears but blocks the physician just as he is ready to step into the water. The angel tells the physician to draw back, for this moment is not for him. The physician pleads for help in a broken voice, but the angel insists that healing is not intended for him.
The dialogue continues – and then comes the prophetic word from the angel: “Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and the blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. Physician, draw back.”
Later, the man who enters the pool first and is healed rejoices in his good fortune and turning to the physician says: “Please come with me. It is only an hour to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I do not understand him and only you have ever lifted his mood. There is also my daughter: since her child died, she sits in the shadows. She will not listen to us, but she will listen to you.”
I read that in March. And now LOOK at the last couple months of my life. Listen. This thing that you so badly want taken from you, or wish had never happened, or feels too hard to push through? You’re going to hate me saying this, but it’s a gift. Somehow. It’s teaching you something. Or it’s going to. It’s for something. It’s going to be the biggest flood of relief for somebody, one day, when they find out that somebody else went through that, too.
I have a friend who works very hard to keep me grounded, and from idealizing things, or banking on things I’m not promised. He’s seen me do that countless times and be hurt, deeply. He’s reminded me of the people in Hebrews 12 who lived their whole lives believing that they’d see the glory of God and they died before they got to.
“It might be like that, Amanda.”
That’s really not what you want to hear when you're feeling abandoned by God. But he has a point. There’s a lot of theology and theodicy there that I don’t really feel like getting into, but the point is that I can’t go around holding my breath until God explains something to me. Because I don’t want to get stuck in only having faith when it makes sense to have faith, at the promise that explanation is coming soon.
There’s the story of the three dudes in the Bible who are about to get thrown into a fire because they won’t bow down and worship a false god. And I don’t remember how to spell their names, and if I’m being honest, the only reason why I remember this story is because I watched the VeggieTales version of it where they’re working at a chocolate Easter bunny factory. Anyway. One of the three is telling the king that he’s sure God will deliver them from the fire. He is sure. And even if not, even if He doesn’t deliver them, He is still good.
I used to pray for all the hard things to go away.
But now I pray to be able to face hard things that will and do inevitably come with magnamity and grace, with dignity and poise, and most of all with faith and honesty. And that I’ll still feel so sure, no matter what, that God is still good.
And so that’s what I pray for other people, too. Because I don’t have the power to tell anyone when hard will be over or when bad will arrive, and I don’t have the power to fix broken all by myself, and I don’t have the power to tell myself or anybody else what the future will be like. I don’t know. But I don’t stop there. Because “I don’t know” gets me stuck on ALL the things I DON’T KNOW. And that starts making me afraid. And that makes my doubts start to creep back in. And that reminds me of all the other times I was afraid and of all the other things in my life that I can’t explain, or when my friends died or when my heart turned cold for whatever reason.
Maybe your friend died.
Or your family member, or your dog, or your hero.
You didn’t get the job you wanted, or into the school you wanted.
You got some bad news.
Something derailed your dream, the thing you thought you were meant to do.
Or there’s a roadblock, or you’re at a crossroads and the clock is ticking and you just don’t know what to do.
You’re not healed from the thing you want to be healed from.
You’re not done with the struggle you want SO BADLY to be done with.
There’s still no explanation for why that thing or person you loved was taken from you.
And you’re starting to get bitter.
And you start to doubt.
And something inside you starts to say, “Well, God, how about YOU SHOW UP?”
If you listen to John Mark McMillan's original version of How He Loves, there's a spoken word part at around 6:00. I've paused it down at the bottom so you can hear what I'm talking about. And the story there is that JMM had a friend named Stephen who died in a car accident. And he's crying through it, so it's hard to understand, but the words are:
"Well I thought about you the day Stephen died and You met me between my breaking. I know that I still love You, God, despite the agony. People, they want to tell me You're cruel...but if Stephen could sing, he'd say it's not true, 'cause You're GOOD. 'Cause He LOVES us..."
And I stick Heidi's (who I lost back in college) name in there instead of Stephen, and it just...helps.
It always helps. Because she would say that, and He is.
And He LOVES us. I have never been so sure of something in my whole life.
I know. I know it’s dark. I know it’s heavy and suffocating, and you feel like you can’t carry it and you feel like you can’t even breathe, much less make sense of it. You’ve been in the woods for a day or for a week or for a long time, and you don’t know up from down or which way is out or where the path is. Or if there is a path. I know.
There’s that scene in Finding Nemo, when Marvin and Dory are in that whale’s mouth and Marvin is scrambling to get out and Dory is telling him to just let go, because everything’s going to be okay, and he goes:
“How do you KNOW? How do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen?”
And she says, “I don’t.”
That’s kind of what I’m saying. I don’t know that everything will be okay.
I don't know why that thing happened or why your pain hasn't been taken away.
I don't know those things.
But I do know that it's not the end of the story.
And I do know that He loves us.
And that feels like enough for me.
Everything will resolve, eventually. And even if not, He is still good.
And He loves us.