I had a bad day. Well, it was a week. Maybe it's actually been the past year. Or two. But on this particular day, unmet needs, unanswered prayers, disappointments, and an hour-long wait at a restaurant all intersected at a weird, chaotic four-way stop. I found myself in its dead center, unable to move, absolutely paralyzed by my emotions. I know it doesn't sound like much had happened, but troubles multiply themselves, don't they? Sorrows seem to compound a sort of greedy interest that builds on itself more and more.
I found myself in a fit of tears that rocked through my whole body. I contorted like a pulled drawstring, barely breathing but muffling iterations of "why?" Why was God asking so much of me, how do I offer more sacrifices when nothing seems to be left? Why did it all have to hurt so much, and why did God feel so far? Not only far–why did it feel like He had tricked me? In those moments, the only answer I could muster was not "God is good" or "all things work together" or "it'll be okay." No, the only answer that my bones could muster was, "He isn't here." It felt like He'd turned His back or established a vendetta against me.
In the work that my husband and I do, in the area of the country in which we do it, with the advances of the devil that we face regularly, I've found myself scooped out and hollowed like a deseeded melon. All I seem to have left is my widow's mite rattling around in my chest like a child's piggy bank. All I have, two pennies, echoing in an empty ribcage. Emptied of hope and joy and desire. Just two pennies. Just a little bit of faith.
I don't want this to come off as pitiful or pathetic. But you and me, we're in this difficult life together. We're in the hardships and the joys, peaks, and valleys together. The least I can do is testify honestly about the Lord, even when (especially when) life feels grim. And I boldly plod away and type these words because sometimes quips about things being alright in the end don't suffice. Sometimes life is just hard, and there's nothing to do but sit in it for a while. Sometimes it's not comforting to hear Romans 8:28, or Philippians 4:13, or Psalm 23, because all the evidence that my broken, limited eyes can see testifies against them. All my tunnel vison can fixate on is lies. Sometimes those words don't feel true, though my mind knows they are, and sometimes the only thing that does feel true is "Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me?" (Psalm 13:1-3).
Even as I laid in bed, soaked in my own tears, I knew the Lord was good. And I knew He wasn't tricking me, taunting me, or leading me off of a cliff to my death, but it sure felt like it. It leaves a sour taste on my tongue to admit that I felt so crushed by the One who saved me. But it does no one any good to ignore the fact that sometimes, more often than we'd ever care to admit, we wonder if God is for us. We wonder if God is leading us into traps and snares rather than protecting us from them. We wonder if the absurdities of life only are affecting us because everyone else seems to really have it all together amid their own trials. Life feels like a cruel joke.
A beautiful writer by the name of Alia joy has written, "I find great comfort that Jesus cried out, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' One of the greatest declarations of faith may be nothing more than noticing when God feels horrifically absent and crying out anyway." Rather than ignoring the sensation of God feeling absent, rather than discounting real feelings of neglect, what if we leaned into them, as Christ did? What if we used them to cry out raucously to God, even though we're all at least a little afraid He might be deaf to us?
My faith has felt so weak. My faith hasn't felt like I could say the words, "Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me." (Psalm 23:4) I couldn't get out the words "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love. . ." before I felt them get stuck in my throat, choking out hope. But what I can do is cry, offer my tears, knowing that the Lord catches each one in His bottle and is attentive to count them. What I can do is cry out, "how long O Lord?" and whisper in between weeping, "my God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"
I can't offer a tweetable saying about God's goodness in our suffering right now, I don't have it in me. I can't provide anything trite or shallow, because I feel desperate for words that don't remain on the surface. I need words that will shoot roots down into the bedrock of my guts, roots that typhoons can't budge, and chill can't reach.
I can only extend the offer that even our weakest prayers are a beacon of faith. I've talked myself into a tizzy about "maybe if I had enough faith this wouldn't have happened." Or maybe if I had enough faith, God would spare me. Or perhaps if I had enough faith, I'd feel better amid difficult circumstances. I don't seem to have a faith that can toss a mountain into the pacific, but I have enough to ask God, "why?"My faith, though small and but a sigh of prayer is still a declaration that the Lord is who He says He is. My faith, like a mustard seed, can grow.
I still don't have answers as to why life is senseless at times, but I know it's not new. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes knew it to be mere breath, a vapor, a mist. I can't tell you why God feels so far off in some seasons, but I know that Elijah felt alone and abandoned during persecution. I don't understand why darkness seems to veil God's goodness, but I know that Job experienced this fully. I know that Christ felt it all, too. I can't offer answers as to why my suffering or yours has to happen, but I can offer Jesus. I can remind us both of His solidarity in suffering. I can encourage us both to recall His final words on the cross, to let those words sink in, and to know that the resurrection did come on the third day. New life will spring up, even if it only happens on the other side of Heaven.
I suppose my point is just to say you're not alone in your confusion and sorrow. Suffering isn't natural, even if social media, or books, or motivational speeches make it look that way. I'm showing you my wounds so that you know it's okay for you to have some, too. Healing won't come from quips, tricks, or a 5-step plan. It does us no good to ignore or downplay suffering. Trite sayings, verses out of context, and shallow philosophies are a mere bandage to soul-deep injuries. We need medicine, though bitter, recognizing that life is harsh and painful and sometimes God seems absent. We need stitches like the words of the psalmist, or Job, or Elijah, reminding us that saints of ages past have felt as lost and confused as we have.
If this is you, treading water in the suffering and pain and confusion, know I'm waiting with you and Jesus is, too. We will all wait until the thumb of God presses against our cheeks and wipes all our tears away, forevermore. But, oh, what a sweet day that will be.