Giving Space for the Transition: Accepting the Not Knowing

“One step at a time.” This is my mantra as I prepare to graduate in a few weeks.

There are lots of big questions for us right now. And honestly, there aren’t a lot of answers.

Maybe I should be more clear… We have literally no idea what we’re doing next. 

Somehow, making our next decision feels like one of our biggest moments. Like it will be life changing. Nothing will be the same from now on.

For now, it seems like we have to figure out our whole lives. Come up with a 1-year, 2-year, 5-year plan. Consider every implication of every option. We’ve got it get it right. We need to know with certainty. “Now is the time! This is what we’ve been preparing for. This is our moment. Let’s change the world. Let’s do something big. Let’s do it now.” 

Ha.

Hold on, self. 

Let’s just throw that idea away right now. Because it’s just unrealistic. What is all this pressure?

As I reflect on this stage of life, I’m realizing that there’s not a lot of space for transitions.

I don’t think we don’t give ourselves grace for the process. We pressure ourselves to solve for our… everything. It has to be a yes or no, in or out, up or down, here or there, instead of being okay with the weird, unresolved places with no answers. 

When we don’t have the answers we want in the timing we want, we get anxious, scared, and angry. (Trust me, I fight these feelings all the time. God, why haven’t you given us any direction, at all?)

Not knowing is strange. As I talk about this with people around me, this creeping feeling of needing to justify our story arises.

But our story is different. Different than what I thought it would be. Different, in ways that many people around me seem to not understand. “What do you mean you don’t know what’s next? I mean, you guys are talking about it, right? How could you not know what’s most important for you? Where are you looking? What are you going to do?!”

Transitions are normal. The places you transition to and from will always be different than anyone else’s, and sometimes we don’t know where we’re going next. And that is completely okay. Better, even. 

Because Jesus is still Jesus. And our lives are still his. And we’ll know with time what he’s leading us to next. And for now, we have lots to grow in here.

Call it our decision making process, but our lives look a little bit like this right now: We laugh together. We listen. We communicate our thoughts and feelings. We share our dreams, our goals, our ideas. We encourage each other. We stand for each other. We are growing together. We are learning more about ourselves. We’re deepening our love for Jesus. We drink coffee with each other. We cook together. We eat together. We make fun of each other. We fight with each other. We apologize for our wrongs. We challenge each other. We explore together. We get excited about the possibilities before us, and fight feelings of fear that we might make the wrong choice.

Our plans fluctuate by the day, by the hour. And that’s okay.

We’re thriving where we are. And that’s more than enough.

Advertisements

When We Care

To care for another person is to meet them in their pain and suffering in such a way that, together, we encounter Christ more deeply. As we meet others in their vulnerability, we become learners of the soul and of Christ.

I’m learning that we all need face-to-face. Our brain is wired in such a way that we grow, change, and develop as we are mirrored by others. This mirroring helps us monitor our behavior, thoughts, and emotions and be challenged when we get stuck in unhealthy patterns of living. This means that when we isolate ourselves and seclude from relationships, we are stunting our own growth and development into maturity. And no matter what age, we are built to be learning, growing, developing, and becoming.

I firmly believe that we are all called to care. Whether it’s caring for a disabled spouse, parent, sibling, or child, discipling or mentoring a friend, or simply being a parent, spouse, or friend, we all care for someone.

And if we find ourselves alone with no one to care for, we need to take a hard look at ourselves. What’s keeping me from caring? Why have I isolated myself? Who is it that cares for me? While we will encounter times of loneliness in life from circumstances within or beyond our control,  there’s something to say about finding yourself in a position where you care for no one and aren’t cared for by anyone. Is it difficult for me to receive love from others? Do I keep people at a distance because I’m afraid of being hurt? Why is it that I don’t have anyone in my life to care for? How can I be more involved and intentional to build relationships with other people?  These are important questions to ask. And important things to pray about.

We were not built to be alone. 

The very first thing we receive in life is presence. Being in relationship with others is a constant reminder of who we are. It challenges us in ways that we can’t challenge ourselves. It pushes us outside of ourselves.

“One of the most tragic things about our time is that we know more than ever before about the pains and sufferings of the world and yet are less and less able to respond to them.” – Henri Nouwen

Not only do we constantly hear of horrific situations happening all over the world through the news, we also have more information available to us through the Internet. When someone we know is in pain, grief, or trial, this is an easy resource to turn to, for better or worse. In many ways, I see our culture turn to this resource as an escape for truly caring about the person experiencing pain. Instead of sitting with the person, we try to help them diagnose their disorders. Instead of visiting, bringing meals, or providing help with housework, we might post about it through social media instead to ask for prayer or to tell that person we are thinking about him/her.

We have become detached.

Deep down, I see us all grasping for authenticity and vulnerability, and yet we squelch it and are afraid when we encounter it face-to-face. This is especially true in care-giving situations, when a person needs genuine support, empathy, and love, and all of the surface-level, fluffy aspects of life and relationships are naturally pushed aside. What’s left is, simply, realness.

People in pain and in need of care draw us into the reciprocal need for realness. Too often we avoid or distract from this raw meeting place. We do this because:

  1. We become preoccupied with parts of life that seem more important. We want people to view us as put together: well-behaved, clean, efficient, productive, and successful. Without those, we feel anxious.
  2. It is not “normal.” It is a rare treasure when we meet someone who is their full, authentic self, and even further, in which relationship we are fully free to be our true self without judgment, guilt, or condemnation from ourselves or other people.

How can we, as a culture, grow in intimacy, vulnerability, and authenticity with each other? Vulnerability is necessary. It is the starting place for joy, love, happiness, as well as grief, sorrow, pain, and sadness. When we suppress sadness, hurt, or grief, we also suppress our positive emotions and simply become numb.

I think the slow solution begins with an individual, with me. As I have grown in being more vulnerable with other people, I have seen them grow in vulnerability too, in sort of a “me too!” way.

The truth is that we all have pain, and instead of suppressing or avoiding it, when we embrace our story and willingly share it with others, we invite them into the necessary space for healing, true friendship, and genuine love.

True love for other people comes in the form of vulnerability and authenticity. Instead of seeking to fix or diagnose each other’s problems, how much sweeter and powerful is it to simply be with each other. In silence, anger, sadness, joy, happiness, and in everything, as we meet each other and honestly care for each other, we allow space for Christ to work in our lives and heal our pain. He alone is the healer and redeemer of the brokenness of this world.

As caregivers, we can shine this hope and light into others lives. And when we allow others to care for us, we are giving ourselves and others a great gift. A gift that can continually wash our souls and minds to shine shine Christ more deeply and integratively in our life.

We can’t fix each other, but we can love with Christ’s love. We have been given a great purpose and reason to love each other well. 

*This post was written as a reflection on  “Spirituality of Caregiving” by Henri Nouwen. 

When We Struggle to Trust that God is Still Good

What is our life in the grand scheme of things? The more that I study the Holocaust and the Crises of Evil, the more questions plague me like a shadow I can’t shake.

My mind, trying to process the horrific stories of Jewish life in the ghettos, death camps, labor camps, and the straight-up slaughter of over 6 million people, doesn’t see how God could just “let it happen.”

The oppression, suffering, and pure evil of it all feels like too much to bear. That people could be fully convinced that, deep down, Jewish people were the root of all evil and needed to be “liquidated” to preserve the “better, pure human race.” Following orders from a powerful man was easy because, well, we’re capable of being convinced that these acts of torture and murder is okay? How weak are we.

This leaves me questioning myself. My abilities for evil. My lack of love, compassion, and kindness to others.

As I try to process this event and these stories, at the core, I’m struggling to trust that God is still good.

When I look around me, I see that everyone experiences some level of suffering in this earthly life. From illnesses, accidents, and death, to deceit, manipulation, abuse, fear, and rejection. Sometimes as a direct result of someone else’s decisions, but sometimes as a result of… nothing? It seems that we are born to struggle. Or at least, that we should expect to suffer.

Today I wonder, wouldn’t it have been easier to never have existed in the first place? Why are we here?

As I’ve read through the book of Job, I read how he curses his own existence. He asks God why he was even born in the first place. Why he couldn’t have just died in the womb and avoided the horrible suffering he was now experiencing. After losing all of his children, all of his possessions, and experiencing horrible, physical pain, he sits in his own crap and curses the day he was born. And I would do the same.

I haven’t experienced much suffering, but I’m so impacted by the lives of others. The more that I study a doctrine of suffering and hear from others, the more I prepare myself for when the shit hits the fan in my own life. Sometimes I think about if we could have just skipped the process of having to learn, to grow, to struggle, and to undergo pain, what our life would be like.

But the thing is, I know that I’m missing the point. I’m asking the wrong questions. I’m focusing on a smaller part of the grander image. 

Maybe it’s because I don’t have first-hand experience of deep suffering, and for that you might discount what I’m about to say. But I think however much suffering and pain we experience, there will always be a reason for joy. When we press into the suffering, and turn to the Father for comfort, we are met with hope. Pure, unadulterated, hope. A living hope.

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’ and look on things as if man were the centre of them.” – C.S. Lewis

To those who have lost everything. To those who are confused about this little life we have. To those who contemplate giving up because it’s just too hard. To those who are so angry at God for their own existence…. In the very place of deep anger and anguish, we also find peace and comfort from a loving Father. A Father who mourns with us and grieves the sin of the world.

As I’ve talked with people about the weight of this, and wrestled with so many questions and confusion, I’ve been reminded that God is present with us. But if I’m being completely honest, sometimes it doesn’t feel like he’s here. Or that he cares. Or that he grieves the sin of the world that brings us pain. Because I don’t see him physically with me, next to me, or in front of me, I sense that he isn’t present. In part, I think it’s okay to be angry. God’s big enough for us to be pissed off. God’s big enough for us to question what the heck is going on.

But truly, we must confront the question of who and what we believe in. When faced with tragedy, we must determine how we respond. Along with our pain, will we reject the only good in the world? The only place for hope and comfort? Tossing it all out the window and cycling into a deeper pit of despair with no place to turn.

Or in our pain, will we choose to walk towards our Father and ask him to carry us through? To bind together our brokenness and fill us with is living hope. And then rightfully long for the day that we will be truly fulfilled in our humanity when Christ gathers us up and we enter into the rest of eternity fully in the Father’s presence.

Will we choose to be broken by it? Or will we turn to the Father and choose to rest in his loving arms and allow him to fill us with the hope that we need?

One of my professors recently said,

“We do not have a worldview, saints. We don’t. Only God has a worldview. He is the only one who can see the world and all that is in it. He is the only one who can bear the weight of what he hears, sees, and holds in every moment. He is the only one who can rejoice and grieve and be glorified through the entirety of the human race. And we should never, ever ask God to see the world from his perspective. Because we could not handle it. Rather, we should ask God to give us help us see what he would have us to see on our time here on earth.”

There are three things that have anchored me as I wrestle with this.

  1. Don’t compare. Your path of discipleship and growth will look different than others. You have been uniquely shaped and guided for a specific purpose, different than any other’s. And God will use it for his glory. Your amount of suffering with differ too. Following Jesus costs each one of us — and sometimes that cost is extremely high, while for others it’s relatively low. This may be where it’s the most challenging to continue to follow Jesus. Whether or not you feel like it’s worth it to continue following Jesus, the truth is that he is real. His kingdom is real. And it is only in Him that we will find hope and comfort. He is calling you into something, and with your own story, gifting, and measure of difficulty, follow the His call for your life and receive his goodness for you.
  2. Lament. Yes, God can handle your anger. He is big enough for you to lash out and cry out in anguish. But in our response, we must press into Him alone. So as we weep, we also worship. As we get angry, we also ask God to heal our soul and minds. As we despair, we ask Him to come near to us. We pray when we don’t want to, and we trust that He is good. We don’t give up. We don’t forget the Gospel.
  3. We need each other.  This is too much to process alone. When we face horrible suffering, we need people to help us make sense of the pain and show us how to integrate it into our larger experience. Find people who will pray with you. Find people who will listen to you. Tell others what you need and invite them into your experience to come alongside you and support you. Share what you’re working through, however horrible it is. Find help from a trained professional who can equip you with ways to process the pain. Don’t push yourself faster or farther than where you are. Invite God into your pain and know that he weeps with you, and offers peace and comfort.

I don’t write this post to say I have it all figured out. Absolutely not. But I write it as someone who is processing and is working through things that I see in the world, and is seeking to understand how to respond.

If you’ve experienced suffering, how have you handled it? Where are you at? What are you learning? Where are you turning now?