It is imprinted into the very core of my being that I need to be successful at anything that I might attempt. This is not to say that I have any illusion that I will always be “the best.” I simply mean that I expect the utmost excellence from myself in all things. In this unexpectedly difficult season, I have felt intense turmoil, anxiety and unease. I haven’t been overwhelmed with fear, but I have not been able to anchor myself in the truth that God is in control. This is a baffling paradox! On one hand, I know exactly where to go in scripture to affirm that we are under the care of an omniscient and omnipresent God. On the other hand, I feel like everything is spinning out of control and the world is spiraling. As I processed through this, I realized it is because I simply do not allow myself to embrace the experience of heartache and hardship. I am too busy trying to suffer with excellence, I want to suffer successfully.
Instead of allowing the feelings of pain, sadness, weariness and gut wrenching emotion that come with the difficulties of a pandemic, I busy myself with being strong, stable, unflappable and above all else, faithful. Anytime a hint of unrest in my heart sneaks in, I stifle it with steadfastness and the outward appearance of nothing but faithful trust. I grit my teeth and demand peace from my heart and quiet from my mind. I become increasingly frustrated when my heart and mind will not cooperate with the will I am imposing on them.
Today, I realized that there is no such thing as “suffering well” because I just wasn’t created to suffer. No human being was created with the idea that there should be suffering in their life. Go back to Genesis and read chapters 1-3. Life in Eden was not a life that included any suffering. All of humanity longs for that garden existence. Our souls long for a reality that we know exists but have never experienced.
Suffering “with excellence” doesn’t make me faithful at all. I am not “successful” if I don’t allow myself to sit in the ashes and just acknowledge that it’s hard. Rather than welcoming God into the ash pile with me, my instinct is to begin “properly arrange” the ashes.
The epitome of knowing that this is a struggle for me is the feeling that I get when I am told, “you handled this all so well” or “you are such a rock”. It makes me feel successful in a way that almost nothing else can. How richly bizarre is that? I want to be so much “better” at suffering that someone compliments me? I realize this is where I experience the most turmoil with God. I refuse to allow myself to fully experience trial, I don’t accept disorientation. During adversity, I focus on moving directly from a sense of total orientation to an understanding of a completely new orientation.
In December of last year, I was looking forward to 2020 and anticipating it being a year of new beginnings for our family. The ministry I work for is moving into an exciting season of growth and impact. My son is going into middle school. Our church is changing in dynamic and exciting ways! Then, a pandemic hit and everything changed in what seemed like an instant. Things continue to change at nearly an hourly rate. Everything is different and I didn’t give myself any time to move from that excited, anticipatory orientation into total disorientation.
Let’s all be honest with one another, we are all disoriented right now! However, I decided I would not be. I would just move into this weird new world completely oriented to it. Not only that, I would strive to do so with admirable skill and grace. Somehow, I missed the point. I thought that because suffering and pain is part of the human condition I could somehow master and become good at it.
In reality, if I am “successful” at suffering then I have totally misunderstood who I was created by and what I was created to be. I am now in the process of letting go of that, by inviting God into my uncertainty, my pain, my grief, my disappointment, and admitting that it’s hard and I hate it and I want Him to fix it. I am also acknowledging that there’s no good way to do it. I have to just let go of my inclination to do it well.
I just have to allow myself to sit in the ashes and pray. I invite you to join me and do likewise. Not only are we not created to suffer, we are not created to be alone.