For many years I believed a lie. I believed that I am an uncomfortable person. I’m a little too broken in a few too many places to really feel like I have a place at the table in our church culture.
One month after my father died a well meaning Christian decided to intervene on my sorrow. Alarmed at how I still grieved, he gently sat me down and rebuked me. He felt my sadness did not bring glory to God. He prayed that my lack of faith would not let death win. He prayed that I quit living “a life of sin”. My insistence on grieving was a blemish, a mark on God’s reputation, one that I needed to atone for and seek forgiveness. How dare I feel anything but gladness?
That conversation broke me. That prayer scattered my broken pieces to the wind.
In a month where I lost my whole world (family, friends, job, etc…) I found myself outside the doors of the church. I didn’t know where I belonged anymore.
In the years before my dad’s death, I hid my pain well. I stuffed it behind ministries and forced smiles. I saved it for crying in bathroom stalls and cluttered closets. I wrongly believed that admitting my sorrow and my trauma tacitly says that Jesus does not restore it. More so, pain requires people travel that uncomfortable road with me. It is a road filled with many questions and few answers, paved with tears and lost sleep. It confronts us with the truth that the life of following Jesus does not guarantee a life of ease. Death and destruction touch us all.
After years of hiding my broken places, I finally reached the point of no return. With the death of my dad I found that my wounds were too deep, too fresh to deny. My carefully cultivated charm washed away in my agony. That well meaning Christian affirmed what I suspected all along. There was no room for my pain in the church. There was no place for my fragility at the table of faith.
So I did what I always do: I froze. I adopted a robotic existence, not letting an ounce of emotion seep through my veneer. I became perfectly glad. I let death win.
If it weren’t for Jesus and the Holy Spirit meeting me outside of those church doors, death certainly would’ve overcome me.
John tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth raising Lazarus from the dead. In the beginning of the story, we learn that Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was dying. “Come quick!” they urged him, but Jesus, knowing full well the outcome, waited a few days. By the time he arrived, Lazarus was long dead.
But Jesus knew what would happen. He knew that he would rise.
The part of the story that strikes me in my long years of grieving is Jesus’s reaction to his friends and the mourners. He knew that Lazarus would live again (and soon!). But even with that knowledge, the pain of those around him struck our Lord.
He became acquainted with their agony.
Death and separation were never part of the plan. That doesn’t make them any less real.
Jesus knew this and that’s why he joined them in their mourning. He knew that Lazarus would rise that very day, and yet... he wept.
Sometimes living our faith doesn’t look like an instagram post. Sometimes it looks like wiping shit off your dying family member’s legs while you weep in fear of the future.
Sometimes living our faith doesn’t look like tidy Sunday mornings. Sometimes it looks like hospital waiting rooms and nervously pacing hallways.
Sometimes living our faith isn’t singing praise songs on your way to work. Sometimes it looks like gasping for air watching your dearest love die a slow, horrific death.
It looks like weeping.
It looks like sackcloth.
It looks like ashes.
We’re so quick to rush to the Hallelujah moments, the “I’ll Fly Away” refrains, that we ignore our humanity. We ignore our brokenness. We’re so quick to be anywhere but in our suffering.
It feels like we failed. It feels like God failed.
But that’s where God is. That’s where he meets us. If he is there on the mountain tops, he is there in the deepest valleys.
On my grandma’s last evening alive, I found myself lying prostrate on the floor wailing into my carpet. I begged God to let her die and end her suffering. I told him that I don’t know if I could believe in a loving God who willingly allowed such monstrous pain if she had to face another day. Just have mercy and let her die before dawn, Jesus.
She died a few minutes before sunrise.
I don’t know what to do with that prayer.
It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel like a failure.
But I know that our God is big enough to walk with me through it. He’s big enough to walk my community through it too.
The God who wept for those who loved Lazarus, weeps for me. He doesn’t ask me to take my lemons and make lemonade. He doesn’t ask me to deny my pain for the sake of some vague cultural desire for victory.
He weeps for me. He weeps with me.
Sometimes faith means being brave enough to make people uncomfortable. Sometimes faith is being okay with being uncomfortable in the first place. I’m learning that.
May we be a people who are quick to help carry lemons instead of insisting on lemonade. May we come to peace with discomfort and pain. May we walk through the valley of the shadow of death for each other and with each other. May we learn that together.
One day we will experience resurrection, but that doesn’t make the pain we feel today any less real. Jesus understood that. We can too.
Life is too beautiful, and God is too good, to do it any other way.