If you’re anything like me, the past 6-months has been a struggle. The pandemic, racial justice issues, political turmoil, wildfires & smoke, have all earned monikers like “unprecedented” and “generational events” in their own right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like “I can’t wait ‘til 2020’s over.” I’ll be honest, it’s been very overwhelming for me. The emotional tolls of this season of hardship have kicked my butt.
As a pastor who has studied & taught God’s Word for almost 3 decades, I know the right answers. I can quote them to others and recite them to myself as I lay in bed at night, but in my heart of hearts it’s often been a daily tug-of-war to hold onto them. Can you relate?
I want to tell you that it’s ok. If you find yourself repeatedly losing it and grasping for ways to cope, you’re not crazy or faithless….or alone.
We all need permission to feel what we feel. Remember that your feelings are not you, they’re something that happen to you. There’s no need to pretend; no shame in admitting that you’re not flourishing in the midst of all the chaos. I feel like I need to say that because it seems like so many people are telling us how to feel these days. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be anxious, stay positive” and a bunch of other platitudes that don’t address the heart.
I don’t think any of us heal and grow through trauma by stiffening our lips and denying the existence of our true feelings in times of difficulty. In fact, I believe that opening-up to let some of that stuff out is part of the cure….depending upon the relief valve chosen.
I used to believe that it was necessary for a leader or parent or coach (or any “successful” person) to put-on a kind of self-confident swagger in order to deal with trials or to inspire others. As I’ve grown older & wiser from life’s crucible, I’ve come to believe that the best of us are the ones who discard pretentious masks and live with heart-on-sleeve. Transcendence requires authenticity; and authenticity, vulnerability.
I suppose that all of us who are parents or who lead people in some capacity feel these kinds of feelings like everyone else; but in order to feel powerful, and to protect those under our care, it’s tempting to minimize our own warning alarms and check engine lights….believing the lie that if we try to project a superhuman and confident persona, we’ll fool everyone into believing we’ve got it together and we’re worth following.
I’ve had some dark days, and some bright days, with lots of in-between this year. Over time, I’m learning to dis-allow my emotions from ruling my outlook or actions or words. For me, this doesn’t come by faking but by sharing. Most recently, this was catapulted by opening-up to some people about how much I’ve been struggling….not easy for a man to do. My running buddy, my wife, my dad, my co-worker, a few trusted ones. They know my dirt, and something amazing happened in the process of opening the door and shoveling it out….I not only found that they had their own hidden piles, but that it all seemed to lose its terror in the sharing. I felt lighter. I felt like I wasn’t alone or backed into a corner. I don’t know how people get through life’s trials without trusted friends like that.
I also don’t understand how people do it without knowing God. I guess they just pour their anxieties & fears & angers into some other alternative coping form…like work, sports, alcohol, sex, movies, whatever it takes to numb pain and stop the noise for awhile; until the next day. But like Chris Stapleton kroons, “the bottom of a bottle’s always dry.” I want something real, something that lasts and doesn’t make me hate myself in the morning. The Way Of Jesus has kept me coming back in my times of desolation and fear for the past 37-years, and I’m drinking-in the Living Water by the mouthful right now. He’s not a quick-fix, and He doesn’t make all my struggles magically melt away; but He carries me, whispers instructions in my ear, and empowers me to see beyond what’s in front of me. He holds everything we need to experience purpose and hope no matter what life throws at us. Sometimes I lose sight of this, but His love and care for me never changes. That’s why I love Him.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the past 6-months, it’s that I need intimacy with my Heavenly Father and my loved ones more than I ever thought I did because I’m not nearly as big a deal as I thought I was. Learning the truth that I’m not invincible and self-reliant has been both terrible and wonderful…it’s good for my ego. I’m adding a new layer of depth in my understanding of humility and dependence. Sometimes it feels painful in the process, but it brings about a desperation for connection that is actually quite a good thing.
The desire to puff oneself up… To appear bigger and stronger and more capable than we are… this is not from the Lord, and it’s not admirable. Pride only deceives us and those around us into trusting in the wrong source. Scripture never tells us to look within ourselves for the answers, but to cling to God and others for the support we need in life. So do that…invest some time reading your Bible and listening to worship music in the woods by yourself, pour your true heart out to God in prayer, seek out a trusted family member or friend who you can be totally honest with, start a journal or a poem about how you’re feeling. When we experience the taste of despair, we almost always need other hands to help us out.
Many of today’s people would sneer at this and say it makes me sound weak and needy of a crutch to walk through life with. To that I would consent and say YES, I do need a crutch…actually I need lots of them, we all do. At least I admit what is incumbent to all of us.
I do not trust people who deny their own struggles and distance themselves from their own weaknesses. This is PRIDE….the original sin that assigns divinity to humanity. Instead, I respect those who recognize, accept, and live transparently within their own limitations….. and who throw themselves into the mercy of God and the fellowship of others to keep going. That’s who I want to become, how about you?
“They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:5-7)
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
“Praise be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4)