Sometimes life sucks.
Even considering the numerous things in it that are good and precious, even knowing that the hard parts won’t last forever, even with a bone deep understanding that God is in control and has a plan to make everything work together for our good – even then, sometimes the fear and the heartache are loudest.
I thought that I would graduate from college, with my husband in tow, and have life figured out. There would be this fun montage where we figured out things in a comical way, adopted a bunch of kids, and then I’d hit my stride and help to change the world. And from my last 6 months in undergrad, I have been living what seems like a prolonged season of trial by fire.
It has been hard. There were days where it felt like God was punishing me. Punishing me for not being enough, for not getting this job or that one, for being lazy, for not doing this extra thing in college that would have solved all of my problems now, for not being financially stable, for not being conservative enough, for not being feminine enough, for not being willing enough to toe a line. I think I’ve questioned nearly everything, and come up with far too many answers that made me uncomfortable. All of my soul searching and desperate praying for answers just kept leading me back to this cycle of waiting and doubting. These new revelations that felt like truth in my bones were ostracizing me from the people I wanted approval from the most.
The number of times I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, to not write about things that made waves, to embrace apathy because my only alternative was to do terrifyingly brave things while trusting my gut, to stop opening myself to difficult things, to force myself to fit into a nice, neat, Right box. I’ve agonized. I’ve wept. And I’ve heard the whispers that say that it shouldn’t be this hard. That if I were actually following the Lord – if I were actually going the right way, that I wouldn’t be this out of my element. That maybe I’m wrong about all of this, about this part of Jesus. That maybe they are right…that I need to hang up this hat and go home to do something that actively avoids this kind of conflict.
I’ve begged the Lord to let me go from this. And I’ve tried, and temporarily succeeded, in walking away from this pull that I feel to keep writing. To keep speaking. To keep wrestling with uncomfortable answers, stances and positions. To keep opening myself up to conversations that have the power to wound me. To keep coming back when I want to hide myself away, because my heart and pride have been hurt. To keep teaching, and being taught by, unlikely choices. Despite the frustration, hurt and fear, I can’t seem to stay silent or disengaged for long. Because in those moments, when I have decided to call it quits, I hear the same bit of scripture over and over again.
For those of you who may not be as familiar, this comes from a verse in John 16 in which Jesus is telling His disciples that things are about to get crazy. He is about to be crucified and their work is about to begin in earnest as they spread the gospel. He, being Jesus, knew that these very human and flawed disciples were going to have times in the coming days, months and years where they were scared out of their minds. Where they wanted to hide away and fade into obscurity. Where they wanted to be done with anything remotely involving bravery. Knowing this, He says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
When you look up the meaning of take heart (because one can safely assume that Jesus was not encouraging the literal stealing or taking of hearts), you find some variation of an instruction to regain courage or bravery. I appreciate this distinction. To me, it feels different than the many, many times that scripture tells us to not be afraid. It feels more like a reminder to stop in the midst of the fear and heartache that are loud and overwhelming and be heartened, be encouraged, in the midst of whatever circumstance you are in.
It’s as if Jesus (if He spoke in 21st century American slang) says to His disciples, “Some parts of this life that I’m calling you to are going to suck. It’s going to be painful, difficult, draining and exhausting. Some of it will be thankless, some of it will be unbelievably discouraging. But regain your courage, be heartened, because I’ve overcome even this. I’m bigger than all of it. I have and continue to call you to this thing, this mission, that is infinitely bigger than you. Though it may feel like it, I’m not abandoning you to the wolves. I’m not expecting perfection from you, and I’m not sitting with your punishment at the ready when you come to me in repentance for failure. I know that sometimes it’s rough, I know that it feels slow going and like I’m not at work here. Trust me. My spirit is here with you. We’ve got this.”
And man if I don’t need to hear that routinely.
I don’t claim to believe that my calling in this is anywhere near as world changing as the Disciples’ were. I’m just trying to love people like Jesus loves them and have conversations that include people that don’t see eye to eye with me on everything. Sometimes it seems like I’m just talking to an empty room, and that everyone else has gone home. Sometimes it seems like all of this is causing significantly more harm than good. Like any heartache I feel is my own fault and that continuing down this path is only pushing me further and further away from the people I love most.
And in those moments, the fear is easily loudest. Because sometimes, even though I know that God is at work in all things, life is hard. Conversations and events in life throw me for a loop, and I lose any and all courage I’ve had, tempting me to write it all off as a loss.
But despite the clamor, despite fear and heartache that threaten to overwhelm anything and everything else – there is a clear but gentle admonition to regain my bravery, to be encouraged. To keep doing what I’ve been called to do. To keep trusting that God is working even the worst of these things together for good. To find peace in the knowing that He has overcome the world.