Yesterday I shared a letter Janice wrote to me in which she is getting married and her roommate isn’t. In brief she shared:
- “My roommate really desires to be married. She is mid-30s, and has been in Laos for over seven years. So she is older than me, she’s been overseas longer than me, and she has probably been praying for a husband longer than me.”
- “I know that God does not always do things in ways that seem obviously fair to us, but in this situation I feel the unfairness very deeply myself, and I can only imagine how it might feel from her perspective.”
- “How are you supposed to feel, when you know that what is a blessing in your life is the subject of such deep pain and disappointment to someone you love?”
- “It is painful for me to leave her. I know that our friendship can’t be exactly the same after I leave Laos, but I don’t want to lose it entirely.”
I wanted the posts spaced out for two reasons:
1. We live in a click-bait, hurry up world. Let’s go deep and then move on. The internet is wonderful—just consider how many different places this very post is being read right now while YOU are reading it?! Kind of mind-boggling, isn’t it? But in general it is geared towards noise and new information. This forms us unconsciously to have a false sense of urgency and move on to the next topic, post, crisis. It confuses our soul as to what is a urgent and what is important.
I believe this is an important conversation to have.
2. I did not want to jump in too quickly with my thoughts, instead I wanted to create space for God to speak.
If you haven’t had a chance to read through the comments on the original post at A Life Overseas, please do. They are rich and offer additional perspectives.
Here is a bit of what I’ve have been thinking and praying over in response to Janice’s letter:
1. We need to have these conversations. The very enemy of our souls wants to isolate and through isolation whisper lies mixed with half-truths. In the whispering, we can become disoriented as to what is truth, what is half-truth, and what is lie.
In community—and let me stress safe, healthy, trustworthy community—we do not have to bear burdens alone and we can sort out what is true in our situation and what is not.
2. Notice how the language of “fair” and “guilt” are both a part of the swirl of emotions, thoughts, and reactions. I find this fascinating how almost universal both concepts are, whether married, getting married, or desiring to be married. Both can be very strong which can be confusing because they seem to run counter to what “good Christians should” believe or experience. Because we do not talk about “fairness” or “guilt:
- people often don’t know what to do with these feelings
- how to start conversations about them or
- how to process them
Allowing them to grow which can lead to greater isolation (see #1 above).
3. Too often we believe that we must pick between one emotion or the other.
Guilt is often a by-product of one emotion saying “If you feel me, obviously you don’t REALLY care [about either the joy or the sorrow].”
So, for the person getting married, if she expresses happiness in getting married, she may hear in her head, “If you are happy, then you don’t really understand how it feels to live with disappointment.” Or If a someone is not getting married and feels angry, disappointed, and sad, she may believe, “You are an ungrateful, selfish, bitter spinster.”
You don’t have to choose between joy and sorrow. You can have both. Guilt tries to manipulate you into one or the other, so that you don’t live an integrated life.
We need to grow in our capacity to experience (and give permission to experience) more than one emotion at a time.
4. I am more and more convinced we need to lead the charge in a “culture of grief.” We, as Christians, should be the best darn grievers on the planet, and yet, too often we stink at it. I dedicated an entire chapter in Looming Transitions to grief. I now see that the need to weave grief into our lives runs deeper than I ever thought.
Feelings of “fairness” and “guilt” can also be warnings for “an area to grieve.” Look for the loss. Are you loosing a friend? A location? Control? Someone who gets your jokes? The list could go on.
5. God is mysterious. I had a professor in seminary who cautioned us, as Christians, not to be too quick to cry “Mystery!” in the Christian faith. He instructed us to do the hard work of studying scripture, of asking theologians, of knowing history. But he also said, we needed to also remember that at the end of the day, studying, questioning, and knowing may not provide an answer and we will be left with mystery.
Why do some get married and some don’t? Why do some spouses die and others don’t? Why do some struggle with this addiction but not that? Why do some children have problems that other children do not have?
It may seem cheap to say it, but only God knows. And we have to live with that tension of the mysteriousness of God.
Above all, God can be trusted with all of our emotions. If you are angry, you don’t need to hide it. If you are sad, you don’t need to “put on a happy face.” If you are excited, you don’t have to pretend you are not. If you are not at the same place emotionally as someone else you don’t have to fake that you are.
But you do have to own it. You do have to offer it to God. You do need to find community to bear and process it with you.
Trusting that in the offering, God is good, sovereign, mysterious and . . . at work.
This is what I’ve been pondering. I’d love to hear from you. What have heard? What conversations with God and others have you had?
A version of this first appeared on A Life Overseas