We sit propped on pillows in bed drinking our morning coffee. We grant ourselves the luxury of resting on the Sabbath and decide to skip church. He has injured his back and can’t move without feeling significant pain. I am fatigued by a week-long push through depression and I can’t speak without choking up. My soul is exploding with a slew of thoughts that have no home. I need to articulate, to debrief, but I don’t want to indulge while he’s hurting.
“I think I need to clear my head–are you feeling up to it?” I test the waters. In past years I wouldn’t have recognized my need until it had reached the fevered pitch of angst. The urgency to find relief and a solution would have driven us both into fix-it mode. In the end, we wouldn’t have solved anything and would likely have ended up misunderstanding each other—the whole laborious ordeal culminating in frustration and anger. I no longer expect to find a solution and he doesn’t feel required to provide one. Like an infected boil, I’ve learned there’s great relief in just lancing through it and letting it drain. Giving words to my pent-up emotions does that for me.
The opening line of my monologue reads like a comic strip: “I feel like Charlie Brown.” I peel the thoughts from my reluctant tongue and continue. “I keep trying and trying but I still feel like an unaccomplished outcast—like I will never complete the edits on my draft of a significant life.” My words sound self-pitying as they bounce around in my adult brain yet at the level of emotional honesty, they are on point. We had watched the Peanuts movie the previous day with our grandchildren. I couldn’t help identifying with Charlie Brown throughout the movie. “I feel like people just don’t get me, like I’ll never belong, like my contribution will always fall flat.” I wipe tears and blow my nose. “All I can see are my failed attempts caught in a tree, dangling like the kites Charlie never managed to fly?”
“Actually, I thought of you through the movie as well,” he says. “I thought about how hard you work to get through what you’re up against.” He goes on to tell me how he sees me as a good-hearted woman and that, like Charlie, my character is far better than my accomplishments. For the next thirty minutes, I poured out the weeks’ encounters and the bottled-up feelings I had cloaked in BRAVERY and bravado. I tell him about all the areas I feel confused and directionless. I tell him how I just wish I knew where my lane was and could stay in it. I confess to him my fear of being an imposter—that while I’m pushing past my illness that I worry I’m fabricating a better self, feeding a performance. I talk about how inspired I get by what the confident women around me are pulling off—and how it also makes me feel inadequate. I blow my nose and wipe the smudges of mascara from my face. I tell him that I don’t know if I can manage both a significant impact in the world and have anything left to manage my own world.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
He listens with kindness and I can tell that he’s not just enduring one more gripe session or self-pity monologue. He sees my genuine desire to get it right. I tell him about the things that overwhelm me, scare me and break my heart. I offer that I’m confused about medication and diagnosis and shrink at what my faith community thinks about me and my struggles—of how I get tired of trying to please and appease. I tell him that I know God loves me, that I don’t doubt His nearness. I tell him about my gratitude for His faithfulness that no matter how hard things become, there is always, always, always something to rejoice about. I admit that I need to close my ears to all the voices around me and simply stand silently before God and listen to what HE has to say.
I pause for a while and soon I feel peace beginning to take shape inside me. Nothing has changed except that I have been given the gift of a safe, non-judgmental friend to sort out my conflicting thoughts with. I haven’t answered any of the usual questions. I haven’t devised a new life strategy. I have, however, dislodged the words, errant or true, from my crowded soul and made room to receive the grace I so desperately need. God’s grace and the grace of those with skin on. When I have spent my words, I turn to God’s word—an assigned scripture–and I smile at what I read and I think I can see Him smiling too.
“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the LORD redeemed you?
Then speak it out!”
And so I speak it out!
Amid the things I do not understand, I understand this: God is good and He faithfully showers grace upon brokenness, imperfection, illness, failure, and loss. Perhaps the calling of my life is simply to model trust in this God we cannot see. Maybe the way I follow Jesus will be the publishing house for my story. I may or may not speak from a platform or from the printed page, but my life can be, and is, a living epistle of God’s grace and redemption.