The last few days have brought me repeated reminders of just how painful life can be: friends facing health crises, a new (powerful) book about addiction and recovery, and story after story of people who have been hurt by churches or church people.
All this has made me wish I had the power to change all these pains – to heal both physical and spiritual wounds wherever I see them. Of course, I don’t have that power.
My second instinct is to wish that God would do it for me. And I pray, sincerely, for this to happen. But I also know that God is not my puppet, or my on-call Doctor, compelled to alleviate all manner of pain that results from the realities of a broken world. Sometimes horrible, painful, ugly things just happen and we can’t just snap our fingers and order God to fix the mess.
That raises a lot of theodicy issues, and those discussions are worth having, but today’s poem isn’t about that. It’s about the way that Christians talk about those horrible moments in life, and the way we offer each other consolation. We can’t change the pain, but maybe we can work on changing the way we talk about it.
Have you ever heard it?
that most hurtful Christian consolation?
“God never gives you more than you can handle.”
Have you ever been struck in the gut
when you are already curled up,
weak as a fetus,
around your all-consuming pain?
I know it’s well-intentioned,
an effort at encouragement,
a way to say
“you’ll make it”
with the extra certitude of FAITH.
Oh, I know the texts they quote
or Philippians 4:13,
But these are not the blanket promises that some so blithely represent.
They are not a fool-proof safety net to guard against the impact
They have to do with following the path of faith,
and having access to the strength for that path.
But… what happens when life stops you in your tracks?
when the thought of another step cannot even register;
when you are just trying to keep breathing;
and faith is not – cannot be – a task you must accomplish in this moment?
What if they knew
those pious well-wishers,
those good-hearted believers trying to honestly offer you hope,
that their words might push you off the pilgrim’s path?
Because, if their words are true,
then the problem,
is all your fault – your lack of faith.
The promise only holds true
if you are the one who broke it,
the one who walked away.
And now the dark blanket of shame must wrap around you too,
holding in the words that might release a bit of pain,
blocking out the light of love and true consolation –
one who supports.
But I have GOOD NEWS,
that sounds at first like gospel’s bad, ne’r-do-well cousin
God never made those universal promises:
that it will all work out for good,
that you will have the strength.
it might get worse.
your fear might materialize.
you might break down and not know how to put yourself back together.
And that horrible prospect
is my GOOD NEWS for you.
no matter how dark,
It Is Never Evidence That You Have Walked Away
That God Has Walked Away From You.
Because the promise God DOES make is:
God with us.
With us in the darkness,
with us in the tears,
with us on the cross
with us in the grave.
in some completely unexpected way
in NEW LIFE.