Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.

Emanuel Consolation: Day 15 of the April Poetry Challenge

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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.


 

Emmanuel Consolation

 

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.

 

But…

it’s

just

not

true.

 

Oh, I know the texts they quote

Romans 8:28,

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

of life,

and death

and fear

and pain

and powerlessness.

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,

the darkness,

the hopelessness,

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

DOOM.

God never made those universal promises:

that it will all work out for good,

that you will have the strength.

In fact,

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.

Because

no matter how dark,

how desperate,

how weak,

how wasted

you feel

It Is Never Evidence That You Have Walked Away

nor

That God Has Walked Away From You.

 

Because the promise God DOES make is:

Emmanuel

God with us.

With us in the darkness,

with us in the tears,

with us on the cross

with us in the grave.

AND

somewhere,

somehow,

in some completely unexpected way

in NEW LIFE.

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Author: Serena Gideon Rice

In early 2011 my family moved our home, temporarily, from New Jersey to Milan, Italy. In the process I quit what had been my dream job conducting policy-directed social science research, to focus on my other dream job, raising our two young children. The three-year adventure was exciting, exhausting, disorienting, fulfilling, and countless other contradictions. It also birthed in me a desire to share my reflections on life's joys and challenges with anyone who cares to reflect with me. Now that we have returned to the US I'm finding that the new perspective I gained in Europe has come with me, and gives me a whole new way of interacting with my home. There's still so much to learn and share! I hope you'll share the journey, and add your own lessons to my daily education.

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