“Sometimes, when I’m positive I’m being crushed, it’s like I feel God grab my face in his hands and say to me, ‘I am here with you. These feelings will not kill you.’ And every time, I make it through. I survive.”
A friend said this to me on the phone the other day. She’s walking the painful road of recovery from an addiction, and she’s experienced all kinds of feelings of discouragement, loss and desperation in the months she’s been pursuing sobriety. These feelings aren’t new. But for the first time, she is choosing not to try to run from them. Instead, she sits with them. Maybe she asks the question: “Are my insides trying to tell me something? What might I need right now?” But mostly, she just grieves and cries and feels and trusts that God is not removed from her suffering.
We’re all addicts.
We’ve all got something we use to numb or escape the loneliness, hurt or insecurity we feel: shopping, Facebook, running, fantasies, food, money, porn, success, affirmation, that person who makes you feel good about yourself. I know I do. I’ve been walking my own winding road over the past two years, confronting compulsive behaviors and the crutches that have held up my feeble view of myself, of the world, of God. I can say that, without question, they’ve been the most painful years of my life — maybe one day I’ll share that story with you.
I’m learning that grief and pain ebb and flow. Sometimes, for what feels like no reason at all, you and I can be pummeled with a wave of pain. It comes out of nowhere and sucks you under.
All of a sudden…
…you’re overwhelmed by loneliness,
…you’re overcome with longing for the relationship or child or adventure you’ve always wanted,
…you’re reminded of the friend you lost or the dream that’s died,
…you’re so aware of all the ways you don’t measure up,
…your mind begins to play the soundtrack of self-pity and -hatred, or
…you look at the tattered bits of your life and wonder why they’re less beautiful than the filtered images you see on your phone screen.
In that moment, you have a choice: Try to escape, to flail your arms and legs until they ache and reach out for any feeble, quick-fix crutch that you can cling to in order to feel ok — the stash of candy in the back drawer, attention from the nearest guy, a “like” on a photo you posted, affirmation from others about your kids’ behavior, images on a screen that transport you somewhere else — or, you can ride the wave, feel it beneath and around you and trust that it’s carrying you where you need to go.
This ain’t easy. When I’m gasping for air, my eyes and nose stinging and my insides burning for relief, it’s easy for me to wonder where the heck God is in that moment. Why isn’t he saving me? Why doesn’t he just bring me to the shore and let me stay on solid ground? Doesn’t he see that I am dying right now?! These are valid questions, ones that I still struggle with a lot (In fact, I was pulled under last week and spent 20 minutes sitting in my car, screaming at God. Clearly, I’ve got this down…).
But I’m starting to believe, somewhere in my bones, a truth that though known in theory, has been hard to cling to in desperate moments:
The presence of pain does not equal the absence of God.
I think of my friend in recovery, fighting to sit with a deep, crushing pain and let it shape her. And I think of God, who gently grabs us by the face:
“I am here with you. These feelings will not kill you.”
I don’t know much, but here’s what two stormy years on choppy seas have taught me — Pain causes us to expand. The more we choose to let it rush in, to come and go without running to the nearest crutch that takes the edge off of our hurting, the more deep and wide and expansive our empathy becomes, the greater our trust in the Lord, the more grace we gather and extend to others. Each time we survive a storm, though haggard and worn, our understanding of the depth of God’s grace and his immense love for us has settled deeper into our souls. The more we invite our pain on in and sit with it, the stronger, more courageous and confident we become.
It’s so counterintuitive. But as I walk with my sister, and travel down my own pain-ridden road, I’m finding it to be quite beautiful too. To feel pain may seem like dying, and perhaps it is sometimes, but friend, your feelings will not kill you. Do not run from them. Stand firm and know that you are expanding and becoming a greater vessel of love, courage, compassion, and grace.