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Entries in Suffering (3)

Thursday
Mar152018

Honesty or indiscretion?

Update, 8:23 am: It occurs to me that this post may come across as an exhortation to remain silent about serious issues like abuse or mistreatment. That is not what I am talking about. Those things need to be discussed, and we ought to listen to those who want to be honest about those things.

When I got married, the man who did the toast to the bride, a man who had known me since I was born, made a comment: "Now, Kim can be quite direct." Laughter ensued. What was funny about that? That laughter made me stop and think, even as I sat there in my bridal finery. Of course, I didn't think long, but the reaction of people in the room, and the implication has haunted me ever since. Is what I think of as honest just indiscretion? I've thought about it a lot.

Discretion is more than knowing when not to speak. It includes knowing how to be honest without being a steamroller. It's a quality I admire in others, but I fear I don't have. I have a friend whom I trust implicitly. I can tell her anything (and I have in the over twenty years I have been friends with her) and I know it's safe. She's a safe friend. But am I? Does being too direct, and lacking discretion inspire mistrust in other people?

Ten years ago, I was at the beginning of one of the most difficult times in my life. And I talked about it. A lot. I said things on social media about it; nothing specific, but references to my sorrow and grief over the matter. I regret it so much today. My pain involved someone else, and I wonder how that person felt when reading those things. To me now, those comments look like they were coming from someone who didn't really trust God and wanted people to feel sorry for her. I was hurt, and I wanted everyone to know it. One of the reasons I visit Facebook daily is to take advantage of "On This Day," to go back to those years and delete my comments. When I read them, I think to myself, "Shut up, woman."

Three years ago, I was in the midst of another difficult time: anxiety. I didn't talk about it, though. I didn't open up a vein and let my grief pour out. With anxiety, there is a sense of shame, so I didn't want to talk about it. Even though that sense of shame was not warranted, I'm thankful it made me cautious. I didn't want to talk about it a lot. I did have two or three good friends with whom I did talk; friends who are in the flesh, up close individuals. I didn't tweet about it. I had trouble getting out of bed and facing a day alone in my house with my anxiety, so sharing was the last thing on my mind. What I did do is pray a lot myself. The people who needed to know did.

Lament is good, and it is necessary, but questions come to my mind: do we lament first and foremost to God or others? How much lament is too much? For those who promote lament and sharing of grief, is there a balance with rejoicing in God? Does our lament look like reading Psalm 13 and never getting to verses 5 and 6? Are we able to lament without social media? There will always be a place for lament, so learning to do it well is a good thing.

I want to grow in discretion. It's a good quality to have. Of course, I value honesty, but I'm learning that sometimes there are better ways to be honest. And there are quite simply times when silence is better. I hear people talk about how "brave" and "courageous" people are who share their grief, and it is indeed a brave thing to do. But there are times when it is just as brave to keep silent, to keep rejoicing in God's goodness even when we are dying inside and only God knows it. There are, after all, people watching. What do others learn from our example? That we should only lament and never rejoice? Especially when we have younger children, do they ever see our rejoicing or only our grief? 

Wednesday
Mar072018

Building boxes

One of the things I struggle with the most, (always have, likely always will) is being able to compartmentalize things. I have been told that men do this better, but one of my classmates (a man) says he struggles with it as well. When there are burdens, I find it hard to concentrate on anything else, and sometimes, I accomplish absolutely nothing because I can't stop thinking of those burdens. 

In the past year, I have been given progress in that struggle. I don't remember praying specifically, "Lord help me to compartmentalize things," but in this past number of months, I know he has granted it. Burdens are never gone. For those who think parenting ends when the kids move out, think again. Sorry; it only gets harder. Parents age. We age. Friends age. Friends get sick and die. This side of heaven, there is no end to burden and struggle. I can't let each and every burden flatten me. I have to be able to put them away in a box and focus on each day ahead. For me, at the moment, it means school. I have waited a long time for this, and I want to do well. If I let the things I cannot change drown me, I may not do well with this opportunity God has granted me. Right now, I am so thankful for seminary because it gives me incentive to compartmentalize. And I'm beginning to see the tremendous benefits. Those burdens are there, always, in the background, but if I want to do well on tomorrow's Greek quiz, I have to stop rolling them over and over in my head, and close the lid to that box. And I have to trust God.

This morning, my dear friend Persis wrote a beautiful post about a burden she's bearing. Her comments are worth thinking about:

When circumstances are overwhelming, walking by sight is next to impossible because the way seems so foggy, but that's where faith comes in. It's not faith in the strength of my faith or even how well I can recall God's promises. It is the hand that reaches out and clings desperately to the One who is really holding on to me and not letting me fall.

The only way we can shut up those boxes is what Persis talks about: reachig out to God. As we place our burdens before him, we ask him, knowing he can, to bear them. 

And then we close the box for a while and get on with things.

Saturday
Feb222014

Are we preparing them for illness?

Recently I came across the blog of Evan Welcher. If you're not familiar with him, he's a young man dealing with some pretty sobering circumstances, the illness of his wife. I read his post about keeping the "I Do" in marriage, while I blubbered over my keyboard. I'm not one to cry like that, but this really got to me. Of course, this post was widely shared, and it was worthy of being shared.

I thought about when I was engaged, and my husband and I were counseled. Did anyone prepare us for illness? Not really. There were the inevitable issues of submission, communication, and keeping the romance alive, but nothing about illness. We don't expect newlyweds to deal with serious illness, but they do.

Now that I'm fast approaching 50, I think about this more with regard to my husband and me, but I never once considered it in those first heady days of being newly married. I didn't need to think about think about serious illness or death; not yet. But we all know that young people get ill and young couples cope with very difficult situations. I think those who do could give some very sound counsel to other young couples. Being prepared for the typical marital issues is fine, but I don't think it would be wrong to prepare couples for how to cope with illness. There's more to marriage than power struggles over the toothpaste, or toilet paper roll, or whether or not the mother goes back to work full-time when babies come. Illness is no respecter of persons; it strikes anyone.

A number of years ago, my father-in-law had a serious fall. His feet landed on a concrete patio as he fell from a ladder. His heels were crushed. There was no possible way to set the bones. It was a matter of patiently waiting to heal. There was pain and there was recovery and there was therapy at the end of the road. There was my mother-in-law nursing him back to health. She coped beautifully. She was prepared, though. And I think she was so prepared because she knew that marriage can involve suffering, and she knew who her God is. She was able to see the situation within the sovereignty of God. She did not work diligently to nurse him back to health because she believes in gender roles for men and women (although, she does); she did so because she loves her husband, accepted that this was part of married life. Should a day come when the roles are reversed, he will do the same. 

It's exciting to get married. We are on top of the world, anticipating making a home with our beloved. It's an adventure. Yes, it is a process to learn good communication skills and submission to the Lord and to one another. But it's also wise to prepare a young couple for potential illness. It may not come like what is happening with the Welchers, but it will come. Perhaps it will come when an expectant mother requires bed rest because she's fighting blood pressure issues when she's pregnant. Maybe a husband hurts his back, and it's months until he's recovered. Or maybe someone finds himself/herself struggling with a spouse with mental illness. The kind of commitment and selflessness that those situations demand is quite different than trying to live with the battle over the wet towels on the bathroom floor.

My husband and I have not struggled with any serious illness. The most serious was when he had his appendix out and when I had a Cesarean with my second child. But those were trying times for both of us. I'm thankful God gave us the grace to get through them. But there will be more. My husband's best friend from high school died from a massive heart attack this past year at the age of 52. Death and illness are not something "they" deal with or is far in the future. Understanding God's sovereign will in suffering is not something we have to reserve until we're in the situation. Now is as good a time as any. 

Have any of you read any good books about coping with suffering? If you have, I'd love to hear about them.