“There is pain. There is hope.” I read those sentences back to back in a book today and it completely captivated my attention. The book didn’t say, “There is pain, but there is hope” which would’ve discredited the pain. The book also didn’t say “There is hope, but there is pain” which would’ve discredited the hope. Instead, it inferred “There is pain AND there is hope.”
I know this “and” instead of “but” concept isn’t original or new. But it easily gets lost by the wayside, especially (arguably) in Christian circles. Americans, and especially Christians, like to clean things up, to diminish the uncomfortable and to focus on the positive. We often feel like a “true” Christian is one who has his life together and only thinks happy thoughts. If we want to be a witness, or even want to be considered a good Christian, we darn better have our positive, cheery, “joy of the Lord” side of us ready for presentation. So, if we get honest enough to say we’re struggling, we often follow it up with some positive claim that minimizes the original honesty.
For example, when my friend asks how I’m doing and I say, “To be honest, it’s been a rough week. But, hey, the week is almost over!” Or when someone hurts me and comes forward with an apology and I respond, “yeah… but, no biggy!” Or when someone asks how school is going and I respond, “well…I’m a bit stressed… But I prayed about it last night!”
The result of this is often whitewashed walls that hide a lot of pain on the inside. And the hiding creates the perfect environment to culture shame. Shame that we don’t feel as positive as we sound. Shame that we don’t feel as positive as other people continuously sound. Shame because we feel like the pain is inappropriate–especially if we feel like real Christians are bathed in continuous godly contentment and joy.
But I don’t believe shame is an okay place for created children of the God of the universe to remain.
I would argue that this habit of discrediting their reality puts us in a place that causes more pain, and definitely a lack of self-compassion. Even though they can seem so contradictory (which can be uncomfortable for a while), that is little price to pay for the relief of acknowledging them as real.
Take some examples:
I love you. AND I am angry with you. Not “I love you, but I’m angry at you” which discredits my love. Not “I’m angry with you, but I love you” which discredits the pain you caused me. Nope. The truth is, you hurt me. And I have a right to feel upset about that (now, I’m not saying I have a right to feed my anger…but I do have a right to process and feel it). And yet, I still love you. My being upset with you does not stop that.
I am trusting God. AND I am stressed. Isn’t this how most of us Christian college students felt our entire college carers? How many of us carry an extra burden of incredible guilt when, although we are doing everything in our power to trust God, we still feel stressed? What am I doing wrong? Was my prayer last night a “wrong number”? Am I failing at my relationship with God if I’m trusting him in this situation, but I’m still honestly stressed about it? Nope. You can trust God. AND still feel stressed.
I am excited. AND I am afraid.
I am hurting. AND I feel joy.
I’m not arguing that we should give free reign to our negative emotions. But we shouldn’t discredit them either. What a relief to not have to chose one or the other in a world where both are true.
For the next two weeks, I’m going to be intentional about trying to be comfortable in the “AND” place. Would you like to join?