Addie Zierman is one of my favourite writers. She has an uncanny way of getting under the skin of things, of truth-telling so effortlessly and beautifully. I have lost count of the times when I have gone to her blog and found the very thing I was pondering, expressed with more dignity and beauty than I could ever muster. If you’re not already following her, you should do so immediately. This is her story:
Ask me about my suffering, and I will tell you you’ve got the wrong girl.
I will point you toward people who’ve experienced real hardships. To people who’ve lost children, who’ve lost parents, who’ve lost each other. To the ones with scarves over chemo-bald heads and tired eyes. I will point you to the martyrs and the murdered, to abused and abandoned, to the hungry and the hurting. Every time, I will try point you somewhere else.
After all, I am a hearty Midwestern girl. I come from buck up and dust yourself off and try again. I come from generations of farm folk who spent long days bent in the dirt. From polio and prairies and no need to see the doctor for a little thing like that. From this too shall pass.
In my crazy for Jesus high-school days, the buck up ethic of my ancestors collided with that fiery imperative to Believe, and suddenly I was pulling myself up by the bootstraps of faith. I read about the martyrs, the ones who had died so valiantly for Jesus, and I learned that to suffer for Christ is the highest calling. I learned that pain is not something to be dealt with but rather a kind of gift, something endured with a smile.
When the Depression came, it was quiet. Insidious. It crept in during the damp Chinese winter when I shuffled from one open-air classroom to another, teaching classes of 60 in mittens and a hat. Depression came by way of loneliness and hunger and displacement, and before long, it had taken hold of my heart.
How many months did I hack at the ground with a spade, trying to dig myself out, before it occurred to me to get help?
I tried every combination of Bible study and prayer group and service. I read books and ate good food and took up scrapbooking, I ran on the treadmill. I had long quiet times. And still, in the end, all of the digging never could get me out. There I was at the bottom of the whole thing, three margaritas in, anesthetizing the gaping void.
And when I finally sat down with the therapist that colorless fall, she tapped her pencil. “You’re in so deep,” she said. “I think you’ve been clinically depressed since China. I think this has been going on for almost three years now.”
Here’s the thing about suffering: I think we’ve got it wrong.
We read the wild words of Paul in Romans, where he said, “we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.” And somewhere in our minds this idea of glory got all intertwined in denial.
In the Colossians 1:24, he wrote, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering,” and we traded that powerful word rejoice for the painted-on smile of forced happiness.
But listen: there is an earth-shaking depth to these words.
In the dark days, I pretended it wasn’t happening, and that isn’t glory. It’s cowardice. I went to church and went through the motions, and it wasn’t faithfulness. It was faking it. I smiled empty smiles, and I pretended it was rejoice, but it never could be because I was never honest. And true worship requires your whole honest, broken heart.
And, oh, it is glory to move toward wholeness. To recognize the depth of your own darkness and to choose to believe that you were made for more.
It is a kind of rejoicing to stand with the whole thing sprawled out across your feet: the pain and dark of it, the what-the-hell of it. To stand there, arms open, to say to God, I want you to be enough, even when it doesn’t feel like he ever could be.
Ask me about suffering, and I will tell you this: I want to learn how to do it better.
After all, suffering comes to all of us, and it can’t be defined comparatively. My suffering is not less because yours seems more; it’s not more because yours seems less. In the end, life is broken sharply across the spectrum, and we’re all cut deep in our own hidden places.
I want to have the presence of mind to notice it when it comes. I want courage to lay it bare. I’d like to be able to walk straight toward the healing. I want to dispose of this buck up nonsense and instead lay down. I want to stop pretending it’s not happening, and choose the painful pursuit of wholeness.
I want to say it with my arms and my feet and my broken, wide-open heart. To say it like thanksgiving, like lament, like a praise. Because really, who can tell the difference between them? They bleed into one another, all verses of the same beautiful song whose lyrics are glory. Whose lyrics are hallelujah and rejoice, rejoice, rejoice.
Addie Zierman (@addiezierman) is a writer, mom, and Diet Coke enthusiast. She blogs twice a week at How to Talk Evangelical, where she’s working to redefine faith one cliché at a time. Follow her on Twitter or like her Facebook page.
Over to you:
- Have you ever been in a situation where ‘rejoice’ was just painted on?
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