Suffering and Glory {guest post}


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.”

 

*

Sunrise 30-4-2011

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.

Glory.

Rejoice.

 

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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26 Responses to Suffering and Glory {guest post}

  1. Nancy 21st November, 2012 at 4:41 am #

    Lean in to the pain is a Buddhist (probably from Pem Chodrin) “concept.” Altho I am sure the Buddhists are not the only ones to write/speak it. Thanks Addie, for your writing and your truth. I do remember (remember well!) my own dark night (well, much longer than a night! five years or more I think) and struggling out, clawing out, with much help from a therapist and meditation. When my doctor first diagnosed me with clinical depression, my husband said “Oh man! I just thought it was motherhood!” He was feeling guilty for not recognizing my “stay-in-bed-and-pull-the-covers-up-over-my-head” behaviour as indicative of something that I might need help with. You remind just how important it is to NAME something. And, quite honestly, whatever you write about, I would read and know that it would be a delight, even the depression, because you write it and name it so well!!! Thank you for that.

  2. tanya @ truthinweakness 21st November, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    reminds me of something i heard recently that has stayed with me ever since. and that is the idea to lean into the pain. i didn’t understand what that meant, at first, but i’m starting to get it now. the freedom to hurt, even to despair. the freedom to let those experiences shape us, & to not be afraid of my responses to them.

    thanks so much for sharing, addie,
    tanya (yes, the other tanya) 😉

  3. ed cyzewski 21st November, 2012 at 3:20 am #

    Thank you for calling out the ways we get pain and suffering wrong. These are fine lines or nearly perfect counterfeits that can be so destructive.

  4. Janice 20th November, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that we get suffering wrong. I am terribly guilty of it myself.

    “we traded that powerful word rejoice for the painted-on smile of forced happiness.” and “I pretended it wasn’t happening, and that isn’t glory. It’s cowardice.” Those are just such perfect and wise observations

    This is such a beautiful reminder that words like “glory” and “rejoice” are messier words than we thought back when we were younger. That glory and joy are found muddled in the midst of pain and confusion somehow. That instead of glory being something that is completely separate from our lives – like a quick jaunt into the heavenly realms – it is somehow meatier and more human than that? It’s that moment of vulnerability where you’re examining and revealing your ugly hidden things that are a rejoicing because it is a moment of freedom from the tyranny of them. It certainly doesn’t feel like the sort of emotion I thought rejoicing should be exclusively filled with – golden light and warmth and comfort. But you are right, “it is glory to move toward wholeness. ” God’s sort of glory. The kind that wades down into our mess and lifts us out of it. Even when we come out looking filthy, he does lift us out and then he begins to clean us off. (and the scrubbing sometimes hurts…)

    beautiful post.

  5. Pam Polito 20th November, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    Addie, once again you have put the deep words of the heart to writing and said what so many of us feel. I was a missionary for ten years and most of those were riddled with depression. It was so difficult for me to try and sort out why, made more difficult by others (mission leadership in particular) telling me I just had to read my bible more, pray more, read more good Christian books, have more quite times – putting it all on me; basically saying it was my own fault. Little did they know I was doing all that and more to no avail and that their pressure led me to spiral deeper to where I was unable to do any of it. I thought I was following my “calling” and my dream and could not fathom why God would be so far away when I needed him the most nor could I understand why fellow believers could not accept that I was depressed. So many see depression as weakness; all the fault of the person who is depressed rather than an illness. Those of us who have spent time in the darkness of it can easily fall into believing it ourselves. One day, quietly and without drama I told my director I needed to go home to get help and that is what I did. I got the help I needed and the understanding and medication I needed and then I was able to heal from the disease of depression. It lifted some 14 years ago but it is never far from my mind. It made me authentic; never wanting to pretend things are better than they are so I can appear the way I think others want. Some of it is the wisdom that comes with age; some is just having gone through it and made it out. I was treated with far more compassion last summer when I went through surgery for cancer than I was when I had depression. Far easier to to deal with something than can be cut out than something not so easily seen, I suppose. Even for me, having cancer was not as hard as having depression because nobody is telling me I got cancer because I did not read my bible enough or pray enough or read enough good books. . .I am thankful it has not returned but if it does, I know enough now to know it is not, never was, my fault. I hope you know this for yourself as well. Thank you for using your gift of writing and your honesty. You will help more people than you can even imagine!

  6. Susan 20th November, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    I spent a year in the Episcopal church because I was so tired of going to worship services where I was asked, “Can’t you just feel the joy of the Lord in this place?!” and I could not, and did not understand why my lack of joy in that season somehow excluded me from a meaningful worship experience. And so I ran to liturgy and old stones and a church choir that sang in Latin and embraced me far more easily and quickly than any of the “joy in the Lord” folks ever managed to do. And I found that “rejoicing in the Lord” could be done even without the emotion of joy. That acknowledging the glory of God could be done without feeling glorious. It was a revelation. I moved a year later, and moved on from the Episcopal church, but continue to use the Common Book of Prayer and the liturgical calendar because I love the rhythm and the insistence of it, that God is God and worthy of praise despite how we FEEL, despite what the day has dealt us. Hallelujah, Amen.

  7. Kimberly Walker 20th November, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Bah! You’re amazing. I can’t even take it.

  8. Mark Allman 20th November, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    Addie,

    I do believe we all have scars… some are visible and most are not. We all have sufferings and as the scars we have some visible and some not. I admire Tanya and people like her who have great suffering yet are so fruitful in their lives. Tanya makes Kahil Gibran’s quote so true: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

    And yes may we all learn how to sit with suffering and how to handle it better especially so we do not let one suffering be multiplied by our inept handling of it.

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