6.18.2012

It’s all OK, and yet it’s not. It’s not OK, and yet it is.

I really messed up this past week. I really, you know, fouled up, mishandled the situation, dropped the ball, lost my way, crossed the line, did everything but jump the shark.

I woke up around 1630 on Saturday (I’m on a night shift schedule), realized the full extent of my idiocy, and started crying. I felt unbelievably awful—just gutted. I needed to talk it over.

Has anyone else noticed how incredibly uncomfortable most people are with legitimate sadness or discomfort? The immediate reaction is: This person is upset. I must fix it. I was told, “Hey, it’s OK; nobody was hurt, no real damage was done, nothing you did was intentional, everyone has those days, shit happens, you were tired, you were overworked, it’s OK.” (My friend Honor wrote about this phenomenon here.)

Well, all right. All of those things are true—and don’t make up or alter the fact that I really blew it. Those kind, true words could not help me, because I still needed to come to terms with everything I had done wrong.

Sometimes what is needed in response to wrongdoing or pain is not smoothing it away, but sitting with it. Being with it. Acknowledging it fully.

Sometimes passing through pain or wrongdoing in this manner is the only way that a person can move forward and find healing or forgiveness.

I spend a fair amount of time around people who are in situations much worse than mine—situations ranging from crummy to downright awful. I do a lot of hand-holding, hugging, and just plain sitting with people who are very ill or near death, or who love a person who is very ill or near death.

I never say “it’s OK.” It’s not OK. Most of the time it’s downright horrible. It’s abysmal. When you’re in your forties and dying and crying out against God because of how unfair and awful it is, I am not going to smooth that away. It is unfair. It is awful.

Yes. It is.

I’ve noticed that if I sit with someone in their pain long enough, not saying anything ‘comforting’ but instead listening, acknowledging, and affirming, almost always the person sort of comes up, looks around, and says something along the lines of, “We had a good life together,” or “I am so well loved,” or “Life is wonderful anyway.”

Yeah. That, too.

In a very profound way, that revelation of ongoing life and love is even more true than the reality of the pain.

Loving, well-intentioned people want to give that revelation to a person who is in pain, hence all the smoothing-over and hand-waving and negating. The problem is, one can’t just hand out insight when a person is in pain. Turns out, trying to force-feed insight silences and minimizes the sufferer. (Plus, the speaker sounds like a particularly insensitive Hallmark card.)

The only way to get to any real revelation is through an honest, messy, uncomfortable, and sometimes inconveniently lengthy experience of pain.

This understanding is integral to my theology. This is part of how I understand the cross, Holy Saturday, and the Resurrection.

Go ahead and think of the Easter story however you like—a story somebody made up, or something that really happened, willed by God. Whatever.

Either way, it didn’t have to go down like that. Jesus could have died on the cross, been taken down, and popped right back into life again. He could have given the whole tomb business a skip. Heck, he could have given the whole dying in agonizing pain business a skip. He didn’t. He spent two nights and a whole day thoroughly, incontrovertibly, dead. Why? 

Because the pain of death, loss, and life in general is real and it is awful and it must be lived through. Even though in the end “all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well,” nothing negates the cross. It’s both–and, not either–or; Easter does not annihilate Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Resurrection does not cancel pain. They exist together.

Similarly,

I have messed up and do mess up and will mess up.
I am absolutely, unconditionally, loved and lovable.

It’s both–and, not either–or. They exist together. I screw up, I really do, and nothing will ever change that. I am loved and lovable and nothing will ever change that, either. This is one of the ways I understand sin and redemption.

When I finally called up someone wise and said, “I’m a total screw-up and I hate myself,” I was told not, “No you’re not; I wouldn’t love you if you were,” but rather (granted not in so many words), “Yes you are, so am I, it doesn’t matter, I love you.”