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Silence Is A Cancer

The thing about pain is that it is universal. It lives inside of us – grief cohabiting with joy, unrest nestling with peace. We can’t escape it but we spend all of our energy trying to surpress it. Sometimes it lets up and joy wins for a time; and sometimes it spreads like a wildfire, consuming everything good.

The thing about me is that I’m a silent sufferer. The more intense the pain, the quieter I become, until I forget how to use my words to ask for help.

I’ve always been crazy about justice, wanting to make sure everyone gets what they deserve. It made me a little unforgiving as a child, and emotionally stunted as an adult living in a broken world. But thank the Lord that mercy triumphs over judgment. I don’t know when it started, but somehow – not by my own might – I began choosing mercy rather than judgment. And now, I’m the girl who can’t bring herself to hate a mass murderer; the girl who can’t bring herself to write a Facebook status about how she doesn’t understand how messed up and evil a person would have to be to kill dozens of people; the girl who feels overwhelming sympathy for the people we label as devils.

You know why? Cause I understand that we’re all in pain. We don’t admit it – I don’t admit it – until it eats away at all our healthy flesh and consumes us from the inside out. Everyone starts off thinking that they’re strong enough to be better than the next person. I’ll never cheat on my husband. I’ll never get to the point where picking up a gun and pointing it at someone is my release. I could never engage in non-consensual sex with a woman. We all start there, but we’re all in pain. And if we don’t choose to find our words and ask for help, if we don’t stop perpetuating this myth that suffering in silence is being strong, if we don’t let each other feel and grieve and mourn and break – we will all end up killing the good things around us too.

I can’t hate a mass murderer because his pain is not foreign to me. I can only imagine that they are silent sufferers too – ones who were told that to be strong is to wear a perma-smile and act like everything’s fine, until it’s not. Sure, I’ve never fired a gun. I don’t even know how. But I’ve at times gotten so deeply lost in my own pain that I begin to lash out at the people around me, even the people who love me. In an effort to find a reprieve, I’ve killed good friendships, hurt good men, used my tongue to lacerate my loved ones, and walked away from people who needed me. Sure, it doesn’t get the position of honor on the 9 o’clock news, but I have left my own trail of wounded, hurting people in my frantic attempt to stop my heart from hurting so much.

I’ve had my own share of trauma and abuse and heartache. And I spent years hating the inflicters of my pain until I realized that they are just as broken as I am. No, that doesn’t excuse what they did or give them any right to repeat it again. But it helps me not to demonize them, because only broken people hurt other people. And we’re all broken in various places.

So I can’t hate them. I will never condone the acts of evil they carry out in their own quest for peace, and I will never underestimate the agony the hearts of those directly affected have to endure. What I will do is remember my own brokenness, and that I am only one step away from their hell. That step is graceful surrender. The only thing that will keep me from being a cheating wife or an abusive mother or a mass murderer is the choice to not rely on my own ability to be good and do what’s right, but instead to make an honest confession that I’m broken and I’m in pain and Jesus’ grace is the only reason why I don’t go out and try to break other people. And that surrender, that choice, needs to happen moment by moment, not one time long ago in the back pew of your parents’ church.

Let’s celebrate together the joy and beauty we discover amidst the filth in this world. But let us also embrace the pain and stop telling each other to be “strong” and suck it up and pretend like we’re fine. Strength is found in raw honesty, in beautiful vulnerability. Don’t entrust your heart to people who tell you that breaking is a sign of weakness, or that feelings are for little girls. Even Jesus wept. If we don’t start breaking on a regular basis, we’re all going to be walking around with emotional tumors that can rupture at any moment.

I’m no better than that guy on the news, and neither are you. We’re all in pain. There’s a time to laugh and dance and sing, and there’s a time to break. If we don’t let ourselves break, we end up breaking others. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break.

***The best gift I’ve ever given myself is going to counseling. No, it’s not for the “crazies” – it’s for everyone who breathes. Yes, it can be expensive and intimidating. But I’d rather starve for a few days every couple of weeks than remain emotionally stunted. Recommend is not a strong enough word for the situation, but if you need a safe place to break and it is in your power to do it, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing a counselor. Your heart will thank you a million times.***

And Then the Fever Broke

I told my heart that we were fine, that despite the occasional waves of sadness we were going to be okay. I told it that if we smiled a lot and laughed a lot, we’d eventually stop feeling like crying. It shook its head at me and my delusion, grounding itself in reality. So I ignored it. For weeks. And the other night, it exploded. You know that feeling when your chest literally feels like it weighs a thousand pounds and you can’t breathe and all of a sudden you’re wailing into your pillow for no good reason?

Except I had good reasons – I had just chosen to ignore them. I’m really good at feeling only what I want to feel. And what I want to feel is the good, light as a feather, bubbly feelings. Even the quiet, whispery feelings are welcome so long as they don’t bring with them the dark, unwanted emotions I’m always running from. And crying? Only acceptable as a by-product of joy. None of that wussy, dissolve-into-tears-when-life-gets-hard-because-it’s-good-for-you nonsense. You admit that life sucks, then you dust yourself off and keep moving. No time to feel anything other than determination.

The last few weeks have been long and lonely, despite my plastered-on smile. Apathy became my best friend – if you don’t care, you don’t hurt. But I cared, and I hurt, and eventually I broke. Today, after three hours of nonstop journaling and pouring out my frustrations and letting myself feel all the feelings I didn’t want to feel with the One who gave me the ability to feel, the fever broke. I asked Him,

“Why am I constantly seeking external validation? Why can’t I truly rest in who You say I am? Why isn’t that enough? Why can’t I let You be enough for me? I don’t know how to do that, do I? I have to prove my own worth, my own value, and You’ve tied my hands so I can prove neither. Would I really become a person obsessed with proving to herself and everyone else that she is worthy of love and affection? Have I still not realized that I can’t prove that?”

Sometimes, He is silent and seemingly distant. But not today. I asked a lot of questions and He had a lot to say. When you narrow down the list of things you want to a whopping two, then present them to God, and He grants you neither one nor the other, you could respond with trust and faith. Or you could throw a fit. Or you could become slightly depressed and silent. And when you eventually take your frustrations to Him, you know what He ends up saying?

“You’ve been trying to define your own identity instead of discovering it with Me. So if I gave you either one of those two things right now, you’d hang your identity on them. You would become the girl who works there or the girl who’s dating that guy. Not the girl whose heart is at rest in who I say she is regardless of where she finds herself.”

Sometimes, I wish He didn’t speak quite so directly to the root of the problem. It’s so much easier to blame Him than to take responsibility for my sin. But He wasn’t done talking. He proceeded to reprimand me:

“You say you want My best for you, but really, you want your best for you. I don’t ever give you second best – what I give you everyday is My best. But because it’s not your imagined best, you choose discontentment.”

Ouch. He wasn’t kidding about that “disciplining the ones He loves” business. That one caught me by surprise. Today – this bland, uninteresting life – is His best? But if it were indeed His best, I’d be getting my second degree in Mental Health Counseling and working with women rescued from the sex industry and bouncing off the walls excited to go to work everyday and dating a Ryan Gosling lookalike whose love for God was contagious and whose style was impeccable and yadda yadda yadda.

Just because I have an overactive imagination that conjures up my version of the “perfect” life doesn’t mean God isn’t good to me. And just because I tell God that I want His best for me and then slyly insert my picture perfect life into the “God’s Best” folder, doesn’t mean I’ve fooled Him into thinking my best is His. He still wins. And His best is still better. And His best is right now. If I don’t see where He has me right now as His absolute best, nothing will ever be good enough. My imagination gets wilder with age, and it will always come up with something “better”. Maybe, like Paul, I have found the secret to contentment?

In the wake of this breaking and bleeding and healing, I’ve made a commitment: to not complain, not even once, about not having the two things I want the most for the next month. (In fact, in a moment of nothing but sheer madness, I told God to not give me either of those things anytime soon because I’m most certain I would idolize them immediately). Instead, I’m keeping a journal of everything I’m grateful for each day. I want to exude thankfulness and peace – to look for the little joys in every single day. I want to find rest and joy, not in a circumstantial change, but in a deep trust in who He says I am. And if you happen to encounter me anytime soon and hear me make some grumbly protest about my life, please [gently] slap me across the face in love. I can take it.

In true Fatherly fashion, he scolded me and then showered me with more love than I expected: He gave me this gorgeous sunset on my right and a rainbow on my left. At the same freaking time. It felt like a giant celestial hug and I finally let those tears come. Turns out, I didn’t lie to my heart. We really are going to be okay. 

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