This year has been the gold medal winner of awful for me (not to brag). If someone told me I had been cursed I would be like “That makes sense.” The best way to summarize in one sentence what I’ve been experiencing (a healthy practice) is it feels like I’m a cat toy being batted around; sometimes the hits come fast and other times there is a lull that leaves me wondering, “Is the terribleness over?” and then whack. (Sounds fun, doesn’t it?) For instance, last week I had an excellent Thursday with workers showing up as promised (a surprisingly rare occurrence) and I was feeling optimistic. The next day a $4000 window was dropped that I’m responsible for replacing (awesome).
I recently saw an older gentleman I really admired from my old Salvation Army church who lost his wife last year. He asked how I was and I replied, “Things are hard, but how can I complain in light of what you’re going through.” He then surprised me by saying, “Sometimes it’s the little things that add up to cause the most pain.” Those were very wise words. I’ve been blessed this past year not to have faced the death of a loved one, but dealing with something that clearly terrible at least gives you a solid reason for feeling like garbage. On top of this, when the pain is obvious like with death or sickness, it’s easier for others to understand how much pain you’re in. This year has been a steady emotional beat down without any one thing really giving a clear message to others what I’m going through. It’s just one thing here and one thing there. Even if someone tries to convey they understand, it’s easy for my brain to lie to me and dismiss their caring because I don’t understand how they can understand (is that easy to understand?) This allows my brain to further mess with me by second guessing if I should feel as beaten down as I do: “Maybe I’m making it worse than it is? It’s just little stuff.” I know feelings can be liars, but sometimes the lies are hard to distinguish from the truth, especially when you’re feeling low.
Please know I’m not sharing this as a pity party or even a vent (I have a journal for that). It’s the lead into a specific lesson I recently learned while also sharing that even though I’m supposed to be a professional at knowing how to help people handle life (that’s a laughable way of describing my profession), sometimes life just sucks and that’s it. There’s nothing you can do, but continue trying to make the best choices you can and riding the wave. As Dori said: “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”
The crazy thing is my terrible year started the end of October last year, so I’m now in overtime. It actually started the week after I posted my lesson on the “12 Ways the Devil Messes with Us.” This list has the typical lies like I’m ugly, I’m an outcast, and I’m a failure. In this lesson I noted that after working through my lifelong fear of being stupid, the devil switched his method to mess with me through discouragement. It’s really great how the devil role models perseverance: (devil) “That’s not messing you up as much anymore? Okay, new tactic. I never give up!” (Sorry, I’m not sure if that’s sarcasm or not,) After acknowledging I struggle with discouragement, I then had the most intensely discouraging year I’ve ever had. That’s one crazy coincidence or the devil was like “You think you know my attack so you can be better prepared to combat it? Challenge accepted.” It’s like I’m a batter being told what’s coming: “This is going to be a fastball… how’d you miss it? Now I’m going to do a curveball… how’d you miss that one, too? You suck! You can’t get a hit even when you know what’s coming at you.”
When I was younger, there were times I would say that God abandoned me or to put it in a softer way, He gave me space to “grow” while He watched from a distance. When I went through these times, there was emptiness with underlying hope that He’d reveal Himself again. This year has been very different. It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced. God doesn’t feel absent. It feels like He doesn’t care. Yes, I believe He loves us and He has saved us through His grace, and believers will be welcomed into Heaven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Beyond that, however, I’m not sure how much God actually cares on the personal level. I know this idea will get a lot of Christians riled up: “How dare you question Him! There is a reason for everything!” First off, there isn’t a reason for everything. We can bring good out of all situations, but there isn’t a “reason” for everything beyond sometimes bad things happen because people make stupid choices, which might include being stupid. Second, if you use platitudes like “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” you deserve a solid slap in the face by a gust of wind, so not to cause anyone to be charged with assault. When you’re low, that’s one of the worst things to be told.
I actually had one Christian friend say to me, “Look at the good things God has done for you over your life like how you have a house and a good job and close family. What more does He owe you? There are kids starving in the world.” That’s a very misguided way of thinking. How is my situation connected to starving kids in another country? Even if they were connected, there were starving kids when I was getting my life together; why would that change to God suddenly not helping me? (Side thought: If God cared about personal suffering, why not make people sterile in areas where there isn’t enough food (or inspire leaders to push birth control) to prevent more kids being born into such terrible conditions?)
What’s interesting is I’ve been part of a church for over a year now and I thought I was friends with the pastor. In the summer he was away for a month and when I saw him at the end of August I flippantly mentioned it had been the worst summer of my life and then apologized for my bluntness. He said he appreciated my honesty. I’ve missed almost every Sunday since because of working on the house and the couple times I went he walked past me in a rush for something. He has also never reached out to ask how I’m doing or ask my wife who’s been taking the kids every week. I get that pastors are busy, but it’s hard not to feel slighted, especially when he says that his gift in encouragement – doubtful. On the plus side, this is how it feels with God. He’s there; He just doesn’t care enough to connect with me.
What I should point out is through this year I haven’t stopped doing my thankful prayers, reading scripture, asking God for help, and listening to worship music. In October I hit a spot where I can’t handle listening to certain songs praising God because it’s like salt in a wound, but fortunately, I’ve jumped headfirst into the Christmas music – it’s safer. This week I was listening to Tommee Profitt’s version of O Come All Ye Faithful (his Christmas album is brilliant) and it felt like God was saying “Jesus is the King. No matter what you’re going through; when all else is gone, you need to remember that Jesus is the King; He is Emmanuel, God with us.”
I’m not sure what that ultimately means, but it was a good reminder that no matter how bad life feels, whether God specifically cares about my life or not, Jesus is the King.
This week, may you consider what it means that Jesus is the King who is God with us.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)