One of my biggest struggles with professional church life (or, as normal people call it, pastoring) was the temptation to always be a fixer. It wasn’t an abnormal struggle; many of my friends who were in the pastoring sphere wrestled with the same tension.
It was a scene that I witnessed countless times. Trauma, devastation, hurt – no, agony is a better word here -, doubt, gut-wrenching questions…all treated as minimal obstacles to be overcome succinctly and quickly. I sat in lots of meetings where “leaders” flippantly discussed painful situations of their church members without really a spec of compassion in their voices. As if their struggle and pain were an inconvenience for these men. Or, at least, fodder for the conversation.
But what bothered me most was that I felt that same cold heart enveloping mine. I felt, on the cusp of my tongue, the same rote advice ready to be offered to someone at their weakest point:
“God’s ways are not our ways…”
“This will all make sense some day…”
“God must’ve needed her up there…”
“That’s just not the way that God wants it…”
“God’s timing is different from ours…”
I guess that this is the secret of Christianity; we do not have all the answers. Perhaps real faith accepts that, rather than trying to frantically explain and create nice, neat little statements. As students poured out their hearts in my office, those little answers didn’t really seem so nice or convenient anymore. I think that it was much more faithful to cry with them, to grab their necks and hug them, and to admit that life hadn’t been fair to them.
All the teaching could wait. All the motivation could be reserved for another time.
What was necessary in these moments was to hurt. What was faithful was to bear their burdens rather than offer explanations.
Sarah Bessey, a fantastically honest writer, says it like this:
…when we are privileged to be present as someone’s heart is breaking open with pain and longing and doubt and questions and terror and loss and grief and love and hope and fear, before our very eyes, as they are in the midst of wrestling with God and it’s tangible and not fixed by seven-steps-to-a-better-life-and-whiter-teeth, how about this?
How about we be a freaking person, right alongside of them?
Perhaps we should learn to accept the fact that giving answers isn’t always the solution. Sometimes, the most spiritual thing that we can do is embrace our humanity and struggle alongside our friends and neighbors. Maybe having faith is as much about shedding tears and sharing meals as giving sermons and explanations.