A friend texted me to ask for prayer awhile back, and I found myself remembering a conversation with another friend from the day before, looking for parenting advice. I don't remember exactly what I told those friends, but I think it was something to the effect of "just lean on Jesus, and you'll get through this." I felt kind of phony saying it, but I didn’t think I had anything better to offer, and I figured it was better to point both of them to God than pretend like I had the right answer.
When I’ve found myself in similar situations, I’ve gone to God in prayer and said, quite simply, “Help!"
Because I don’t know how to love this person the way you do… or I don’t know how to have faith that you'll provide for my needs… I don’t know how to trust you with my writing … I just can’t see what you're actually doing in this situation...
And a lot of times it helps. But sometimes, it's not enough.
In the middle of a trying time what I often need is compassion, from another human being. Even though I know the promises of God, even though I've placed my faith in him, I still find myself needing a tangible experience of him when I'm struggling. Sometimes I can listen to worship music and cry, or write out my prayers and find some sort of relief, but many times I also need the reassurance found in the eyes of a caring friend. Maybe that means I'm an immature Christian or something, but it also makes me think that maybe I took the easy way out in dealing with my friends' text messages the other day. Perhaps it might have been better to give them each a call and let them pour out their hearts about their situations. Perhaps they would have been more able to "just lean on Jesus," if they could also hear him in my voice.
Several months ago I heard a mental health professional say that an inability or refusal to struggle with sadness can lead to addiction, and I was struck by the profoundness of such a statement. Could this simple conclusion be true? Were the dots that easy to connect? I thought about some of the addicts I've known personally, and some of the stories I'd heard about how their addictions began, and it seemed to fit. Of course when they made that first choice to use a mood altering substance, they usually weren't looking at it through the lens of addiction. Instead they were simply looking for a way to feel something different than what they were currently feeling. Whether it was pain, fear, loneliness, or even boredom, they weren't necessarily registering that at the time. Often all they knew was that something felt uncomfortable, and this other thing (the thing they'd chosen to take or drink, instead of dealing with that discomfort) brought comfort.
And that's how it first started for me, too. Thankfully I've never struggled with a chemical addiction, but I've got lots of addictive habits that have taken years to break. Like the habit of insecurity, or the habit of playing the victim, or the habit of fantasizing about the perfect house/job/mate/child that will finally make me happy. There are also the habits of explosive anger and severe apathy, which may seem like mere feelings, but when they're your go-to, "comfortable" feelings—that mask the more vulnerable, or sad, ones—they can be just as addictive as a pill or a bottle.
Because it's much easier for me to try and escape my sad feelings than to admit how much they're bothering me in the first place. Because that requires a one-on-one vulnerability that doesn't come naturally to me. Perhaps it used to when I was a young child, but at forty-three, after years and years of experiences that say "only positive and happy feelings are acceptable," it takes a lot of work to admit that I have any other kinds of feelings.
And this, in short, is why I have a therapist. He's a person who encourages me to verbalize all of my feelings, not just the ones I deem "acceptable," and he also tries to get me to be very specific about those feelings, so I can actually feel them for a change, even if they're sad, or scary, or unacceptable. But the best thing he does is give me the space to feel those feelings without any judgement.
I read a verse in Psalms earlier today that says God has compassion on me the same way that a father has compassion on his children, because he understands my humanity. I thought about my kids and how even when they make choices I don't agree with, I still want to be around them and have a relationship with them. Because I know they're still kids, and I know how hard it is to do the right thing, or to even know what "the right thing" is sometimes. Is it possible that God gets my sadness, my loneliness, and even my shame, because he's felt all those things himself?
It's hard to imagine that a perfect being could ever feel shame about anything, but does lack of imagination equal proof? After all, we're told in Genesis that God was sad he ever made mankind, and in Samuel we learn that God regretted making Saul the King of Israel. "Well, that's not the same kind of regret humans feel," we say, but where did we get the idea for such a notion if not from our creator? Are we not made in his image, is he not the one who created feelings in the first place, and isn't that because he himself experiences them?
I don't know. I'm no scholarly researcher, seminary-ed theologian, or even a lady who uses more than one kind of pen for Bible study, but I did memorize Romans chapter 8, verse 1, and it says that there's no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So for now I'm gonna keep going to therapy, and keep trying to feel my feelings and maybe even risk sharing them with my friends on occasion. Hopefully none of them will ever tell me to "just lean on Jesus."
And maybe someday I'll learn how to give back, the same mercies that I need.