How to Sleep In the Middle of a Storm

It occurred to me this morning that there's another side of the "at leasts" among us. There's also the "at mosts." You know the sort: again, you're sharing grief, pain, sorrow, anger, or some other struggle through which you currently walk, and they're there waiting to interject a "But God!" or "Well, at least it's not worse!" They're the eternal optimists or, more likely, the ones who are uncomfortable simply letting someone experience pain, suffering, or the depths of what God wants to bring them into. 

Just as I was guilty this past weekend of casting judgement on a fellow family member at my church, I can be guilty of "But Goding" myself all the time. A friend confessed a few years ago that he was learning how to walk into the depths of what God was doing in his life, instead of just in the shallows. He'd learned to bounce, rebound, robotically respond with the greatness of God, without letting the person across from him, or even himself, feel, process, or experience the deepest parts of their pain.

If we truly believe God isn't wasteful, if we truly believe he is sovereign, then we have to learn to comfort others and ourselves without distilling complex experiences down to a platitude—even if the platitude is true. If our response is quick and automated it says more about us than it does about the pain of the other, or their faith in the God who holds them. It says we're unwilling to really wrestle with our brother or sister and instead just want to get the hard stuff over. It says we're unwilling to really listen to them and just want to get a word in edgewise. It says we think our wisdom is better than God's wisdom in allowing this season to unfold for them. It also betrays our lack of trust in God to hold them, even though there may be darker days ahead. 

When we offer up a mere platitude in the face of someone's suffering or confession of weakness, it says more about our lack of faith than it does about theirs. 

True faith acts on the truth of God's word and sometimes Jesus simply wept, sometimes he asked questions, drawing out the mourner or the one in need of healing, sometimes he just fed them, sometimes he fell asleep in the middle of the storm, sometimes he removed himself from the crowds. It is true that he was proclaiming the good news everywhere he went, but good news does not always come in the form of words. Sometimes it comes in the form of weeping with those who weep, the provision of food on the table, and the sight of one who can rest in stillness, without talking, even in the midst of the storm. 

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The "At Least" Among Us

You and I and everyone we know has been there. We're finally mustering up the strength to be vulnerable and not just transparent. We're putting our fears, emotions, anger out there, hoping to simply be heard. And as we're speaking, we're watching the person across from us, their face changing from the tense desire to sermonize back or jump in when we take a breath. It grows softer, sadder, and somewhat madder. "Well," they say, "at least you don't have to deal with..." And your heart drops. 

I've written before about the danger of saying "at least" to the married or the single, and I suppose whatever struggle it is through which we currently walk, that's where we see the at leasts among us. A single friend said recently, "Well, at least you can try to get pregnant, my eggs are just drying up over here." A father of three said, "Well, at least you don't have other kids keeping you up all night." Someone who's struggled to conceive at all says, "At least you can get pregnant, I can't even do that." A moment of vulnerability for one becomes a competition for another. 

The thing about saying "At least" to someone—particularly someone who's confessing their own anger, fear, grief, or sadness at the circumstances of their life, is it negates their wrestle and it naturally elevates our own. It tiers the very specific means of sanctification and grace God is working in our own lives and separates his people into the haves and the have nots. Having many blessings can offer a form of dominance in the Christian culture, but for some of us, it's a race to see who's suffered the most—that's the real currency in our hearts. 

Yesterday at church while we sung about the sting of death being gone, my voice broke. I couldn't say those words and I wanted to, I wanted to. A few rows ahead of me someone worshipped passionately, both their hands raised, fingertips stretched out, abounding with energy. My heart wrenched and the words, "They've probably never even experienced death closely and here I am, all my life, life marked by death down to my very body." I knew the wickedness of the thought immediately and knew it wasn't true, it was a lie of the enemy trying to arrest me from processing why I struggled to worship the King and instead casting judgement on my family member. The lie felt more real, though, it felt like the most real thing in that moment, far more true than the words our church was singing or their rootedness in Scripture. I wanted to believe my pain was worse than theirs. The invasive weed of "at least" was taking root. 

I have been really struck the past month by the old adage that we're all fighting a hard battle and how I cannot be there for all the people I love because I'm fighting a hard battle too. My battle is not better than, worse than, or even equal to another's. It's simply the thing God has allowed into my life in order to shape, form, and sanctify me into more like him.

Whatever you're facing today, that thing that seems insurmountable, terrible, or just plain unfair? God is at work in that. He's not wasting it and he's not wasting you in middle of it. 

The next time we're listening to someone share what is breaking their heart today, notice the invasive weed of "at least" and pull it out right then, if we can. Ask the Spirit for help, if we can't. He is there to help us do hard things and comfort us when we feel alone. Places where it might be prone to pressing through the soil of our hearts: over coffee, at church, on social media, with other moms or those who want to be moms, with other single friends, when a friend loses something or when they gain something. We don't have to say "at least" to anyone in whatever they're facing because God is never doing the least of anything in our lives. He is always doing the best—even if it feels like the worst. 

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