A Work-Out Plan For The Soul
You do not realize now what I am doing,
but later you will understand.
Sometimes life is so beautiful and right and perfect, it takes your breath away.
I’ve been relishing a lot of days like that lately. My Grands skipping over to my house on the pretext of an errand, really just wanting to check in on us. Duke with his curiosity and Scarlet with that Cheshire grin that seems to ask,
How could Amma and Pops possibly fill their time without us around?
My life is rich and good, filled with relationships I treasure and work I love.
Yet there are other times in each of our lives when the bad of real life pollutes our days, socking us with ugliness— days when the summer sky is obscured by a dirty grim haze.
We don’t take pictures or post bright and cheery quotes surrounded by flowers on those days. No emoticons sprinkled through that part of the story. Smiley faces just don’t cut it; we don’t parade bad days on Instagram.
Instead, we ask questions no one wants to answer.
We whine— some of us on the inside where no one sees; hidden grief at the not okay-ness of today.
Others are all out-loud about what irks them; spitting up sour milk like my little grand-girl, Birdie, who heaves and spits and dribbles, leaving a trail of goo behind.
I have heard the questions— posed many of my own. I’ve tossed those queries into conversations and heard the sputtering response; listened as someone who cares tries, and fails, to answer.
Why? Why is this happening to me? How come life is so hard?
And the worst question of all, the one that signals a soul suffering the onslaught of an enemy’s arrows;
Why did God let this happen?
Right now, in the midst of my very-good-days reality, I am watching two women suffer. Women I know well. Honest women who do not pretend that all is fine when all is most certainly not fine. Theirs is genuine hardship, real hurt.
When I’m with one of these women, I get splattered with spit up. She can’t seem to help it any more than my little Birdie can help regurgitating all over anyone who dares comes near. She wants someone to rescue her, to make it better, to bring back the good days. She hurts. She lashes out, not even knowing she’s hurting others in the process.
The other woman is handling her hurt with dignity and calm, a restful presence even as she struggles with injustice. She stops herself when her heart inevitably circles back to the yuck, knowing, believing, holding to the words of Jesus:
“… later you will understand”
And I watch and I listen and I wonder, what would I do? How would I respond? How will I be when real life isn’t all hunky-dory, as it is right now? When the pressure builds and it’s all I can do to swallow hard. Which choice will I make?
The way of grace or the way of goo?
Two women, two responses. I want to be the gracious woman. Of course I do, and so do you. But how?
Is it possible to prepare for ugly days? To ready ourselves for those times when we cannot see the sky and we wonder with an urgency that borders on obsession if we can possibly endure even this—
I think the answer is yes. In fact, I know it is. And so I’m making myself a list.
Not a do-this-and-you’ll-be-fine kind of list, but more of a work-out plan for my soul. A way to strengthen myself in God.
- Learn to thank God for both the good and the not-so-good. Because sometimes when I am grateful for good days, I fail to acknowledge that no one, least of all God, promises that everyday will always be good.
- Learn the limitations of sympathy. Because no one can make it better and all the spilling of our souls onto another only makes us sick of ourselves.
- Learn who can handle my rawness. Because not everyone can, and not everyone should. Honesty is beautiful, but hard times bring out the parts of ourselves that are hidden and real and really stinky.
- Learn to grieve with God. Because really, He is the Comforter. No one else comes close, no one can fix it, no one should. But when I bring Him into my mess, He carries me close and I feel the calm, sweet relief only He can give.
- Learn to curate what I say to myself. Because seeing life through Spirit-eyes, hearing hardship through Spirit-ears, changes everything.
- Learn to ask the right questions. Because the wrong questions just sink me deeper into messy muck. Instead of, why me? How about trying, Father, what is this about? What are You asking from me? Please, Lord, will You show me Your beauty even in this?
- Learn to sink yourself into the stories in Scripture. Because they are given for our instruction, written down for us to see, and learn, and know how God works in the middle of our messes.
- Learn to see beauty every day. Because it’s there, these glimpses of God’s magnificence. And the relishing of His sweetness lingers long after I’ve passed by. Breathe it in deep enough to permeate your soul.
Two women. Two ways to deal with the invasion of hardship.
One whose soul glows, growing more and more beautiful as she finds once again that her hope is in God. That He is real in the midst of hardship, that He is close and present even when He doesn’t make it all better.
The other, stuck and struggling, seemingly immune to the Spirit’s whispers. Hurting people because she’s hurting. Unhelp-able because the only help to be had isn’t enough to make the hurt go away.
And me: watching and learning. Knowing I am prone to obsessive spit-up. Purposing to learn and practice and be alert now so that later, when every day isn’t all sunshine and sweetness, I will know how to be strong in God.
Can you add to my list?
Because I think we need to learn from each other how to be people permeated by beauty even when life isn’t beautiful.
From my heart,