It’s okay if you feel like it’s hard to find things to be grateful for as we close out this year.
It’s okay to be grateful and grieving at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.
You don’t have to summarize your year and wrap it up with a nice bow or a post on social media.
I’m writing this to myself, but if you need to hear it too, feel free to keep reading.
Something I’ve been thinking a lot about these past few months is the story of Job. Specifically how after he has lost nearly everything including his health, his friends came and sat with him in his grief. For an entire week they were quiet, offering the gift of their presence. That was a good thing to do. It wasn’t until after they started trying to fix Job talking and offering answers, solutions, and lessons for his suffering that they missed the heart of God and were ultimately judged for it.
I hope that one of the things I’ll take away from this year is the lesson of not trying to fix suffering. I hope that in the years to come I can look back on this year as one that made me more compassionate, more understanding, slower to move through life for the sake of enjoying every part of it. Because so far I can say with assurance that 2020 taught me nothing is certain besides the heart of God. Everything can change in a literal moment, and I remember vividly the moment it happened for me. It’s like a movie scene in my mind: a dark ultrasound room on a warm July day, after a long and uncomfortable scan at 35 weeks pregnant, a room filled with several doctors, and then the simplicity of words spoken that held so much power. A diagnosis, more doctors and scans and hard conversations than I’d ever had in my whole life put together. Scary possibilities and then scarier realities. Months away from home in hospital rooms and hotels. We lost a lot while gaining a precious gift.
I am still grieving. I have a lot to be thankful for, yes. But it doesn’t help me to ignore the fact that I have a lot I’m grieving, too. The fact that I’m even able to recognize this is huge for me, because I don’t know how to grieve. I have spent my short life running away from grief. I’ve been learning how to stop running, and this year gave me a lot of things to practice that skill on.
There is a weight that I feel, a tension almost, of wanting to be fine and wanting everyone to know how hard it is for me to be fine. A tension between wanting to be hidden and wanting to be known. It all goes back to the scary questions I ask myself, wondering if who I am is enough. We all have those questions and they shape the way that we see the world. How we find the answers is crucial.
I have learned that trying to pretty up pain and give it a purpose is something that is reserved for the supernatural hand of God. I can’t fix my own suffering, let alone anyone else’s. I can’t give something purpose. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. We live in a broken world where sin runs rampant and there are consequences of that all around us. It’s a lot, and it’s a lot easier to not think too deeply about it. But when we’re forced to face the suffering that surrounds us it can make us ask a lot of questions. Sometimes we get the answers we’re looking for by walking through the dark valleys ourselves. Somethings you cannot know until you’ve lived them. That’s a harsh truth, but it gives a deeper meaning to “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and staff protect and comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NLT).
All this to say, I have not lost hope, though there were some stretches I thought I might. I have only deepened my belief that there is more to life. We do ourselves a disservice when we assume that life is easily categorized into boxes of good and bad, thankful and sad, easy and hard. Life is all of these things at once. I’d love to be able to organize it and schedule my suffering seasons and joyful seasons and just check off the failure seasons real quick so I can move onto the success seasons. But that isn’t how it works and there’s probably good reasons for that.
I am more thankful for life than I was before, even if that means I have been wounded more deeply than I was before. It’s not pretty, it’s not easy, I wouldn’t choose to go through what I’ve been through again. But that’s okay. It’s okay to have sorrow and it’s okay to have experienced pain and survived. One of my greatest fears of life has always been to be the survivor of a tragedy. I’m not sure I’ve quite reached that point, but I can imagine it a little more clearly than I used to be able to and maybe I would still be okay.
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as His adopted children, including the new bodies He has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)”Romans 8:18-25
We are waiting eagerly, groaning, for the restoration of our true selves as God’s children. For Jesus to make everything right again, which He will. This is a promise and a hope, but it doesn’t have to come with trivial happiness. It’s permission to groan and feel the pain of our broken world. It’s okay to be sad. I’ll keep telling myself until I am free from the shame of suffering that it is okay to grieve. I am looking forward to the promise of restoration because I recognize that I need to be restored. I need to be saved from a broken state, and by God’s great mercy, I have been. That promise is coming.
The glory of the Gospel is just that, God has made a way to turn all of this brokenness and loss into something beautiful. It’s coming, and therefore I can live today. I can learn from Him and walk with Him through the darkest seasons because despite how dark and hard it gets He has yet to leave. He is good. I can face the hard feelings and the grief because He never leaves me in it alone. May my life be one that is continually renewed by His grace so that I have the strength to face what has come and what is yet to be with honesty.
“I remain confident of this, I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13