I was in that familiar place the other night. A long day at work filled with the stress and anxiety that can come this time of year in my chosen vocation had taken its toll. As I sat on the couch, staring at the television in order to get sucked into another story so I could escape mine for at least a few minutes, my wife asked the question – “How are you doing?” I responded with all that I could muster, despite the fact that all that I could muster had been reduced to a broken sentence. “The Feelings, lots and lots of The Feelings”.
The Feelings – whether you call them that or not, you know them. We all do. Any of us who have graduated past the age of five have known them and the situations that create them, cause them and bring them into the center of our lives. All it takes is having the experience of being knocked around by life a little and knowing all too well the struggle of trying to hold the work stuff and the faith stuff and the family stuff together while trying to live a life of meaning and purpose.
We definitely know The Feelings in my family. We’ve met them and despite our wishes, they keep coming back to visit even though we’d rather they not. They are messy, they tear things up and they break every rule my mother taught me about being a good houseguest.
That’s why we have a saying around here – boring is underrated. It’s not that we prefer the boring life. It’s just that over the last few years we’ve dealt with some stuff, serious stuff, stuff that will knock you back, stuff that will make you cry, and stuff that will really put you on your knees – because you want, no you need to know where God is in all of it and you also know that grace from something more powerful than you is the only way you are going to get through it.
And what I had to remind myself after I formed that sterling example of 21st Century American Literature the other night is this – it is the grace that will get me through.
When I look back on the hard times in my life, I remember and am thankful for my community of saints. When I have felt weary, and when the stress seemed like a mountainous wave just waiting to crash over me and my house, it has been my friends who have lifted me up out of despair over and over again by reminding me of what I know is true. When the struggles won’t stop, the spiritual practices – the habits and the patterns that God has developed in me over time that keep me rooted and grounded in love – have also done their part to rescue me.
But more than anything it has been the grace that has gotten me through. When the anxiety builds and the worry piles on and the fear shouts its condemnation, it can be easy to lose my way. And as a recovering perfectionist when I lose my way – whether it is allowing sin to lead me to anger, making a foolish mistake, snapping at a friend or simply allowing defeat to set in – it doesn’t take long for the condemnations to come again.
Maybe this is why my favorite book in the Bible is Lamentations. It is tucked in the Old Testament between Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It’s power comes as the writer draws you into the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness the people feel after the destruction of the temple and the Exile that followed. But the tenor of the book changes in chapter 3 from despair to hope: “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations 3:21-22)
These are the words that get me through. Because it’s when all you have is the broken sentence that faith makes a difference. It’s when you feel defeated that you remember the words of hope – that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. It’s when you feel like you have met your match that you remember the words of Exodus – that God heard their cries. It’s when you feel like you can’t take one more punch that you remember the words of grace that God speaks again and again – that sin is real and so are its scars, but that God is willing and able to do whatever it takes to heal and to restore and to renew.
Despite my wishes, I know The Feelings won’t leave us alone. They will be back because sometimes life is hard and control is an illusion. They will be back because Christian faith doesn’t prevent bad things from happening to you, but instead points to the power that will help you survive them when they do. But when they come, this I can call to mind and have hope – God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.
Grace – no matter what you are dealing with, it is enough to get you through.