Today, I glanced out my kitchen window and saw two boys riding on one bike. Before I knew what was happening, the boy on the back hopped off, ran up my driveway, got on my bike and rode away. I ran out the door too late to catch him. That was the second bike I’ve had stolen in broad daylight.
I got in my car, looked for the boys and sulked. I was in a moment where I felt the entire world sucked.
It’s been a hard year. I feel like I am bouncing pantless from cactus to cactus. It seems like I’m always pulling out the splinters or thorns or barbs from yet another painful experience. Then, I realize I’m feeling sorry for myself—as if my suffering is somehow worse or unique, as if pain isn’t part of the human experience—as if I’m floating through a sea of crap all by myself.
Suffering can ruin our vision. Suffering can be a conduit to self-absorption if we’re not careful. Sometimes, we experience pain, we bear traumatic events, and we stop looking anywhere outside of ourselves. Our minds become traps, holding us hostage to an inward, futile train of thought where we compare, self-protect and try to pull ourselves up by our boot straps. One minute, we’re looking at Jesus and the next, we see nothing but our arms flailing in some desperate attempt to keep our heads above water.
Self-centeredness takes suffering to a whole new level of exhaustion. We’re like a hamster on the wheel, knowing we’re supposed to keep going and keep going, but we’re doing it the wrong way. There’s something in my mind that keeps breaking my legs whenever I try to run. It’s my hamster mentality. Every time something happens, I internally say, “I can handle this.” This seemingly innocuous statement of resolve keeps me on a spiritual treadmill.
So, recently, when a traumatic interpersonal event sent me for a tailspin, I stated my normal mantra: “I can handle this.”
Then, I heard a clear rebuttal from God: “No, you can’t.”
At first, I was annoyed. “Yes, I can.”
“No. You can’t. You weren’t made to handle this. You weren’t made to handle any of this.”
In one fell swoop, my go-to path was blocked. A familiar door was slammed shut. My mode of operation was ripped straight out of my hands. I realized I couldn’t handle it, no matter what “it” was.
I was initially irritated with the revelation that I could not shoulder all the events surrounding me. But, as I stared past the shut door, the blocked path, the empty hands, a new way appeared. My annoyance slowly melted into relief—there is some kind of gift that comes in our inability to take on the world.
I’ve been absorbing the pain, frustration, anxiety, fear, and anger of my circumstances. In doing so, I’ve rejected the true art of discipleship—active dependence on God.
When we realize we can’t do it, when we are in touch with our limitations, we can rest in God’s willingness to guide, comfort and hold us. When we’re caught up in exhausting our strength, we’re destined for a self-centered strand of suffering, leaving us much sicker than we have to be. Suffering is hard, no doubt. But we can make it a lot worse trying to buck up and Lone Ranger it.
There is no reward for not letting things get to you. There’s no heavenly trophy for being thick-skinned. A high emotional capacity is not a God-preferred trait. Grace comes through the admission of our need for the God who sees. Grace comes from crying like a baby and running into the arms of a capable Father. Grace comes when we forfeit our best attempts to succeed in crisis and instead, let God hug the hell out of us.
Suffering is easier when we give our tired legs a break and climb off the hamster wheel. Grace is the gift we get when we realize life is too much; when we bury our heads into God’s present shoulder. Then and only then can the truth that we can’t handle life be of any comfort. This admission gives life. It’s in melting into reality, into this embrace, into dependence that we place our lives and our suffering into the hands of the one who has handled it and will continue to do so.
Letting go is counter-intuitive. It sometimes feels like sinking. But maybe it’s in sinking that we finally learn what it truly is to be rescued. Maybe laying down control is the pathway to peace.