I have spent so much of my life trying to get someone to understand whatever it is I’m going through. No matter how good our lives are, there’s always some element of suffering or painful giving of ourselves. For goodness sake, I’m sitting here living this beautiful, privileged life and feeling nostalgic over parts of my past, parts that were actually quite miserable – and yet in my head those memories have a glow, a golden backlight. Nostalgia is like Instagram: it makes life look a little better than it actually feels.
We all have our own brand of suffering that no one will ever fully get, but how we choose to handle the suffering is critical. Most of us go around either pretending our hurt and questions don’t exist, or, getting so stuck in our hurt and questions we’re searching strangers’ eyes to see if they feel it, too – to see if maybe someone gets us and the way life kind of hurts even when we’re not sure why. The only way I can figure to live life wholeheartedly is this: don’t invalidate your own suffering, but don’t get hung up on it either.
Two summers ago I was going out running in the morning before my daughter woke up. It was too hot to go outside at any other point during the day, so I was trying to get exercise in before the heat really set in. I would always get to about halfway through my run, turn the corner, and start feeling tired. It was always at the same point, and I always thought I wasn’t trying hard enough and that I needed to push through it so I could get in better shape. Basically I thought the reasons it felt hard had something to do with my own lack of discipline and effort. One day as I hit that spot again, the narrative in my head was interrupted as I realized there was a slight incline for about half a mile starting at that halfway point. It instantly connected to my life, as I always tend to blame myself when I’m struggling through a season, but I realized that in life, a lot of times we’re running uphill without realizing it. We don’t see all the reasons it’s a difficult season, but you’re not making it up and it’s not your fault. It doesn’t change the fact that it feels hard, and that it’s going to take extra effort, but it’s still nice to know it’s not all in your head.
The truth is, in an objective sense, my life is pretty wonderful. Although I still have conflicted feelings about where I am and what I’m doing there’s nothing I would actually change. What I keep finding is that there is so much grace in this life. It would be dishonest to say that I always love my life, but after the tough moments pass, I feel the beauty of God seeping in through all my cracks. And yes, we need to follow Christ with our crosses, but he is also a God of hope. Without a comprehensive theology of both suffering and hope I can’t live wholeheartedly, both acknowledging the suffering and also not getting hung up on it.
Part of the problem is we can never see it all clearly. We can’t hold life all at once and get a good look at it. Even the past, with 20/20 hindsight, is limited to the narrow scope of our limited perspective. But occasionally I have a moment of clarity, and I’m comforted to see that there was meaning to my struggle, that the questions I had did resolve, and that I am in a better place now than I was then. I am grateful to have enough years under my belt at this point to finally start feeling like I know something about myself, but I imagine in another thirty years I’ll look back and know for certain that I knew nothing. Except maybe the enduring love of Christ and that He is certainly our hope.