“What’s with the rocks?”
“Do you have a few minutes? Pick a rock and I’ll tell you a story.”
Rock #3 green: Lessons in trust
“How do you do it?”
“Deal with—all this—[a gesture indicating all the medical paraphernalia] and still have a smile on your face?”
“I don’t. I can’t. It’s too much for me.”
“I don’t understand. I mean, I get upset when I have a flat tire, or the flu.”
“What do you do with that frustration?”
“I don’t know. I guess I get mad. I complain. Why are you asking me that?”
“I don’t think there’s really that much difference between what you have to deal with and what I have to deal with. In both cases it’s too much for us. We’re not meant to deal with life by ourselves.”
“What do you mean? Aren’t we supposed to be strong and spiritual and independent?”
“Well, no. I don’t think so. I certainly can’t live that way.”
“So we’re back to my first question: How do you do it?”
“When I wake up in the morning—if I’ve been able to sleep—before I even open my eyes, I tell the Lord I just can’t do this. I can’t face another day. I’m just not strong enough. I tell the Lord my particular frustrations and worries about this particular day. I ask him again to take me Home. But since he doesn’t—at least so far—[big grin] I ask him to live this day for me. I am weak but he is strong. His strength is my joy. His joy becomes my strength. Tell me what you’re dealing with today.”
I heard some variation of this conversation many times. People would come to visit Karis supposedly to cheer her up (and they did), but the focus soon shifted from her to them, to their worries and concerns. And Karis would pray for them, and help them pray for themselves. And they would leave with Karis’s smile on their own faces.
I have to tell you that Karis didn’t learn this dependence on the Lord from me. I was trained from infancy to be tough, to be strong. In my childhood home, any expression of a need was considered griping or whining, and that was simply not allowed. I didn’t learn how to admit weakness or distress or sadness. I learned to swallow or deny all that; to shut up and do my work. To keep my focus on other people’s needs and how I could serve them, because my own needs weren’t real; they didn’t matter.
I lived like that pretty much all the way through the hard years with Karis. And then, a few months after she died, after the five extra people who lived with us gradually went their ways, I fell apart. Grief swamped me, not just the grief of Karis’s death, but hundreds, thousands of big and little griefs piled up inside me that had never been mourned. I couldn’t contain them any longer. They showed up in nightmares to the point I was afraid to go to sleep. They flooded me when I was awake, three-D flashbacks that could suddenly intrude at the grocery store, or when I was driving, or having a conversation. I had what I think is a mild version of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Not by my own choice, I had to face into my own pain and losses and disappointments and trauma. I had to let myself feel. I thought I would not survive this. I had to admit my own fragility and neediness. All my life, being a wimp had seemed like the ultimate failure. I finally had to start paying attention to those overheard Karis-conversations and confess my own inability to do life in my own strength.
It took a long time to work through all that stuff. It felt like forever. When I was in the middle of it time stood still. The only way out was through. I couldn’t do it by myself. I absolutely had to rely on other people. And on the Lord.
I don’t ever want to go back there. I have to take life in small bits; deal with stuff as it happens. Deal with it by admitting my weakness, my neediness. Acknowledge to the Lord my inability actually to deal with the realities of life, with the suffering all around me in this sad and broken world. And do you know that when I’m willing to admit I can’t do it, and leave my disappointment even in this with the Lord, that’s when I find his strength. It’s the opposite of how I’ve lived most of my life.
Do you know why we sometimes gripe and fuss and whine? Why we get anxious and worried, can’t sleep, eat too much or not enough, hook into screens or shopping or chemical escape or whatever? Well, of course there are lots of reasons. But one of them is that we think we have to do life by ourselves. That we have to be strong and independent. That admitting our true needs and weaknesses and feelings is failure. We focus on complaining about the small stuff so we don’t have to face the big stuff that is too much for us.
Listen carefully to these words, not as a Band-Aid, not as a proof text or a way of judging yourself and others, but as a lifeline for your soul:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for what he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. (Phil 4:6-7)
Tell God what you need . . . That’s still hard for me. It’s much easier for me to tell God what I perceive to be someone else’s needs. Mine seem small and inconsequential; not worth taking up air time. Maybe you feel that way too. The problem is that small things not cared for pile up, until they’re big enough to be difficult to handle and I’m forced to pay attention.
So one of my big lessons in trust, that I expect to be learning the rest of my life, is to let God in on even the small stuff, admitting that even in that, I need his help. The more I practice being dependent on him in ordinary life, the more I’ll train myself to look to him for strength when tougher things come.