I once learned from author Emily P. Freeman, to pay attention to what makes you cry. She talked about how our tears sometimes tell us what is going on in our souls, when our minds haven’t caught up with them lately. She tells us our tears are reminders of the things that make us come alive.
I feel like my mind has been running a million miles an hour lately. And my soul has been on the back burner for months, but this past few weeks of more consistent writing have been helping me clear out the cob webs.
I’ve been tearing up a lot lately though. Sometimes its when I’m crying with a heart broken friend. Sometimes its when I see a picture of a sweet new baby. Sometimes its when I’m watching Wonder Woman, as she refuses to believe that there’s nothing she can do to help. Even before she’s truly aware of her potential.
When my now husband and I were first dating, I told him that I didn’t cry often. He now often refers to that in jest, because of course, I cry all the time. But the truth of that statement was the fact that at that time in my life I had built up so many walls around me to protect myself, that tears rarely came. I worked my sorrow and my anger and my frustration away with obsessive room cleaning and perfectionistic homework doing; all ways to attempt to control a life that I never really could control. Vain attempt to assure myself that I was “OK” when I was far from it.
As God began to chip away at those walls of self-protection, the tears came much more easily. I began to open up. I began to trust. My high school boyfriend turned husband was so much a part of that. I began to be reacquainted with myself; a person I’m not sure I really knew up until that point in my life. I began fighting the old me, and wearing my heart on my sleeve again. I came to life more and more.
But here’s the problem; you can overcome one hurt. Then another. Then another. You can keep getting up…but when you get to that place of realizing that so much of your life is going to be filled with the pain of loving people with your whole heart, it makes you want to quit all together sometimes. It makes you want to start building walls again, to try and be safe. To stop feeling hurt all the time.
I’ve been in that place again. And when I cry for things that make no sense; like the couple leaving our church to move away to another place, for another wonderful calling…when I hardly know them and yet tears are streaming down my face, know I’m crying for other things. For other friends that have left or are leaving. For the grief that missing people brings. For the needs that will be felt at the absence…because saying goodbye is so dang hard and yet God keeps asking me to do it, over and over again.
I feel tender and raw. Like the peaches I peeled last week for a crisp I made. My chiropractor keeps asking me if I’ve been skydiving I’m so tense, and all I say is, “No. I’m just carrying the weight of the world. Are my shoulders tight?”
People keep telling me to give these burdens to God. And I tell you, I AM. If I wasn’t, I can’t imagine what kind of shape I’d be in right now. No shape to write this blog post at the very least. But I tell you, just because I’m giving to God the problems of my friends; the wounds they are carrying around, the struggles they are dealing with, the fears that come knocking on their doors every hour by haunting hour….that doesn’t make it easy. I FEEL IT. I know now, it’s not because I’m too sensitive. It’s part of how God made me.
But sometimes I feel like the clay in the verse in Isaiah 45:9…questioning what God has made. Saying things like, “What are you making?” or “Your work has no handles?” I so often feel frustrated by the way God has made me. And what he has asked me to do.
Turning a season of overturn in one of my college friendships, my Dad once sent me this quote by C.S. Lewis,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
He sent it to me as an encouragement; an approval for a job well done of loving someone who wasn’t always very good at returning that love. And I’ve learned so much about love since then. And one of the main things I have learned is that love is almost always, to some degree or another, painful.
The pain of being disappointed by someone you love. The pain of walking through hard things with someone you love. The pain of loving people who don’t return your love. The pain of loving people who make poor choices. The pain of losing people you love; through discord or distance or death. The pain of feeling like such a fool, when you let people into your heart, only to have them walk away.
And this is what he asks me to do; again and again. He asks me to pour out my heart; to give it away. He asks me to love selflessly; to deny myself as he did. The writer of Hebrews reminds me that, “[I] have not yet resisted [sin] to the point of shedding [my] blood,” (Hebrews 12:4) as Christ did. And yet, that is the point to which I am to take my obedience, however painful.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
From the God who loved me to death, comes the command to love others to the same end.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14)
Lisa-Jo Baker speaks about this kind of radical love in her recent book Never Unfriended. In a chapter dealing primarily with the topic of walking through times of grief with our friends, she quotes John 15:12 and says this, “Perhaps we need to take a closer look at that challenge. Because I think we’ve diminished its power by limiting it to acts of heroism. Instead there must be a million daily ways we can lay down our lives in the course of a lifetime…Laying our lives down for our friends can translate into a hundred daily inconveniences that simply remind her without using actual words,’You are not alone.'”(Never Unfriended, 116,118)
A hundred daily inconveniences. A hundred daily heart breaks. A hundred times you’ll be asked to say goodbye, or be asked to be closer with someone you know you’ll have to say goodbye to soon. It feels like God keeps asking me to do this; the same thing over and over again. Say goodbye to friends in Colorado to move across the country to Wisconsin. Say goodbye to friends in Wisconsin to move back to Colorado. Say goodbye to friend upon friend moving away from Colorado. Love them well, then say goodbye…
I’m sure I’ll look back on this time someday in the future and it will all make sense. I’ll be like, “Okay God, yeah, I see what you were doing there now.” But right now…right now I feel like a woman with a hundred burdens on her heart, and one more person is moving away at the end of this month, and I just can’t bring myself to say goodbye to her right now.
Yes, I am stamping my feet. And even though I know God has awesome plans for her, and I’m excited to see where he takes her in the next two years she’ll spend studying in Germany, I am also, equally frustrated. Because I have a terrible case of God-amnesia, as Ann Voskamp so aptly refers to it. And I have already forgotten how much we needed Colette in our group and in our lives, and how out of the blue sky God provided her to us. And how for the past year she’s been both faithful servant, shoulder to cry on, kombucha instructor, nerdy food lover, and passionate prayer warrior. And how nothing of that can be taken away or diminished by the fact that she’s leaving now.
Sometimes its hard not to feel like God just keeps sewing people into my heart, only to tear them away. I don’t deal with change easily. I like my people with me. It was just one year ago that people were teasing my, at the time, newcomer friend Colette to “watch out. Grace may never let you leave!” And here we are; one year later and I don’t want to let her go.
And so much of that is my fault. And do you know why? Because I love her. I love her as God has asked me to love her. I loved her, knowing she would probably leave this year. I loved her, because she’s wonderful and beautiful and God asked me to give away my heart without reservations.
And here’s the crux of it. The part that God knows is true, and I am getting to at this exact moment as I’m typing these words: If I could go back in time and tell myself about my friendship with Colette, what would I say? Would I give myself a warning to stay away? Would I say to myself, “she’s more wonderful than you know. More servant hearted than you can imagine. She will pick you up when you need it. Encourage you with truth even when you don’t want to hear it. You will come to depend on her for so many things, and your son will wake up from his naps asking for her. Don’t be friends with her. Because when she leaves, its just going to hurt you.”
No. Because of course, that is crazy talk. And every moment that we get with each person in our lives is a gift given by the father who gives good gifts, each in their season. I would never take that gift away from myself, just because I knew that is was going to hurt in the end.
To love is to be vulnerable. To love, is to be heart broken. And I have said it before, but I’ll say it again. Aside from getting to be in the presence of the Holy God for all of eternity, the next best thing about heaven is going to be being with everyone we love at once; and never, ever having to say goodbye.