It was a Thursday afternoon and I had just driven through a snowstorm to see my friends in Fairbanks before leaving the state of Alaska. During lunch with a friend, I was asked how my spiritual life was doing. My friend was aware of what I had gone through this past Summer and I answered her honestly. I told her it flatlined. Her response was one of a true friend, one that lacked judgment. Something we need more of in our church culture today. I am not here to point any fingers or have any sort of angry rant, nothing like that… BUT, I am here to discuss the expectations I have observed over these past few months. Most of what I have written below was on my mind while I prepared mentally for my throat surgery.
As I type this on the eve of surgery, I was so thankful for the lack of “Christian-ese” responses that can often come with prayer requests. To be honest, I have been scared to the point of tears. My anxiety, despite my best efforts, took off with all the worst-case scenarios of what they could find with this biopsy. From scenario A. losing my voice as it has continued to crack and waiver to scenario B. throat cancer, I have thought the worst of it. I have tried my best to take these thoughts captive like a good Christian and lay them at the feet of Christ. Yet what I found the most comforting was being in the arms of Christ and being willing to shed my fear in the forms of tears. Through tears of being scared of what the report may bring I pushed through to sing His praises. Yet, due to the pain in my throat, I wasn’t actually able to sing. Did I become joyful? Did the fears fall away? No, they remained. Too many times we get caught up in the “victorious Christian life” that we forget that it is okay to feel even the down emotions. We seek the victory of Christ, the mind of Christ, the power of Christ, to be like Christ, yet… we neglect the tears of Christ.
Years ago when I was in a youth group, they went around the circle and asked everyone to recite a verse they knew by heart. One of the guys took his turn and said, “John 11:35 Jesus wept.” Everyone kind of smirked, or perhaps it was just me, because it is the shortest verse in the entire Bible. Yet, as I reflect on these past few months of trials and transitions, I am wondering if he had found something profound.
I ask you this, “How can we become more like Christ if we are not willing to grapple with the emotions he expressed while on Earth?” Christ did not just weep, he also got angry, and stressed. He got so angry he literally flipped a table. He got so stressed he BLED! If these things are new to you, then I encourage you to search the gospels to read these stories too. I am avoiding tagging all the references because I want you to go look for them. Remind yourself of the stories of who the man of Christ was, stories of His humanity. You want to know what I think is really crazy about Him shedding tears? Spoiler alert, He raised Lazarus from the dead moments later. The man, Jesus, who could raise people from the dead took a moment to shed tears. Let that sink in for a moment.
Jesus, who knew His Father in heaven had already heard his request, who knew the dead could be raised, still felt and loved Lazarus so deeply that he mourned his loss and wept. Too many times we focus on being positive even in our lousy moments that we do not allow ourselves to feel the emotions that God gave us. We put on this mask of false positivity and tell everyone that we can grin and bear it because all things are possible through Christ. We quote the many scriptures about the joy of the Lord being our strength. If we are not careful, this mask does not allow ourselves to truly process the sadness within. I wonder what people would say to Jesus today in that same scenario. Would they tell Christ to pray more as he bled so that God would take the stress away? To focus on the Word more to get through the loss of a loved one? Or to take those angry thoughts captive before flipping some tables? Seriously, have we truly sat down and considered these emotions?
Christ was sinless, yet He felt these things. Why then have we built up a straw house of what we “should” be in order to be like Christ? Why is it that fellow Christians often fail to allow people to be themselves during hard times? I get that it is not okay to dwell on the negatives. That is certainly not what I am promoting. However, there is a balance in being able to work through our emotions as well. It has become apparent to me that we as a church have fallen behind in the realms of mental illness, grieving, and the like. To clarify, when I say “church” I am referring to the general consensus of my experience as a whole. Fortunately for me, my personal experience with my church both in Alaska and in Pennsylvania has been very supportive. That said, the church or church culture is represented by a much larger body than the two small churches I attend.
During the hardest times I have faced, especially after suicide ideation this Summer, I have learned that often the best thing we can do is just allow ourselves to flatline. Come to a place of stillness and behold that He is God. Coming to a place in the arms of our heavenly father that will hold us as we weep, as we are stressed, or even while we are angry. During the still times after the storms is often when God speaks to our inner heart in a small still whisper. Yet we often only focus on shouting the positive while forcing ourselves to be happy amidst the pain. If we continue on this route, we could actually miss what He’s trying to tell us in the silence of it all.
Author: A. P. Smither
Editor: P.J. Walk