With over a year of living in Missouri, it’s fair to say this has been a move no one would ever want to relive. Though it came with so many good things, like a new job and a baby, moving is an unpredictable mix of gift and loss. Leaving and remaking home is hard anyway, but many of the details of this move and the rest of our lives this year have been notably challenging. When I was coordinating my recent gallbladder removal surgery (because amid this all I was having painful gallbladder attacks, of course), Aaron kept saying, “This has to be the last thing, right? No more emergencies for a while.” Two weeks later we were stranded with the kids in busy traffic when our van overheated. If this is irreparable, it will require a third vehicle purchase in less than eighteen months.
I am the man who has seen affliction … Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:1, 21-23
With physical ailments all around, expensive home repairs and neighborhood problems, and a long haul in cultivating new friendships and community, much of this has been affliction. But it’s also wandering, which feels like wasting, uncertainty, aimlessness, and disconnection – an affliction of it’s own sort, really. Our Minnesota theme was we didn’t see that one coming. So far Missouri’s is we can’t get a break or as thine income, thine emergencies shall be in measure. I said settling in here was going to be full of unknowns, full of newness. That has definitely been the case.
These new things are hard, but there is also always, always good there, and it has been my practice to keep a gratitude list, recounting God’s gifts in all things. There is something particularly sacred about training our eyes on the way beauty and grace come through in all of life, but there is a difference between talking about redemption through hardship and ignoring hardship all together.
I could easily share how God’s grace flamed so fiercely in this, and maybe I should, but I’m also starting to think there would be some spiritual benefit to keeping track of the bad stuff in life, just as much as the good. Why memorialize the wormwood and the gall, the bitter and bile? Scripture does so all the time, I find. Still, I have been fighting this since it seems to conflict with (among other things, like not wanting to sound whiny) my very-present concern for those souls stranded or running for their lives in the war-torn Middle East. We’re not under siege or refugees, so we’re okay, right? Things aren’t that bad. I’m a secure stay-home mom with living children, great health care, and food in the fridge, which alone means I have many, many circumstances “better” than others. People around the world risk their lives every day pursuing a small portion of these comforts and freedoms. But this mostly-empty empathy is more pride than gratitude. My help in life is not in being generally safe from ISIS coming to my front door, or comfortably feeding and staying home with my kids during a season when they need so much of me. My help in this, and everything, comes from the Lord, Psalm 121 says, under the heading “a song of ascents.” What is an ascent but climbing from lowliness to height? With the right perspective, with our hearts grounded in God’s mercy, recounting hardship is part of gaining a humble perspective. Brushing difficulty off because “it’s not as bad as someone else” is not always a sign of a content heart; sometimes it comes from a heart that doesn’t want to be needy.
I didn’t even realize this part of it until I started groaning every time I saw the negative consequences of my exhaustion, which has been just an undercurrent of these overall afflictions. This looked like lots of grumbling, but little praying, and a fair share of disappointment against other people. These are not the responses of seeing-grace-in-the-hard; this is evidence of resentment when others need me or I need something, and ignoring neediness, maybe hoping it will go away. Acknowledging hardship admits a lack of control. Given full autonomy, who would choose difficulty or incapacity? Yet this is precisely why Christianity is not a point of achievement but a constant path of growing smaller: We are the backwards people, and our journey of ascent starts out being bowed down in neediness. Lamentations doesn’t tell us the wormwood and gall are to bend us down forever, but it does show that hoping in God and recounting his mercies starts from a place of honesty and humility about that affliction.
I lift my eyes up to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 121:1-2
[I don’t think I’m copying her ideas directly in anything here, but my thoughts on humility have been very much formed by Hannah Anderson’s excellent book Humble Roots. It’s definitely recommended reading!]