Somebody that I used to know recently unfriended me on Facebook. And Twitter. And Instagram. Oh, and blocked me.
Her reasoning was that she felt like she didn’t know who I was anymore and no longer recognized me in posts I have made. Fair enough. I could agree (to a certain extent). I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation in recent days for not shying away from talking about things that make people wildly uncomfortable, both online and off. And she’s right; the Elena that I was five years ago, or ten, would have stayed quiet. Maybe because I was afraid. Maybe because I was still trying to figure out what I believed in. Maybe a bit of both.
And maybe there are many of us today who feel the exact same way, who are just finding their voices and using them to talk about messy things, hard things, things that convict us and challenge us and put everything into a brand new light. Maybe we were silent because we were unsure, or insecure, or threatened, or still learning. And maybe we now feel it burning, hot, like fire in our bones, just as the ancient words of Jeremiah said it would. We too become weary of holding it in, and like the weeping prophet who lamented and grieved and, ultimately, hoped–we say “Indeed, we can hold it in no longer.”
Life, seasons, love, loss: these things change us. They grow us, deep in our cores, and I truly believe they are meant to. And because my hope is in a good God who works all things together, I can lean into the winds of change and trust the process, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be tears or anger or sorrow or goodbyes; that there won’t be doubts, and questions, and maybe some of us will wrestle with God, and maybe we’ll lay ourselves bare like David did, and maybe the whole thing will feel bitter, and gritty, and hard.
Sometimes, we don’t talk about these things on social media until we’ve already gone through the fire. And sometimes, people don’t recognize us anymore, because they know nothing of what we struggled through, because for a while, at least, their paths diverged from ours.
The older I get, the more I live through, the more I see: relationships, they’re fluid, you see, and they change, or maybe they lay dormant, and sometimes they even die. Some of the people who held me through the pain of my first husband leaving for another woman were not the same ones who celebrated with me on my wedding day to Kyle. Some of those who supported me when I lost everything and found myself on the mission field in West Africa were not there when I discovered I had PTSD, or when Ebola hit, and when I had to leave. They weren’t with me while I cried and mourned, while I screamed at God in a therapist’s office, while I asked God why he’d forgotten me, while I questioned if he really was good after all and if I even believed any more. Some of the people who helped me find my faith weren’t there when I was afraid of losing it. Some of the people who rejoiced with me over my marriage were not the same ones who did so when I welcomed Atticus into the world, and some of those people weren’t there in the early days of motherhood, when I was battling postpartum depression and anxiety. Some of those people aren’t here as our family walks the path of adopting J. Some people weren’t there as I talked to parents about their fear when their black and brown sons left the house. They weren’t there when I held dear ones who wept because they felt like the Church had failed them. Some people weren’t there when I sobbed over the deaths of Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and so many others. Some people just weren’t there. Let’s not kid each other. And it’s okay.
The same is true even if the tables are turned. There are so many people I used to know, that I used to break bread with and share hearts with, who are little more than ghosts of the past now. I know nearly nothing of what’s going on in their lives, of their joys and sorrows, any of it. Our paths led us away from each other rather than closer together. Time, distance, other things we’re maybe too afraid to name; they got in the way, and the months would go by, then years, and then we realized we grew into different people somewhere along the line. But if we judge one another when we haven’t walked the same road, I’m afraid we’re only missing the point. Yes, maybe there are things we are sorry for; maybe we’ve been the wounded and the wounder, and if we’re Christian, let’s be honest; we are commanded to forgive. And I believe so strongly in the beautiful ministry of reconciliation, but I’m starting to see that the two are not always mutually exclusive, and it’s hard, and a little confusing, to work through all of that, isn’t it?
I’m reading a beautiful book right now, written by a young woman who left behind her life in Tennessee to move to Uganda and be salt and light there. (Side note: it’s called Daring to Hope, and it’s available for pre-order now; I highly, highly recommend it!) There’s a line I just read that has been sitting with me all day, and I just can’t seem to let it go. “The truth is, I can’t fold my arms to the hurt of this world and simultaneously reach out for my Savior.” You see, some days the hurt of this world feels too much, too big, too heavy, and my inclination is to shut down and hide away from it all. But to hide from pain is to hide from the God who can heal it. So we dig in our heels, and we grit our teeth, and we start again. We post that article, we start that hard conversation, we challenge, we repent–sometimes online, sometimes off. We start again. Every day, some days every moment, I start again. Because my hope is that God can somehow use it. My hope is that he can use me. I read Luke 4:18-19, over and over again, looking for Jesus here, in these well-worn pages, these well-read words. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And then, later, Jesus again: Go and do likewise.
So we watch, and we look for what the Spirit is doing in our own little pocket of this messy-beautiful world, in the tension of God’s kingdom here and yet to come, the now and not yet. We watch, and we join in. We listen for what he is calling for us to do, and we do it, and we know full well that our calling might not look the same as someone else’s. The way we are walking out our faith might look differently and sound differently than the way someone else is. And that’s okay, too. God is big enough to be doing a work in both. I am secure in who I am and how God is living and moving in me right now. And we live with our arms wide open, to God, and to our neighbors, because it’s never been either/or. Both/and, remember. Both/and.
And then we look at our ghosts, all the people we’ve loved and lost. We look them in the eye, and we wish them well, and we hope they do the same for us. We even pray for them. Not in a condescending way–“I’ll pray for you” and then, under our breaths, “because you clearly need it.” Not in a way that tries to wrangle and convince we’re right. Not in a way that diminishes the unique thing God is doing. What could be more beautiful than praying for someone in a way that trusts they hear the Spirit’s leading too, even though they might do this whole faith thing differently than you or I? We pray, we forgive, we let go if we’re called to, or reconcile if that’s where we’re led instead. And we remember: “The table. The bread. The wine. The feast. The promise of shalom. No one is left out of the meal. No one left out of the story (Curtice, K.).