She was all hooked up. Ready for the Pitocin to start dripping. She winced at the thought of induced labor. And then, in a pathetic attempt to assuage her concerns, he let those words roll off his tongue, “All labor is the same. Labor is labor.” I wanted to kick my friend’s obstetrician. Where it counts. Right then and there in the matchbox-sized labor and delivery room. To teach him a thing or two about pain. Because having had giganto babies au naturel (sans Pitocin), I knew he was full of crap, and his patronizing attempt at comfort did nothing to acknowledge the real pain and ridiculously hard work my friend was about to endure as she brought forth her new baby boy right before my very eyes. And because there was nothing I could do to remove her from the pain, I was there for solidarity. To be with her in it and through it. Because that’s all she needed and that’s all I could offer.
The truth is, life is hard. And there is pain. And none of us is exempt from having experienced it or living through it again in the future. But no, Dr. Stupid Dumbhead, M.D., all labor is not just labor, all pain is not the same, and all things hard are not comparable. Sure, a papercut from opening your mail too fast hurts like h-e-double-hockeysticks and you will want to cry it out like a Babywise baby and if that’s the worst pain you ever felt in your insulated life you might think you know real pain, but I’ll take a hundred papercuts sliced slowly across the end of every single one of my fingertips before I ever pass another kidney stone or have the bones in my face chiseled by a surgeon.
And if you’re a dear fellow sojourner who understands pain and hard times and suffering beyond the “life is hard” cliché, I know you get this. You get the feeling of wanting to pull a Mike Tyson on the next person who pats you on the shoulder and tells you, “Life is hard, but God is good.” Because really? No sheetola. Life is hard. Welcome to Planet Freaking Earth. And yes, God is good. (Amen and amen.) But sometimes you JUST WANT A BREAK FROM HARD. And no cliché, no platitude, no pat on the back, no sweet somethings from someone who cares will give you that respite for which you desperately long. Because when it comes down to it, you are in these circumstances beyond your control and wishes, and only the sovereignty of our God can take you through it and (hopefully, Dear Jesus, HOPEFULLY) bring you out of it before you meet your Savior face to face.
If this kind of
living surviving day after day after downright hard day resonates with you, solidarity—not solutions—is my sole aim today. Because it doesn’t matter what your can’t-take-it-anymore pain looks like on the outside; you know what it feels like. You’re lonely. Tired. Drained. Ready for a new day. A new season. A whole new year. A break. And you realize it may never come on this side of eternity. And that realization makes it all the hell of a lot harder.
You’re a grandmother in your 70s and you’re raising your grandkids after their dad vacated and their mom chose drugs over them, so instead of road-tripping the U.S. of A. with your Lifelong Sweetheart in your paid-for R.V., you are dealing with the throes of teenage rebellion and forking out hundreds and hundreds for counseling. You don’t get to do what other seniors are doing, and you need some respite. And every day is beyond hard. You’re a mom with a special needs child and though you love him with every bit of every atom in every single cell in your entire being and can’t imagine your life without him, you’re absolutely beyond wiped out, because it’s just so damn hard to tend to him every single second of every single day to no end and none of your friends understands. And every day is beyond hard. You are fifty years old and have your own family to raise, but you spend every minute of every day tending to your live-in, elderly, ailing father who can’t remember who you are and, though you love him with all of your middle-aged heart, you are exhausted and drained and have nothing left to give. And every day is beyond hard. You adopted an older child who lived a nightmarish life of trauma and heartache before they were yours and they are unleashing it on you like a relentless tsunami and you wake up every single day wishing that you didn’t have to face another day of hell but knowing that you have no choice and you walk on shattered eggshells all day long because it’s just not worth another three-hour rage fest over the most minor of things and you cry alone in bed every morning because you fear what the day will bring. And every day is beyond hard. Your child suffers from the lifelong, permanent effects of FASD because their birth mom couldn’t put the bottle down and so you sit night after night after night at your child’s side at the kitchen table just wanting them to sound out one freaking word from their homework and they can’t even sit still long enough to make it through the first sound and they’re only in the second grade and you can’t imagine every night for the next ten years JUST LIKE THIS and you just want a break from the difficult. And though some accuse you of having a pity party, you don’t feel sorry for yourself at all because this is your life after all and you embrace it but it’s just so freaking hard to live it. And every day is beyond hard. Your house is in foreclosure and your husband is working three jobs just to put food on the table but ends aren’t being met anyway and the bills keep coming and the collectors keep calling and you can’t afford to do what any of your friends are doing and you bend over backwards to find ways to take care of your family’s basic needs but it’s not making a dent and it’s scary and lonely and taking an emotional and mental toll on you and your marriage and your kids but this is just your way of life and though God keeps giving you the manna you hunger for the ribeye that you see everyone else feasting on and the smallest financial inconveniences send you over the cliff because nothing is easy or simple when you don’t have money. And every day is beyond hard. Your husband unexpectedly passed away one year ago and with him went all of the oxygen in your lungs and in your home and you are drowning in your own grief but you have to act strong enough to help your kids not get overtaken by their own painful loss and you keep thinking it will get better or at least easier and it hasn’t and you keep putting one foot in front of the other but it doesn’t change reality. And though (most of) your friends try to be supportive very few of them truly understand and some might even judge. They want you to pull yourself up out of the trench of hard times and join their festivities of the normal. But you can’t. Because your life is different. And every day is beyond hard. Your child is sick so often you don’t even keep track anymore and you spend day after day and week after week in and out of the hospital and while you have the support of friends and family and money is no issue it’s just so difficult to keep it up but you don’t have a choice because it’s your kid and you would die for them but you can barely breathe yourself most days. And your head is barely above the surface of the raging sea and the salty taste never leaves your mouth and you gag with every breath. And it’s all you can do to tread water and not go under…at least not for too long that you can’t come back up. And every day is beyond hard.
Hard beyond hard beyond hard. Suffocatingly hard. Perpetual hyperventilation. And what makes it feel impossibly harder is that you can absolutely remember a time of life when it wasn’t this way. When faith wasn’t a fight and joy did not elude you and every day wasn’t a struggle.
And so you do what all humans do with our finite brains and fragile hearts to reconcile what doesn’t make sense in our stories. We divide our lives into seasons, chapters, segments of time—no matter how short or long. We remember those poignant moments that define each phase. We speak in metaphor of “walking in the wilderness” and “waiting for the Promised Land.” And we know exactly how many days and weeks and months and years our wilderness has lasted. And it’s been a long time even if it hasn’t been. And we yearn for struggles to cease and the blessings to abound. We scream when the Heavens seem silent and beg for God to rain down. We thank Him for the manna yet want to leave the desert after all. We cry out. Because it’s hard. Hard beyond hard. And we long for a respite. A season—no, a day even—that isn’t downright hard. That doesn’t greet us with pain and hardship and suffering and loneliness. And there are no solutions or Dave Ramsey Steps to Peace because this is your life for as long as you can foresee it and if there were a way out of it you would have long ago found it. And all you desire from others is solidarity or at least a semblance of it.
You are grateful beyond all thankfulness for the micro mercies and force yourself to focus on them daily—The meal spontaneously dropped off by a friend who was thinking about you—The check you got in the mail to help cover Christmas presents for your kids—The car someone loaned you so you could get to an appointment on time—The lady who gives your kids free haircuts—The nurse who was extra friendly to your child and got you into your appointment right away—The Facebook post on your wall to encourage you. But you long for the Macro Mercy of El Roi—The God Who Sees—whom you beg to step in and with authority scream ENOUGH! and usher you into your own Promised Land right here on Earth.
And truly you “rejoice in your sufferings” and all that it produces like character and hope and endurance. You “consider it pure joy” because your trials have grown your faith like nothing else could. And you know without doubt—though it’s tested daily—that the “glory that will be revealed in us” one day will ultimately make it all worthwhile. And you even feel and believe that “when you pass through the waters,” He is with you. You have followed God long enough and hard enough to know that “He has plans to prosper you and not to harm you” and will give you (eventually) that hope and that future. And friends close and strangers afar laud you for your unwavering faith and unshakeable strength and while you truthfully appreciate their affirmation you just want your present reality to give you a break from having to have that kind of faith and strength at all.
So, Dear Reader, if every day of your present life is hard beyond hard and you weep without words in your thoughts because you are living this present darkness right now, lift up your head and reach out your hand because I stand here with you as a fellow sojourner in the Wilderness of Suffering. And I will stand with you in your pain and you with me in mine and together we will offer one another
Because when every day of your present life is hard beyond hard beyond hard, solidarity is enough to help you make it—through another hard day…
so we can remind each other that our Savior who died for us and knows our sufferings is linking arms with us. And that Jesus loves me. This I know. Especially in the hard beyond hard.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.