There are days when I feel like I’m in the middle of an invisible tug of war. On one side is my childhood faith, an easy hope in a good and loving God, and a Sunday school answer for just about everything.
On the other side is a front row seat to a brutally unjust world, a seemingly absent God, and an overwhelmed human race.
Then there’s me—somewhere uncomfortably in the middle—grasping for meaning or clarity and often finding neither. Skimming the news online or reading my own tattered journal quickly reminds me the world is falling apart, and most of the time, I am too. Signs of fear, regret, racism, loneliness, insecurity or just ordinary disappointment permeate my Twitter feed by day and my anxious mind by night.
I trust God is present and good, so I try my best to turn worries into prayers as I lay in bed. I ask for help and rattle off a list of things I’m grateful for—the lullaby I’ve long relied on to usher in divine peace. This time, it’s not working.
I lift my eyes up to the hills. Where does my help come from?
Sometimes I don’t know. Hymns, sermons, verses, books and friends remind me that the God I believe in understands suffering, enters into it and sent a Savior to the earth to take it on Himself. This is the pillar of my faith.
But more often than I’d like to admit, it doesn’t feel like enough. Dwelling on the promises of God, if I can muster the strength to remember them, does not always take away the pit in my stomach, the questions looping in my mind, or the heartache that keeps me awake.
The reality sets in: There will always be a discomfort on this side of heaven. Circumstances will rarely turn out the way we want, the world will surprise us with its depravity, and we will remain imperfect people with imperfect responses to imperfect situations.
Sometimes the distraction of discomfort is so great it becomes hard to hope for anything better and nearly impossible to see where the mess ends and redemption begins. These times can be hard to walk through and difficult to articulate to others.
And as if wading through the normal tornado of human emotion isn’t enough, a heavy dose of guilt usually tops everything off—guilt when the God we want to trust doesn’t feel like our refuge or our ever-present help in times of trouble.
This is part of the wrestle. The in-between moments right in the thick of unhealed wounds, unmet desires, unanswered questions or unyielding pain. Sometimes it’s a short bout; other times it’s a long, drawn-out, frustrating journey.
In the particularly unsettled moments of life, there are a few things I try to keep in mind:
Wrestling With God in the Throes of Life is Completely Normal.
Scripture provides countless examples of people arguing with God, angry with God, or literally wrestling with God (Genesis 32). Part of being human means recognizing things can be kind of awful on earth, whether it’s something we observe or something we experience deeply and personally. Part of being a Christian means learning to trust that God is not taken aback when His people put on gloves, step into the ring and lift our fists toward heaven. Though we doubt and tarry, throw punches and collapse in a heap, we have a steadfast Father who is not fazed by our questions, emotions or struggle.
It Could be Right Where God Wants You.
Because so many of us flee from discomfort the moment it nears, embracing tension of any kind seems counterintuitive. Choosing to accept where we are right now, with the struggles we face, the questions we have and the limitations we feel sometimes forces us to stop striving. This is the real practice of being still—admitting exhaustion and thereby making space for God to enter into our mess in the unique way only He can.
Grace Will Come, in Large Doses or in Small Bits.
Grace comes in so many forms—it is the language of God’s love. Small things bring hope: laughing uncontrollably with a friend at a YouTube clip or the unexpected kindness of a stranger on public transportation. Big things bring hope, too: a new career or a restored relationship. We can be so busy looking for an answer or solution to fix the tension we’re in that we miss much of what God is doing around us right now.
And in the darkest moments, the oft-quoted line from C.S Lewis in Mere Christianity brings a bit of grace in the form of a reminder: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in the world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
There are many ways the world is good and we can bring pieces of goodness to it. But when I’m experiencing deep despair or overwhelmed by pervasive evil, I remember I’m not really meant to feel at home here. Strangely enough, that gives me peace.
My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth.
When I lay my head down to sleep, these reminders are my comforts—where I find rest in the wrestle. It is not up to me to ask the right questions or pray the right prayers. It is up to me to let go of guilt, to look for small doses of grace, and to thank God when it comes.
Karyn Noll is the Office Manager at International Justice MissionÕs Headquarters in Washington DC. You can follow her on Twitter at @karyn_noll.