“By listening to each other’s complaints and formulating them against God, we help one another… We don’t always have to be at God’s side, defending him. By being taken seriously - not rejected, not toned down, not spiritualized - the complaint becomes an occasion for demonstrating God’s providence.”
p 54, Every Step an Arrival, Eugene Peterson
Everywhere I turn these days, a writer or preacher is expounding the importance of staying positive, speaking ‘pure, lovely, true’ words, ‘taking our thoughts captive’, and focusing on the good.
Let me just get this out of the way - they are RIGHT.
However, if I may… They are right when that is the next thing.
The first thing, I propose, is that we are honest. Down in the dirt, covered in mud, bloody, sweaty, gasping for breath, clutching our swords, leaning against a tree so that we don’t fall down - honest.
In our ‘now’ culture, there is little patience for the process. We want to hear someone’s testimony, clap as they share their ‘mountain top’ victory, and cheer as they stride up to the podium, sure and confident and clean and shining.
But first… First we have to do battle. First, it’s ugly. First, things are not okay.
And that’s just fine.
The bible is full of the ‘not okay’. Complaining. Accusing. Challenging. Whining. Arguing. Our loving Father makes sure that His story, OUR story, is full of the ‘before’. Just read the Psalms and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of the process of life - lots of verbal smackdowns and downright disrespectful-sounding accusations.
Here’s the thing. God is big enough for our anger. God is loving enough for our accusations. God is sure enough for our doubts. God wants a real relationship with us - not a whitewashed, good enough for Sunday, let’s be friends when I have my good clothes on friendship. A friendship of depth involves all the tough stuff. He’s not afraid of it.
Another important aspect of truth-speaking is this: when we commiserate with others, we enter their story. We share pain and validate experiences. This is true relationship. We do not do God a disservice when we agree that a situation seems hopeless, when we crawl into the hole and hold our friend, and cry. We do not dishonor God when we validate the unfairness, the bleakness, the pain, the injustice - when we validate another’s experience, when we trudge the muddy, cold, wet, miserable road of the valley alongside a comrade, we actually honor the God who said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’
Our mission as followers of Jesus is embrace this life we are living now - even the complaining and the negative. Especially the complaining and the negative, because it is in that space where simply by offering our presence and validation we honor each other’s journeys and experiences. It is in THAT space that our relationships are cemented. Where trust is built. When we hold on, do not let go, and enter into each other’s trials, we show and experience the heart of Jesus.
I agree, let’s bring our thoughts back to the positive. Let’s encourage each other in the promises of God. Let’s strengthen each other with bible verses that speak of hope and victory. But first… First, let us honor the bigness of God and His true love by walking the valley, validating the pain, speaking the truth of what is NOW - and in doing so, prepare the way for miracles, provision, and love.
"We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well."
(1 Corinthians 10:24b MSG)