“I honestly started thinking that perhaps, that song wasn’t the best choice for a setting like that,” my friend shared as she drove us back to her place. She recalled a time when she brought a friend who had endured many a hardship to church. “And there we were in church, singing that God will never let us down. I’m not saying it isn’t true, but considering what she has gone through, I don’t suppose it’s easy to just sing that He’s good and that He will never let us down. I’m pretty sure she feels let down by Him. And it must have been difficult to be in corporate worship, pushed to sing that aloud.”
I honestly don’t remember when this car conversation happened, but it has never left me. It got me thinking not just about song choices for corporate worship, but also about how we are uncomfortable with suffering, even more so when it’s shared vulnerably; a lamentation of sorts.
Too often, we wait for the “…but God is good” statement to end off an account of suffering and pain. We wait for the overused (and inaccurate) “God is in control, and He is teaching me something through this” conclusion when we listen to someone’s story about loss and life’s struggles.
But what happens when we don’t have that ending/conclusion?
Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that God is good. But I’m gonna be real here – in the uncomfortable space between the beginning and end of a wrestle, I can’t guarantee that I am able to say it aloud. The in-between space is one dark valley, and at times, a necessary valley to walk through.
Yet, will we ever be okay with the description of said darkness?
Know me long enough and you’d probably encounter #thelifeofweijan stories at some point. It ranges from how I ran from Terminal A to C of Berlin-Tegel airport armed with a large backpack and an excruciating ingrown toenail problem. I’d later be stranded in that same city in the peak of winter because my bus was late, causing me to miss my connecting train. Or the time in Vietnam when a baby peed on me, so I changed out of my clothes and hand washed the soiled clothes, only to have it stolen from the line. Oh, all of that happened in a convent. My host insisted on getting me new underwear as a result. There’s also the time I was awakened several nights in a row while sleeping in a dark cornfield in Kenya, thinking I heard a woman screaming, only to find out later on that it had been a goat instead. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg of the oddities I’ve found myself caught in. And I have a knack for packaging these stories in a way that it’d induce laughter (and a number of “awwh man that sucks” as well).
(In recent times, memes have become the format of choice for such packaging of stories)
But what people don’t always know is what goes on in the in-between of the beginning and end of those stories; I was not a stranger to confusion, anxiety, fear, injustice, pain, exhaustion…the list goes on.
So what happens when I do share vulnerably, openly, and transparently, about the in-between space that I find myself in?
The reality, is unsettling.
I was told to pray more, trust Him more, worship more.
I was rebuked for my seeming lack of faith and inability to forgive.
I was asked to attend some healing/deliverance programme, as if I hadn’t been receiving professional help (in fact, I do).
I was even ousted from the team I was working with due to a misdiagnosis of my mental state.
I was misunderstood.
(The most recent one was concerning a meme I posted about the craziness of my week — my wisdom in posting one such content was questioned.)
I’ve also heard of stories of others losing their jobs or being excluded from a team for similar reasons. Such stories, I find, are too common, and unfortunate.
It’s as if the in-between is too dark to listen to, and the easiest way to deal with it is to offer a bandaid of sorts, to squirm in reaction to the discomfort, or to cease relationship and/or involvement in the lives of those people living through an in-between space.
(Think of Job and his friends.)
The authors of the book of Psalms and Lamentations were unafraid of the darkness of their valleys; their in-betweens. They were no strangers to the reality of the wrestle. They longed to see hope, yet were honest about their painful present.
I desire to see the conclusion of the struggles I’ve endured as a result of the pandemic and a generally hectic few months I’ve had. Yet I know full well that I’m caught in the in-between right this moment, and it’s uncertain when I’ll see the end of this chaos. My plans are up in the air, and most of my questions are unanswered. My friends have gone through many difficulties just by trying to leave their host country to return home in the midst of a lockdown. And I know I might be next in line. There are days that I’m too tired and anxious to say that God is good and that He’d never let me down. There are also days that I have only that much strength to sit in silence with Him, with no prayer, no singing.
But I know this is just merely the in-between, not the end of the story.
May I challenge us to look at the dark in-between space in a new light? (pun unintended)
After all, if it’s not for that uncertain, uncomfortable, and unsettling space that we might never be led to its conclusion. How the in-between is handled determines how the story ends. The fallen hero finds the strength to rise up again. The hopeless situation is met with bravery and creativity. The tunnel sees the light at last.
And it’s only possible if we allow for the in-betweens to be brought into the light, if we allow it to be called for what it is, if we allow the risk of one’s heart’s outpourings to mean something. All this with no judgement, no bandaids, no expectations.
I’m far from resolved, but I’d like to make room for the in-between to be what it needs to be. I don’t want to push it aside, nor ignore it. I don’t want to dampen it, nor give it too much power either (I suppose by making memes out of it).
I want to make it an altar; a pivotal point of the story that hasn’t seen its end yet.
Would you like to join me?