More and more, I’m starting to believe in the quieting of pain. For some time, I subscribed to the pray-it-all-away mentality, the belief that God will surely eliminate the pain, the fear, the grief entirely. I’ve held out for the day when my anxious self will disappear, thinking I’m less-than until that day arrives when I will respond to everything in life as my confident self, without hesitation, without one stroke of doubt.
But I just don’t think it works that way. Lately, I walk with a God who erases pain on a chalkboard, like the old-school blackboard where the eraser smudges and leaves behind a faint reminder of the ashes of the past.
The pain, the fear, the anxiety, the worries, the grief, the darkness, the feelings of being forgotten—they are all still there, in a faint and quiet way. But it’s what we do with the thoughts that surface. We are more complex than all or nothing people (turns out). And that’s okay, more than okay. It’s beautiful.
Jess reminded us this week on the Dig Deep Podcast that God can grow good things in the pit. After 13 years of suffering, Joseph names his sons after what he has learned in the pit, as his own pile of ashes have grown and grown and grown. Here’s what he says about naming his sons:
Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”Genesis 41:51-52
I think Joseph would describe this type of forgetting like that old, chalk-dusty blackboard. The trouble, the hurt, it’s still there as an erased but faint smudge, and God has written new words on top to give him the courage to surrender.
At this point in Joseph’s story, he’s feeding the whole world, an influence so unpredictable during his early days of suffering. And I hope that Joseph did have moments of asking, But why God? Why did it take so much suffering before I made it to today?
I hope we all have moments of asking why. It’s what makes us human.
Jess shared how her mom describes grief like labor in reverse. At first, the contractions are fast and unbearable. With time, the pain spreads out, the contractions happen less frequently. There are less and less moments of forgetting how to breathe, of shooting awake in the dead of the night after some kind of dark sprinting nightmare.
When I look back through journals of prayers answered and unanswered, with both hopeful and disappointing time stamps, I’m left with a lot of questions. Many times I had clear prayers that God answered with what seemed like blessings but ended up as nightmares. And I still don’t have the answers to why. I might never have them.
But I do know that I’m not the same person I was on those old pages of trying so hard to pray it all away. Fruit has grown in my soil of suffering, even when it’s felt unbearable along the way.
Today, I am both fearful and confident.
My bold, confident self can tell my fearful, anxious self to keep showing up. To keep waking up and taking the steps. To keep running hard after my God who shows me the beauty in my ashes. Sometimes, it just takes time to see the past in a new light, to recognize the beauty that was probably there all along.