I've been reading a lot lately. Probably more than my average amount. I think this is in part because my return to graduate school peaked a slumbering curiosity within me and I am chasing ideas in the pages of books but also because there is a hard story happening in my life. Unfortunately, there is rarely a life that is spared sadness, loss, confusion, guilt, shame, and brokenness. When we feel these things, when we sit front and center living our hard story, we yearn for something or someone to hold us. We might face illness, loss of a job, moving, depression, loss of a parent or child, rape, or other abuse. A well intentioned but deeply harming response offered too often is "Just keep the faith." Sure, for me, faith proves immensely helpful in my ability to wake up every day. But the really hard stories-the hardest stories- need more than faith. I think the greatest, most honest faith is probably one that would give up of itself.
But, faith does not make a shit of a difference if we don't have people willing to let us be faithless. I don't mean that we will most certainly be faithless; I mean that we need people who aren't going to turn to shallow evangelism and empty prayer if we find ourselves forgetting the good. It means we are allowed to forget the often shallow optimism we employ in faith so we can feel and face pain and suffering. In doing so, we meet a God who doesn't receive our blame for suffering, but simply receives it-and holds it with us. This is the incarnate.
Someone else can hold faith while we let our shit hit the fan. It is a fiercely difficult task to hold such hurt and faith in tandem, one that I am far from perfecting. In the best of time, it can be easy to feel invincible and full of life. And in the worst of times, it can be easy to forget that once upon a time, your life was full of goodness. It's easy to let ourselves reek of death and give in to the voice of nothingness. But there are ebbs and flows at work even in are unawareness, even in our nothingness.
A part of me hates saying that faith is not enough but a newer, more raw part says I wish someone would have said this to me. I have tried so hard to be faithful (faithful in the sense of void of doubt and disbelief. I would argue that now, I define faith as full of doubt and questioning). And maybe for you, your faith is enough for the hardest stories and that is beautiful too but be weary of assuming we all can endure as hope-full as you. What I would suggest is that the hardest stories require a cocktail of sorts. They require some element of faith but also humility, openness, vulnerability, and a giving up for another. And this is not faith of the religious or spiritual sense, but maybe it is that too. I simply mean more of faith in knowing stories keep going, that today is not the end but maybe for someone it is; it is faith that we are part of a much larger narrative-Christian or not. This is faith that is okay with us not being okay. This faith sometimes draws out holy anger. This faith let's us be bothered by things in our stories and the stories of others. This faith cries out during injustice, a loud bellow, that disarms the armed and lifts up the lowly.
We say "Everything will be okay" to a lot to people going through the hardest stories. We push hope, faith, and peace. Perhaps, it is not always appropriate. Perhaps Jesus wants us to sit with one another in our hopelessness, faithlessness, and unrest. Perhaps entering into the suffering and allowing it is more faith-full response. Faith is not enough; we must be faith-full people living in light of the incarnation and in the midst of the hardest stories.
If you are a music fan, a great song that lends itself well to this idea of hard stories and happy endings is "Happy Endings" by MIKA.
May the God of our hardest stories be with you, in flesh and in spirit, today and always.