Just the other day my mom and I were having a conversation about our healing journeys and how difficult it can be working through the different stages and emotions that come with it. Healing can be instantaneous for some people if God wills it, but more often than not, there seems to be a process we have to sift through in just about everything, in order to grow and heal both emotionally and spiritually. If you think about forgiveness, working through anger, detaching from the world/sin, working through grief and loss-each of these things take time, they require us to go deeper, and enter into the “messiness” of our human experience. None of these things happen overnight. And yet, when we talk about some of these things in Church or with friends, we don’t always acknowledge just how difficult some of these things really are.
The idea of forgiving is much nicer than the actual process of forgiveness. The thought of letting go is much easier than the actual letting go. The desire to grow in holiness is much easier than the actual stretching and purification that virtue demands of us. The processes of these things are much more difficult than the theory of them. When we choose to forgive, we make a choice to show mercy, but what happens to that pain from the offense? Does it just evaporate as soon as we forgive? Maybe for some people, by God’s grace, but for most of us, even after we’ve made the choice to forgive, we still find ourselves working through the emotions, memories, etc. that surface. We still have to repeatedly hand these things over to Jesus. It takes time to heal and sift through everything, even after we’ve made the initial choice. It’s this part of the process, the aftermath that is hard, and I don’t think we talk enough about the realities of just how hard it can be.
How many of us when we’re struggling with something have told ourselves or heard from others, “Oh you just gotta forgive,” “You just need to move on,” “Just don’t worry so much” or a variation of some nonchalant statement that really doesn’t do justice to our actual experience. It all sounds so easy in theory, but let’s just allow ourselves to be real and to be human for a second. How easy are these things in reality? Forgiveness? Super difficult. Grief? Incredibly painful. Suffering? Not easy. Anxiety? Completely exhausting. Maybe we DO need to forgive more, let go more, trust more, not worry so much, etc. but we definitely need to first have our struggle acknowledged as an actual struggle and not treated like some simplified concept. I think we do each other a terrible disservice when we treat and talk about such difficult human experiences as if they are much easier than they actually are. Throughout my life there have been so many moments where I felt abnormal because I struggle with these things, and then I hear other people talking like some of these concepts of the spiritual and emotional life are so simple. But what I’ve found is that most people don’t really open up about the complexities of their real life struggles. Instead we have a tendency to keep things at a surface level and we act like growing and healing is as simple as baking a cake. I think we really need to acknowledge in our own lives how incredibly difficult, layered, and complex these things can be and then verbalize to others that we understand the struggle. We are real too.
I had a client who used to come into counseling and sugar coat everything. She’d be struggling with some hurt and then she would minimize it away, as if it wasn’t a big deal, even though it was obviously affecting every aspect of her life. Then one day she came in and she finally got real. She unleashed her pain and anger; she shared from a deep, raw place that she had previously been afraid to expose. I sat there thinking, “now she’s getting it, this is real life stuff.” For the first time in over a year, I saw her have a natural, human response to the injustice she had endured. She was allowing herself to feel, to be angry, to acknowledge her hurt and it was amazing. I didn’t talk to her about forgiving or tell her anything that she “needs to do.” At some point in the future we can have that conversation and I hope she will be open to the choice to forgive, and the process of working through the things that impede forgiveness, but in that moment she needed to be angry. She needed to cry. She needed to be human. How many of us walk through life terrified of allowing ourselves to feel or have a human reaction to things? How many of us feel like it’s not even okay to be angry, to be sad, to acknowledge how difficult things truly are for us? We have to give ourselves permission to have real, human responses. Being real and being human does not make us bad Christians. It makes us normal and authentic.
We don’t need to walk around feeling guilty all the time for struggling with these things. We need to keep trying, keep struggling and keep telling Jesus how stinking hard these things are to live out. Jesus knew that how He calls us to live wasn’t going to be easy for us. He knows that loving people that hurt us seems like a paradox, and that finding joy in suffering isn’t natural to our human nature. He knew our lives would be messy as we strive to live these things out and He knew we would need A WHOLE LOT OF GRACE. But I think that was part of His plan. When we recognize that there is a gap between what we can naturally do on our own, and what we can only do with Him, when we acknowledge just how messy things are in our lives, then we start to lean on Him a little more. In that gap, in the struggle, we find Jesus.
I was at adoration and praise and worship last night and one of the guys praying said something so refreshing. He said, “As Christians, I don’t think we hear these words enough: it’s okay. It’s okay to be right where you are. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to be confused, to feel lost at times. ITS OKAY!” I wanted to stand up and shout AMEN because I think he is absolutely right. We don’t hear it enough and we need to change that. We need to give ourselves and one another permission to just BE, to struggle, to sort through the messiness of life. It’s in the mess that we recognize our need for a Savior.
“Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. The gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.” -St. Rose of Lima
“Love our Lady. And she will obtain abundant grace to help you conquer your daily struggle.”- St. Josemaria Escriva
2018 Drewe DeJesus
Photo by Samuel Martins from Freely Photos