The city has been doing construction work behind my house for months now. They started about six months ago and I can report that as of 6:50 this morning, they are still going strong. I woke up to the “beep, beep, beep” sound I’ve grown accustomed to and within seconds, my head was buried deep beneath my pillow.
This sounds silly but I have really had to work hard to keep my heart right during this big construction project. For as long as I can remember my dad has challenged me with this idea that circumstances matter not, it’s the condition of our hearts that determines our outlook and the outcome of our lives. Over the past few years as I’ve navigated the waters of divorce, he has reminded me of this which at times has made me mad. “But I deserve to be angry,” I would say to myself, “My actions are justified.” But I know the truth: that if we do keep our hearts in a healthy place, it gives no room for plaque to build up. We can truly live our best lives when we are free of bitterness, hurt, betrayal and a desire to vindicate.
When I say our circumstances matter not, I don’t mean that they have no weight or impact in our lives—they most definitely do! Difficult circumstances are a catalyst for growth, and growth is often something we don’t fully appreciate until we are miles down the road. Think about a child who is going through growing pains. It is an uncomfortable, painful process that is only appreciated on the other side, perhaps when he finds out he made the varsity basketball team.
Over the last couple of years I have watched two college friends walk through the pain of losing their daughters as they have shared their journeys on social media. I have watched them carefully navigate their new realities where grief and despair could easily engulf them (and I’m sure on some days they do), but I see them keep their hearts in a space where long-term acrimony is obsolete. They choose to celebrate the beauty of the lives of these precious young girls rather than bathe in anger and regret. I have learned so much by watching them, reading the words they pen and seeing them press deep into the love of God on their darkest days. Yes, God can handle us shaking our fists at Him but when we understand the rich relationship He offers us as a loving Father, it allows us to collapse in His presence and say, “I simply cannot do this today.” And I have seen this with my own eyes—His love fills in the gaps.
As I sat at my Bible study table this week and got to know the girls in my group, I was touched by the threads of pain that were shared with each one’s testimony. Loneliness, heartache, brokenness, and despair were peppered throughout job descriptions, family statuses and backgrounds. We all hurt in some way, in different seasons of life. I felt so humbled being able to share that I have walked through a very long and hard season and am now dancing on the other side of pain. (God gave me that phrasing this week—I LOVE IT!) It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was at a different Bible study and ugly cried when it was my turn to share about myself. “I’m completely broken,” I remember saying and those precious women literally surrounded me and loved on me like nobody’s business.
I truly believe that God shows His love to us through our fellow humans. Think about this, if we were all hurting at the same time, there would be no one to comfort those who were mourning. Life ebbs and flows through seasons of great pain to chapters of exhilarating celebration and everything in between. When we go through extreme heartache that leaves us debilitated, God often sends us His gift of love and life through those who offer compassion and empathy. (You all know those are two of my favorite words!) This is SUCH an important part of the process; to feel and know God’s love and the love of our fellow humans in a real and tangible way.
But this is where the challenge comes in…are we willing to do the work to keep our hearts in the right place moving forward so that we actually have something to share with others when they are hurting? Here’s the ouch part…if we don’t do the work to rid ourselves of things like bitterness and unforgiveness, there is NO ROOM for empathy and compassion. A bitter and unforgiving person lacks benevolence because they have chosen an egotistical path of self-pity and defeatism.
One of my closest friends is losing her sweet mom to cancer and she and I got to spend a few minutes together this week, tears streaming down both of our faces. No, it’s not supposed to happen this way. But she is trusting that God will take care of both her mom and her heart. Then I watched one of my son’s childhood friends break his foot at the very start of the football game last night. When I went to visit him at the hospital, his face was full of disappointment and sadness (it’s so hard to get injured your senior year). I love him as if he were my own so of course I couldn’t help but give him a big hug and when I did, I whispered in his ear, “God has a big plan for your life.” This young man will heal and recover and go on to do amazing things in his life (because he truly is a GREAT kid).
When my brother-in-law passed away my former father-in-law sat at the foot of my FH’s (former husband’s) hospital bed and rubbed his toes to wake him up, much like he did when my FH was a child. And then, in his calm and gentle voice he said, “(Your brother) is brain dead, but we still serve a good God.” I remember my FH’s eyes filling with tears. He laid ever so quietly in the bed and I don’t remember seeing any movement except for those tears. I so admire the strength it must have taken my former father-in-law to say those words with such strength and composure, and the strength it took my FH to receive them. It was the most sacred of moments.
Because, you see, the circumstances matter not. Life will hit us hard, sometimes square between the eyes. And in those times we have a choice—a choice to keep our hearts right or to hold on to the pain and heartache that is often justified. Sometimes we’re the receiver of empathy and other times we have an opportunity to give it. What holds space in your heart? Is there room for benevolence? If not, it’s time to get to work. The work is hard but very, very rewarding.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.