It’s been a crap year.
A friend came and sat beside me at church and asked how I was.
“How’ve you been? How’s life for Team van Ryn?”
I looked her in the eye and decided that instead of contriving a sugar-coated response, I’d give it to her straight. She’s the kind of person with the knack for teasing the truth out anyway. I told her about the funerals, the health scares, the medication complications, the ‘no driving’ instruction, the waiting, the thwarted plans and the feelings of sorrow, frustration and fear.
She nodded and said she had experienced the same periods of difficulty in her own past.
“There’s nothing I can say,” she acknowledged, “but don’t be afraid to let it show. Be honest with people.”
It was immensely refreshing to speak so candidly. To lose the pasted-on smile and the trying-too-hard squeak of happiness in the voice, shuffling from foot to foot while casting a line into the waters of the past to hook a positive, something to talk about without making people feel uncomfortable.
For the record, there are plenty of positives and the old maxim, “count your blessings” is as useful a tool as ever. But at this time of the year, pushing towards Christmas and year end, there are chances for reflection and some of you, like me, will just have to shrug your shoulders and say, “It’s been a crap year!”
Happiness is a punishing god to which we all grovel and sacrifice. The cruellest kind of god, because we never arrive. Not fully. In an opinion piece for the current edition of Eternity magazine, Bible Society boss Greg Clarke posed this question: “How much time do you spend imagining a better future for yourself?”
Not only do we strive to be happy, we strive to appear happy.
Social media gives us a new avenue for donning a mask of happiness. We select the most attractive profile shots, we share achievements and joyous moments (“Just cooked a lamb roast, cheesecake and a croquembouche, all before 10am!”), we post family photos of “tickle time” and Sunday picnics, and comment with a witty sentence that we’ve taken half an hour to form. It’s the ultimate mask.
Then you bump into that friend you Facebook every day and see that there are black circles around her eyes, her smile is sagging and when you ask how things are, she’s biting back tears.
It’s so ok to not be ok. You have permission to crumble.
The Bible is full of laments from people struggling with their life circumstances. They have faith in a good and mighty God, but that doesn’t mean they will be guaranteed a bright and prosperous life. Oh no.
In 1 Corinthians 15:19, Paul puts things in context, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” He alludes, of course, to the hope of eternity.
There’s a poem I stumbled across recently by Carol Wimmer.
“When I say… ‘I am a Christian,’ I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak and pray for strength to carry on.”
A few verses later, it continues:
“When I say… ‘I am a Christian,’ I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartache which is why I seek His name.”
It’s been a crap year and my faith doesn’t mean next year will be any better. My faith means I know that God will equip me and carry me and teach me, just as he did this year.
First published in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 2, 2013.