Several months ago, we found ourselves in the parking lot of an unfamiliar church building. We recently moved to a new city north of Seattle called Shoreline. It was sometime in February with gray clouds and a slight drizzling, the annoying kind that didn’t match the swipe frequency of our car’s windshield wipers. The wipers were either too quick and scraping at a dry windshield, or too slow and forcing me to manually activate the wipers because I couldn’t see.
Comparing my life now to the philosophical musings of windshield wipers, I’d have to say that at that point in our lives I felt like our wipers were moving too slow. Life’s drizzling rain was hitting us far quicker than we felt like we could handle. It often felt like all we could see was the blurred windshield in front of us, and all we could do was wait for the quick swish of momentary clearing, only to have it clouded again.
When we were taught to drive, we were told to focus on the road ahead. While this is true for driving, this same concept can also be mistranslated into our real lives. Yes, there are times when we do need to continue to look ahead, but there are other times when looking ahead robs us of experiencing what’s in front of us.
Jeremiah 29:11 tells us this: For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. It is a truthful quote about God but also an oft-misquoted verse used to encourage many believers in times of discouragement, sadness, and confusion. I’m not arguing against its validity or the many times it spoke to believers. I am arguing against the interpretation that tells the believer the sadness and heartache you’re going through somehow doesn’t matter because God has a plan for you. This interpretation tells us to cheer up. Pick up those bootstraps and keep going. Keep smiling because God is good.
Okay Mr. Smiley McSmiley Face. While some of those above statements are true (like God is good) the message it sends is false.
Your experience matters. Your sadness matters. Your pain matters. Your joy matters. Your struggles matter. Because you matter to God, it all matters.
I don’t mean that we over-spiritualize every experience and interpret the leaf falling in our lap as God speaking to us, but that we don’t gloss over the tough times with the goodness-of-God-glaze. If we do so, we risk missing out on God speaking to us in those moments, seasons, and funks. God speaks to us not only through the joys but also through the pains. He yearns for us and loves us in every season of life. We may need to sit silently and crane our necks to hear Him.
I admit that’s not something I’m all too good at.
In one of those rare date nights when Abbie goes to bed early, Megan and I got the chance to watch John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, in my words a story of pain, love, hope, and reality. This quote from the movie has both blessed and haunted me since hearing it:
“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”
How often in my life have I wrote off my feelings, put a smile on my face, and soldiered on? What is the purpose of pain in our life and why is it important? Why is it dangerous to not acknowledge pain? Not feel it? Where is God in all of this? How often do I wish the wipers in my life would wipe away my deep stirrings and questions, not asking who was stirring the pot or why it was being stirred?
If you didn’t get it, these are all rhetorical questions. I don’t have the answers, but I’m learning to realize that it’s okay to not know them. We continue to have faith in a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful, and for that reason, we continue on. It’s not our jobs to pretend to be all-knowing and all-powerful.
It is our jobs to love God and to love others.
Please remember this. Your experience matters. Your sadness matters. Your pain matters. Your joy matters. Your struggles matter. Because you matter to God, it all matters.
So even if our windshield wipers don’t clear the rain fast enough, I’m learning that it’s okay. Although the windshield and the rain are only a part of the journey, they matter because through it, we see how to journey. And although those mishaps, struggles, and stirrings are only a part of our journey, they matter because they teach us how to journey.