“So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
1 Timothy 1:8
About a year ago, I attended a mini-retreat at a friend’s house with several members of “my tribe.” These are women who I share my life with – my kids play with their kids, we have lazy weekend family dinners together, I poll them on whether or not I should cut bangs – you know, my tribe. Though we spent the majority of the retreat in silence (a feat with a bunch of chatty girlfriends), we had a time of open sharing at the end. That’s when our host shared with us a deeply personal story that threatened to take down her family from within. Though no one did this, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us in that room were actively trying to keep our jaws from dropping. The shock in the room rippled through the silence but was redeemed by what God did in her heart during that time. What transpired after her sharing was nothing short of beautiful. Each one of my friends shared their hearts. What was really hurting them from within, myself included. And each one of my beautiful friends – who I thought we shared everything together – said the words “I’m lonely.”
We live in a pretty fake world. I think we can all agree on that. From the false facade aplenty on Instagram and Snapchat, to the celebrity-of-the-week-who-had-so-much-surgery-you-don’t-recognize-them. We are groomed, taught and eventually it’s shoved down our throats, that we must cover our imperfections. With makeup, with plastic surgery, with creams and lotions and concoctions. With clothes, shoes, and stuff, stuff and stuff. But that stuff only covers, it does not redeem or make good & beautiful or heal. That point can be proven by the fact that we live in the most unhealthy/medicated country in the world. Peter Kreeft once said “Every movement in the body has strong echoes in the soul and every movement in the soul has strong echoes in the body.” Basically, our exterior reflects our interior life as well.
Our world teaches us that when we suffer, we must suffer in silence. We must, AT ALL COST, be happy. We are even taught – in culture and now in law – that death is preferable to suffering. Hard times must be muscled through – alone – because we burden others with our burdens or who we really are is too scary or scandalizing to other people. Because we are afraid, ashamed and alone. And that is the biggest lie of all.
In the readings this week, we are very poetically called out of despair and “violence” (Hab 1:2) to courage, then faith and finally surrender. If you think about it, that’s how all of our hard times go. But that is the beauty of what Jesus left for us to uphold us in those hard times we will all face. Church. We have a living, breathing community of witnesses who possess a spirit of “power and love and self-control,” who need us just as much as we need them.
As my friend demonstrated on that retreat, being 100% vulnerable is very scary. It is always a gamble to put your real self out there and hope that you are accepted and loved for who you are and all of your imperfections. But the story that my friend told should illustrate one thing: When you pave the way with your own vulnerability & struggle, you pave a beautiful way for others to do the same. Brene Brown once said “When you numb the darkness, you numb the light.” The good work that God can do through you and your hardships – if you just simply push your fear and shame aside, place your trust in Him and the goodness of others – will create a Church that can trust more, work more and love more. And we will never be alone.
“In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” St Teresa of Avila