The cavalry of struggles had sounded the retreat and so I fell back, when what I really wanted to see was this — a familiar place of safety, with a friendly face across the table, inviting me to be real.
A place where I didn’t have to have it all figured out. Where I could ugly-cry and not feel guilty (because when we’re adulting, we should keep it together, right?), share with a sister who’s not going to judge, then step back out into the fray of my 9-to-5 working-mom-wife-life and be one of those strong Christian women we always read about. The kind who don’t let the veneer crack.
The truth was, I was in the battle of my life. When the enemy’s attacks came faster and more furious, I didn’t know what to do. I felt like an author who writes about the redeeming love of God should be able to feel it, to live it and project it when times get tough. Instead, I crumbled. What’s worse? I felt terrible about it.
I retreated and instead, left a sign up that said no matter what time it was:
“Whatever o’clock and All’s well“.
Town criers go back for centuries.
These guys were the first news carriers of the day. In Ancient Greece, they were the Spartan marathoners who ran messages over long distances. (Runners everywhere – Thank Pheidippides!) In Roman times, couriers were a part of Augustus’ official postal service. In Medieval England, many townsfolk could not read and town criers would shout out the news – laws, royal proclamations, even advertisements – in public forums where all could hear. So fast forward to 2016, and all of us are a part of crying the news. We tweet and post and blog and react and pin and snap and chat and Instagram our news all over the global town of the internet.
When we’re hurting, that can seem a daunting task. It’s what I felt like I had to be — the Town Crier of my own life, but only if it made things appear fine. No matter what was going on behind the scenes, I coached myself to put on the “All’s Well” face, blast sunshine on social media and just smile it out in corporate meeting rooms. “Eventually, with all that pretending, you might actually start to feel better about what’s really going on,” I told myself.
Here’s the good news, though. There is the retreat call. You’ll hear it from time to time. And while it’s never good to run and hide from all of our lifelines when we’re hurting (especially not from God), sometimes we need a breather in the battle. Sometimes we need that go-ahead to step back, to be real, to say to that trusted friend who’s not leaving while you’re walking through the mire — “Actually, I’m not okay today. All is not well. And this is what’s going on…”
It wouldn’t matter if I had a perfect home, rock-solid marriage, always-smiling kids, a single-digit dress size, and professional successes crowding the resume… If it’s a sign that says “All’s well” when it’s not, Jesus won’t leave you to hide behind it. If you’re in that same place today and you’re grasping for a lifeline, here’s some truth as I sit across the table from you:
It might feel counter-intuitive to turn to the Word when you’re hurting. It has for me in the past. I’m not proud of it, but I own the times I’ve been angry because God didn’t fix something, or didn’t shield me from intense pain in my life. For a season, I kept the Book closed. My pain was so great that I focused on why God wasn’t taking it away instead of keeping my eyes fixed on how He wanted to help me through it.
I’d encourage you that even if every thought in your head is to retreat from pain by moving away from God, it’s the WRONG MOVE, every time. It’s walking straight into the enemy’s trap without your sword to do battle. READ, read, read God’s Word. Dig in to His promises. Be real with Him and tell Him where you are – even if it’s angry – but never stop reading and living and breathing in HIs Word. You’ll find Him there.
A few years ago, I was working too much. I’d put in 60-70 hours at the office, and come home to stay up all night and work on writing books in the margins of life. I missed my family terribly. And I had this major pull between what I had to do (day-job, pay bills) and what my heart longed to do (writing dreams), so that my family and I didn’t get much of each other.
If you’ve got that sign up to the world that “All’s Well” but you’re over-worked and under-rested, give yourself the permission space to step back for a time, to heal and restore where you need to. It might give you a new perspective. It might facilitate a huge change in your life and give you joy in simply being more present right where you are. And if you’re in the midst of some serious valley-walking, REST in Him before you make any big decisions. Like Paul in Acts 9, Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and Jesus in the garden, there is a time for restoration (especially in the midst of our deepest valleys) to lean in, and just rest on the God Who is always by our side.
Here’s something I didn’t always know — friends move with the seasons. You have some sisters-of-your-heart who will stay on, walking with you through years of ups and downs. And you might have others who move in to your life at a pivotal time, speaking truth into the place you’re in, but they don’t always stay, gently fading back again. That’s okay. Know that in the most difficult times, those friends across the table who love you for who you are – they won’t fade. In fact, they’ll press in closer.
When you tell them the real news behind the scenes, no matter how ugly it is, they may not know what to say. They might be afraid they’ll harm more than help. Or maybe, they took your sign at face value and they genuinely believed everything’s been okay. Just remember that FELLOWSHIP is a gift from God. It’s very often the way He answers our prayers from those dark places of life – through other people. Resist the temptation to retreat so far that you lose the support He’s given along the way.
Look at your sister across the table. If you’ve taken down the “All’s Well” sign and she’s still sitting in that seat, she’s not going anywhere. Be brave. Let her in.
I don’t know where you are today, but I hope it’s sitting across the table from someone you trust.
I hope you’re able to pull down the “All’s Well” sign. To put away the town crier bells and be okay with a place that’s not photoshopped perfection. Sometimes this life is raw. And scary. And painful so that you just want to pull away. But please don’t. Read, Rest, and claim Fellowship with those you hold dear. Because believe it or not, one day soon, all WILL be well again. And the rest of us? We’ll be here waiting across the table until it is.
With JOY in the journey,