say “thank you”

(Disclaimer: I have always been very hesitant to write about religion on my blog because I fear I will be lumped into a group that I don’t identify with. A group that thinks it knows what’s best for the world and makes it’s life’s mission to let the whole world know how terribly wrong they are. A group that acts nothing like the Christ they claim to follow. A group that I would actually be mortified to be associated with. It’s my hope that I can covey my thoughts in a way that will assure you, my reader, that I am nothing like them.)

I was raised with a very specific version of Christianity that basically taught that everything in life should be good and that if it wasn’t it was because you weren’t having enough faith. That God wanted you to be rich and that his desire was for everything in your life to be easy.

It didn’t take very long for life to teach me that this isn’t true. I realized that knowing God couldn’t be boiled down into a formula because we each are so different that we relate to him in different ways. Faith isn’t a series of words we say to convince ourselves something is true (that’s delusion) but simply believing what God tells us. I came to see that this specific version of religion put a lot of responsibility on the user – it’s our fault if something goes bad. But didn’t take into account the fact that life isn’t easy and that sometimes things happen to us that we have no control over.

I realized that life was going to be hard. I don’t necessarily think God wants life to be hard. But I think in his wisdom that is far superior to mine, he knows what we need to go through to wake us up and what will get us to the point that he can get a hold of our hearts. Conflict is what makes a good story and conflict in our lives is what makes us better people. For some reason, it seems like pain is the only way we learn real lessons. Pain is the only thing that really saves us.

What do I mean by this? I think something about the way the human psyche is wired makes us not need change unless change is forced upon us. How many truly content people look at their lives and think about how to improve it? It’s when life explodes that we realize change needs to happen. It’s when things hurt that we open up our eyes and see what we are actually living in. It’s when things hurt that we realize we need to change – we realize we need a little saving.

I think we all have points, or multiple points, in our lives that things blow up. When this happens we are faced with the choice to either let it ruin us or let it improve us. Sometimes that’s a hard choice to make when the pain is so real. And I think the key is to not fight the pain, but realize that it is going to make us into better people – to embrace it. My friend sent me this quote the other day and I keep thinking about it. It sums up what I’ve been trying to say much better than I can:

“The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life.

Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands.

Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.

Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy. This is what I’ve come to believe about change:

It’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good.

By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools.

Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us.

It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways.

I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.

This is the work I’m doing now, and the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate.

And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.”

-Shauna Niequist from her upcoming book, Bittersweet

In the end, I realize that I see life so much differently than I did 10 years ago. I realize that it’s a journey that won’t always be sweet, but that it is one that can always be rich… if I let it. When things hurt, I realize that it’s ok – that good will come out of pain and that it’s not my fault. For the first time in my life I feel safe… secure. I believe that God knows what he is doing with me – and it’s good and not bad and that there is always hope.

Category: church/spiritual beliefs 3 comments »

3 Responses to “say “thank you””

  1. Allisone

    You make my heart light and happy.

  2. sarahgrace

    Preach it sista!

  3. Brooke

    Wow, this is what has been rumbling in my heart for a while, it feels like I have just exhaled…

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