I am spectacularly clumsy. I have been known to fall over just standing because I am delicate and graceful like that, so while I was in Kenya, I had to pay close attention to my feet in relation to the world around me.
I traveled from an insulated world where possible injury comes with prerequisite signage and safety rules.
American to-go cups warn me the contents are hot and may burn me. The yellow sign warns me that the floor is wet and slippery. The guard rails keep me from tumbling down stairs, falling off things, or otherwise hurting myself. My kid’s feet skip across the rubber matting put down under the playground equipment at the local park. I cannot turn on my car without the annoying ding ding ding chiding me to fasten my seat belt.
But Africa hasn’t the time to be concerned with my hot beverage, my kid’s scraped knees, or the possibility of a seat belt when you’re sharing a matatu with 15 other people, a few chickens, and a goat. There was a three-foot drop off in the dimly lit dining room of our lodge with no yellow sign or railing, and I very nearly fell over it making my way back to my room. That would be a lawsuit waiting to happen in America. But Africa is a land acquainted with hardship.
I came back to my insular world and wondered if maybe the North American church has missed out on a deeper relationship with God and each other because we are so often surprised by trials.
We want a safe Christian experience. I think of the passage in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Susan asks about Aslan:
“Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Yet so often, we’re surprised by injury and inconvenience, by suffering and circumstances. We’ve reduced our gospel down to a formulaic set of rules whereby the faithful sidestep the pitfalls of this broken world and instead float unscathed and isolated through their good life. We want it all and forget there is always a cost. We want safe instead of good.
We have taught a tidy life. And the reality of following Christ is there is nothing tidy about it.
We lie when we sell a packaged and sanitary way of following God. We offer a discounted gospel when we say it will fix your problems, ease out the wrinkles of your day, give you shiny full-bodied hair and perfectly behaved children. We wield our Christianity like an omen to ward off hard times. We want a warning sign or someone to blame when things get broken.
And my life is littered with broken things being made whole. I’ve raised angry fists at God and wondered how Christians could speak of His loving kindness when all around me I saw devastation.
But beauty from ashes and death to life all start in a place of brokenness and it’s only then we truly know the cost of God coming down. He knows the crush of a body poured out and loss and betrayal and the scourging of a soul.
We live in a world of broken dignity. We rise each morning to the lament of a sin-scarred existence. We see it in the headlines, in the cracks and fissures and gaping wounds of the church, and if we’re honest, in the mirror as we gaze in wide-eyed horror at how easily our hearts wander and break.
And sometimes it seems that every solution is a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound. These past few months, I have become acquainted with tragedy but I’ve known grief all of my days. Friends have suffered unbearable things.
Let us pour out the oil of gladness and praise from our lips but let us not forget the wails and cries and pounding fists, because God sees those too and He’s close to the brokenhearted. Maybe we can learn to do both?
Maybe considering it joy, we’ll lean into God and expect great things from the trials we face.
If we fail to dig into a theology of suffering and the way we as Christ followers will hurt right alongside a broken world, we write off people’s trials as an anomaly or a reaping they had coming instead of a place we connect with God’s solace and peace and even our purpose in walking with and weeping with those who weep.
We write off pain as a lack of faith and offer remedies and platitudes and never push in deeper to help carry a burden stretched wide and intended for the whole church to bear.
We make plans and strategize ways to alleviate the need for God-sized faith, because that kind of faith means we always come up short in ourselves and we are a culture that despises lack.
We hide our shame when we are not enough, when we are weak, when we are anxious and burdened and in need of relief. What does the gospel offer us in this pain if we cannot be people who grieve even while we believe?