I hold my phone in my right hand, open the messaging app, read the latest message, watch it fade to a black screen, and then open it to read the message again. And again. They aren’t coming, I say to myself. You should have known something would come up, I think.
Plans changing is nothing new. However valid and “this is life” the reasons stack up to be, it never seems to get easier. After our collective years of cancellation, isolation, plans put on hold throughout lock-downs, illness, and all of the long-ranging consequences of the pandemic that we’re still living through, it’s easy to think we’ve all become used to holding plans loosely . . . maybe even relationships, too.
I tell my husband the latest update on our plans and make sure to not make eye contact so I can push away the ache that’s trying to find its voice under my skin. I find myself thinking, This shouldn’t be so surprising – you should be used to this by now.
A health issue is the reason for canceling, so I’m embarrassed to have my own feelings about it all. I feel selfish for feeling these feelings while thinking I should care more about the reason and how it impacts this person I love. So I follow my “should” into worry, and spend hours researching medical websites, whys, and hows. I copy and paste and make a list in my notes app for further research. I avoid my feelings by staring and clicking and scrolling — searching for any possible way to make what’s unfolded fold back up again like it was supposed to be.
The thing is, we aren’t supposed to be used to disappointment, pain, and hurt. What “used to it by now” really means is a tender heart that’s lost some of its tenderness.
I love talking about staying tender until the work of it feels too much and I realize tenderness in our world isn’t just pretty flower petals and all things soft and lovely. It is work that can be painful and it will always leave us vulnerable. Sometimes we lose a petal in the process.
Tenderness is a messy risk, but the alternative is much more destructive in the long run.
After days of explaining the unavoidable away, I’m ready to say it out loud: this sucks. I’m disappointed. I’m worried for the person I love and I’m angry for the loss of time with them again.
I tell my husband how sad I feel. I text a friend and ask for prayer. And it’s in the honesty and the untying of forced tidy bows, that I begin to feel my heart beating again.
I make my own proverb in the pain of feeling everything I feel without judgment: A hard heart leads to death, and a soft, tender heart leads to life.
And in the midst of this kind of honesty, I find Jesus, right there with me, reminding me that He is a man who wept for His friends, who knows what it feels like to lose a friend, to be betrayed and questioned, thought of as less than He was, to be left alone in the dark, to be looked down upon, and to wish things were different than they were. Jesus didn’t make a list of feelings and which ones were worthy of being expressed. He felt. He expressed His feelings.
I remember that God is a God of feelings and heart, and He doesn’t despise my feelings or speak to my tenderness with “shoulds” like I still do. I remember that He is tenderhearted and I find deep comfort in a God whose heart is soft and alive – a wide enough space of welcome for all of my aches and feelings to safely land. A wide and tender space of welcome for all of your feelings too.