[Several emails and phone calls, in recent days, from MKs who are hurting prompted this article. But pain is a universal thing, and if you or someone you love are suffering, MK or not, perhaps this can offer some hope and guidance.]
We sat in a large, empty room in the basement of a pediatric hospital.
My nephew had been admitted days before, and the crippling effects of his illness had been compounded by his desperate desire to go home—away from the lostness and fear saturating this foreign space. He begged, sobbing, for his parents to dismiss medical advice, load him into their van and drive two hours to Familiar and Safe.
Where he knew and was known.
But he was a child—a preteen facing something life-threatening—and his parents couldn’t risk giving in to his pleas.
As my nephew’s questions and tears continued to cascade from his overwrought soul, my brother pointed at the broad wall in front of us. Probably twenty feet wide and eight feet tall, it was vast, bare and painted faded-white.
“You see that wall?” Kip asked, holding his twelve-year old close.
My nephew nodded and hiccupped on a sob.
“That’s how big your life is going to be.”
Then Kip released his son and stood. Approaching the wall, he pointed at a barely visible nail hole and said, “This is today. I know it feels like you’ll be here forever—like you’ll feel the way you feel right now for the rest of your life.” He spread his arms to show the breadth of the wall. “But this is your life, son. Look at how big it is. It will feel so different once you get past ‘right now.’”
I’ve remembered those words on frequent occasions as the “right nows” of my life have closed in. Losses. Depression. Medical emergencies. The onslaught of messages from society and my inner self, declaring through dehumanizing bullhorns that I am insufficient. Unloved. Lost. Doomed to a lifetime of disappointment or despair. Forever stuck in a state of brokenness that felt beyond repair.
The wall has come back to mind in my most acute suffering. Memories of my young nephew begging for reprieve and my brother’s earnest assertion that this is just “right now” and that so much more light lies right beyond this crippling darkness.
It’s in the dark months—the wintertimes of our calendars and journeys—that we’re most prone to losing sight of tomorrow. The Hard feels so present. So suffocating. So intractably permanent.
We sit at Rock Bottom and envision weeks—years—of unrelenting pain. We beg for release. We want out. We want to breathe in a familiar and less taxing space. We rebel at the obligations, agreements or expectations that anchor us to an intolerable reality.
We make frantic decisions about relationships, wellness, goals and longevity from the dangerous, distorted perspective of our life-sapping anxiety and sadness.
They’re often motivated by a visceral fear that tomorrow will not be different. That we must hurtle our panicked pain through the nearest, irrational escape hatch or we will be anchored to this ache for the rest of our days.
I’ve been there too. And the hatches through which I’ve stumbled in desperation have only added bruises and blame to an already broken me.
Sometimes we need to muddle through the Hard to get to the vast white wall of More. Of Better. Of Possible. Of Change. Of Healing. Of Joy.
If you’re feeling like my nephew did on that night so long ago, I urge you to acknowledge your fears—to understand them and confront them—so they won’t be the motivators of the choices you need to make.
And while addressing those, consider this:
Your “right now” might just be a small spot on a much greater wall you can’t yet fully see.
The rest of the expanse may seem indistinct from your pain-blurred vantage point, but if you have it in you, dig deep to muster your remaining strength—with help if you need it—and take your next step. Make your next decision. Not out of fear that today’s turmoil will saturate your future, but out of hope for what you want your vast, white wall to hold.
Nelson Mandela said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” So…
- Choose mindfulness, as you carry the Hard every day…and consider these insights for living with your grief
- Choose compassion with yourself, when your ability to push through or overcome feels hampered by your wounds
- Choose patience, when friends or progress or accomplishment seem utterly out of reach
- Choose courage, when seeking help or company is an overwhelming burden
- Choose kindness, toward yourself and others, when lashing out feels like a satisfying release
- Choose truth, when messages from inside and out tell you that this darkness will be with you forever
- Choose healing, when the trudge through past and pain feels maiming…lasting change is hard-won by the brave through ache and effort
- Choose faith, when you can’t see that wall for all of the darkness…and believe that Someone Else has lovingly built it (Jer. 29:11)
When comfort and love and healing and fulfillment and peace feel forever out of reach, don’t surrender to the Hard. Reach out for help. And choose hope. Envision a brightening and believe it will happen. Invite it to happen. Enable it to happen.
Look up. Look out. And hear Someone say, “I see that nail hole and understand its pain, but Child, let me show you the rest of that wall.”
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