I just finished reading a review of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. You can find the link here. If you’re wondering why you’ve heard of Barbara Ehrenreich before, your memory is tingling because she wrote the notable book Nickle and Dimed.
This latest book was born into being because she suffered breast cancer. While the entire experience for her was horrific, she was most particularly appalled at the expectation that she feel buoyant, positive, and thankful for the toughness earned and the lessons learned through her disease.
She didn’t particularly want to feel any of those.
There is no room in our culture, she seems to be saying, to be pissy.
Now, I haven’t read the book; only the review.
But even that caught my attention.
It brought me back to a conversation I had with a dear woman in my world who had suffered a stroke. That event took away much of her remarkable ability (even well into her 80s!) to create art, to amble around finding quirky gifts for even quirkier relatives and friends, to write, and to read letters sent to her by her many grandchildren.
And something of her brightness of being left her.
Naturally, people were worried. Trouble was, they had the audacity to express it, even mentioning the “D” word to her.
One day, when I visited her, she said, “Anna, I am so tired of people asking me if I’m depressed! Finally I had to holler at them, ‘Of course I’m not depressed! I’m a Christian!'”
To which I responded with my typical flair for pastoral care,
“What the hell.”
I don’t think that this woman is alone in her aversion to naming her pain (even to herself), though.
I worry that Christians are so awfully wrapped up in making a person feel better that we don’t allow for the sacred space of pissiness.
Sometimes I do believe that we might be so ready to leap to Easter that we ignore that there is a grave over which we are leaping.
Now that said, I’m all for the healing of body, mind, and spirit!
But could it be that were Christians to be more overt and more intentional about recognizing faults, regret, sadnesses, anxiety, fears, and the possibility that healing-might-not-come-and-what’s-up-with-that, that trust could be built up that maybe, just maybe, this group understands and allows for pain?
After the accident I wrote an extensive blog about Karl’s healing. At the end of most every entry, I wrote, “God is good.”
I did, until someone who had suffered much too asked me, “How do you know? On what basis are you judging that? I prefer,” said he, “to simply say that God is God.”
It was an interesting comment, because then I was invited to express my deeply grieved and astonished self to God. Honestly. And what I wanted to say to God was exactly what I said to this woman close to my heart:
What the hell.
If a relationship is one, then my figuring suggests that there has to be some relating. There are reasons for people to be upset with God, because God’s promises aren’t apparently living up to God’s reality. I can’t help but wonder if some authenticity is surrendered when there is no room for sacred pissiness.
That said, I do realize that not everybody needs to wrestle with God. Some are quite content and quite faithful in their pure and unquestioned faith.
For the rest of us, however, I’m thinking that if one can say to God, “I am really hurting here, and I feel really betrayed by you, and soon and very soon clearly is not soon enough,” then there’s the beginning of renewed trust.
Annie Dillard gets to the matter in Holy the Firm when she retells the following story:
“Once, in the middle of the long pastoral prayer of intercession for the whole world—for the gift of wisdom to its leaders, for hope and mercy to the grieving and pained, succor to the oppressed, and God’s grace to all—in the middle of this [the pastor] stopped, and burst out, ‘Lord, we bring you these same petitions every week.’ After a shocked pause, he continued reading the prayer. Because of this, I like him very much.”
Ah. There’s authenticity. There’s honesty. There’s a man I can trust. He probably wanted to, but couldn’t in the Prayers of the People of all things, say,
What the hell.
Now, in case some are wondering, things are remarkably hunky-dory in my world. This blog is not a vent of some personal, present crisis. It is really only that that review jarred a series of reflections on the pervasive sense of joy, which just plain old doesn’t always jibe with the plain old reality of trouble.
What do you think?