I have three little girls. One wears her heart on her sleeve at all times. In the rare event that she doesn’t immediately tell you what’s bothering her, you can read her like a book anyway. One wouldn’t tell you what’s on her mind if you gave her three bribes and posed the question with her favorite Barbie. She can be disgruntled for hours without giving so much as a grimace. And one, well, one just uses decibels whether she’s mad, sad, glad, or being bad.
People are different. We serve a creative God. That’s what I’ve found myself explaining to child #1 as she becomes increasingly self-aware.
Lately, she’s been on a mission to learn about what’s going on in the spiritual lives of those around her. She decided to write her own little newspaper and interview people at church. So far, she has discovered 1. It’s a lot of work and 2. Discouraged people don’t do interviews.
She considers discovery #1 a bummer – nevertheless, a bummer she is willing to accept. But discovery #2 has made her puzzler sore.
“Why don’t some people want to talk?”
“Sometimes people are just having a bad day.”
“But if people knew they were, and I put it in the paper, other people could pray for them and help them.”
“Sometimes people don’t want anyone to know they’re having a bad day.”
“Everyone is different, and they deal with things differently…”
After nearly six months and thirty chapters of Job, I can honestly say I understand why public service announcements on personal discouragement are difficult to obtain. I better not tell Mia, though, right? Wouldn’t want to discourage her…
There’s a heresy in the church which has long been accepted as truth – even present as far back as the time of Job, before there even was a church. It says bad things only happen to bad people, only good things happen to good people, and if you have a problem you are either really bad or you have forgotten how being good can solve it. There’s simply no room for honest exchange where judgement looms. If you don’t believe me, ask Job how it went when he spoke of his discouragement regarding his faith.
Furthermore, to compound the issue, discouragement is as difficult to hear as it is to share. Even those who genuinely want to help often do not know how to effectively listen. For me, the book of Job was down near Numbers and Leviticus on my to-study-next list. As I shared the other day with my husband, Job is tough to stay in because it’s wearying and even depressing to read and study in depth. It’s hard to understand. It’s hard to believe.
Often it’s the same in the church. It’s hard to hear of suffering and sour circumstances day after day after day and not become weary and weighed down by them. We want things to make sense. We want to be able to offer explanations and answers. But sometimes, there is no satisfactory explanation this side of heaven. It bothers us so we band-aid, ignore, or downplay the truth we do not understand.
Everyone knows this. The unspoken rule teaches us not to speak if we are the one who is discouraged. It whispers to us: “You’ll burden someone. You’ll look unspiritual. You’ll receive unsolicited counsel from every immature source within earshot. You’ll be judged. It’s not worth it. Keep your pain to yourself.”
Often, we just don’t know if we are allowed to be broken. We are not sure if we will be met with the grace we all know so much about. We do not believe God uses Job-like days to grow both us and our church. So we keep them to ourselves as best we can and we rob our brothers and sisters of the truth. Everyone begins to believe the lie, put on the smile, and pretend life doesn’t hurt. Voila. Perfect church; no Jesus.
Job’s absence removes the need for God and his grace. If there is no resemblance of Job – of discouragement, of hardship, of suffering, of pain – then there is no resemblance of Jesus either. Surely we can self-sustain – if not actually, certainly superficially. Especially if its others who are having Job lives and Job days. So the Jobs can learn to be quiet and the rest of us can pretend he isn’t smack dab in the middle of our Bibles, our rows, and hanging around our very necks on the cross.
Lies are attractive, but Job looks like Jesus.
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. ~Isaiah 53:2-3
Even on Job days, tell your story. Surely Jesus will meet you with his. You are his story. You are history. Get over yourself.
Even on good days, hear the Jobs around you. Surely, Jesus will teach you the true meaning of grace through them.
“Grace teaches us, in the midst of life’s greatest comforts to be willing to die and in the midst of its greatest crosses to be willing to live.” ~Matthew Henry