According to Pinterest and the Internet and every young adult novel ever, 2015 should have been the most beautiful season of my life.
I was starting my senior year of college, I was going to spend the summer abroad, I was planning my dream wedding, I was engaged to the love of my life, summer and sunshine and and longer days and three months without class were on the horizon.
It was like the world and everyone in it buzzed with excitement for me. I would never get these opportunities again, I was at my peak of independence and wonder and wistfulness, the Pinterest community rejoiced with me that wedding pins were finally relevant. I spent my days Googling Eastern Europe, smelling fresh blooms, trying on wedding gowns. I spent two weekends with my then-fiance in his sweet little hometown, having picnics and rafting down rivers and staying up late and dreaming about our future.
It should have been perfect, but it was not.
May lurched me into what felt like a marathon of tears and sleepless nights, loneliness and longing, confusion and chaos, and just when it felt like I reached the finish line the marathon seemed to start over again.
I said goodbye to my now-husband during the first days of June, which launched our long-distance engagement. I spent a lonely, confusing summer abroad where I made a few friends and confronted devastating brokenness, godlessness, and isolation everyday. I began my final semester of college with my body at school and my head and heart in one million other places. I pushed off the guilt and disorientation of walking through a campus that in my head I knew was a home, full of precious friends and beautiful memories, but suddenly felt empty without Stu. Stu and I confronted what turned into the hardest season of our relationship, one that brought more tears than laughter, disappointment than affirmation, making what sometimes felt like a minute-to-minute decision to let hard times humble and strengthen us rather than create resentment and selfishness. And then I came home for two weeks and realized everything was over–college, my childhood, living at home, life as I knew it.
I was discontent and frustrated, I resented everyone for everything, holding hurt too close and refusing to extend grace and forgiveness. I convinced myself that no one could understand the disarray it felt like my life had fallen into. My emotions were buried by one hundred “I’m ok”s and “I don’t have time for this”s, and the smallest things could serve as javelins, piercing that place that was swimming with anxiety and hurt, undoing me.
But everything was supposed to be perfect. Everyone expected me to be walking on a cloud, to have had a beautiful, life-changing experience in Armenia, to be adoring every moment of wedding planning, to be living my last college semester with abandon, to have a love story as flawless as the diamond on my finger, and I felt like it was my fault that I didn’t love it as much as I was supposed to, like I was taking those precious days for granted.
Then I did two very important things:
- I read Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist.
- I started going to counseling.
Both declared the same message: it’s ok not to be ok. Everything in me was booming, “you’re not ok,” and I should have listened, been honest with the people who loved me, gone to counseling sooner, let myself cry when I needed to without feeling weak, but instead I shrieked at myself, “you should be ok and it’s your fault that you’re not.”
But since when are things always supposed to be easy? Life can be really, really hard sometimes. Just because the trivial online, societal, wedding magazine and lifestyle blog voices told me that being engaged and traveling and being in college should be wonderful, I should have been brave and humble enough to recognize that the Lord letting me go through something hard was ok and probably healthy, something to learn and grow from.
In Bittersweet Shauna Niequist writes, “The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy.”
When I finally took a friend up on her gentle advice to see a counselor, I heard the same thing. Me in tears, explaining that while it looked like everything was coming together it felt like I was falling apart, and my counselor responding, “Why can’t this just be a hard season? Who’s telling you that you have to be ok?”
Just me. Me listening to everyone else, all of the voices that are not really important. There is no place in Scripture that tells us we need to have it all together, that everyday has to feel happy and wonderful. Instead it tells us two things about the times when we are not ok. First in James 1:2-3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” And then in Philippians 4:4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
There will most definitely be times when you are not ok, and pretending will not help, but casting your hurt to the Lord will. Rejoicing in his promises, not your fleeting circumstances, will provide a peace that rises above the heartbreak of your days. Pretending is dangerous. Pretending does not allow us to be honest, to be vulnerable, to be real with others and with God. When we hide we cannot share, we cannot offer, we cannot surrender. And we cannot accept the promise and the gift, that soon we will be ok again, that with Christ we can still rejoice, that we do not have to walk alone.