Growing up in the south left its mark on me and largely shaped my views of myself and the world. People often joke about the Bible belt and the religious “deep south,” and while it can be a wonderful thing, it also created hurdles and mountains for me to overcome. Being vulnerable and allowing people to see all of me was not something that I necessarily grew up feeling was acceptable. Every where I looked, people appeared good and shiny on the outside, clean and put together.
After growing up a bit, I began to peer behind the curtain, kind of like on the Wizard of Oz. Seeing behind a curtain that you are confident contains perfection is often met with a little disappointment on one hand and a lot of relief on another. You realize that no person, no family, is perfect. No situation is the ideal you make it out to be in your head. We all long for things to be “just so,” but the truth is, in a fallen world full of sin, there is not one person who has that luxury.
A few weeks after my son Tyler died, attempting to return to some sort of schedule, Cooper was going to preschool a couple times a week and I had gone back to work. I remember taking Cooper to school and dropping him off before heading into the office, and while a few familiar faces would stop me and ask how we were doing, to many people I was an anonymous face.
I remember feeling so frustrated as I looked around at all the different moms, many of them dressed and showered with makeup on. Many of them had smaller children in strollers and carriers, and others had big bellies due with their second, third, or even fourth child.
I have to admit, I found myself being so judgmental, and not only that, but a combination of being angry, jealous and feeling sorry for myself. So many thoughts were running through my head….“If only they knew what happened to me, THEN they would know that hard things actually happen in this world…” “If only they had ANYTHING hard in their lives….” “Look at them, prancing along with their perfect lives, their perfect children spaced perfectly two years apart, the perfect SUV ‘mom car,’ the perfect designer clothes, the perfectly manicured nails–if only they knew what it meant to grieve,” I thought. Do they even know how incredibly blessed they are? Do they take everything they have for granted? I wondered. The list in my mind went on.
I also found myself wanting to just shout all those things. I wanted to run across the parking lot and shake a few of these women by the shoulders and say, “Don’t you get it?!” So much so, I even thought about how effective it would be if I just hung a sign around my neck that said, “I LOST MY CHILD.” Maybe then all these people around me would open their eyes and see that I actually didn’t plan to come to preschool and bring my 3-year-old along with empty arms and an empty womb.
Let’s be honest, all my previous questions were really posed at God and how unfair my life was in comparison to every one around me.
As He often does, our amazing God patiently and gently crept in to whisper His truths to my heart. I am so grateful that the Lord does not leave me in a place of despair. In all my questioning (because let’s be honest, all my previous questions were really posed at God and how unfair my life was in comparison to every one around me), He asked me, “What if everyone else had signs too? What would their’s say?”
I had been so focused on myself, and my loss was so raw and fresh at that point, that I struggled to look past my own situation. I struggled to look past all the smiling faces plastered on others, to even notice there were probably a lot more hurting people than what appeared at first glance. I needed to take time to peer behind the curtain, to know that I can never assume what is going on in someone else’s life, no matter how things appear from the outside. How selfish I was, as well as pretentious, self-righteous, judgmental, and a few other words that come to mind.
Perhaps some of the signs might have read, “‘My husband cheated on me’…‘I lost my marriage’…‘My mom has cancer’…‘I’m struggling with infertility and no one knows’…‘I suffered from abuse as a child’…‘I have an eating disorder’…‘My husband just lost his job’…‘I struggle with addiction’…‘I feel unloved’…‘I am so far in debt that I don’t know how to climb out’…‘My child has walked away from the Lord’…‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get married’…” The list could honestly go on and on.
I finally saw with clarity something that forever changed me. We all have signs. We all have hurts and junk in our lives that are hard, and we often wonder if anyone else cares. The truth is, I was just as guilty of pretending as the next person. I would often try to put a happy face on the outside, while crumbling on the inside. When you know Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him, the truth of His love and care for you sinks deeply into your heart. He cares ever so much about every detail going on in your life. Regardless of what your sign says, He already knows your burdens and wants to take those and restore you unto Himself. Even with the dark, secret things you would rather people never know about, He is there. Living in anonymity is very isolating and lonely, and sometimes the best thing we can do is invite people into our lives to help us along as we process our baggage.
Many of us live with a facade: the belief that if we look good on the outside, do good things, have good things, and make other people think we have it all together, then we’ve arrived.
Many of us live with a facade: the belief that if we look good on the outside, do good things, have good things, and make other people think we have it all together, then we’ve arrived. There is real danger in this thinking, because sometimes deeper, darker things can lurk behind the pretty life we strive to create. Presenting your real self is a scary and vulnerable thing to do, as it lays bare every wound and scar. I found along my journey these last few years, that in order for my wounds to begin to heal properly, I needed to completely unzip myself and my soul, exposing my inmost thoughts and untreated sin.
Some of our signs are blocking our line of sight to see other people’s signs as well. When we are hurting, sometimes it’s easy to be self-directed and self-focused, like me. Remaining self-focused can often lead to the pitfall of self-pity, and while grieving is healthy and normal, sometimes it can prevent us from letting God use us to intercede and bless others in their distress.
My underlying fear has always been this: if people knew the real me, would I be acceptable? Would I be enough? But the beauty is the truth that we are all broken people, struggling to figure out life…every one of us. Because of Jesus bearing our sins, we no longer are confined to a life of shame, guilt, jealousy, full of comparing and trying to keep up with the Jones’s, whoever they may be. We no longer have to hide in the shadows of our pain, but we can work through it and be restored to a healthy mental, physical and spiritual place. Our God is big enough to handle all of it. Isn’t that a wonderful hope? What are the areas in your life that need God’s healing? How might God be calling you to look past your own circumstances to see the needs of others?
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
“[The Lord] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” Psalm 147: 3-5
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Image Credit: janeeturr92, Creative Commons