There are 1,375 words beyond this point. This blog will take the average adult reader about 5 minutes to read.
It’s been a while.
I keep telling myself that I need to write. For those of you who write, you might be familiar with the nagging feeling of incompleteness that seeps in when you fail to write for a prolonged time. I’ve been sitting in that since October.
I never mean to stop—but this blog requires a lot of emotional capital from me, and I simply haven’t had it. I have had neither the strength nor the courage to show you my wounds, and work through them publicly with you. As I’ve been processing through all that has gone on—and is going on—in my life right now, a few lines from “It is Well” have been playing in my head:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
And I keep thinking, over and over as that song plays over and over in my head—that if I ever knew what “peace like a river” felt like, I have long since forgotten it.
Life has more like “sorrows like sea billows roll” than “peace like a river”. And it is hard to discuss—since much of it involves my family. While I would willingly share much of that story with you, it is not only my story. I need to respect that the story of my family belongs to my siblings, parents, and extended family, too. While I am (usually) glad to air my own dirty laundry on this blog, I cannot in good conscience air theirs.
I will give you, however, a little snapshot—including a little personal experience—and what is commonly known “public” information.
I was six the first time I had the thought “my parents are going to divorce”. It was in the fall and my big brother had been told to go play outside, as a verbal fight between my parents brewed. As we laid half-buried in a pile of leaves in the front yard, and I could hear my parents shouting from a solid seventy feet (and a set of walls) away, my six-year-old brain said, “My parents are going to get a divorce.”
It was twenty years later when my mom first told me she wanted to leave my dad.
It was three years after that when my mom moved out of the house we once all lived in as a family.
It was December 28, 2017 when the divorce was finalized.
From the first moment that that thought entered my six-year-old brain, to the day their divorce was finalized, twenty-six years passed. Twenty-six years of tumult, hurt, and taking relational shrapnel in the ass as the familial bombs went off.
Twenty-six years of sorrows like sea billows.
I was silly enough to think that the finalized divorce would bring relief in some way—that ending it would end all involved parties’ ability to wound one another—or that ending a marriage would end the decades of hurt it begot.
Now, this kind of thinking seems akin to thinking if you have a deep cut across your thigh, the only solution is to cut the whole leg off. Granted, if the wound is infected, and the gangrene has set in, the right answer might actually be to cut the leg off—but that doesn’t stop the pain. While it may be the correct way to begin the process of healing, it most assuredly hurts like a bitch. It hurts more. Again. Still. And that’s just the physical pain of the wound—before any phantom pains begin to set in. Before the pain of loss sets in.
My parents’ marriage was deeply infected, and the best solution was absolutely to cut it off—but that doesn’t mean the amputation wasn’t fucking excruciating.
Sorrows like sea billows roll—and roll—and roll.
In many regards, this life-long storm (among many other squalls) has left me ebbing toward hopelessness when it comes to seeing potential for healing and restoration in this life. I have a lot of hope in the full restoration through Jesus after this life, but little for the here and now. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve seen many instances of it—glimpses of the promised restoration that is yet to come. Some of my closest friendships have been refined and deepened through sin, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I know it is possible—I have seen it—I have tasted it—and I love it. I yearn for it.
But restoration is not promised in this life.
The trajectory of this world is toward destruction—it is hell-bent. The natural state of life is decay. Things, relationships, are falling apart all around us. An active agent is required to combat decay.
And I do believe there is an active agent fighting the decay—making things new. (My friend Cam preached an excellent sermon on this: All Things New.) But I do not believe we are guaranteed that things will be fixed in the here and now—I see the promise of full restoration in Christ after death, but not in this life. Sometimes—sometimes—we get the joy of seeing broken relationships restored—but it is not promised.
It is often hard to explain the tension between the deep hopelessness, and the vast eternal hope I have.
A very literal thank God that I am currently in a community who does not respond to my pain with bullshit Christianese platitudes—but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t—and doesn’t—still happen. I’ve heard countless instances of the theme “God will heal your family.” and “things will get better”. And I do believe that—but I believe that in the scope of eternity—not necessarily in the scope of this life. Perhaps this is a bleak outlook on life, but it is the only one that allows me to look beyond the past and present and ongoing pain and brokenness.
I wish well-meaning Christians would stop suggesting that “things will get better”. I wish they would just acknowledge the pain, and remind me of the full restoration that is to come beyond this life. “Things will get better” is a terrible god to pursue—and one that has failed me time and time and time again. “Things will get better” leaves me hopeless and pursuing the effects of the work of God over God himself.
When sorrows like sea billows roll, I need to be reminded that if nothing in the present situation ever changes, that God is still good—and that while He may not restore what’s broken in this life—that He is making all things new on an eternal timeline. I need to be reminded that while things around me are in a state of decay, He is fighting against it—even when I cannot see the effects clearly. He is making me new. He is restoring my soul—and one day, one day that might feel like it’s unbearably far away, He will restore me completely to Himself.
If ever, it has been a long, long time since “peace like a river attendeth my way”. But hoping in the God who holds eternity brings me peace that transcends my own understanding, despite being caught in the tumultuous sea billows’ roll.
I do not expect my family to heal in the way many Christians may think a healed family should look like. My parent’s marriage will never be restored. My family will never again fit the mold of what God intended for family. And we will likely be dealing with the pain of amputation of that gangrenous and infected relationship until death do us all part.
But I am confident that one day all things will be made new. And I am confident that the plan to make all things new has already been set in motion, and we are currently existing in the “already, but not yet”. It has been promised, gifted, but not yet completed.
When I can look beyond the hopelessness of the here-and-now, toward the eternal promise of restoration, that is when I can look beyond the sorrows like sea billows rolling—and say “It is well with my soul.”