Recently I received the following letter from a woman who raises searching questions about herself and her experience of life:
Have you found that people who tend to be more thoughtful also tend to be sadder? I am the type of person who thinks about every little thing that happens— and sometimes I get really sad.
I’m not sure that the sadness I feel is the type of sadness that lies in self-pity, but I’m also not sure that it is the kind of sadness that is groaning for the return of Christ. Many times I will be sitting down and thinking, “I really wish Christ would come back so I don’t have to deal with this terrible sinful situation any more.”
Perhaps I am not seeing the grace of God in everything that he has given to me. Perhaps I’m not seeing God for who he is.
Everyone else around me seems completely happy, and I know I put on a good show, too, but is this what life is really like internally?
She asks good questions.
How should I answer her? Many things go into bringing rich pastoral care and counseling into the life of the church. Wise pastoral care invites honesty and good questions. It is willing to enter into the untidy perplexity and complexity of individual lives. This letter is honest.
Wise counseling also cares, and feels the weight of human troubles. It bears and bears with the struggles and sorrows of others. The woman who writes is burdened by many things.
Wise love reckons with the fracturing and confusions that beset the human heart, and with the estrangement and confusions that beset interpersonal relationships. It is not naïve. Though the letter does not mention details of “every little thing that happens,” it is not difficult to imagine what some of those might be.
Wise conversation speaks helpfully into complicated lives. It addresses the tangle of good and bad, the ambivalent reality of good motives intermingling with bad, the odd way that hard things and happy things cohabitate in human affairs. The letter calls for a constructive response, for something of Ephesians 4:29 to happen.
As I said, she has asked good questions. I hope that my response can capture something of wisdom: respecting her candor, feeling the weight of her concerns, recognizing the complexity of her experience, speaking helpfully. I hear five questions in her paragraph.
- First, does my underlying sadness arise from having a temperament that tends to reflect on life experience?
- Second, how can I sort out the difference between self-pity and faith?
- Third, is my faith in God supposed to give clarity and consistency in how I look at life?
- Fourth, does putting on a good show express the reality of what is going on?
- Fifth, what is life really like, and so what should my internal experience be like?
These are primal questions.
Scripture speaks to these kinds of questions and the Holy Spirit rearranges the inner conversation. My responses will be brief, but I hope to point in a constructive direction in this series of blogs.