It Isn’t Morning Yet
Editor’s Note: This week, we are reposting ESA staff selections of the most memorable articles of 2017. Today’s selection was chosen by Sarah Withrow King, Deputy Director of ESA and Co-Director of CreatureKind.
Sarah writes: At this time last year, I was looking at meme after meme calling 2016 a dumpster fire of a year. In many respects, 2017 hasn’t been much better. New mass shootings, new disasters made that much worse by climate change and policies that further oppress marginalized people, new reports of devastating injustice to humans and animals, new horror upon new horror. It isn’t morning yet, and that’s okay. God is sitting with us in our pain.
By Elrena Evans
The world is a broken place, and when I look around I see that brokenness writ large. White supremacists are marching in the streets. Floodwaters are seeping into the homes of people I love. Statements are being hurled back and forth defining who is, and who is not, living out God’s design for humanity.
Trying to explain our president’s announced plan to end DACA to my children, I was met by a veritable wall of rage and hostility. “I thought this was the United States,” my eight-year-old said, clenching his fists the way he does when he’s ready for a fight. The next day my twelve-year-old daughter was all out of sorts, in the way that twelve-year-old daughters sometimes can be. When I asked her what was troubling her, though, it wasn’t school or friends or her little sister getting into her makeup again. It was DACA. “I just don’t understand how Trump can send all those people away,” she cried.
Like most parents, I want my children to be happy. And unlike many parents, I have the ability to detach from much of the world’s sadness if I choose, because it isn’t literally staring us in the face. It’s close, though, closer than my children have ever felt in their lifetimes. They’re frightened and bewildered. I’m a little bit bewildered myself.
My instinct is to rush through the sadness, the anger and confusion, and arrive as quickly as possible at a better place. I feel like, as a Christian, this is a skill I’ve been taught: there is sadness, but God redeems. There is anger, but God gives us peace. There is confusion, but God brings clarity. Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Why are we so good at “moving on,” but not quite so good at sitting and staying where it hurts?
Why are we so good at “moving on,” but not quite so good at sitting and staying where it hurts? When I look at this world, the morning hasn’t come. I can’t quite wrest my heart out of the pain to move forward into joy…and that’s not just an okay response, it’s a biblical one. This isn’t the world God envisioned for us. When we sit and stay with that truth, we’re taking part in the groaning of all creation, as we await our final redemption. That will be a day of pure joy. But we’re not there yet.
In my house I do a lot of what I’ve dubbed “emotional management”—my kids are wired a little quirkily, and school year goals like “Be able to identify and name five different emotions” are de rigueur for my children. A few years back, a psychologist who was working with our family gave me the following advice: Don’t rush to make things better. When your child is hurting, acknowledge that hurt. Sit and stay with your child, in the hurt, for as long as your child needs.
This flies in the face of my “kiss it and make it better” instincts. Who wants to stay miserable? But there is a beauty, a painful, unspeakable beauty, in being able to say to a small child, “I know this hurts. Right now, you are feeling sad (or angry, or frustrated, or cheated). I can’t necessarily fix it. But I can stay with you in the sadness.”
Right now, I am looking at my world and saying, this hurts. And I can’t fix it. But I think at times, it’s okay to stay in the sadness. This limping, battered planet is only a shadow of God’s perfect design, and we are heirs of a deep, deep brokenness. We don’t need to pretend that everything is all right.
This limping, battered planet is only a shadow of God’s perfect design.
We have a scriptural tradition that is rich in emotion, both in joy and sorrow. We have a psalmist who beseeches the Lord, “How long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your own people?” (Psalm 80:4). We have a man who cries out, “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11). We have a woman who is so overcome with grief, people think she is drunk—and she responds, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (1 Samuel 1:15-16).
Why can’t we ever seem to say, “This is hard,” without instantly countering “But God is good!” It’s as if we’re afraid if we camp out too long on “this is hard,” we’ll lose what little faith we have.
The other day, my three-year-old bonked his head or bumped his knee or had some other three-year-old mishap, and came to me in tears.
“Do you want me to kiss it and make it better?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “I want to sit on your lap and feel sad.”
So that is what we did. He climbed on to my lap and curled up against my chest, his thumb in his mouth, and we felt sad together. He needed to feel sad for a long time, and I needed to do nothing but hold him and acknowledge his pain.
I believe our Heavenly Father sits with us in our pain, too. I don’t think He’s rushing us on, distracting us with some bauble so we forget how much this hurts. I think He’s sitting right here with us. I think He holds our pain and our sadness and even our blind screaming rage, and He gives us permission to feel all of those feelings, to look at our broken world and rave and howl and cry, and know that He will never leave.
Let’s not rush to joy when we need to mourn what’s broken. Joy comes in the morning…but it isn’t morning yet.
Elrena Evans is Editor and Content Strategist for Evangelicals for Social Action. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Penn State, and has also worked for Christianity Today and American Bible Society. She is the author of a short story collection, This Crowded Night, and co-author of the essay collection Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life. She enjoys spending time with her family, dancing, and making spreadsheets.