This year I rashly announced on Facebook that my New Year’s Resolution was as follows: “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
I wasn’t counting on getting nine days into the New Year and having a conversation that made twenty years’ worth of hurts (that were supposed to be just faint scars by now, dang it!) come slinking back in again. The Bad Bee part of me wants to list them all, along with all the pithy rejoinders and profound insights I wish I’d had the nerve to say when they all happened. Rebuttal! Unassailable logic! Pow! Pow! Pow!
And then Good Bee (see Rom. 7:21-25 for a more official version of Good Bee and Bad Bee) waves her hand and says, “Um … hey? Peace toward all men, and all that?”
Bad Bee says, “But, but, how can I be at peace with someone who’s WRONG?”
Good Bee says, “Er … do you remember that one story with the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees and that whole mess?”
Bad Bee says, “Well yes, but I’m not THE SON OF GOD, for Pete’s sake. And I’m, y’know, RIGHT!”
Good Bee says, “Tea. Hot tea. Then Philippians. And maybe that Quaker devotional book you won’t shut up about. NOW.”
And I, good and bad both, sigh and make a pot of tea and open Philippians. I haven’t even gotten to the good bit in chapter 2 about humility when I am pinned to my chair by this verse, written by a man who is in jail – not just heartachy, IN JAIL: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.”
This verse is still simmering as I read through my Quaker devotional book in the section on sorrow. Hannah Whitall Smith wrote to her friend Priscilla Mounsey 130-some years ago: “Thy circumstances are lonely, but thy loneliness of spirit does not come from these, it is the loneliness of humanity. Therefore, nothing but God can satisfy it.”
I close my eyes and let these words shift around in my mind, and I’m surprised to discover that the hurt of my heart keeps my mind focused, almost completely free of its usual “oh look a chicken” tangents. The thought that keeps surfacing from the angry, frustrated fog is that there are two kinds of loneliness, and both are very real but easily mistaken for each other.
We do need people. Community is important, and there are times when it is somehow always just beyond our reach. This is normal. But there is a separate loneliness, where we are aching for community – communion, perhaps – with God. We need a closeness that human words and bodies and thoughts simply can’t achieve, and we ache for Him. This is normal too.
The problem arises when we confuse them. Relying on people, burying our heads in noise and meetings and play dates, can result in a peculiarly surrounded loneliness, if that core spot reserved for God is not filled. But relying only on God, when maybe we need to get out of our chairs and off our laptops and find a human with real ears, can leave us wondering why God isn’t enough – when He is probably sitting right beside us saying, “I AM enough! Now go call Jen!”
And now, in the midst of all these percolating thoughts, up bubbles my verse from before, and I realize that my quarrel isn’t really with the man who flippantly dismissed my pain by rebuking me for not having more friends. Would I have liked more friends in my dark valley? You bet. Was it my fault for not having them? Hard to say. Do I want him to understand it from my perspective? Well, Bad Bee does, which is why she’s not allowed to talk right now.
The real problem is not just with one man, or even one church. It is with the idea that the best defense is to hit the person who is suffering, and this is everywhere. I can’t fix this by myself, and I don’t intend to try. What I do plan to do, though, is ask myself this question every time these old hurts float up again: “Can this hurt, this pain, this memory be used for the greater progress of the gospel?”
And already, in the still small corners of my mind, I can hear a quiet maternal voice whispering, “Yes, My daughter. I can use it.”