Don’t Fix Me

And stop trying to fix each other.

Friends, you are not a machine. You are a beautiful, complex, confusing mess of a creature. This matters, because we talk about ourselves as though we are machines, and language creates the categories that our thought then fills. When we speak of ourselves as machines we start to act like them too.

The most obvious example is that when we suggest that we need fixing, as though our problems would be smoothed out with judicious application of a socket set. We are not machines that need fixing. We’re humans who need love, connection, kindness, a glass of wine, and the presence of God.

Yet we keep trying to fix each other.

In his introduction to Job in The Message, Eugene Peterson tells us what we’ve all seen in his typically earthy way:

Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkills attract vultures

That’s my experience. I suspect it’s been some of yours too.

Now, we should remember that Job’s friends got some things right. Two very important things, I think. Firstly, they sat in the ash with Job. They entered his pain and were with him. Secondly, they said nothing for a week. They came and inhabited his suffering with him as best they were able.

What do those suffering most acutely need? Tears, Time, maybe a Cup of Tea. I am British, so there are few situations which aren’t helped by a cup of tea. In all seriousness though, for all your friends might appreciate you speaking to their problems at some point, there is no rush to get there. If you’re pastoring, then lead with tears. They do want your advice, but first they need your presence. They need to be heard.

We often rush to solutions, but there’s a bigger problem. Most suffering cannot be fixed. Much pain can only be borne, not removed. Especially when our pain is caused by choosing to not do things that look like we would fix our lack because we judge them to be against the Way of Jesus.

Prayer ministry cannot make the disappointment caused by the deepest and darkest depths of human existence, by the ashy touch of death, suddenly magic away into the ether. Who would think it could? Yet, so often, “I’m in pain” is met by “let’s get some prayer counselling booked in.” I fear that my charismatic circles, which excel at transformative prayer, have allowed that to completely eclipse the gentle walking side-by-side that is the normal rhythm of pastoral ministry. We want to fix everything.

The disappointments caused by the great swell of pain so many of us have to endure does need to be ‘given to God,’ but practically for most that looks more like Jacob’s wrestling with God at Peniel following the gaslighting, cheating, and abuse he’d experienced at Laban’s hands (Genesis 29-32) than it does a little prayer—though God despises no prayer. Pain must be felt. We talk a lot about the need to process our emotions these days—which is more machine language—but it really means you’ve got to actually feel them. And of course, when your prayers have no answers, like Jacob, do not let God go. Wrestle until he blesses. Walk the dark path until it grows to be luminous, in the words of Alain Emerson, because the dark is as light to him (Psalm 139). There is treasure at the bottom of the pit.

A counsellor gave me a formula for addressing emotions: feel them, tell God about them, make a godly decision. Trying to tell God before you’ve felt them won’t work, you haven’t got anything to tell him yet. Trying to make decisions before actually experiencing our emotions before the face of God is throwing darts at the wall blindfolded, you’re liable to get the darts stuck in your foot.

Somehow, we feel like the Christian thing to do is to mask our pain and hide it behind reserve. This is a typically British reaction—it remains common in the upper classes—but it isn’t one we find in the Bible. Masking pain doesn’t make it heal any faster. Levi Lusko suggests that grief is an endurance sport. When we hide it because people think we should be fixed by now, or because we think grief needs fixing, we extend the marathon. Lusko reckons that we do people a disservice when we try to rush them through their grief. He relates how people would ask him if he was over the death of his six-year-old daughter yet. As though that’s something that you get ‘over.’ Instead, he suggests that slowly we “learn to walk with our loss” like someone who has lost a limb relearning how to move with a prosthetic.

One of the reasons we think we’re meant to hide it away is because we think our pain is evidence of weak faith. Pain is not evidence of weak faith, it’s the evidence that we are normal. Larry Crabb writes well on the subject, but contrary to what we might expect, he’s speaking not about the grief of losing loved ones or the agony of dying yourself, but the pain of ‘shattered dreams’ which we all know. Crabb writes that having your dreams shattered will always produce pain so excruciating that we fear we may not survive.

Some of you will have survived truly awful things. Others will know deep pain but wonder if you told other people about it whether they would think your pain is out of balance with the things you’re feeling. They might think that, and you’re still normal.

Crabb claims that there are unwritten rules in the Christian world. Grief has a time limit. There’s a ‘proper’ way to mourn, which means your pain always has to be seasoned with hope (through a misreading of 1 Thessalonians 4). Sadly, Christians are typically impatient. Crabb says that, “we rarely believe that life is hidden in the barren tree,” so often Christians are the people that go to the orchard to pick apples in the winter.

Both of these unwritten rules are nonsense. They’re the kind of sounds like truth lies that the Enemy loves to spin to trap the people of God.

Pain doesn’t need fixing. It needs enduring. The trees of our lives (Psalm 1) need to grow through the challenges of life, because life is hidden in the barren tree. Sometimes we need time. Sometimes we need to wait. We may never ‘get over it’ but then that’s not the aim. The aim is faithfulness: another faltering step following after Jesus as best as we can.

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