This always happens to me. The thought settles hard, a bitter weed looking to root.
Late afternoon, and I feel weary with trying. We tumble out of the car like the dust we feel, and I am gripped by an overwhelming urge to lay in the grass and extend my arms and lose myself in the sky. I walk around the car and stare at the wildly errant blades, the way they manage to wobble in the wind without bruising each other. The sun feels warm on my back. I wonder if they would notice, if I just lay down right here. Just for a moment.
But Adam’s blood sugar ran too high at school and needs to be rechecked, and Riley waits for me to help her through her homework, and Zoe is only half way finished with the story she began telling me on the way home. And I have supper yet to finish. And miles to go before I sleep. That line from Frost always resonates at this time of day, when the afternoon feels heavy and the light is dying.
Still, it’s not really any of our every day chaos making me want to lay down and dissolve into the ground today.
I read an email at a stop light on the way home, just a quick lump of words that tasted of the parched dirt, and I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Blank space lingered where there might have been some display of affection, some encouragement, some enthusiasm even just for me, and it isn’t just the message that hurts but its addition to the echo of evil that has most recently been whispering. You are insignificant. None of this following you do really matters.
Of course, that’s a lie. I know that in some solid place, but the suggestion still hurts. It starts as a whisper and gradually builds to a growl. A friend ignores me instead of speaking, and I feel excluded, and I look hard for words. This goes on for weeks, pricking me and then cutting, a splinter first, then a knife. In the email, it isn’t the words written that slice but the ones that are so obviously missing—the ones that acknowledge we have a relationship, and you matter to me, and you are more than just another thing to handle. In my lifetime, it’s been the absence of words and presence and inclusion—ostracism—that has hurt me far worse than the things people say. Recently, I read that the brain processes this social pain with the same part of the cortex that it uses to process physical injury, and I thought, yes, that’s true. I’ve felt that twisting hurt more times than I care to count, and today, the email feels like the final punch before the knockout.
I stare at the grass a moment, and then I gather myself and walk inside, but it all feels harder, like slogging through mud or walking through darkness, because of the ache brewing deep. In the moment when I think, I’m not sure I can do this today, I whisper a prayer, just a few words that have become more tender to me than any others: Jesus, please…
I lift my hands and seeing my son, I ask him for a hug. “I need a hug, Adam. Can you give me a hug?”
He stops mid-whirl (he always deftly incorporates spins into his walking) and looks at me for a moment, then moves purposefully toward me. He wraps his arms around my shoulders and stands very still, gently squeezing. I swallow a sob. Hugging has never come naturally to my son. In fact, he prefers fist bumps and high fives. Something about the closeness bothers him, not to mention the requirement that he stand still. But I see that he has enough love for me to do this thing that is uncomfortable, to see right into the truth of my need and offer me this small sacrifice. I am always reminding him to hug with both arms, please, but this time, I don’t have to ask. And this time, I don’t have to plead for more time. He waits on me to release him.
I stand in my son’s arms and something rests on my heart, the remembrance of a passage about a man who desperately needed a healing touch. He had leprosy and probably hadn’t been touched for years. He lived isolated from his family, excluded from society. He had been ostracized because of his disease, forced to yell unclean when someone ventured close. Scripture says that this man fell in front of Jesus and begged to be made clean—if you are willing, you can make me clean. If you are willing, he said. Most people were unwilling even to come near him. His life had lost significance, or so it seemed. But Jesus cares first about souls and second about bodies, so he reached out his hand and touched the man, though he did not need to do so to heal the body. With a touch, Jesus conveyed not just physical healing but spiritual wholeness, significance, assurance.
I stand in my son’s arms, wrapped up in his self-sacrifice, and this passage rests on my heart like a healing hand. It’s as though the Savior has touched me, laying his hand on my ugly, self-centered despair, and I have reached for Him too, my skin melting into Him. Suddenly, as His power blows through me, I am no longer blind or bleeding or standing rotting in front of him. Just like that, embraced in the breath of a prayer, I am whole and healed and seeing.
And this is what I see: This always happens to me. The words are a clue, revealing the truth, a light shined in the shadows all the countless times I’ve said them. I look along my life, seeing all the way back to friends on a playground turning their backs, to girls and women choosing each other and not me, to outright and intentional disownment, to my raw transparency met with bare silence. This has always been the enemy’s strategy. I see it even in the challenges my children face, in their struggle to connect and communicate, in the sometimes lonely feel of disability.
Alienation. Loneliness. Ostracism. Silence. Invisibility. Insignificance. Separation.
All of these are the tactics of a ruthless enemy who uses our fear and insecurity, our omissions, our blunt dismissals, and our silences to write nasty fictions all over the blank and empty spaces that isolate and destroy and spread doubt. Clearly now I see the ugly scars left by ripping claws. I have spent a lifetime blind, a lifetime with a flow of blood that never stops, and suddenly now with His healing I see beyond the temporary details to the truth. Knowing doesn’t dull the pain of circumstances, but it does take away the enemy’s ability to hide behind them. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). The clear view throws light into the deep shadows and refocuses the fight. This strategy, no longer carefully hidden, has lost its convincing power over me. No matter the circumstances, I know the truth, and the truth sets me free (John 8:32).
But healing means the empty spaces now swept clean must be filled full, or something more terrible will return to fill them (Luke 11:24-26). And so, He engraves Truth on my soul, an ornate and holy script, Word to fill every silence, every blank neglect: I reached for you when you were dead in sin, when disfigurement and death and disease held you apart from me (Romans 5:8). I touched your rotting skin with my own fingers to heal you. I gave you my life. That is how visible you are, how important, how significant. I am always willing. I, the Logos—the Word—obliterated years of separating silence and took on flesh to take your place (John 1:14). My name is Immanuel, God with us—God with you (Matthew 1:23). You are not alone (Deut. 31:6). I adopted you as my child (1 John 3:1), brought you to my table (2 Samuel 9), gave you an inheritance that cannot be taken from you (1 Peter 1:4). You are not excluded. I died to bring you home (John 14:3). You are mine.
His is a wild, passionate love, a claiming touch, a touch that heals and fills. This, then is the Truth to hold in the hands, the Truth to make my hands His own, the Truth worth the scars left by nails. I stand in my son’s arms, swallowing a sob, and I am healed by the touch of Truth. And I see that becoming like Him, this dying to self, this loving all the way to sacrifice, this living as vessels moved by His healing hands is a gift instead of a loss, an offensive strategy instead of a dissolution. Because the truth is that it is the enemy’s ultimate goal to sell us all the same lie. His goal is to keep us eternally apart. He uses different details, the ones that penetrate to each person’s most tender places, but from time to time, we all feel ignored, neglected, insignificant, and excluded. The enemy hides behind our carefully erected walls and our perfect masks. And only our moving well past comfort to lay willing hands on the ugly pain of another—only this vulnerable being Jesus to each other—will redeem us all from the bitter lie that has slowly taken root.
This always happens to me.