I’ve been thinking a lot about hiding.
And not only because that huge batch of towels I washed by hand in my bathtub the other day turned out to smell disturbingly like the baked feet of a person who has enjoyed a steady diet of rank blue cheese, though that may have shoved my thoughts deeper down this particular rabbit hole. And before you ask, no, not all blue cheese is rank. I have a good story about that — stop distracting me, I am trying to say something deep.
I wonder if I am the only one who suffers from a powerful instinct to run and hide. Sure, the itch to up and join a circus has always lurked, but actually I am far more prone to mental, emotional –dare I say spiritual?– hiding than physical (it’s really the shoes that deter me. Elephant dung and pretty shoes don’t mix and I have a soft spot for a good kitten-heeled peep-toe). If Sherlock Holmes had his mind palace, I have a mind blanket fort and it is well stocked with snacks, cold Hefeweizen and junky magazines. The things that drive me into mental hiding vary, but they all come down, in some way, shape or form, to losing a feeling of safety, of feeling exposed.
Let me clarify before you get too excited: this is absolutely not a post about self care. I am not sure there is a thing I believe in less at this moment in time than self care, and I am including in that spectrum the Easter bunny, a living Elvis, and the possibility that Meg Ryan’s face is still real. So put away the orange stick. You’ll put your eye out.
The Word of God is full of hiding — hiding in the Lord, and even hiding from Him.
“Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wing.” (Psalm 17)
“Remove Your plague from me; I am consumed by the blow of Your hand. When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity, You make his beauty melt away like a moth; surely every man is vapor.” (Psalm 39)
I struggle with the well-meaning words of people who, I believe, love me. I’m afraid I always have. And part of my struggle comes from this place: that when God Himself is afflicting you, it is not a good time to write bumper stickers and hand out the shots of Buck-U-Uppo. It is time to lay your hand over your mouth, to be still and know that He is God — that is not only comfort. That is a fearful thought. He is God. He can bring you this pain, this devastation, this ongoing grief, personally, from His own nail printed hands, that may have no respite this side of glory and why? Because HE IS GOD. And He is kind, even when He is hurting you. He is not obligated to cut short trials that are bringing you into His likeness simply because you are tired of hurting or watching the ones you love hurt, tired of being lonely, weary of your own body, burdened by the cross of your own mind. All that is left to do in these moments where the hand of the Almighty rests heavy upon you is to hide — in Him.
“Your trials have been the crevice of the rock in which Jehovah has set you, as He did His servant Moses, that you might behold His glory as it passes by.” Charles Spurgeon
And yet, I can hear someone asking (eerie how prescient I can be on this blog… almost as if this conversation had happened in the last week…), “Well, then, what do you want people to say? How do they not say the wrong thing to you? You are scary to talk to… you are severe. Your trials are unusual and no one knows how to help you. You would probably feel better if you could just assume that whatever people say is meant well, meant kindly.”
Perhaps they are right. On the one hand, part of loving my neighbor (and it does not matter how dark the road God has led me onto, the call to obedience remains) involves believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things.
Perhaps well-meaning friends are trying to make sure I have something to endure.
On the other hand, I wonder where we get the idea that suffering well means that I am supposed to feed people the lines I want them to say to me. If I knew what they should say, wouldn’t I just say to myself and skip the middleman? Shoot, at least I would bring myself a donut while I said something insensitive.
(I could see that being a slippery slope. I might be a jerk to myself just to justify more donuts and then there would have to be a post on how to grease doorways so that I can leave my room in the mornings.)
Job is referenced often when we talk about suffering, and with good reason. I have heard many a treatise on Job’s friends, yet as I pondered this, I realized that I have heard very few examinations of Job’s responses to his friends as a model for how those dealing with long-term sufferings should respond to the well-intentioned in their lives. I wonder if it is because it makes us squirm… being the one suffering does not mean that we will know what to say to anyone else, so I think the machine gun strafe of conviction strikes coming and going, but his responses are uncomfortable because if there is one thing we do not see him do, it is shrug and assume they meant well.
“Then Job answered and said:
How long will you torment my soul,
And break me in pieces with words?
These ten times you have reproached me;
You are not ashamed that you have wronged me…
Know then that God has wronged me,
And has surrounded me with His net.
If I cry out concerning wrong, I am not heard.
If I cry aloud, there is no justice.
He has fenced up my way, so that I cannot pass;
And He has set darkness on my paths.
He has stripped me of my glory,
And taken the crown from my head.
He breaks me down on every side,
And I am gone;
My hope He has uprooted like a tree.”
How often when God drives us into hiding in Him through pain is the pain intensified by our companions, by the discomfort they feel in having to watch God afflict His beloved children! It is perhaps just human nature; we are plagued with helplessness and we chafe under stark, undeniable evidences that we are just that — helpless. I think if we are honest, our best intentions are often laced with a desire to be the one who has the right thing to say, to be the one person who was truly insightful, who will go down in history as faithful to the Jobs of the world, and that desire (no matter how small, no matter how secondary a motivation) is enough to make us think it is a good idea to keep throwing platitudes out like darts, to keep insisting that if Job kept a more optimistic outlook, he would feel much better about things in the morning, that maybe if he just had more folks helping to scrape off his boils, perhaps the community setting up a schedule for bringing fresh ashes by, that he could stop being blue about the whole thing. We moderns are not as gutsy as Job’s friends. We don’t generally say things like, repent ya lousy sinner, this is obviously all your fault. No… we say things like, “If you would just…” And then proceed to try and fix the hand of God on a person with positive thinking.
We jab sharp sticks into the blanket tents of our Jobs.
I have no takeaway wisdom for you. Soon, I expect, I will feel strong enough to crawl out of hiding and I will brave the companions who drove me to want to hide these last few days. Soon, I’m sure I will reconcile myself to how hard it must be to stand next to me, to see the heaviness of the Lord’s hand and to be burdened with a desire to mend what is obviously broken. Until then, I shall leave it at this:
The Lord God is right in all He does. If He is breaking me in this life, He will rebuild and restore in the next, for Christ’s sake. He is not uncomfortable when I am shattered, His mercy is enough. He is where I hide, and in Him is all the safety I need, even safety from the thing you might say to me.
If you want to know what to say to Job, don’t ask Job. Ask Job’s God.