One of the truest things I’m learning in the midst of one of the most difficult season’s of my life is that God does not give us more than we can handle and he does not ask for more than we can give.
I think the result of this, what I ultimately believe is a blessing and a gift from God, is that we experience pain and loss in layers.
For example, right after my boyfriend and I broke up I missed the tangible parts of him and our relationship – getting to hold his hand and tell him things about my day, just missing his physical and emotional nearness. It felt like an unbearable pain. But it wasn’t. By the grace of God and comfort of great friends, I moved through what I thought would be an endless and living hell.
As I started to heal from that pain, as I began to feel okay again, a different kind of pain emerged. This time it was the pain of having to let go of the patterns in my life that were intertwined with our relationship. The need to transition community, relationships, and work. It was less of a tangible pain, making it harder to bear. It was a wider and deeper hurt. But again, it only came when I was (in hindsight) able to experience it in a healthy and whole way.
As this new pain settled, as I learned to live and breathe in spite of it, I’m becoming aware of an even more abstract pain. This is the loss of how I understood life. The unknown assumptions I carried around with me about life and the way it would happen to me. One day, as I sat crying on the phone to my mom about how my life, this story I was in the middle of, was not what I thought it would be and not what I wanted, she simply asked me, “Sam, did you really think your life was going to be perfect?” My answer, if forced to be honest, was yes. And now I’m trying to unpack and process and fully live a life and a story that isn’t perfect, but involves a lot of a failure and hurt.
This is a new, deeper, more complicated and deeply rooted layer to what “simply” (again, I only say that in hindsight) began as heartbreak.
And last night I learned that the layering never stops. My nana died from some combination of lung cancer and pneumonia and as I was driving to her house to meet my family these thoughts of life and loss and perfect were uncontrollably, overwhelmingly swirling around in my head. What is the point? Why do we go through these painful layers of life and loss? What’s left at the end of it? Will there even be an end?
My only response right now is that it’s the layers that are keeping me dependent on God. It’s the layers that are growing me into a more fully engaged human being. It’s the layers that propel me out of what would otherwise be a life of stuckness and apathy and atrophy. It’s still an in-process, imperfect answer – but that’s probably because an “answer” isn’t the ultimate goal anyways.
I think Alexi Murdoch, in his song “Breathe,” describes it well:
“And all the suffering that you’ve witnessed
And the hand prints on the wall
They remind you how it’s endless
How endlessly you fall
“And the answer that you’re seeking
For the question that you found
Drives you further to confusion
As you lose your sense of ground
“So don’t forget to breathe
Don’t forget to breathe
Your whole life is here
No eleventh hour reprieve
So don’t forget to breathe”