We humans have trouble living in the limbo of things that are unfixed. We look for ways to solve things, like trying a new medication for a chronic medical condition, or reading self-help books to improve our relationships, or figuring out how to keep those dratted worms from eating our tomato plants. I guess it’s one of the reasons we make New Year’s resolutions, and it’s good. We were made for perfection, even though we can only create little islands of perfection in this life, looking forward to the day when God will make all things new.
But some things can’t and won’t be fixed, maybe never in this life, or at least not for now. Not that we shouldn’t try to put whatever we can to rights, but there are situations that are beyond our power to fix. Our infinitely wise God sometimes allows us to live with the ache.
All sorts of things cause us grief. The souring of a relationship, experiencing injustice, the shattering of a dream, the death of a person dear to us. The desire to have everything be fixed seizes us and puts a black cloud over all of life. We want it, whatever it is, to be over with. Failing that, we want to at least stop feeling the pain, so we can be joyful again.
Once when I was drowning in the misery of a very dark time, I found an insightful passage in a novel I was reading. (Good fiction is a lifeline. In it you find characters who experience real life, who feel the things you feel, and you say to yourself, “I had no idea other people felt this way,” and you are comforted.)
Anyway, in this novel, someone had experienced a very great grief, and a friend asked them how they could bear it and still live life. The answer was something like this: “It’s like being at the theater, and having a very tall person sit down in front of me. It’s annoying, and I have to find ways to look around the tall person so I can see what’s happening onstage. I do manage to enjoy the play, even though I’m aware of that tall person in front of me the whole time. This grief is like that tall person. It’s always there. I can’t make it go away. But I can look around it and keep going on with life.”
This makes enormous sense to me. The metaphor of the tall person in front of me grabs my attention, because I’m about as tall as a Hobbit. Wherever I go, even a normal-height person sitting in front of me is in my line of sight. I’m forever looking at the back of someone’s head, and I’ve made a career of craning my neck and leaning sideways to see what’s going on up front.
There is much freedom in acknowledging that the tall person isindeed in front of me and that I have to look around him. The pain and grief are real. But joy and pain can coexist. The tall person in front of me doesn’t have to ruin the experience at the theater, or my life, if I’m willing to live with the view. My entire existence does not consist of this grief. I can embrace those little islands of happiness that are still part of my life. I can even create a couple of new islands. I don’t have to be defined by what is unfixed.
This mixture of pain and joy is odd, emotionally exhausting, and part of what makes us human. But it’s good for us to realize that no matter how many happy islands we experience in this life, they’re only a shadow of what’s waiting for us. One of the greatest life-skills we can learn is how to go on living productively and unselfishly in our pain.
An extremely wise person said that pain is a holy experience that ought not be rushed. Though this idea goes against all my natural tenancies and desires, I agree. Having everything be fixed is not nearly as important as the lessons of trust and patience I learn as I live with the tall person in front of me. Somehow, as I live with the unfixed, my soul is getting fixed.
If you understand Isaiah 35 as a promise of the everlasting joy you will someday experience, you’ll be encouraged by these words: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful (or grieving, or sad, or discouraged) hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…”
The tall person in front of you is no match for the God who will come. Let Him encourage you while you live with the unfixed.