Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Footprints in the Sand

Note: I've been hanging on to this post, unsure whether I ought to hit "publish" or not. Part of me feels like maybe it's a little bit too self-congratulatory or smug. I didn't write it with that angle in mind, but I'm a worrier, and I worried that it came off that way. I let my mother read it, which may or may not have been a mistake, as I doubt very much she would notice if I was being self-congratulatory. She's my mother and would probably see that sort of thing as a sign of self-esteem.

Suffice it to say that this wasn't written with smugness in mind. I don't think I'm, like, Captain Awesome or anything. But I am better than I used to be, and I wanted to write about why. So here goes.

There's this poem you've probably read before about God and footprints in the sand. I'm not going to re-post it because I'm too lazy to Google it and I think it's probably got a copyright, not that that ever stops anyone.

I will summarize, however. The gist of it is that in our darkest times, God picks us up and carries us through the pain. As a child, I thought, Isn't that nice? But the older I got, and the more pain I experienced, the less nice I found it. I mean, it's a lovely sentiment, it really is. And it's true that God doesn't ever abandon us, especially in times of pain and sorrow. But what I object to is this idea that He carries us, lifting us up. I've not once found that to be true.

Maybe it's true for you; I can't speak for anyone but myself. If it is true for you, well, you probably don't need to read the rest of this. In fact, you probably shouldn't, because I may unintentionally offend you (sorry). But if it's not true, if you've also wanted to cry foul when someone quoted the Footprints poem to you, read on.

I've been thinking a lot lately about pain. I have fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain condition, so I'm no stranger to hurting. Every day when I wake up, something hurts. Add to that my father's death and Roo's placement and I think I'm something of an expert in what it is to hurt. Through my life, whenever I've hurt - physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally - I've turned to my Father in Heaven in prayer. More than once I've asked Him to lift me up, to carry me through, to take the pain away. That particular prayer has never once been answered as I've asked. Prayer didn't make placement easier by one iota. My Heavenly Father has never once picked me up. But, if we're sticking with the poem here, there has never once been only one set of footprints. God has never seen fit to lessen my pain. But He has been with me through every step of it. He has never left me to suffer alone, not once. His answers to my prayers are often along the lines of my mother's response when I'm hurting: "I know. I know it hurts. I'm sorry."

I don't think I'm introducing a new concept when I say that pain brings strength. Think of your muscles. When you work out - lifting weights, for example - the exertion damages your muscles with thousands of tiny rips and tears. They hurt, don't they? But the body is an extraordinary machine; it heals itself. As the body repairs the muscle, it builds under the tears, making a bigger, stronger, better muscle than before. Or in other words, pain is gain.

When I was still only a few months along in my pregnancy, I heard one birth mom's account of her placement experience. I want to relay this carefully, because I have so much respect for this woman and her story and I know that what happened worked for her. Let me simply say that she concluded her story by saying that placement only hurt a little bit for a very short time, because God picked her up and carried her through - He took the pain all away. I'm quite sure I internalized that, because the pain of placing Roo was very different, and I felt misled and lied to.

I envied this other birth mom for her pain-free placement. In my darker moments, I hated her and her whole happy story. But in the time since then, I've come to pity her a little, as I pity anyone who blithely says that they prayed and God simply took their pain away. I think, if she didn't hurt, how did she grow? Because I have grown immensely from and through my pain. It has shaped me into a bigger, stronger, better woman than before. I'm not advocating intentionally causing pain as means of personal growth, but when it happens, go with it.

I think it's a mistake to assume that if God loves you He'll carry you through your pain. The God I worship loves me enough to let me hurt when I need to hurt so that I can grow into the woman He wants me to be. He doesn't leave me to suffer alone and He never will. He doesn't carry me, but He puts His arms around me. He says, "I know it hurts. I'm sorry." His footprints are right there in the sand next to mine. He walks with me through my pain, and I am a better woman for it.

I am thankful to my Father in Heaven for answering my prayers in His way, for letting me learn and grow through my pain.


Mother of the Wild Boys said...

I completely understand what you are saying. I feel the same way. My trials & pains are not taken away, but I am strengthened through Him to be able to handle them.
Thanks for sharing Jill. :)

A Life Being Lived said...

LOVE THIS POST. I'm glad you pressed "publish" :)

Savannah said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who doesn't believe that concept of that poem. It is beautiful, it really is, but I don't see it that way. I'm more like you. If He knows it will help, he won't stop the pain. He won't abandon me either. He'll stay right by my side and help me work through it. Beautiful post.

Black Betty said...

Not smug at all. You are Captain Awesome!

Chris, Dana and Addison: Hoping to Grow through Open Adoption said...

This post is really great. I just threw away my framed Footprints poem that was hanging in my room for years. It just didn't work for me anymore either. Like you said, it used to be nice, but now just lacks the purpose it once served. I too believe that you have to walk through the pain to reach the other side.

A. B. said...

Not smug at all. It was just awesome. That poem is fluff and that is comforting to some people but what you wrote is substantial and real and that is where true comfort comes from in my opinion. Thanks for sharing.

Shian said...

I've never thought of it that way, but I think you're right.

Whitney said...

Beautifully put, my friend! You have a gift for articulating your thoughts so beautifully. I also have fibromyalgia, for I feel for you in that regard! And I love what you said about God letting us hurt when we need to hurt. I know that your pain has not only strengthened you, but those around you as well. I, for one, have been touched by your example and faith. Your words carry such influence and strength because of your struggles, not in spite of them. I think pain allows us to minister to others in a way that we could never have done without those difficult experiences. So thank you for sharing your heart with the rest of us! You are awesome!

ME said...

Great. I'm so glad I met you and tamra.