Today I am writing for those who find themselves in the unexpected places, and for those who see them there. I’ve experience of these places. Not geographical but temporal spaces.
The places that didn’t feature at all in your life plan.
The places you never dreamed of or hoped for or worked towards arriving at.
When I married at 24 I envisaged a future where I would continue to be my outgoing , activist, enthusiastic self and my husband would continue to be the extrovert sporting hero with a ready smile. I hoped for children and fulfilling jobs and fun times. I dreamed of continued ministry together, serving others in churches and using our very compatible gifts to do great things for God.
I didn’t hope for, or work towards, faith crises, marriage crises, health crises.
But those are the places I’ve been.
And this is what I want us to try to understand today, for ourselves and for others.
Nobody chooses to go to those places.
So when your friend tells you that they have lost their faith, they aren’t telling you that they have made a series of cerebral, painless, rational decisions which have led them to the place where they are calling time on their church commitments. They are telling you that they have found themselves in a frightening landscape of complete unknowns. That everything they thought was true about life no longer seems to be true. That all they have lived for makes no sense to them anymore. They see their friendships, their community, their world view crumbling and they wish that it wouldn’t but it’s happened. Nobody gets to that place painlessly or deliberately.
And if a person you know tells you that they are having an affair, know that albeit they have made some bad choices which have led them to that place, it is not ever a place that they wanted to be. No-one marries or commits to a partnership hoping that one day it will be in crises because they have become entangled with someone else.
When you see ill health ravage people you care about or those whom they love, know that they are navigating their way through unknown territory of tests and appointments, health professionals, diagnoses, and long, long days of limitation. That the map is now divided into two countries called Before and After. In that place it can be hard to believe that things will ever change. That when you ask how they are they worry that they will feel your disappointment when they say there is no change, or things have in fact become worse. That they face nightmarish conversations when people suggest that they aren’t working hard enough to get better. Know that moment by moment they are making enormous adjustments to their perception of self, and that each day is hard, hard, hard. And when they look ‘brave’ or ‘upbeat’ it’s for your benefit because they think you wouldn’t want to deal with the reality of just how much they hate all that is theirs in this unexpected place.
If you are in those places be gentle with yourself. It is terrifying.
Be brave and have courage. Be your best self.
If you see people in those places, be gentle with them.
Love them. Acknowledge their pain. Listen to their story.
Let them know that you still see them, even in the deadened wasteland they currently inhabit.
And even better
Stand with them.
Join them in the life they never dreamed of.