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Doing Hard Things

Lately life hasn’t been feeling like, well, life. There’s been too much loss and loneliness and fear and anger and exhaustion and boredom. We miss eating out and visiting grandkids, going to the gym and traveling. And we miss hugs.

The trainers on my Apple Fitness app keep telling me that we’re made to do hard things. Well, true enough.

But honestly we’re also meant to do tender things. To be close to one another. To give and to receive understanding and comfort. To share tears and laughter. To be, at least for a moment, just a little less guarded with each other. That’s why we miss hugs. We miss life.

Medical professionals and government leaders assure us that the vaccine will save us from this diminishing half-life. And in important ways I believe that they are telling us the truth.

Masks and physical distancing will become an increasingly distant memory. The daily death count will disappear from the front pages of our newspapers and stop scrolling across the bottom of our TV screens. The life we’ve been missing will return again. Sort of.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say that the life we had actually known will return. What we call ordinary life is a sort of half-life. The pandemic simply highlighted and amplified its pattern. As a result, our yearning to be saved was able to announce itself to us with visceral urgency.

When I talk about salvation here, I don’t mean that we want to be whisked away from planet earth to a faraway heavenly dwelling place. Nope. I mean we are drawn to become who we really are. Like Anne Lamott says, we are “loving awareness with skin on.” (Dusk, Night, Dawn, p. 156)

The reason we need saving is that we are not just love in the flesh. We are also, as Anne puts it, “walking personality disorders.” (p. 156) We are a mix of things. Her pastor says that we have dual citizenship. “We have the human passport with all our biographical details and neuroses engraved on it, and the heavenly one, as the children of the divine.” (Lamott, pp. 45-46)

The wounded self can be tempted by the illusory solace of wounding others. For a while, it can actually feel good to judge others and to nurture resentments. Even when we realize how lonely and grumpy we’re becoming, we can find it pretty hard to live a different way.

But you know, it might just be that my Apple Fitness trainers are right. We were made to do hard things. We were made to love.

On this planet, love looks like admitting that we are fragile and wounded. As hard as that kind of vulnerability is, it’s even tougher to do the only thing that will make us whole: forgive.

While we’re talking about forgiveness, let’s be honest that we need forgiveness for our unforgiveness. If you’re anything like me, that’s going to involve admitting that you’ve done your share of dealing with your own wounds by wounding others.

Yep, in our personal lives we were meant to do hard things. And my experience is that salvation—feeling connected to others and being at home in my own skin—lies in doing these hard things.

The same goes for our society. Facing the role of race in our country is especially hard for a white man like me.

My gut churns and my heart aches when highly educated and accomplished friends of color tells me stories about being treated as second class citizens. Followed with suspicion in department stores. Even though dressed as a professional and driving the speed limit, pulled over and detained for nearly an hour by the police.

It is hard to simply listen to what it’s like to be a person of color without being defensive or dismissive or rushing to assure my friends that I’m not racist. But when I do, I learn some things about myself and I experience a distance closing that I had not realized even existed.

Like I said, my experience is that salvation lies in doing these hard things. But I’ve also learned that I cannot do them on my own. At least in my life, I do these hard things by cooperating with a love that is always already given to me. I do not save myself.

That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

He was willing to do the hard thing. To love us because that’s who he is. And his love is what makes it possible for me to move toward being who I truly am: loving awareness with skin on.

We were made to do hard things. We were made to love.


My next book Looking for God in Messy Places is available for pre-order now. See what Anne Lamott says about it below. Click the link to find out more or grab a copy.

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