When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy. (Psalm 94:18-19)
You’ve heard the saying attributed to so many people, I don’t actually know who said it first, to be kind because everyone you meet is fighting an uphill battle. Oh, it shows up on Instagram posts and inspirational coffee cups and the little tags attached to tea bags.
What does it even mean though? Isn’t anyone having a good time? Is every person you meet just one minor inconvenience away from melting down? Even if it is true that everyone is fighting a battle, does that mean every day has to be a battle? Surely there are moments when we can lay down our weapons because we are so flipping tired. Where the hell is the triage tent in this battle, because I could use some gauze and a drink.
If everyone had to walk around showing their battle wounds, would we all actually be kinder to each other? Or would malevolent people just know how to hurt one another more efficiently? (Camus thought that if the French government officials could just see Algeria and its people that benevolent policies would automatically follow. Aren’t we all universally bound by fraternity? Alas, no.)
I think where the idea of being kind to everyone fighting a battle falls a hair short is that when I am in a battle, I don’t need a cheerleader. I need a co-warrior. Maybe we would all feel like we were losing fewer battles if we all knew we were fighting the same war. Maybe if we didn’t feel like we had to win each step by ourselves we wouldn’t be so discouraged.
But what stops us from just saying, “I need a hand in this battle”? Instead we fight on, silently. The anxiety great within. At least I do. I smile and I work. I work and I smile. And I laugh. And I cry. And it is all genuine. My smile—although sometimes through pain—is not phony, even while it does not represent the whole picture of me. But then again, maybe only those who are willing to step onto my battlefield deserve to see the whole picture of me.
There are those whose battlefields I know are not mine to join. Also there are those for whom I will always be on the frontlines, no matter what. Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.
I have told God that my foot was slipping—and I have seen his unfailing love support me. It comes in unexpected ways sometimes. God just saying, “I will not let you fall.” I do my best to believe that.
I can be too hard on myself, thinking that every doubt is some sort of demerit against me and every discouragement somehow repels blessings. (Leftover prosperity Gospel?) But how cruel and contractual would that be of God—to call me to something really difficult and then punish when I struggle. What a ridiculous and misguided view of God who loves me and inspires in me desires that he actually does want to fulfill. (St. Therese said, “God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.”)
In the middle of the battle, there is victory. In the multitude of anxieties, God’s consolation brings joy. Joy of a past (though maybe weaved with pain) filled with signs of God’s faithfulness. Joy of a present with God ever-present. Joy of a future—not promised—but filled with hope. The joy and consolation is right there in the middle of the multitude of anxiety. I used to think I could only hold one thing at a time. I could be happy, sad, joyful or sorrowful by turns. That I was only capable of love or fear. Faith or doubt. Now I know that is rubbish. I can hold many conflicting emotions at the same time. The human heart is more agile and expansive than I could have ever imagined. Who knew that grief and peace would be linking arms in this battle? Yeah not me. And yet, here we are.
We are on the cusp of another Lent and I want to say something hopeful in the battle. So, I will simply say this:
You can say, “I believe” followed by “help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
You can say, “I am falling” at the same time believing that God will not let you fall.
You can say, “I am too tired to continue” all the while continuing.
You can say, “Life is fucking hard” and say ”God is amazingly good.”
These things are true. The heart holds them in tension—like a net to catch the grace.