Courage to Engage

By Jake Johnson

You were born into a battle.

The tears came as quickly as the words did.

I was listening to a podcast by John Eldredge, finishing up a set of squats at the gym. John was discussing the wounds we experience in life, and the offer of Jesus to father us through the pain. As I finished the set, an image flashed in my mind of a sixth grader curled up in the fetal position cutting himself. I was the sixth grader.

Tears swelled as soon as I saw the image of the blade, and I tightened my cheek muscles in an attempt to repent from the tears. Surprisingly, it was not my first time crying at the gym.

In unapologetic anger, I asked God, “Why? Why would you let an eleven year old cut himself?”

The answer was as immediate and abrupt as my tears.

You were born into a battle.

The tears dried, the podcast ended, and I went back to the squats. I heard no more from Jesus that day. But those six words were enough.

There are some days where all I want are answers. I read the books and the verses, I watch the lectures and the sermons, and I listen to the podcasts and the music. Searching for answers. Answers to my pain, to my brokenness, and to the deep and dark feelings of shame and mistrust that never fail to resurface despite hours of “soul care” and counseling. Answers to my doubts and questions. Answers to the tears. God knows I have tears. And, if I am being honest, rarely is it that I receive an answer. And more often than not, that pisses me off. But, on the occasion that I am able to engage the very pain and wounding I feel, I am met not by an answer but by God. As Frederick Buechner reminds us, “God does not give answers. He gives himself.”

I have come to realize that there are two great and powerful voices at play in each and everybody’s life. The first is the beauty, goodness, truth, and love of God that woos us and longs to restore us. Although mysterious and alluring, Jesus is on the move — and Creation prophesies the return of Eden. A lover’s kiss, a child’s laugh, a Colorado sunset, and the haunting of eternity tell us that we were made for more. The second voice is that of the dragon — the wounds that have shaped us, the words of harm that have been spoken to us, and the deep rooted shame, doubt, anger, and plethora of other emotions that have monopolized on our life. Truly, no one gets out of this life without scars. When faced with such dichotomous narratives, the choices we make and the voices we choose to listen to can and will have lasting impacts. There are, as I see it, three choices to make. We can choose to only see the first narrative and completely ignore/deny the second one, thereby living in a fantasy world of blind optimism that in no way addresses the pain and hurt of the world, and actually protects us from engaging in our own stories of pain and hurt by simply denying them. Or, at the very least, excusing them or saying that they are not too important. But eventually there comes a day when the blind optimism no longer provides the comfort and protection we thought it would, and our attempt to not engage with our stories of trauma, pain, etc. actually keeps us from receiving the very healing, hope, and forgiveness we need. The second option is to live in a world riddled with pessimism and cynicism, denying the beauty, truth, goodness, and love that are clearly at play. This is, of course, the safer option. As C.S. Lewis said, “to love is to be vulnerable.” By locking our hearts in a casket of pessimism, cynicism, and skepticism, we protect ourselves from vulnerability and intimacy, all the while slowly rotting our own hearts by making agreements with the Evil One. I must say that in my experience, most people fall in to one of these two categories.

But there is a third way. It involves recognizing and addressing the deep wounds we have endured and have inflicted, as well as the broken state of the world; but it also involves having eyes to see the mission of Jesus to restore and reconcile the Cosmos back to himself, and finding a role to play in that mission. The third way is the way of engagement — of engaging with our own stories and the stories of others. The stories of deep harm and hurt, anger and resentment, shame and regret. It is the way that leads to healing and restoration, to the life we were meant to live. It is having the courage to live as citizens of the Kingdom, advancing it in our own lives and colonizing the world with heaven. True healing comes by having the courage to enter into the pain and darkness with the Light of the world, and address it head on. Afterall, that’s exactly what happened on the cross. We are called to share in the suffering of Christ, and maybe a part of what this means is to enter into the stories of pain and sorrow in the lives of those around us, as well as our own. And when we have entered into that suffering — into the very wounds of pain and have seen the face of Darkness, we will find healing. But we will have scars.

To live in this third way, in the only way to true life, we must first reconcile the two opposing powers at work. We must not forget the beauty and love of God and all that he has done for us. But we also must not forget the Dragon — the one who longs to keep us from discovering freedom in Jesus, who longs to keep us from intimacy with God, others, and ourselves. We must acknowledge the presence of both, and realize that God’s will is not fully being done on earth (if it was, there would be no need to pray for his will to be done on earth as in heaven). There is a war going on for the heart of each and everyone of us, and God longs to meet us in the middle of the mess.

So, when the Enemy comes to steal your joy and your life, or when Evil is monopolizing on your family or community, don’t be afraid to enter in to it. But enter in to the pain with the Light of the world, knowing that the Grave will never have the final say. Darkness truly is losing in the world, but it takes courage to engage.

When it comes to your own story, I suggest finding a good counselor (or perhaps a wise friend or mentor) who will engage your heart with kindness and love. As Eldredge says, “you will never treat anyone else’s heart better than you treat your own”; only by taking the journey ourselves of restoration and healing can we help others take the same journey.

God knows we’ve all been wounded, but it helps me to know that so has he, too. As Philip Yancey says, “the surgery of life hurts. It helps me, though, to know that the surgeon himself, the Wounded Surgeon, has felt every stab of pain and every sorrow.” I have yet to find answers, but I have found God. And I have come to love the scars — they teach me that God heals the broken.

For more information regarding what it looks like to engage our own stories and of those around us, I’ll direct you to The Allender Center for a particular counseling theory that emphasizes story.

Published by

Max Yelken

A young man looking for a sustainable life of adventure in a changing world.

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