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Holy Spirit disruptions: What if something being hard shows we’re doing it right?

Lynne Baab • Friday July 9 2021

Holy Spirit disruptions: What if something being hard shows we’re doing it right?

The sermon at our church last Sunday focused on Jesus’ sending of the 12, two by two, to preach the Gospel, heal, and cast out demons (Mark 6:1-13). Our preacher talked about the opposition that Jesus encountered in Nazareth right before he sent out the disciples, an incident that prepared the disciples for their ministry. Our preacher mentioned that when we experience opposition, we so often think we have done something wrong.

That idea has been a big theme in my pondering for the past few weeks. In my family of origin, when something was hard, it meant that you were doing it wrong or that you never should have tried to do it in the first place. The Holy Spirit has been disrupting my attachment to this belief for more than 40 years. Way back early in my Christian life, I heard a speaker at a Christian conference talk about the fact that as a child and teenager, he was always starting businesses, and every time one of his entrepreneurial projects failed, his mother baked him a cake. She wanted to celebrate that he had tried and that he would learn something from trying. I was utterly shocked when I heard that story. (I wrote about that here.) At that point in my life, I had never considered that someone might celebrate failure for the learning opportunities in it.

Sadly, the Holy Spirit has some more disrupting to do in this area for me. I wrote three weeks ago about the disruption to my sense of pride when I can’t achieve the things I write about. In the post I described some of my strong inner messages along these lines: “This is hard, so I must not be good at it or doing it right.” A friend wrote to me after that post. She said, “But what if it's just hard? Or maybe it being hard shows that you are doing it right?” Her words spoke powerfully to me.

I often ponder the effect of the Depression and World War 2 on my parents’ generation. These two painful, transformative events seem to have created a culture of stoicism, which in my parents was accompanied by denial. My parents were almost completely unwilling to talk about any negative feelings. This gave the impression that negative feelings – anger, sadness, grief, even irritation – shouldn’t be acknowledged and actually shouldn’t be experienced. The Holy Spirit is helping me see more clearly the ways the lessons my parents learned during their childhoods have impacted me.

I find it noteworthy that my friend who wrote such helpful words to me is a millennial, so she was not raised by Depression-era parents like mine, who had to shut down so many sad feelings in order to survive.

I’m reading a fascinating book by Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score. He has done extensive research with people affected by trauma, focusing on the physiological effects of trauma, particularly in the brain. He says that people affected by trauma often experience sad and painful emotions as problems to solve, rather than something to be experienced. One way to solve the problem of painful emotions is to be sure we set up our lives so we don’t encounter them. That’s what my parents did and encouraged me to do.

This approach to life is not compatible with walking alongside Jesus, the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Avoiding painful emotions is not compatible with holding the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, an idea suggested by Karl Barth in 1966. I might adapt Barth's suggestion for 2021 to say that I try to read the news online with a prayerful attitude. The majority of the news these days is so painful to read and makes me so sad. I try to pray for the items in the news, knowing that God cares so much about each situation. But when I get sad from the news, my knee-jerk response is to feel I should be doing something different. Rest, rest in me and my love for the world, God seems to be saying. I have such a long way to go.

I’m so grateful for my friend’s words. I’m going to repeat them here, because they are a sign of one of the Holy Spirit’s disruptions for me these days: “But what if it's just hard? Or maybe it being hard shows that you are doing it right?”

(Next week: Wait and go. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email whenever I post on this blog.)

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