Sometimes, when I sing songs in church and chapel about God remaining faithful in hard times, I can't really relate at the moment. My life is good, and it feels almost dishonest to sing about how I can still love God in spite of suffering. Does “It Is Well With My Soul” mean anything on sunny, happy days? Probably not, or at least not as much.
So you know what I do?
I sing those songs to the future. I say the words with everything in me, almost like I’m pouring them into a bottle and wedging in a cork. Saving them. Waiting.
Then, when the hard days come and I’m struggling to believe that God loves me and acts justly in a world that is very, very broken, I take them out again. Because on those days, I cannot sing those words and mean them. It is not well with my soul, the name of the Lord is not blessed, and while he may give and take away, I cannot praise him for it. I’m not strong enough, not brave enough.
Which leads me to think that faith is not always what we think it is.
It is not dispensing pithy Christian sayings or inspirational Bible verses to someone who is grieving. (Not that those things are inherently bad, but that would be like taking your sick child to the doctor and having the doctor give him a toy from the treasure chest and a Batman Band-Aid instead of acknowledging and dealing with the real problem.)
Faith is not easy answers and gritted-teeth determination to be happy despite pain. I don’t even think it’s always being serenely at peace with everything that happens, although that peace may eventually come.
Real faith sometimes has to use the bottled praise. It clings to the memories of a distant promise, even when nothing around it seems to fit with that promise. It tries to sing, but when only laments come, those laments are still worship, because they contain a courageous defiance that says, like the psalmist, “I will yet praise him.”
Faith is falling to the ground with worn places in your soul, exhausted from crying, and letting yourself be carried by your brothers and sisters. Carried to the throne of God when you’re too weak to come to him on your own or too angry to want to.
In a world that is so irreparably broken, it’s hard to believe in a God who is not broken, who is perfect in justice and love. So we do the best we can, and it is difficult and it takes courage and I believe God, weeping with us, understands that.
Until we go to a place where there are no goodbyes, our partings are going to hurt. When we are living in a reality without death and suffering and pain, our praise will be more consistent. We will be able to both give sincere praise and feel the truth of the words we sing.
But for now, we’re trapped in a broken world, trying to learn to be brave and asking for God to make it well with our souls. Waiting with bottles in hand.