I spend the majority of my life faced with quite a contradiction.
On the outside I am of a certain age and a certain stage. I believe this is what is commonly referred to as “adulthood”. However, for those of us who are unwilling to accept our aging fate we begrudgingly refer to this season as “adulting”. So yes, I’m adulting right now. Sorta.
Because on the inside I often range anywhere from six to nineteen-years-old. Sometimes this is a good thing. It keeps me young at heart, whimsical, and on my best days it keeps me from taking myself too seriously.
The disparity between who I think I should be on the outside and who I actually am on the inside causes a great deal of shame.
It also creates a lot of awkward moments. Moments where I laugh when I probably shouldn’t. Situations where everyone else in the room knows what they’re talking about and I can’t seem to contribute. Times when conversations don't play out exactly as they did in my head. Awkwardness and shame are just the gaps between “should” and “is”.
Adulthood is just a giant awkward assessment program. Rather than mitigating risks, we’re all crunching numbers to limit our awkwardness.
Which is why I jumped, no more like pleaded, at the chance to get my hands on a copy of the book This Is Awkward by Sammy Rhodes. The book is funny, open, humble, honest, and dripping with vulnerability. Which is probably good considering it’s a book about vulnerability. It was humorous without cynicism, a refreshing and sincere look at tough topics that aren’t frequently discussed both in life and in the church. There are chapters like "Porn In My Side" and "D is for Divorce" among a few others.
You know, easy and light dinner topics that make even the potential for some seared eyebrows at a Hibachi dinner seem like a more promising option.
As Rhodes navigates some of life's most awkward moments he reminds us that they usher in room for grace, good people, and God. I mostly felt as though I was reading a hybrid between my brain and my friends' brains, but it was the last chapter that felt like he had X-Ray vision into my heart.
“Where was God when my dad walked away? The questions my twelve-year-old heart was asking, my thirty-year-old heart still couldn’t answer.”
What if the shame and awkwardness we feel are the result of two hearts? The one that stopped growing when we started hurting and the one we’ve built to cover up our wounds?
I’ve spent a lot of time as the nineteen year-old-girl in the hospital watching her dad die. Somehow trauma, pain, rejection, abuse, and all of the other life-altering or life-shaping events we experience have this sneaky of freezing us on the inside. It’s as though we’re so wounded and there’s so much damage that we can go our entire lives trying to stop the internal bleeding, all the while seeming to grow older and wiser on the outside.
On the inside we’re all just kids with a thirteen or nineteen-year-old heart asking where God was when things went wrong.
And then, especially as Christians, we look around to seemingly find God absent in our suffering and we feel alone. Which just fuels the shame and the silence and the awkwardness and causes a wonderful pattern of thinking God was hiding from us, so then we in turn hide from God. Maybe it's just me, but I hate that flushed feeling I get when I'm embarrassed that my life didn't turn out the way I thought it should. It makes me feel as though I didn't turn out the way I thought I should. Which makes me feel awkward in my own skin, with the people around me, and most importantly with the God I feel wounded by. I'm mostly ashamed that I don't have a dad, which comes with a myriad of consequences.
But Rhodes so beautifully closes his chapter on Jesus and suffering with a quote from The Chronicles of Narnia. A quote that the nineteen-year-old me in the hospital desperately needed then and continues to need now:
“But please, please- won’t you- can’t you give me something that will cure Mother? Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself.”
Could it be, oh wonder of wonders, that the reason I couldn’t hear God in the midst of my tears was because they were mixed with his own? Could it be we cried together? Could it be that his silence wasn’t silence at all, but a simple and steady “withness” that I couldn’t understand at the time? Could it be that he was sorrier to see my dad die than I could ever know?
Let's not downplay our trials and transgressions, but let's at least leave room for redemption.
I don't know how old your heart is. I don't know when it was frozen by the hurt and pain of your past. I don't know who sinned against you or who you've sinned against. But I do know that God held my nineteen-year-old heart then the same way he holds my heart now. He holds yours too, His hands are big like that. He knows what we needed then the same way He knows what we need now. He saw us at our worst and sees us at our best. He desperately wants to see the fullness and the union of our insides and our outsides. This isn’t to downplay our suffering or even to explain it away. But maybe it offers us a mild comfort to know that our traumas aren’t outside the realm of his compassion.
Maybe we've just been waiting for permission to ask the kid in our hearts where we think God went then and how we feel about it now. I think it might be the key to the union of our hearts and the best way to diminish the shame.
As I wiped some tears from my eyes on the plane at the end of the book I couldn’t help but notice the stranger next to me and think, “Well, this is awkward.” But if I've learned anything from Rhodes' book it is this:
“The good news is that the Lord loves awkward people, for there isn’t any other kind.” -Sammy Rhodes, This Is Awkward
*If you’re awkward you’ll pre-order This Is Awkward because books don't suck at small talk. One more book means one less socially awkward encounter.