Sunday, January 28, 2018

Matters of the Heart: Waiting in the Pain

Why can’t I just fix things? Why won’t my loneliness go away? Sometimes my loneliness feels so massive that it threatens to envelop me.

I was in a vortex the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with contributing factors including family drama, singleness, cancelled plans, and crazy hormones. In retrospect, these are considerable issues, but I never realize how much they impact me until I am sobbing with my friend about how much my life sucks (purely a hypothetical situation, of course).

a black and white photo of a gal alone in a laundry mat

Here’s what you need to know about me. I am single and moving towards the back half of my thirties. While I would love to be married, I enjoy living as fully as I can within my circumstances. I’m fine to go to movies on my own and generally try to not let my lack of a spouse stop me. I am coming out of a time of confusion over work, church, and my vocation. This experience has led me to seek and pray about every part of my life. It has led to some fun changes too, such as pursuing improv comedy. However, some areas of my life feel very much in process. I’m still figuring it out. (Note: I will never figure it all out on this side of life).

Let's go back a little. Last year I went to the Rose Parade for the first time in my life. I moved to Pasadena a couple of years ago and my house is walking distance from the parade route. None of this camping out on the street nonsense. The parade was beautiful to see in person, with vibrant colors, varying textures, and the excitement of having such a special event so close to my home. As much as I enjoyed the experience, the rest of the day felt sad and lonely, since I wasn’t able to go with anyone else. I was determined to not let this happen again. For this year’s parade, I started early. I asked people to come watch the parade with me, offering my house as a place to stay overnight. But, as New Year’s approached, I realized that my plans were not going to work out as I expected. This made me sad and the sadness felt familiar. This is the sadness that I try to escape. I avoid it like a champ. This sadness is me believing that I’m all alone. And being alone on a holiday is the worst.

I’ve found myself in this situation before, so I began to wonder what God was up to. Is there an invitation there from him? My first inclination was to assume that saying yes to his invitation meant sitting alone on New Year’s, purging myself of my need for people. Because surely, making other plans is just avoiding my pain, right?

In the midst of these realizations and questions, I ended up bawling with my friend. OK, so maybe when I mentioned crying to my friend “about how much my life sucks,” it wasn’t purely hypothetical. Once I was done messy crying (we’re talking fountains of snot and mountains of tissues) and calmed down, my friend and I continued with our plans for the day. There’s nothing like In-N-Out after a good cry. Over burgers and fries, my friend told me that she had texted a mutual friend who was having a very mellow dinner party for New Year’s Eve - and I was invited. Cue more tears.

I realized that God’s invitation wasn’t about sitting by myself on New Year’s. But his invitation also wasn’t for me to remedy the situation on my own. He didn’t want me to ignore my pain. Instead, he wove together a beautiful experience in my midst. The question this experience leaves me with, and the one I’ll leave with you is this: Can I trust God enough to wait in my pain? I struggle to trust God. I am full of doubt and questions. However, being fresh off this experience has been a good reminder to my soul about the truth of who God is. And today, I believe.

Lord, You have always given bread for the coming day; and though I am poor, today I believe.

Lord, You have always given strength for the coming day; and though I am weak, today I believe.

Lord, You have always given peace for the coming day; and though of anxious heart, today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept me safe in trials; and now, tried as I am, today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked the road for the coming day; and though it may be hidden, today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened this darkness of mine; and though the night is here, today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken when time was ripe; and though you be silent now, today I believe.

Expressions of faith
(Northumbria Community, Evening Prayer)

Jen Manglos is a spiritual director, retreat planner, and writer based out of Pasadena, California. In addition to regularly blogging on her website,, she is currently working to start a nonprofit organization, Oak House Ministries, which provides care and resourcing for pastors and church leaders through retreats. As a writer, she values examining human flourishing through the lens of spiritual formation, culture, and beauty.

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