When we first started working in Liberia, we received a call one day from our dear friend. “We need your prayers,” he said. “A member of our congregation died last night.” Of course, we were shocked and deeply saddened. We were new partners and fledgling friends and still in the long, slow process of learning about each other. To hear that a person we were in community with had died was sobering. “What happened?” we asked, our North American perspective already influencing our reactions. We thought if we could categorize his illness and determine what caused his decline, we could pinpoint how to prevent this from happening in the future. What we were really asking was: “What did he need that he didn’t receive? How can we fix this?” But we weren’t prepared for the answer. “He died of pressure,” Emmanuel said.
Pressure. It was explained that many Liberians carried heavy burdens in the aftermath of the civil war. They had seen friends and family members raped, killed, and scattered. They had known hunger and homelessness and fear. And sometimes, years later, that sorrow was simply too much for them. They died because they couldn’t hold up another second beneath the crushing weight of it all.
There is probably a medical explanation for this illness called “pressure,” but I don’t need a clinical definition. It makes absolutely perfect sense to me.
This season in our lives is one of the hardest that we have ever endured. We know what it feels like to be pressed down by circumstances that seem colossal, almost infinite in scope. We know that the ripple effect of these days and weeks will impact our family for generations. Some of it good, some of it in need of redemption. But I’m not comfortable with our Liberian friend’s definition of soul-crushing pressure that literally ends in the grave. And I’m completely turned off by the North American understanding that “pressure creates diamonds”—usually in the form of svelte bodies achieved through expensive classes and even more expensive dietary supplements. The burden we are carrying right now has eternal implications that go far beyond rock hard abs. Yes, we are being refined, but in a very different way. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (II Corinthians 4:8-9)
This pressure is labor, friends. It’s birth pains and water breaking and sweat and tears. It’s those moments when we feel like we may truly die from the agony of it all, when we don’t even care that new life is being ushered in through our suffering. It’s regret and doubt and the secret wish that we could wind back the clock and undo what’s already been done. But even when we’re frozen in terror or screaming our hearts out, deep down there is a mustard seed of faith—the small, bright hope that beauty will rise from this brokenness. It has to. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Circle up. Come close. Lean in. The only way to the other side is through it. Friends, whether you are in this hard place or not, I pray that you have the grace to be open, soft. Ready to hold a hand or be held, whatever your heart requires. We don’t have to go through these seasons alone. Breathe deep and cling tight and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that something new is on the horizon—and you get to be a part of bringing it to life. You are a culture maker, a world changer. The incarnation of the incarnation. The world needs you—even (especially?) your tears. #bettertogether #onebody #beautyfromashes
xoxo – Nicole
*Photo Credit: Adri Van Gronigen