I celebrated a birthday last week—they seem to come quicker with each passing year. It was the most lovely of days, full of relaxation, coffee and fellowship with dear, dear friends. It was a much-needed intentional time to pause and celebrate life.
I felt so loved with each “Happy Birthday” greeting, and as I scrolled my Facebook feed and read my text messages, I couldn’t help but reflect on the life of each person behind those birthday greetings. Each name represents a story, and so many of us have known pain.
So even in the midst of celebration, there were hard things. Hearing the details of the passing of someone who always met me with a smile at games. Hurting for the family she leaves behind. I thought of the others who have experienced loss, yet here they were, taking time to help bring me joy.
And right there, in the middle of my birthday, I felt sad.
In the past, I would’ve pushed the feeling aside, thinking, Who wants to be sad on her birthday? But I’m learning to sit with and recognize my feelings, acknowledging that life is certainly not always happy or sad. Typically, it’s some of both, suspended in the middle between beauty and pain.
In his book, “The Artisan Soul,” Erwin McManus claims that the two most uninteresting kinds of people are those who have never suffered and those who are trapped in their suffering. The first kind of person, McManus says, is the person who has managed to live a life without pain and disappointment, but at the expense of risk, courage and love. The second kind of person is trapped in despair, unable to see beyond their current reality or acknowledge the pain of others (pages 77-78).
I don’t want to be either of these people. I want to be the type of person to acknowledge my own pain and the pain of others, but at the same time provide hope.
I love McManus’ words on page 78:
“It’s hard to tell a great story if we remain stuck in chapter one. Beyond despair there must always be hope; beyond betrayal there must be a story of forgiveness; beyond failure there must be a story of resilience. If the story ended at the cross, it might be a story worth telling, but that story could never give life.”
Life isn’t always happy or sad, good or bad. Sometimes—actually most times—it’s both. We acknowledge the pain, and look ahead in hope. Learning to live in that tension is where life begins.