“Among us Christians, on the other hand, the citizens of the Holy City of God, as they live by God’s standards in the pilgrimage of this present life, feel fear and desire, pain and gladness in conformity with the holy Scriptures and sound doctrine; and because their love is right, all these feelings are right in them.” –City of God, St. Augustine
I cleared my throat. “Well, you kind of have to move into the house,” I said uncertainly.
The girl’s eyes filled instantly, her hands desperately twisting the faded denim of her skirt. “But I can’t,” she cried. “I can’t do it! I can’t keep on doing this.” She turned her head away and tried to stop the tears from coming, with no success.
Oh, my God, did she REALLY have to start crying? What in the world am I supposed to do? This was supposed to take five minutes, I should be heading to my next appointment by now…
“Why can’t you move in, Terri? What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It hurts,” she sobbed. “It hurts so much every time he talks to me. He makes me feel like I’m totally worthless. I just can’t do it any more. My mom said she would help me get an apartment and try it on my own. Please, Jeremy, don’t make me move in with him. Please!” She looked at me with tears streaming down her face, her eyes telling a truth her words could not.
You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me. I do not believe this!! She and her husband signed an agreement to take the house, and I have to enforce it. What am I doing to DO?
It was my job to take her money, get the electricity in her name, and move on. But I felt like someone had just poured a gallon of gasoline on my heart, set it on fire, and then started ripping it to pieces with stainless steel claws.
If you could not tell – I have long struggled with the legitimacy of my feelings.
Brought up in a strict Reformed Christian tradition, we were always taught to distrust emotions. They were unpredictable, difficult to parse, and did not align near so neatly with the parallel intellectual lines of Arthur Pink and Thomas Watson as did the quietly subservient theological dictums that we memorized. Emotions would only get you in trouble; logic would keep you out of trouble, if you just applied it correctly.
We had many such archetypes to pattern ourselves after, in this vein of psychological conviction. Our heroes stood stalwart in their pulpits, expounding the Word of God somberly, seemingly unburdened by the crippling effects of sentiment. They threw up bulwarks of conservative thought against the threat of liberalism, lifting high the truth of the Gospel, triumphant in their immovability.
This was the comforting perspective of youth. We could see what we wanted to in those years, delighting in the idea that there is a way to go through life without knowing pain. And there is – but it is not what we thought.
Then life happened. Hope blossomed, dreams took shape, delight shaped our spirits with the encounter of beauty. We accepted all this from the hand of God, presuming that it could never be otherwise. But we forgot that the gifts were meant to show us His heart, not replace it. And when He took them away, we sat down in the dust, shattered and heartbroken.
Shattered, yes. Heartbroken, yes. But not alone.
Arthur Pink suddenly came alongside us then, and said softly, in a voice we’d never heard from him before, “For a Christian to defy adversities is to despise chastisement. Instead of hardening himself to endure stoically, there should be a melting of the heart.” Thomas Watson nodded, murmuring his assent, “He that can believe without doubting, suspect his faith; and he that can repent without sorrowing, suspect his repentance.” We looked up in our grief, and we saw glistening in their eyes the same tears we had shed over this broken world. And for the first time we knew that our imaginations had been vain, and that nobody had ever followed Jesus without plumbing the depths of every sense of feeling known to humanity: fear, desire, pain, and gladness.
But then our two companions drew away, and knelt down to worship. For One had appeared among us who still had wounds fresh on his hands and feet and side; and He spoke to us then, with words that went straight to our hearts: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” And a great hope rose up within us, and we arose to follow Him, taking up the light and momentary cross He gave us to bear, longing only for the day when we could know His presence with every sense we have.
I wiped my eyes and moved my paperwork to the other side of the desk. Leaning forward, I put my hand on Terri’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” I said. “We’re going to get you some help. I’m going to ask a girl I work with to meet with us, and we’ll talk.”
She looked up and smiled for the very first time since we had met, weeks ago. “Really?” she said.
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