on suffering openly

I’d seen Bryan around, but I first noticed him when he officially introduced himself to the group at a staff meeting. He was from southern Colorado, his wife left him, and he came to Seattle trying to make sense of the last six years of his life.

I took note.

It wasn’t that I reveled in rescuing lost puppies; but rather, because he suffered, I knew he wasn’t shallow.

I look around me now, at my closest friends, and they all know or have experienced suffering. Some I have watched suffer; some suffered before I knew them. But it is their Story of pain and tragedy that allows me to trust them, to let them watch me as I writhe in my own confused, dark places.

I’ve had a few people tell me I’m stand-offish, that I’m hard to get to know. This confused me, because my commitment to friends is deep and forever. But when I think about it, when I think about who makes these claims, I realize it’s the people I don’t really know – the ones who lie to themselves and everyone else about their suffering, who want to pretend they have it together, who avoid suffering at all costs.

And they’re right: I’m stand-offish to them.

I have to be, because in relationship I don’t hide much, and it would be foolish for me to expose myself to the untested.

A few years ago I lost a friend. She met me on the doorstep as I came to pick up my kids at her house, and she told me we couldn’t be friends anymore. She didn’t really explain, and it didn’t make any sense. Conflict was happening around us, but I wrongly assumed we were tight, that we would persevere, that our friendship could withstand it all.

Ironically, as I walked over to pick up my children that morning I felt compelled to acknowledge all that was swirling around us. I was planning to tell her I loved her, and that I wanted us to pray together for Peace in the midst of The Ugliness, and that I wanted to wrestle through our friendship.

So her confrontation was quite a blow.

But it let me know I had chosen wrongly in her as a friend, that my vulnerability was given to her untested. As the following weeks unraveled, everything I thought I knew about our friendship turned out to be a polite facade that covered gossip, disdain, and betrayal. Despite the fact I could see how she suffered, it turns out she never let me in. She was pushing me away, and I never even saw it.

It took two and a half years for me to understand this – to understand we did not feel the same way about suffering and friendship. In fact, I don’t think I understood it until around paragraph seven of this post.

Thankfully, that experience did not cause me to retract my vulnerability, but it did open my eyes to Caution. I think back on what it is I saw in Bryan, and in my friends, that drew me in to their Story – and I believe it is the limps and scars and weathered skin that tell me I’d be safer in their boat than in a greenhorn’s.

10 thoughts on “on suffering openly”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience in friends and suffering. I can also relate to being “stand-offish”. I’d like to be more open and friendly because that is really my nature but I am extremely cautious. So much so, that I come off as snobby or just a bitch. Also, I have been your friend that you lost. I grieve my foolishness to push myself away from friends.

    On a happier note…
    I love reading your blog!

    Thanks for suffering openly and reflecting on your experience.


  2. Great essay, Jen – a good summary for where I’m at right now.

    For most of my life I’ve been trying to hide my weaknesses from the rest of the world, and now that I’m starting to share (to acknowledge that I’m actually a human being with suffering), I find myself getting stronger. I still pick and choose who I share with, though. And I don’t have the strength to put myself out as publicly as you do, but thanks for sharing your story!

  3. Nice post about friendship and authenticity (the overused word that you didn’t use). Occurred to me as I was reading that what you have described is often a major problem in our relationships within the church, not to even speak of our relationship with God. Thanks for provoking thought, Jen. Again.

  4. Love this post. It’s so hard to know how to “suffer well”. There have been times I’ve put myself out there and just shared what I was going though, only to have people look at me like I’m a complete freak, and then avoid me next time around. Other times, I just decided to put up walls and pretend I was just fine, while dying on the inside and wanting to be truly known. Thanks for sharing that I’m not the only one still working this out!

  5. Jen- this is a fantastic post. I’m so thankful to read about other Christians who admit to suffering, and are honest about it- it’s so refreshing. (That’s part of what I like about Kathleen! Didn’t know you two knew each other, but that’s awesome). Anyway, thank you for such a great post 😀

  6. Uggg, I can feel the ache in this post and it is interesting to read having seen you in this season. I am glad you are working through this and healing and realizing things… I love you.

  7. “But it is their Story of pain and tragedy that allows me to trust them”
    So true. I’ve realized this in my own life – when others show their vulnerability is when I feel I can be myself and can connect with them. So sorry for your suffering and pain in relationships. Ugh. But I’m grateful for the redemption, strength and truth you are finding in the limps and scars.

  8. Margie – I love you. Can’t wait to connect up with you again. We’ve missed CG.

    Justin – thanks for the comment. seems you are in an incredible place right now, and can only go up!

    Jim – totally. Also? The churchy people often don’t want to walk with someone suffering or struggling. You should check out the link posted by Beth here in the comments.

    Kathleen – I hear ya. helpful for weeding out the true friends, though, don’t you think?

    Beth Easter – you’ve come out of lurking! Yes, those were fun times. Epiphanies are awesome.

    Julie – thank you. I have a backlog of emails and thoughts to catch up on with you!

    Beth – the post you linked to is awesome! thanks for sharing. I called it out on twitter, and will probably link on Friday’s Link Love.

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