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In which we numb the light

I took my littlest girl for a walk in the fading of the day. I only have grace for one day, and the day was nearly done. We’ve been overworked and tired lately, still recovering from that flu going around. Now we’re doing laundry, catching up, finding ordinary time again. Sometimes I lean against my husband in the kitchen and we just stay there, leaning, for a while.

A walk in the gathering light is always a cure for what ails me. I can’t even tell you what’s ailing me, but I feel it, and so I head for the trees. You see, I can still smell the tent city I walked through in Haiti a few months ago, I feel the clinging of the arms of orphans. And I have hundreds of emails of the hard stories of women wounded by the church as part of my research for my book, and then someone was mean to me.

Years ago, when I fell in love with Jesus and his ways, I lost my armour. Sometimes I feel the big important things, and other times it’s silly, petty, selfish things but I feel sadness and pain again, in ways that I didn’t when I had my barricades of apologetics, bravado, and explanations.

I recently finished the first draft of my beloved book, Jesus Feminist, and I’m feeling a bit more raw and exposed. I know this is why I feel out of sorts, like I just cracked open everything I ever believed and knew to be true, poured it out lavish, but it’s in this weird in-between place of waiting now. Sometimes I am so proud of it, so convinced of its brilliance, and other times I hope it never sees the light of day.

The question that gets under my skin the most, in the emails/comments/whispers/bewildered friends-meant-as-kindness yet again is this one: just who do you think you are anyway? Almost every night, when it rolls in again, I lay awake thinking, I have no idea, this is a terrible calling, I’m so far out of my comfort zone, I am not brave enough for this, and I have no right to speak out in my own voice, and I hope I don’t embarrass you, Jesus, I love you, please let me stay with you, I love you, stay with me. Pick anyone but me. Anyone else!

For me, joy and calling and goodness and purpose arrived hand-in-hand with social justice and suffering and vulnerability. I wish I could watch the news without crying. I’d like to ignore mothers in Newtown and Palestine, I’d like to forget about systemic injustice, hungry babies, sex trafficking, loneliness. It’s uncomfortable to care. Every small bit I do feels inadequate. Sometimes I’d like to numb the cold dark creeping.

I layered the baby all up, tucking all of her golden brown curls into a saucy little blue beret.We went up the hill and down the hill, down into the valley beside the Mennonite cemetery. Once we were safely away from the roads, I unbuckled her and set her free to wander. She promptly clawed into the dirt, scrabbling out small stones to present as jewelled offerings. She piled up dead leaves in the stroller’s undercarriage.

She hollered with delight, nose running, mittens discarded, the light magnetized around her, mud under her fingernails. She was so incredibly happy. I crouched on my haunches, just to see her round face a bit better, and I filled my fleece pockets with her rocks and dirt and frozen shrivelled rose hips. Her cheeks were glowing rubies, and she was hard at play.

When the sun fell below the horizon, the light blazed out behind the pine trees. This is it, I thought as I stood up, back straight, because this is my favourite sight: the inky blackness of pine trees, black lace relief burned out against the western sky as the last guardian of this date on the calendar cedes. It never lasts long, but it comes every day.  Evelynn was still playing delight, and I stood, in the bright cold silence, and the fading light fell on me, tired and glorious and spent. I felt wildly, inexplicably happy, I could see my breath.

How is it that in this raw season, when I feel like my whole heart is thumping exposed, I have never been happier?

It’s true. I’ve never been so spent yet so joyful. I’ve never been more convinced of my calling and yet scared to walk it out. I’ve never been more attuned to the suffering and yet quick to everyday joy. I’ve never been so easily wounded and yet I love being armour less. I feel defenceless yet disinclined to pick up the sword. I can’t explain it but I stood in the middle of the field that night with my arms open wide, the echoes of “Who do you think you are?” running away like mice while my littlest one filled her fingers with earth. I’m her mama, I thought, I’m me, always, I’m yours, Jesus, and I turned and surveyed it all like the gift it is, open to all that came my way for a little while.

When it was time to go, I put Evelynn back into her stroller. She proceded to scream the entire way back up the hill. Once she had tasted freedom, she could not go back to her tame little stroller. She fought the restraints, and I wondered if she would be so indignant, if she hadn’t been so happy being free. I wouldn’t take her out – this isn’t my first parenting rodeo – but once she calmed down, I put some of her rocks onto her little stroller tray to play with while we walked back down to our neighbourhood.

I have been reading Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, lately. I’ve nearly run out of ink because I’m an underliner, a dog-ear-er, a “yes!” scribbler. That very night, I read this passage:

“In another very unexpected discovery, my research also taught me that there’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light. While I was “taking the edge off” of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of good feelings, like joy. … Joy is as thorny and sharp as any of the dark emotions. To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain…. We can’t make a list of the “bad” emotions and say, “I’m going to numb these” and then make a list of the positive emotions and say, “I’m going to fully engage in these!”

Well, now, then. That makes sense. I have supper dishes to clean up, prayers to pray, tears to cry, holy daily work to do, joy comes in the morning hand in hand with whatever may come. Glory to God.

faith, fearless, Jesus Feminist, Light
  • http://www.kelleynikondeha.com/ Kelley Nikondeha

    Oh Sarah, I love you so very much. I’m so glad you are disinclined to pick up that sword, and choose vulnerability, tenderness, an open heart. I’m glad you remain fearless and you wrote Jesus Feminist as a gift to us all. I can’t help but celebrate you and cheer for you till my lungs give out!

  • http://annieathome.com/ Annie Barnett

    Sarah, this is beautiful: the sunlight and the small hands digging in the dirt and collecting little treasures, the living whole-hearted and the dailiness – every bit of this. There is hope in the hard places, and your fighting for it is a song we need. Thank you.

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com/ Kelly @ Love Well

    In which you do it again.

    I have no words for this except: Yes. Yes. And again, yes, Lord. Amen.

  • Nicola McGowan

    Tears in my eyes. Just when I think your God-given gift for storytelling can’t get any better, you go and do it again! Your honesty, bravery and willingness to be used by God despite the vulnerability is an absolute inspiration. Woman of valour, Sarah Bessey!

  • Melody Reid

    Glory to God indeed! Beautiful and vulnerable.

  • Jackie Turner

    It’s really hard to be open to the horrors of the world. So often I’ve thought, oh Lord, I don’t want to *know* this, about my own history as well as others’. Then what automatically follows is, if I have to know this, I want to be able to do something about it! Which is where I think he intends me to be. When you talk of being haunted by “who do you think you are?” I hear your humility, your willingness to open yourself to however the Lord would use you, and I hear the world’s being threatened and challenged. I can’t think of anything, anything better than getting to do what we were put here to do. But oh, it’s a different path, isn’t it? So glad you’re finding the beauty and joy along the way.

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

    I finished that book this weekend too, and that’s one of the lines that has stayed with me as well. So aware suddenly of the ways I numb and the work of being present to it all. Beautiful reflection on this weighty truth.

  • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

    There are hardly words to describe how much I love this post, or how true it is. Moved me very deeply – especially the core point, about how we cannot selectively numb, and how you discovered this in your own life. Beautiful writing Sarah. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • http://therunamuck.com amber@therunamuck

    I cannot even express to you how much this encourages me. I love you so.

  • http://www.kewp.blogspot.com/ Katherine Willis Pershey

    It’s a powerful thing to refuse to be shamed into silence.

  • Laura

    Beautiful and powerful. Yesterday, I was in church, surrounded by dear ones known and dear ones unknown. And in this hard, gut-wrenching season of mine when alot of aspects of my life are confusing, I stood and sang, “My Jesus Hath Done All Things Well.” I was filled to fullness with the knowledge of all that simply is not well on this earth, but with the almost conflicting Truth that He has indeed done all things well. I am tempted to fight against my emotional bent/my emotional life, to go “numb,” but in moments like yesterday with tears dropping onto my dress, the fullness of pain and beauty and confusion and rightness and courage and trust reminded me that this full living even to the point of embarrassment is indeed the journey I seek and the journey I am. Sarah, thanks for encouraging us with your words and moments.

  • Denise Greenwood

    Yes to all of it. Glory.

  • BrennaDA

    I want to print this out and sleep with it under my pillow, hoping its truths will sink into my subconscious while I sleep.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for this. I am in my first year of seminary, after a divorce (I read The Gifts of Imperfection too, when I was going through the divorce), and the feeling of inadequacy and fear keeps bubbling up. But then comes the love and intense joy of following Jesus and I have to keep going because I can’t do anything else but obey God’s calling to me. I am glad we are in this together.

  • http://www.creeksideministries.blogspot.com/ Linda Stoll

    … and when I am weak, He is strong

  • Bethany

    Thank you for this. Thank you for not shying away from who you are. It gives me hope and courage.

  • Sara Thompson

    Oh my word- I might have to beat someone, (in Christian love, of course), who is mean to you. You, brave Wonder Woman, are speaking truth beautifully. I’m so proud of you I can’t stand it! I’m cheering you on all the way from Oklahoma- and I truly believe that quote that says, “Those of us who say it can’t be done shouldn’t get in the way of those doing it.” Boom. xoxoxo

  • http://www.facebook.com/michellewalls Michelle Walls

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing…needed to read this today..love you lady!

  • Janice

    I have part of that quote tacked up to the wall right here next to me. I’ve been letting it sink in for the last few weeks and it’s been so eye-opening. I keep wondering how I didn’t see that before. How I didn’t see that trying to numb pain and fear was also going to numb the joy and liveliness. So I’ve been trying to un-numb. It’s a slow process because frankly it’s frightening. But I think there’s progress going on.

    So thank you for this picture of what it looks like when all the numbness is gone. Scary but good and most of all so alive. A lovely portrait. Here’s to feeling so free that we throw fits when someone wants to put us back in harnesses….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heather-Kopp/1191344953 Heather Kopp

    Wow, Sarah. We have been in similar places lately! Terror and joy made strange partners, but good babies. I loved this post. It made me feel less alone and more grateful for the rawness I feel right now. I too am reading that brene brown book, among others. She is brave like you. I can’t wait to read your book! I’m hugging you. Heather.

  • jil

    Wow, words fail me. Thank you.

  • dipunk

    Who are you? You are a beloved daughter of God. You are the bride of Christ. You are the voice He is using in this place, exactly now, for such a time as this. You are an obedient servant. You tell that to the enemy the next time he whispers doubt to you, in your thoughts or through someone else. You tell him the Truth. He hates that. You stand in the Truth that you know. The Truth of who you are. Do it every time. He will get tired of hearing it. When he knows you know beyond a shadow of a doubt, he will stop asking. Stand in your identity sister! We all see it. I pray that soon, you will see it all the time without wavering. ;)

  • Chrissy

    Oh my word, dear Sarah…this brought tears to my eyes. I hear the same voice, “who do you think you are,”…and they ran away like little mice. Indeed. In the open air sky of a free heart, they have nowhere to hide. XO

  • http://www.facebook.com/raquelpelota Rachael Rennard

    Last night I sobbed to a trusted friend, “I just wish sometimes I didn’t feel so much” after learning of the death of the orphan our family sponsors in Uganda, along with six of her fellow orphans, just since July. This is an orphanage our non-profit has taken on, desperately working to find sponsors. Yet, yesterday I also wrote a prayer, asking God to “remove my insulation” so that I will feel what needs to be felt in order to respond in an appropriate way. Needless to say, this post was for me and I thank you and I thank Jesus, from the depths of my heart.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

    I am so glad you are reading Brené Brown. Your vulnerability is shining
    through everything you write. Nourished by your openness and honesty,
    your creativity and empathy are blooming bold and proud. You are daring
    greatly and we all will be better for it. I can’t wait to feast on what you are creating. Eshet Chayil

  • Est

    Oh my goodness this has spoken to me when I needed it. I am in a dry raw spell and feel everything good and bad so much at the moment, mostly bad! I am crying out to God in a kind of what now, I don’t know what I’m here for way. Thanks for making me feel not so lonely as a crawl along this very dimly lit path.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    Seeing you live this out and walk forward with joy- seeing you march- brings such happiness to my heart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lina.neufeld.33 Lina Neufeld

    So beautiful Sarah! I can’t wait to read your book!

  • Missa

    Glad to stand amazed with you- that no matter how numb we are or why, no matter where we’re standing- His hand is resting somewhere on us. Even if its dragging us through the Shadowlands to His light. :) So beautifully spoken, Sarah. Cheers to the happy freedom dance!

  • Aimee

    Isn’t it true that when you draw close to Christ, He allows you to see and feel things you couldn’t before, but only because He stands with you while you see and feel them. And it is good. You are brave and beloved and make your readers feel brave and beloved with you! I am encouraged and grateful. And… are all the best things happening in Canada? :)

  • Jenivere

    Oh, thank you! I exhale deeply and tears come easy, as once again you put words to a struggle I hadn’t yet been able to name. “This is a terrible calling…” I relate to this… thank you for being obedient to it, terrible though it may seem at times.

  • Hazel Moon

    We fight the restraints too! Let us be free we shout. I loved your story and you were a good mom to allow her to play in the rocks and dirt. I know she loved it1

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.b.clemmer Jessica Buckwalter Clemmer

    I echo what so many others have already said in the comments…thank you, thank you, thank you…for being true to you, for embracing this terrible calling…and for encouraging so many of us in the same tension to do the same. Thanks for being the point of a plow that is breaking up the ground for others to follow in your path.

  • Amber

    this is beautiful. thanks you.

  • http://profiles.google.com/gtbrookie Brooke Oliver

    The vulnerability that you are describing reminds me of Jo in Little Women (1994 version). She finishes writing, puts the pages together in a stack, and sits back, looking at it for moment. You can see a huge range of emotions flash across her face from happiness to terror. It’s at 3:22. Here ya go- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY3bgiJNGJY

  • Kim Sullivan

    Love the beauty of this. It speaks very deeply to me. Thank you so for your example of vulnerability. I cannot wait to read every word of your book and many aloud to all my students. You words and actions are such an encouragement to me.

  • pastordt

    Big breath. I am so weary tonight. A hard week physically and emotionally and I feel spent, used up. Reading this brings nourishment, much needed, and encouragement to keep on truckin’. Thank you for keepin’ on, Sarah. Thank you.

  • http://www.leahcolbeck.com/ Leah Colbeck

    I am so encouraged by your sharing of the awareness of suffering and the awareness of all the joy. Because me too! Also who do you think you are – you are God’s beloved, don’t let anyone tell you differently.

  • http://joannadobson.wordpress.com/ Joanna Dobson

    Sarah, your beautiful, heartfelt words have haunted me since I read them two days ago. Today I read this post by Carolyn Weber and wanted to share it with you in case you hadn’t seen it. To quote just one sentence: ‘the only art worth making will wound its maker as it seeks to heal others. Just as the only life worth living will, too.’ http://www.pressingsave.com/the-soul-of-man-must-quicken-to-creation
    God bless you my dear sister and thank you for being willing to make yourself vulnerable so that we can receive a bigger vision of Him.

  • Donna

    Thank you. I needed this today.

  • Jen Hatmaker

    This is so beautiful and profound. We don’t get to feel the good and not the bad. It’s like being raw all the time. I’m so with you, friend. And also? WHO WAS MEAN TO YOU? Because I know a guy.

  • Donna

    You have put into words what so many of us feel or don’t want to feel…it is a journey….and God wants us to feel the whole range of emotions so they propel us to change the world or our world at least ….. if we listen to the Spirit. Sometimes I want to bury myself in my warm cumfy bed and pull the covers over me so I don’t have to face the world….then I hear that small voice saying ‘come on…you can do this….you with ME and MY strength can go on this life adventure together. ‘ Of course we can……I was just having ‘a moment’.

  • http://stephaniesheaffer.com/ Stephanie Sheaffer

    You are awesome and we all love you. Just FYI. Don’t let the meanies get you down! ;)

    P.S. Being outdoors is such a wonderful cure for everything, isn’t it? A family hike almost always has a way of straightening out the knots and bumps in my soul.

    P.P.S. However did Evelynn get so big?

  • http://www.gabbingwithgrace.com/ Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    oh wow. THAT quote. Brene’ is sort of a genius. I love this too, “It’s true. I’ve never been so spent yet so joyful. I’ve never been more convinced of my calling and yet scared to walk it out. I’ve never been more attuned to the suffering and yet quick to everyday joy. I’ve never been so easily wounded and yet I love being armour less. I feel defenceless yet disinclined to pick up the sword.” May you stay in this place of tension that has you feeling such a wonderful amount of joy & happiness. I suspect swiveling in one direction or the other too far would be to some detriment.

  • Marcia

    A friend directed me to your blog post on FB, and I really appreciated your insights which largely reflected my own heart and soul right now. I am intrigued by your up coming book and I hope that I find that your are going to use gender neutral language when you speak of God and or use masculine and feminize pronouns interchangeably I noticed in your video blog that you are using the tern Kingdom which could easily be replaced with Kindom, which is gender neutral and much more inviting to me as a progressive Christian who comes from a congregation that has used inclusive language re: God, the divine, the creator…for many years. Looking forward to reading more. Peace

  • http://www.giraffesandladybugs.blogspot.com/ Grace Elizabeth

    I love you. More and more each time I read your writings. My Dad regrets letting me go to the Dominican Republic on a two week mission, he regrets letting me see for myself the pain in the world, because he now sees his child with a broken heart. But what I’m whispering back at him is how much more incredible the highs are these days. Perhaps remaining ignorant would have been easier and I could have lived the life society plans for me, but seeing and knowing of the pain that is out there, makes me yearn for so much more. And suddenly my calling seems a whole lot bigger. Dreaming bigger because God’s Beautiful is out there even in the face of hurt.

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  • Aly Lewis

    This is absolutely beautiful. I read The Gifts of Imperfection awhile back, but had forgotten about this startling truth. When we numb the pain, we also numb the good. We numb the gifts. We numb the joy. It’s the same with God’s voice. We can’t just choose to hear the good. Thanks for your vulnerability and inspiration!