As I sat in church in early April, I felt completely hollowed out and like my hands were empty with nothing left to offer. I felt burnt out. I sat in the pew with my shoulders slumped as if they physically felt the weight of my circumstances. At the time I was unemployed, effectively broke and grappling with loneliness even with plenty of friends and social engagements.
I wanted to be the type of Christian that never loses hope, always trust in the Lord and is never without a joyful disposition. But as the weekend drew to a close, I had never felt so unable to be those things or even “fake it till you make it.”
The prior six weeks had stretched my patience, which I had little to begin with in the first place. They had pushed me to trust God in places that it just didn’t feel possible. Over the last few weeks, I’d felt like life had punched me in the gut, knocked all the air out of me and left me lying bruised on the ground, only to kick me once more. It sometimes felt like all I could do was lie in my bed, and whisper the simplest of prayers, and that was all I could manage. My tiny prayers were rooted in the book of Daniel, where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego declare that even if God does not save them from a fiery furnace designed to burn them alive, they will still only worship Him and not the idols the king had created. My prayers were and are sometimes only those two words, “even if.”
Even if I have no money to pay rent, I will still believe God is good. Even if no job comes, I will still trust Him. Even if nothing goes my way, I will still worship Him because He is my only hope. I have found comfort in “even if” prayers, because they don’t ignore the fact that things sting and hurt and feel awful, but still acknowledge the qualities of God. They feel realistic and yet hopeful.
After church, I was supposed to meet a friend who’d recently had her wisdom teeth out to keep her company. I wanted so badly to maintain my commitment and not let her down, but I knew in that moment I needed Jesus more than I needed to be a reliable friend. I called her and told her in complete honesty that I needed to spend time with Jesus and just couldn’t make it.
I spent three hours in the park that night, crying and listening to worship songs over and over. I bought a new journal the color of a sunrise, because Jesus says hope comes in the morning, even though it felt like a dark night. I sat in Union Square Park and wrote visions and words Jesus spoke over me.
I told him I felt like everything had been stripped from me: my pride, my accomplishments, my job title, my validation, my routine and my dreams of what I thought the future would look like. My entire identity felt stripped bare, like I was standing in Times Square naked, I told him. I wasn’t sure I even liked what was left underneath.
I cried out, “Jesus I can’t do this. I don’t have the strength.”
Then Jesus responded in a vision.
I was taken back to when I was about six years old, and I was learning to ride a two-wheel bike with my dad. I had fallen onto the pavement, again, and was pouting and frustrated by my cut up knees and 99th failed attempt. “I can’t do it!” I exclaimed. And my dad, who was now Jesus, picked me up, dusted off my knees and said, “One more time.” He promised he will be right beside me, the whole time.
I climbed back onto the bike, tears in my eyes. He propped me up, and holding the handlebars ran with me for a few steps and lets go. I pedaled, focusing to balance, and lo and behold, I make it. I don’t make it very far, I don’t bike a mile, but I make it to the end of the block. I begin to cry even harder, tears of relief and joy and he is right there celebrating with me saying, “I knew you could do it!”
He is the great encourager, even when every hope feels dashed. He is my divine strength, when I just don’t have anything left in me.
The rest of the time in the park I prayed my “even if” prayers, joined with a new prayer rhythm, with the same dichotomy. Like a see-saw I go back and forth with “I can’t” and “But you can.” Completely intertwined, inseparable from the other.
I can’t, but you can. I still felt the “even if” prayer like a lullaby deep in my soul. But even as my circumstances felt stale and didn’t seem to be budging, I felt my soul stretching and growing stronger. I felt him giving me just enough. The prayer, “give us this day our daily bread” suddenly made a lot more sense. He gives us enough to get through the day, even when it sometimes feels like all I am doing is writhing in pain, knowing he won’t let me give up.
“One more time.”
As I entered into Easter Sunday a few weeks later, it became so much more meaningful. The joy of the day suddenly had a weight to it I had never experienced before. The joy only feels overwhelming and holy when the pain feels the same way. Just like my prayers, the pain and the joy are intertwined, linked and magnifying each other.
Even if I cant, You can.