Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself in tears and, y’all, I’m not a cryer. Just ask my best friends and they’ll tell you I’m about as stoic as they come. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about justice, about suffering, and about what it means to love well those who are hurting.
A few days ago, I was rummaging around in my attic looking for the Halloween decorations and I found an old Christmas mantle piece that said Believe (yes, we mix our holidays together in the same box). Believe. As in “believe” in the birth of Christ, the magic of Christmas or Santa Claus or whatever. Believe.
The events that have played out so publicly in our country these last few weeks have caused me to really wonder how to know what to believe. At the expense of a political post which is something I NEVER want this blog to be about—because we just don’t need one more line of division—I will say this: as a woman, it is so easy to express my belief in other women. We hear the phrases “Cheering for you!” “Community over competition.” “Believe in your dreams!” and my favorite, “You don’t have to unscrew another woman’s lightbulb in order to shine.” I’ve liked these phrases on Instagram. I’ve said them. I’ve used them in pubic spaces. I am all for believing in my friends. Heck, I created a blog platform for it. But here’s the distinction. What if I also believed them?
While the recent congressional hearings were confusing and ambiguous, here’s what I know to be clear and certain. Over my lifetime, nine women have told me that they have been assaulted, raped, or sexually abused. N I N E. These are not women in the periphery of my life or mere acquaintances. These are dear friends and family members. Women I care for so much. Women who have held my babies, and hugged my neck, and made me dinners. I’ve taken trips with these women, worshipped with these women, and sat with these women over the course of years while they’ve shared this very deep, very raw pain with me and others. I not only believe in these women, I BELIEVE these women. Not because I know every detail of the crimes committed against them. Not because they are religious or non-religious, conservative or progressive, black or white. I believe them because they shared a story of suffering with me—their story—and it is in my power to carry that for them.
Of these nine, two reported the crime to law enforcement. Of these nine, none of their perpetrators have been punished. Of these nine, less than half have told their closest loved ones (husbands and parents). Of these nine, all carry scars. Most have received counseling. A few have not. Each feels shame for something that could not possibly have been her fault.
What can I, as a friend, do to sit well with someone who is suffering? I can be present. I can listen. I can choose not to probe for details (isn’t that more to satiate our own desire for information anyway?). I can allow the tides of grief to be long and slow and painful. I can stay when others leave. I can decide not to turn away even when their anguish becomes awkward and uncomfortable. I can point them to a Wounded Healer who knows their every sorrow, and bears them up in it.
In scripture, when Job’s friends first come upon him in all his suffering, they sit with him for seven days in silence until Job begins to shake his fist at God in his grief. Then the friends unleash moral platitudes and pointed questions and accusatory statements to remind Job of his obvious transgressions which, in their estimation, must have led to his current situation. In modern terms those statements sounds like this: You obviously did something to bring this on yourself. You must be confused about your own sin. I agree something terrible happened to you, but I don’t think your memory of how it happened it is quite right. In it the midst of the barrage of words from his friends, Job replies:
“All of you bring trouble instead of comfort.
Is there no end to your words that are full of wind?
What is your problem that you keep on talking?
I also could speak like you, if I were in your place.
I could put words together against you, and shake my head at you.
But my mouth would encourage you.
I would speak words of comfort and make your pain less.” Job 16: 2-5 (emphasis mine)
Isn’t this our duty and honor as friends to do for each other? To encourage. To comfort. To lessen the pain.
Despite where you land politically, despite your opinion of those on the Supreme Court, in government, sports, Hollywood, and in top positions at big name firms, can we agree to do something together?
Can we agree to believe our friends? To not just believe in them, but to BELIEVE THEM? To not be another source of shame for them, but a well of support and love and quiet affirmation? A voice that says, I believe your story because I believe YOU.
What if that’s what our Believe Christmas ornament meant this year? What if that mantle piece for Santa becomes a siren song for loving well and listening hard and speaking less? I just might leave mine up all year long.