I was at the grocery store with my four-year-old the other day. As I pushed the buggy (Southern for “cart”) past the yogurt and cream cheese, I stopped to buy a dozen eggs. I opened the carton and carefully inspected each egg. I asked my son if he knew what I was doing. “Checking to see if they’re broken,” he said. I was pleasantly surprised.
A few days after my grocery store trip, I was having lunch with a close friend. One of those people who appears strong, even in the face of heartbreak and adversity. Keeping up appearances is something we Southerners pride ourselves in. (That and college football.)
I have seen my friend walk through very hard times, being pulled from every imaginable direction. There are tough decisions to be made and, knowing what I know, the pressures of life seem unusually unbearable.
Jesus promised, “in this life you will face trails of many kinds” (John 16:33). My friend has been living that statement for a few years now, managing to walk with dignity, in spite of the circumstances.
But this lunch meeting was different.
I was sitting across from a fragile friend. A friend, whom I feared had an exterior, ready to crack at any moment. If I asked one more question, I wondered if that thin outer shell might crackle and crumble. Those moments aren’t easy for me: the fixer, the man, the friend.
In times when I see someone I care about struggling, my default is to revert to my old ways of thinking. My “savior complex” kicks into overdrive and I have to stop myself from looking for the nearest phone booth to change from suit to superhero. Often, I hear some cherry-picked Scripture in my head and think how easy it would be to give a sense of hope that everything will magically be alright, just around the next bend.
But not everyone is looking for a Super Christian. Not really.
I want everything to be alright, and I want to play a part in it all working out. But in my friend’s eyes, there was sadness, exhaustion and loneliness. My friend just longed for space to breathe and to be. This got-it-together, keep-it-together, dont-let-them-see-you-cry friend of mine was trusting me with her pain and weariness and fear of all that felt uncertain.
It was a holy moment.
In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott says:
God: I wish you could have some permanence, a guarantee or two, the unconditional love we all long for. “It would be such skin off your nose?” I demand of God. I never get an answer. But in the meantime I have learned that most of the time, all you have is the moment, and the imperfect love of people.
An eggshell holds it all together, protects everything inside, but one foul shake of the carton…one harsh drop…one little push…and splat…out spills little chicken guts.
Harsh reality? Sometimes, even good eggs crack.
The good news: sometimes, friends are given the chance to pad the carton with a little extra layer of imperfect love.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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