Excuse me? You’re going to give me an ice pack? I’m 28 years old. I just came to make sure I don’t have strep or pink eye. I do not need your ice pack.
So… my reaction may have been a little much. It’s been known to happen. For all who are wondering, it was a silent reaction. I graciously took the ice pack, dumped it in my purse, and headed home from the doctor’s office. Here is what you need to know about ice packs – our school nurse used to hand them out when you said you didn’t feel well but you didn’t have a fever. The school believed it was compassionate. I believed it was humiliating.
They thought it said: We believe you. We’re sorry you’re not feeling well. We want to help.
I heard this: We believe that you think you don’t feel well. But you are wrong. You are really fine. [We are basically paying you in ice-pack-currency to get out of our office.]
I went to the same school for twelve years. I went to the nurse’s office four times. The first time was in the first grade. I had a stomachache, and I wanted to go home. I was given an ice pack. I vowed never to return. Three times I was forced to go back, but they were for more “legitimate” reasons. Once a chalkboard fell on my hand, and the teacher made me go. Once I got kicked in the eye, and the teacher made me go. And once I actually really was sick enough to go home.
Our school nurse was dear. Everyone loved her. That is not the point. I know that some kids fake illnesses to try to get sent home. There is a reason for the ice-pack distribution. That is also not the point. The point is that somewhere in my childhood I became afraid of the ice-pack response… To the degree that I would not fake illness, but I would fake wellness.
I really don’t think I was very sick yesterday. I was mostly just exhausted. I probably just needed to go home and sleep. But when I was handed the ice pack, something inside of me responded with first-grade-stubborness, and instead of taking the rest of the day off, I took a nap and then rallied for the activities that I’d had planned. I had an invitation from the God of this whole universe to sit with Him and be still. And I turned it down. Because of an ice pack and all that it meant to me.
That ice pack said that I was fine. That I was overreacting. That I was being sent back to class. That I should go about my day as planned. That I didn’t really feel the way that I thought I felt, which was exhausted and desperate for some downtime.
There is something inside of us that beats with a furious desire to be strong and capable – to be well. And it’s a good thing! We were made for wholeness. But that very same desire can be used against us when we are not. We become ice-pack queens:
“You’re sad?” You won’t feel like this forever. [Here’s an ice pack.]
“You miss that?” Well, on to bigger and better things. [Here’s an ice pack.]
“They hurt your feelings?” What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. [Here’s an ice pack.]
“You’re tired?” From what? [Here’s an ice pack.]
To be honest, the people around me are not the ones handing out ice packs. The ice packs happen in my own head. I am learning something, though: God is not a God of ice packs. He doesn’t slap a cold compress over eyes brimming with tears. He doesn’t feel our forehead for fever in a way that seeks to determine whether our hurt is real. We will never come to Him with something that is broken and be told that it is really fine.
I fear wallowing. I fight complaining. I’m guilty of both, but they drive me crazy. I’m learning, though, that the remedy is not to suck it up and deal with it. The remedy is to take what is broken, what is tired, what feels dead, into the presence of the One who binds up brokenness, the One who gives rest to the weary, the One who, yes, breathes life back into what is dead.
In Luke 7:11-17, Jesus came upon a funeral procession for a widow’s only son. She was grieving the death of her child. The death of hopes and dreams. The death of provision and protection. I wonder if hopelessness threatened to consume her. I wonder if she rolled over to it or if she fought it with every bit of dignity she could muster. Did she sob loudly in the presence of others? Did she weep silently? Did she succumb to the grief? Did she stand in stubborn stoicism? She was weeping at the funeral. And Jesus, seeing her and feeling compassion, said, “Do not weep” (Luke 7:13). It sounds a little like an ice pack at first. And it would have been had those words not been spoken with the power of Life Himself. The next words He spoke were to the dead son: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Luke 7:14). And he did, and “Jesus gave him back to his mother” (Luke 7:15).
Tears of grief moved Jesus. He did not offer pleasant clichés. He did not cover her pain with an ice pack of cold faith. He came with warm compassion. He moved with bold power. He spoke life back to the dead, and He returned hope to the one who had lost it.
I’m not so naïve as to think that His binding and healing and life-giving is always so direct. Those we think we cannot live without do die. When loss is real, so is the grief. Dreams don’t always come true, and when they don’t, disappointment settles. Life, even when it’s good, still wears us down and can burn us out. Denying those realities will never give us the strength and wholeness that our spirits crave.
Instead, we bring them, raw and unpolished, to the feet of the One we are strangely tempted to try to impress.
However big or small our burdens, we bring them to the feet of the One who can take it. And we trust Him with them. We trust Him with us. We lay down broken, and we tell Him where it hurts. And He comes right to us. He touches the coffin. He wipes the tears. He kneels beside us in our wallowing, and we fear the ice pack He might offer. Instead we find His gentle power – to heal the wound, to speak life, to whisper, arise, and to be our strength as we do.
He doesn’t just tell us that we’re fine. He holds us until we’re well.