I've recently come across a Japanese word which I find, to my shame, may actually describe the facade behind which I have been living. A brief internet search brought me to an Australian article about the earthquake and tsunami which summed it up this way:
"The Japanese word gaman, a concept that defies easy translation but broadly means calm forbearance, perseverance and poise in the face of events beyond one's control... Gaman is part of the glue that holds Japanese society together, a way of thought instilled from an early age. It implies self-restraint, suffering in silence, denying oneself gratification and self-expression to fit in with the greater good... Japan lives on a psychological as well as a seismic fault line. Its founding gods were foul-tempered and ferocious. Successive earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and volcanic eruptions have left this land with an acute sense of vulnerability, but a corresponding mental sturdiness... The Japanese are coping in ways that some find hard to relate to: with deep sadness, but without breast-beating, complaint or recrimination. It is hard to imagine any other people who, when the Earth buckles and their world collapses, form an orderly queue."
We have had a rather difficult past few years. Jim's unemployment has sapped our resources, both financially and emotionally. Yet we have been sustained and carried along by the provision of the Lord. Through the kindness of God, our church family and others have helped in a number of ways, and Jim has been able to manage our affairs in such a fine balance that we have not lost our home or the basics for living. There have been blessings along the way, and we must wholly acknowledge that it has all come from the gracious hand of the Lord. Two daughters in college, preparing for the future with the gifts and talents given them by their Creator; summer camps for both Erin and Isaac; completion of Jim's Master's Degree; a family vacation to Williamsburg, VA. to celebrate Rebekah's birthday; the continued safety of Nathaniel in Afghanistan; and so much more. My mind reels at the goodness of God in giving so much.
As the months passed, however, the pressure grew. I know, in my heart and mind, without a shadow of a doubt, that God is good. I know, without question, that all that comes to pass is by His hand, ordained by His wise plan, for His glory and the good of His children. This I know as certainly and solidly as the ground upon which I stand.
This week the ground beneath me shifted with a seismic roar and I was thrown back to my knees.
Out of sensitivity to those involved I need not spill the details here of what happened, but a series of deeply painful events has ripped away the stoic mask — the Gaman — behind which I have been living.
I suppose I believed that God was most glorified by my maintaining a surface like that of a calm lake, with nary a ripple to mar its serenity. When the waves would come crashing against the shore of my heart, I'd keep the surface smooth — "Nothing to see here, God's at work". I didn't merely keep my own surface calm, but those of my children as well, the whole family held under the surface of gaman, real or not.
Yes, God is at work, but maintaining a serene surface is no longer my role; actually, it never was. I've said before that to deny the reality of pain is to diminish the grace of the Lord's healing touch. I didn't think that I was actually denying the pain which I experienced, but I now see that I was masking it; bandaging it over with Bible verses and maintaining a clean surface to cover over the messiness of the work at hand. "Thank you for your prayers, God is so good" long-suffering smile, nod of the head, move along.
A boulder has been thrown into my calm little lake, and I hereby acknowledge it. To quote the article above, "Successive earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and volcanic eruptions have left (me) with an acute sense of vulnerability".
"Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with my waiting for God...
O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel...
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me."
Psalm 69:1-3, 5-6, 13-15
I don't know what this will look like as I walk through the coming days, weeks, and months. But I am confessing now that I am drawing one breath at a time only by the mercy of the Lord and I have no answers for the what, why, or how of our situation. The only thing that I know for sure is that God is good, all the time.