There is NOTHING more specific than a four year old.
I have learned quite quickly that if my daughter wants toast, I’d better ask her how she wants it cut, because cut into squares is of course not the same as triangles. It’s a completely different meal. There is a right way to fold a piece of paper. There is a right (and consequently very wrong way) to sing a song. There is a certainty in the way that this tshirt that doesn’t have Elsa on it is and never will be as good as one that does. It’s in the details. It’s in the specifics. I love her and
hate am frustrated by her daily for it.
But there is actually something beautiful and comforting about specifics. On our drive home from kindy yesterday she said didn’t have a great day because her friend said that she wasn’t very nice; (to be fair, Cadi had instigated the exchange by telling her that she was a slowcoach with her scissors). But as we were talking about it, I mentioned that I too had had similar experiences in school where a friend said a mean thing to me – and her eyes lit up and said “can you tell me more about that?!!” I, of course have a terrible memory and so scrambled to think of a specific example with which she could relate. Because it was important to do so. A generalisation or platitude of “be kind, treat others like you treat yourself” wouldn’t be sufficient.
She needed a specific story that was grounded in that moment to be real. Analogies can be helpful but aren’t always the most appropriate tool, especially in times of pain and grief.
Which brings me to adulting. Adults are very good at analogies. People of faith are even better at it.
Think of all the analogies that (completely good intentioned) Christian songs are full of: times in the valley. In the shadow. In the mire. In the mud. On high places. In the storm. In the waves.
I have sung many of these songs many times over and many times have received connection and healing and peace through them. The point and power of an analogy is its ability to connect with thousands of people or stories and helping us feel seen and heard. They also don’t date – hence the way that songs can transcend time and context. They’re great.
But I was feeling rubbish on my way to work this morning and so wanted to listen to some worship music to lift my spirit a little. And the analogies weren’t cutting it for me. “The dark lasts longer than the night” wasn’t enough. “Where feet may fail” wasn’t enough in that moment. It felt trite and vague in a way that didn’t resonate.
I think I was crying for some specificity. I didn’t need everybody’s pain to be recognised in that moment, just my own. I just wanted to hear a word of “I’m really worried about my parenting a four year old” or “I’m scared of what a pandemic will do for my job prospects” or “you come to me in my lack of patience with my partner” or “I’m crying out for some advocacy”:
People of faith talk of a God that presents us with himself. We talk of a Jesus that has experienced humanity so to empathise with us. Of course we are told that we shouldn’t worry, and of course there are greater concerns than our bank account or my lack of disorganisation or my relational troubles. We are called to ‘seek first his kingdom – and all these things will be given’. But aren’t we are also called to present all our cares to him? Aren’t we invited to pray about everything? The scriptures are filled with relatable content – but they’re also full of specific stories with real people and interactions and definite circumstances.
So perhaps it’s ok to have specific laments.
Being specific invites and challenges us to name the thing we’re actually scared of, the particular hope that’s disappointed, the anger that resides under the surface. I don’t think this is about comparing pain or generalising your experience – that’s good ol’ analogy’s job. Instead, in recognising specifics, maybe there’s an opportunity for deep empathy in that moment both for ourselves and also from the God that we are seeking or crying out for. Perhaps it can be an opportunity for welcome and hospitality for others in their own specific pain.
In response, here’s my offering: a psalm of specifics. I thought about reworking an existing psalm but I ain’t no Eugene Peterson.
May you be heard in the specifics x
A Psalm of specificity
From the shame of my thoughtlessness yesterday
From the worry of my bank account
From the laziness of my disorganised diary/house/life
from my loneliness and envy of others’ closeness
From the lethargy of interrupted sleep
From the fear of parenting in the wrong direction
From the lack of respite. The piling on of responsibility, of expectations, of effort that a positive mindset requires to maintain
From the frustration of plans cancelled.
From the disappointment of people that didn’t call, of relationships that are painful rather than life-giving. From the effort it takes to avoid or placate those same friendships
From the story of me that others have taken or written
From the envy of myself in 2019 – where the unawareness of what was to come was a blissful blinker
Can you deliver me, Jesus?
Can you be here with me in this?