Not In a Good Place? God Might Be There Too

On Saturday, my latest column appeared in the Faith Matters section of the Northwest Arkansas Times. If you’re a subscriber, you can read it here. If not, it is below.

I am not in a good place.

Have you ever heard someone say those words? Maybe you have said them yourself. I know I have – recently even.

“I am not in a good place” has become a common euphemism that we use to express some overwhelming negative feeling.

1.2-4_HAGAR_The_angel_speaks_to_HagarSometimes we say it to describe a time of emotional struggle. We use it to speak of our discouragement or depression. It’s like saying, “I’m feeling blue.” It’s a non-technical and non-threatening way of communicating that we are hurting and that we may need some help.

We can also customize this phrase to describe how some aspect of our lives has gone sour. “My wife and I are not in a good place” means that we are having some marriage difficulty. “I’m not in a good place at work” says that it may be time to look for a new job. “I’m not in a good place with God” is a synonym for the dark night of the soul that we all eventually experience.

No matter what has caused it or what aspect of our lives we are describing, we use this euphemism as a confession. It’s shorthand for “I am not ok. Something is wrong. And I don’t think I can fix it.”

As they say, confession can be good for the soul. If you’re like me, you probably don’t say “I am not in a good place” until after you have carried your particular burden around on your own for a while. We make every attempt to solve our problems – to no avail. We finally get to the point that all we can do is admit the truth about where we find ourselves. And it can feel like we’ve just turned the release value to relieve the pressure.

 

We say “I am not in a good place” metaphorically. The place we are describing is an emotional or spiritual state, not a physical location. I find it interesting that throughout the biblical story, but especially in the book of Genesis, people connected their emotional and spiritual states to their physical locations.

Their maps were also maps of their souls.

Take the story of Hagar as an example. She was an Egyptian slavegirl who was taken into the household of the Israelite patriarch Abram, who later became known as Abraham. Hagar worked as the personal servant for Abram’s wife, Sarai.

When Abram and Sarai couldn’t get pregnant, Sarai suggests to Abram that he father a child with Hagar. Sarai expects that Hagar could be a surrogate for her and that she’ll be able to raise a family for Abram through her servant. But, not unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go well.

Hagar gets pregnant, and Sarai gets jealous. She begins to mistreat and abuse her servant. When Hagar can’t take any more, she flees in desperation from Abram, Sarai, and the whole camp.

Fittingly, Hagar ends up in a dessert. She has been used and abused. No one gave her a choice in this whole scheme. No one cares what she needs or wants. She is alone and upset. She is not in a good a place.

And it is there that God meets her.

As the Genesis story goes, the angel of the Lord appears to Hagar. The angel of the Lord sees her, listens to her, understands her, and comforts her. The angel tells Hagar that if she returns to Abram and has the son that she is carrying, God will watch out for her son too. He will be blessed and will become the father of a great people.

Hagar takes great encouragement from these words, and she goes back. But before she leaves, she says that this place where she was is the place where God has seen her. In fact, the name of the location where their encounter happened gets changed. From then on, it’s known as Beer Lahai Roi, which means “well of the Living One who sees me.”

 

I am hopeful that a story like Hagar’s will helps us all admit when we are not in a good place. Maybe through that confession and in the midst of our pain, we might have an experience with God in which we come to realize that God sees us, listens to us, understands us, and comforts us.

And when we do, maybe we can change the name of where we are from “not in a good place” to “a place where I encountered God.”

 

Be Sociable, Share!