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Showing Up

Last year’s Lenten journey began with a series of difficult questions around what it meant to serve God and the loneliness that would accompany it. I was encouraged by a good friend to pray through these questions over the coming weeks and I found myself contemplating the cross quite a bit. I wrote a piece for school that is my most read piece on here based on the passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which we are instructed to take up our cross and follow Christ. I was told by the professor I hold in high esteem that it was “profound.” Nothing like having your writing guru tell you that your paper is profound. I decided that I wanted to repeat that this Lent – read and write another “profound” piece that would be frequently visited from around the world.

And then my church announced a sermon series and focus on the healing journey. Have I mentioned yet that I am sick of “the healing journey”. I’m done – I want to get on with life, never feel depressed again, never struggle with the lasting impact of traumatic events. So I skipped the first Sunday morning. Quite easy to do actually as we lost an hour sleep that night. But even if we gained an hour, I didn’t feel like hearing a sermon on healing.

then a good friend wrote me and asked if I was coming to the evening service. it was a healing service – a “safe place to lament”. Well, this service sounded interesting – perhaps another tool in my toolkit for when I am involved in church ministry again! I didn’t go because I need healing – but because others need healing and perhaps this would help me help them. I cringe at my arrogance strong capacity to avoid and resist.

The service of lament was rather powerful. we were encouraged to write our own laments. I did – and I launched my heart’s accusations against God. I was so not prepared to confront God that night – or to accuse him of being enemy, not friend. and there I was. I went for annointing and had trouble finding the words to ask for annointing. My pastor prayed for me. I don’t remember much of the actual words other than the reminder that the only way out of our pain is through… and praying that the church community would walk with me as I walk through my pain.

I got back to my pew and I couldn’t stop crying. I became aware of the pain inside in a deep way. The pain I feel is really not so much related to either of my parents – there is still pain and unhealed wounds, but what I mean is – they are mortal and sinners. In that respect I know two things are true – they are a sinners just like me, and in a sense, they also cannot escape the sinful nature that is so deeply embedded in us. The deepest wounds I face are from God Almighty – to whom I prayed for safety, and that prayer took many years to be answered. THIS is the part of my healing journey I have not wanted to face. That night the floodgates to my heart were open and I have known since then that there is no turning back. I’ve asked – no demanded – God to give me answers, answers that only He can give. My theological reading and training enables me to articulate the “right answers” – but they are no longer adequate. God is on trial – is he friend or foe? the healing of my darkest and deepest pain demands an answer.

and since that service of lament two weeks ago, I have felt a great many things. But I have not felt the intimate presence of God that I have known. I know with my head that God is here and never will leave me, and that he can handle the deep questioning that I have started. But at a heart level – I feel empty when I pray. I feel like I am talking to a ceiling, or as I put to some dear friends, I feel like I am talking into the abyss of nothingness. Mother Teresa felt a desolation her whole life of serving God. St. John of the Cross speaks of a dark night of the soul – something that pop culture has taken up but for him, I think it was not so much a state of depression but an shedding of himself as God led him to depend on God alone and not on feelings, blessings, or what-have-you. I’m not sure what it is that I am experiencing these days, but it is a lonely and challenging place to be. I am deeply angry at God. I sit in church as I hear how God is working in and through others’ deep pain – and while others seem to be praising God for how amazing he is, I find myself questioning the God who “allows” more than being moved to praise. Why do we praise the God who heals the wounds he does nothing to prevent? what if – as in the case of the blind man or Lazarus – God causes a state of suffering so that his glory may be shown. I suppose, God – God Almighty, afterall – can do this because, well, he IS God. But how is that fair? We confess sins of commission and omission. what about God and the things he has left undone? To illustrate this question further: I have first aid training. If someone collapsed in front of me, I have a duty in one sense to do something about it. Suppose I watch this suffering person and just remind them that I am there, but do nothing to help. How good is that? What if that is what God does – why is it ok for God to stand by, but not ok for me?

There may not be answers to my questions. Or I may not like the answers. Ultimately, I might come to confess and repent of the bold accusations. But for now – I can’t pretend to an omniscient God that I’m not mad at him, or that suddenly I feel he is friend again and has always been. So right now my spiritual journey has taken a lenten journey that I wasn’t anticipating and frankly, didn’t want. Getting through a day is hard enough with God. getting through without him – that’s not exactly what I wanted to face! and yet, the only way out seems to be through. this journey is hard though. I talk to God frequently in my day – now I don’t know what I want to say or even if I want to say anything at all. Going to church is hard. Praying is hard. My theological classes are hard.

There is an image that keeps coming to mind. Some close friends have had very little sleep over the past few months as their newborn has struggled with colic and insomnia. I have read/heard their frustrations. And yet, they are frequently speaking of how much they love their little boy. The continue to care for him – in the middle of the night when they are totally exhausted. The dad drives him around the block on really bad nights to get him to sleep or give mom a chance to catnap. This is love. I’m not a parent, but I’m not sure that if I was this boy’s mom that I would feel that I love this child after many weeks of chronic sleep deprivation. But love gets up and takes care of the baby whether one feels love or not.

maybe this part of my journey with God is somewhat like this. I don’t feel God’s love, and don’t particularly feel like I love God right now. It’s not that I hate God, I’ve just called everything into question and feel nothing towards him but anger and frustration. But maybe I don’t need to feel in order to be in relationship with God. Maybe my act of love can be more about showing up to meet with God in church, in the privacy of my own home. Maybe this is what it means to love God in this part of my journey.

There is solace in the idea that maybe I just need to show up.

I might not have all the answers I want, but I can still show up.

I might not have the faith that God can come through right now, but I can still show up.

I might not be able to like how God has or hasn’t worked, but I can still show up.

and maybe that’s what this lenten journey is about. not writing some spectacular piece of writing that makes it onto the first page of google searches. not about serving others. not about feeling.

but about just showing up.

  1. john sullivan
    March 23, 2014 at 4:09 am

    Another profound and moving testimony Elizabeth. I believe I told you that I was a victim also. My only response right now is that probably you are being forced into discovering a new image of God, totally different than the one who have been brought up to believe. I am going to leave you with a text to ponder. You will find it in Ephesians 4:6: “one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all”. It is the concept of God held by those in the emergent and progressive theological position of Christianity. If you grasp it I can assure you that it will revolutionize your thinking of God, and put you more in touch with the Man Christ Jesus. Grace and peace to you.

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