Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dear Kiddo.....

Dear Kiddo,

I hear you are mad at God. It’s hard to see someone you love treated so roughly.  It hurts.
It's not surprising that you are mad at God.  Not surprising you are angry that it seems He neither heard nor answered your prayers for protection.  They were so earnest, so real, born out of so much pain and so much confidence in God’s care. You are understandably angry. 

Good for you.  Because, you see, you cannot be angry with someone you have no connection with, at someone you do not expect something of.  It’s not the stranger with whom we get most angry—it is with those closest to us.  And though strangers can hurt us and hurt us deeply, they do so only by hurting those we cherish; only then do strangers have power to cause us pain.  Make no mistake, dear bonus baby, your anger with God is not so much a sign that you have lost Him as one that He is very close indeed.

In fact, you are wrestling at very close quarters with Him.  And like Jacob wrestling with the angel, expect it to be a long struggle that will exhaust you, expect to be defeated, expect to be touched and marked (perhaps even injured) and expect, when it is all done, to be blessed.  Don’t run from the encounter.  Turn towards it.

I’m going to try to avoid platitudes here.  I am not going to tell you that you have no right to be angry, or to convince you that God is, in fact taking care of your sis when from your perspective, He hasn’t.  The fact is, your anger is yours, as rightly and uniquely as those big blue eyes of yours. You feel what you feel; that anger simply exists (it is all part of God’s gift…) and you simply have to deal with it.  It does you no good for me to tell you that what you know all too well to be true is not valid—it’s where you are in life, just now.  Miserable place, but yours, none the less….

Likewise I’m not going to try to convince you that somehow your sister’s pain—and yours—is part of some grand, thought-out-before-the dawn of time plan, designed in its smallest detail by God Himself and only Himself for your own and ultimate good.  That would presume that I know something about the subject and I don’t.  I cannot presume to know the mind of God.  I barely have a grip on my own.

And besides, there are too many players in this scene.  I do believe that our circumstances—all of them—really are the result of an intricate dance of our wills (together and separately) and God’s grace and will, but that’s a bit like saying I believe the space shuttle to be a marvel of modern engineering.  It doesn’t mean I understand it, just that there is a connection that is both real and completely beyond me. 

We all try to make sense out of the lives we live, trying to explain the various bits by constructing a view of the world in which things fit because….  The reality is, I think, not that things fit because but things are and therefore fit, whether I understand it or not.  No matter how much I try to explain, or rationalize or make order out of the world, it remains beyond my ability to do so.  In some very real sense, the world does not make sense.  And doesn’t have to.  It just is. 

That is, in one sense at least, the message of the book of Job, that great meditation on suffering.  Notice, please, that Job is not particularly patient in his suffering.  He refuses to believe that somehow he deserves the things that happened, he demands God explain.  His insistence, if not actually angry, is a first cousin, indignation.  Job knows he does not deserve what has happened.  At least not in the way the world makes sense to him…

There are many layers to God’s answer, but one of them is just that creation is as it is and we are not privy to all the answers.  It leaves us where we started, lost in the mystery of iniquity but changed even so.  Encountering God always changes us.

The world is.  It is fallen, broken, sinful, evolving—choose your favorite adjective.  It is in the process of becoming what it is, and we are caught up in the process, unable to see the what it is because of the process of becoming.  I’ve driven myself very nearly crazy trying to make sense of things that happen.  Remember, I worked for a very long time in a world marked by raw and unmitigated brutality and I never could make sense of it, though I came up with a lot of explanations.   Most of them worked well enough to get me through the day but that’s about it. I was careful not to dig too deep or they fell apart because there is always, always more.  Usually more I could not account for.

I do know that the condition of life in this broken is to suffer.  We all do it; we cannot avoid it.   In a way, that suffering points beyond our brokenness to the perfection we seek.  Suffering is, after all, only suffering because we know, somehow, that things can be better.  Consider: we suffer from pain because we know the memory of being without it, whole and at peace.  We suffer loss because, once, we had something.  And in our deepest natures, we suffer when God does not act in a way that affirms our innate sense of perfection because we know that there is, in fact, One greater and more perfect than we are.  We know it.  And when that greater Perfection doesn’t seem to fit with our ideas of what perfection is, we get angry.  In some respects, that anger just means we are reaching for Someone beyond us. 

My confessor often chides me with the notion that why is a lie.  It’s his way of reminding me that I can make up an explanation for anything that happens—and that explanation may well serve a purpose in getting me through my day (see above…)—but ultimately, it’s wrong.  It’s wrong not because I am unintelligent, but because I am limited in what I know and understand.  So I am trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to give up asking the why questions.  They tend to end up with answers more reflective of myself (which can be useful, mind you, but incomplete) than about God.

One of the things the why questions tend to underscore is the not-so-vague (and dearly held) human notion that life is a defined-benefits, zero-sum game, a sort of Divine Commerce, in which we do certain things a certain way and God repays us with certain blessings.  That’s a dangerous way of looking at life because it leads to disappointment, as you have found.  Not because God is not faithful but because we are so clueless. 

The Divine Life—and our life in the Divine—is not a matter of a contract, of sums promised and owed; it is gratuitous, an act of sheer grace.  So the question in my mind is not so much why did God not answer my prayers in the way I wished (to which the only possible and entirely annoying answer is because He didn’t want to—which leads to another why…and another…and another…) but do I believe that God is working in the world, in my life, in this distasteful situation even though I cannot see how?  In other words:  Is God trustworthy?

Notice I didn’t say Do I trust God?  That’s a subjective question and down that particular rabbit-hole lies a particularly vexatious set of insecurities.  But whether God is trustworthy is a question that has at least the possibility of an answer.  Watch Nik Wallenda ride a bicycle on a tightrope and one knows he can do it.  Watch him do so with a man on his back is to know that he is able to carry someone along.  Deciding to climb on his back is an entirely different matter….

The intersection of human life and can God be trusted is the cross.  It’s the only place that makes sense of what you are experiencing.  It’s the only place that can.

And not an empty cross, either: a crucifix.  The empty cross skips ahead to the finish line of the tightrope ride, to the celebration and the exultation—which is important, but isn’t foremost in your mind just now and does little to make sense of the pain and the fear that happens so often in life.  An empty cross doesn’t help make sense of suffering or the anger that comes from it.

Right now, metaphorically speaking,  you’re on the back of Nik Wallenda, clinging for dear life as he cycles across the Grand Canyon, not sure how you got there and you’re trying to figure out what on earth is happening and you’re scared and more than a little angry.  You look down and see a chasm, up and see nothing but sky, and the wire seems so very small and the bike wobbles and Nik isn’t talking to you or if he is, you can’t hear him over the beating of your own heart and the wind in your ears.  You are in the middle of all this suffering—even though it isn’t all your own-- and you need to somehow come to grips with it.

I’ve spent a lot of time in front of a crucifix for that very reason.  It’s not the empty cross that helps us understand suffering and brokenness, it’s Christ’s passion, His own suffering, innocent and undeserved and un-prevented.  If nothing else, it tends to dispel my conviction that suffering is something that—if I am good enough, faithful enough, prayerful enough—I can avoid.  The cross reminds me that I cannot.

Sometimes I am on the cross, to be sure, but more often, my suffering, like yours just now, is once-removed.  I suffer because someone I love suffers and I am powerless to change that unpleasant fact.  So I stand at the foot of the cross, with Mary and John, and I am there, in the midst of it and experiencing it in the only way I can.  And I am experiencing it not because I want to but because it is the world as it is, and I can do no other.  As my confessor also points out: we encounter the cross and we cannot explain it, we must simply live it.

As to whether God is trustworthy in the midst of all this, here is what I know:  The Creator of the Universe, of all that is, ever was and ever will be, became man in order to draw us into His own Divine life.  And we killed Him, largely because He did not fit our ideas of what God-Among-Us should be.  He came among a Jewish people poor, despised and under the thumb of Rome.  And he died there, the Jewish people, longing for deliverance, still poor, despised, and under the thumb of Rome the same as before and yet, changed.

He did not resist; He did not work things out to our own ideas of perfection, whatever they are.  When the disciples had retreated to their locked room, imprisoned by what had happened and what they themselves had done, confused and afraid and more than a little angry that God had disappointed yet again, He appeared again in their midst and His first words were not of recrimination but just this: Peace.

This is a Creator you can trust even when things look blackest.  How things turn out in this world, in the short run and the long, is up to that intimate, intricate dance of your intellect and will and His grace and all the rest of creation. 

God is, is present, is loving, is at work in all that surrounds you, even in your own pain, and things are still dreadful on the ground.  I think you know that. 

Of such is the world.  Peace, Kiddo.  Peace.

Much love—Bonus Mom


  1. I have printed this out to take to a friend. I hope it's ok with you to do that. She is stuck in a hospital with a body that is betraying her. I hope these powerful words will give her some thread to hang onto.

  2. I admit I got stuck half way through this post, thinking about your thoughts on not asking "why," because we will never understand the "why" of God. I agree with that statement, but I guess I value "why" much more, from another point of view.

    So many people I know are stuck in the "what is" of life, the moment, the here and now. "This is what it is." If there is an explanation for anything, it must be put in scientific terms, proven to be true. This thought mindset leaves many people seeking answers to who, what, how, where and when, and having found these answers --- on Google or in the writings of philosophers --- they think they know what is. And they perceive actions and emotions and being as a truth of "what is." But the ultimate truth of a thing is not just what is, but why.

    You get to the point, Barb, of finding peace in trust of God. On matters of cosmic relevance, there is no other answer to the question of why, but there ARE answers to "why" on some lesser facts of life but many people are quick to accept "what is" as the answer. Someone does you evil, so you are right to be angry with them --- it even says so in some places in the Bible. Confession is called for by God, so you should not forgive someone unless they ask for forgiveness first. I need to attend mass on Sunday; I need to stop at red lights; I need to be loved. But why? For many questions of life there ARE answers to why, answers which may help us live our lives with less anger and anxiety, and more holiness.

    "Why" is a question not asked often enough, by a people who think they know all the answers.