i’ve found myself with those two words lately, ricocheting off the walls of my mind and balancing precariously on the borders of my heart.
Just yesterday, i was driving home from work and my heart thudded unexpectedly, as my thoughts were wandering and a sad reality came to forefront of my mind.
Things are not as they ought to be, or as i wish they could be.
Without a doubt, every day that i see and every breath that i take is a gift. But it cannot be denied that i am often afraid of what i will see or hear on a daily basis. Sometimes i close my eyes and let out a hasty prayer before answering a phone call, or reading a news article. Even just scrolling through my twitter feed can leave me feeling defeated.
Granted, i am a social worker and i have a job that is emotionally heavy-laden. However, i don’t necessarily think that it’s just my work that leads me to feel this weight on my chest.
i think it’s a sense of global desperation. Among humans, across many socio-economic and circumstantial differences, there seems to be a collective rise and fall of our chests, as we exhale deeply and blink away hot tears.
And sometimes, it’s within my own home and my own family, this life that i have constructed around myself in an effort to keep the rest of the world at bay. Sometimes it creeps in, and the shattering of my peace is followed by nothing but silence and these words:
The other day, i sat with my older sister as we watched her two children play in the backyard of her home. One of them had just toppled the other, reasonably out of no malicious intent, but nonetheless. As the child ran over to share this, tears streaming down chubby cheeks, i was struck with the truth of that feeling.
Something had happened, and it did not feel fair.
In the mind of a 3 year old, the raw response to that level of injustice was to run to somebody who loved them and seek comfort.
And this person had proven, historically, to be a person that would welcome that pain with open arms. My sister pulled the child close, stroking their head and whispering words of soothing love. Within a few brief moments, the crying had slowed to occasional hiccups and a gradual sense of peace crept over the scene.
The hurt had, momentarily, dissipated.
I felt it.
Here’s the thing: i truly believe that every human life is created with great love and for a great purpose.
But some days, it’s hard. And some days, it hurts.
i know that a lot of people think of God as a judge. They think of him as this giant, imposing figure, in robes and seated behind a large wooden desk, judging humanity for their crimes [which, on this day, seem to be to be particularly numerous].
Now, I’m not denying that visual image and how it’s been portrayed, marketed even, to the masses. Whether by preachers from the pulpit, or by church members either blatantly in their words to others or merely by their actions or tone of voice, this concept has been spread. I understand that this concept has given many a reason to dislike or to distrust God. Or, in the eyes of some, it justifies their distance from him.
i get that.
But, in moments like right now, when our society feels like a hurt child who fell down, or a teenager that got into trouble. . . when the world feels like a living, breathing organism that is pulsating with pain, with brokenness, with sorrow. . . when it feels like THAT, i only picture God in these moments as a Father.
Maybe it’s because i want, so desperately, to run somewhere safe.
And that visual, i recognize, is hard. Because human fathers are varied. Some are good, some are bad. Some are physically present, some are not. And the ways those relationships have impacted each of us emotionally are too great to count.
Perhaps it would be less specific to classify or describe God in comparison with the visualization of my sister, as a mother.
And i know that she wouldn’t like that. But it is so poignant.
Because it’s moments like this when my heart is deeply sad that i need a strong shelter.
[And i don’t just mean i’m having a bad day, i’m talking about the kind of sad where enough truly tragic circumstances have just compounded that i feel hopeless. Where the stacking of injustice, or unfairness, has just multiplied one on top of another until i feel like i’m suffocating in my grief, grief for myself and for humanity as a whole].
In moments like that, i feel like a 3 year old that has just fallen down or been pushed down too many times.
i can’t get back up on my own strength.
And all i can do is weep before somebody who has, in the past, proven to be compassionate and trustworthy.
All i can manage to say, the only words that can come out are:
There is a story in the Bible in which Jesus is spending time with his closest friends, and they get into a boat. These are the people who know Jesus best, the ones with whom he spends a lot of time and who have seen him for who he truly is.
It’s a nice journey across the water.
But, a massive storm hits. They are catapulted into waves that threaten to destroy the boat, and take the lives of everyone aboard.
Here’s the thing: Jesus is sleeping.
When i was a kid and i heard this story, i was very confused. i remember hearing it and thinking, “Jesus was asleep in a huge storm?” Granted, my only experience in boats was in a small motorboat, and i had been too interested in the scenery to even consider sleeping. But who sleeps in a boat, anyways? Better question, who sleeps in a boat that is being hit from every side and rocked to the point of capsizing?
Even as an adult, i am somewhat incredulous. What?
Sure, maybe Jesus was super tired. i’ve been super tired, i know that feeling. The one where you can barely keep your eyes open and everything around you looks like a pillow.
But it was scary storm. His friends were panicking and even if he wasn’t afraid, his closest friends were. They were losing their minds and he was asleep. He wasn’t answering their calls or even just sitting next to them, saying reassuring things. For all intents and purposes, he wasn’t there.
Eventually, they woke him up and said something along the lines of, “Dude, what gives?” They were pretty mad.
And Jesus didn’t freak out. He didn’t panic or even react to their chaos. He just fixed everything. He put up a hand, and the clouds disappeared, the water became calm, and his friends were no longer afraid.
It was over, just like that.
But then he turns to them and says, “Why were you afraid?”
No, seriously. That’s what he said.
It gets me every time. What? He asks why they were afraid? What kind of question is that? i’ve always been taught that people need their fears and emotions validated, not condemned.
The Bible doesn’t say what the responses are from the group, but i can tell you what my response would be to a question like that.
My response would be, “i was afraid because there was a storm that threatened to destroy me. It was big and overpowering and i didn’t know what to do because i’m only human. i’m weak and i get scared when everything i know is at risk. i was afraid because i felt alone, and there didn’t seem to be any hope. And most of all, i was afraid because i really needed you, and you were fast asleep as if you didn’t even care.”
That’s what i would have said.
And another thing that Jesus asks, “Do you still have no faith?”
i would not have cared for that at all. I probably would have ended with, “Do you think i wanted to be afraid? Don’t you think i desperately wanted to have more faith, to be strong enough to believe for the best? i want to believe. i want to have a strong faith. But it was really hard and i was really scared and i need you. Please, understand that i am limited by what i can see, and all i could see during the storm was darkness and fear.”
And then i probably would have collapsed in a puddle of tears.
Now, this next part isn’t in the story. This is coming purely from my own imagination.
i think Jesus would have given me a hug. As i’m weeping, still reeling from the storm, i think that he would have comforted me. i think that he would have been as gentle and kind as my sister is with her children, soothing my pain with soft words and a steady hand on my back.
Again, this is my interpretation. i don’t claim to be an expert or understand the many facets of who God is, but i have felt this before. i have been broken by my surroundings, in a storm of fear. i have fought despair and hopelessness. And, in the silence following, sought God as a toddler would seek a parent.
And it has always been the same. Despite the fact that it seemed like he didn’t care, or that i was mad at the situation, the truth remains.
He has always been there.
[This story is from the book of Matthew, chapter 8]
For whatever reason, my faith is sustained by seeing God through that lens. Despite of the human failures associated with parenthood, it is the most relevant example that i can believe in this moment.
i’m not suggesting that this is an easy metaphor. Parents, like all people, fail us. Sometimes they aren’t there when we really need them. Sometimes they falter and let us down, and that’s too bad. i don’t think that was how God hoped that parents would be.
But we are all humans and it is inevitable that we will experience pain.
At some point, it is through God’s strength that i can take the hurt that i feel and allow him to transform it.
And then i can ask him to make really beautiful things out of it.
But for now, it’s okay to just be honest.