June 28th, 2011
|02:08 pm - I Can't Trust You, God: an affirmation of our need for love in action|
One of the greatest freedoms I have found in the past several months is freedom from trusting God.
Let me say that again: it's incredibly freeing to realize that not being able to trust God doesn't make one a bad Christian, doesn't make one a bad person, and isn't the cause of one's problems.
The one thing people kept telling me to do throughout the past 3 years (aside from “hang on”) was “trust God.” Usually followed by some assurance that he had a plan and would help me if I only trusted him.
And I tried. Oh, I tried. I prayed, and I listened, and I did my best to love others and to serve them and God in them. I said that I trusted him, over and over, as if saying it would make it true.
Nothing seemed to happen. I didn't feel convicted of sin, but neither did I receive strength or grace to go on. I didn't break (quite), but neither did I receive help from outside myself—only attempts to fix me, only admonitions that almost shattered my spirit, only a sense that if I didn't have anything to give to others, they would surely and truly abandon me.
I still felt that God was near, but he refused to answer me. He left me to myself and to my own devices, and did not care that I was drowning. He left me in deep water, and could not be bothered to rescue me. I was not worth his time.
I wrote this last summer, reflecting that whole year:
The emptiness I feel, the crushing downcast black hole inside,
is not like anger, nor yet apathy.
It's more like betrayal.
It's much more like grief.
I'm grieving—and do not know how—the life I lost for You.
As indeed you requested from your disciples,
to lose our lives if we wished to save them,
I lost myself, my desires, my loves, my direction, my self in You.
And I got nothing back.
Where are the promises you gave?
The peace, the joy, the ability to love?
The deep truth of Your own love for us?
I am empty, hollowed out, poured out like Paul as a drink offering,
but without replenishment and (almost) without hope.
You taught that those poor in spirit
(and never have I understood that phrase before)
had ownership of heaven's kingdom.
So why am I not royalty? Why do you treat me like a stupid slave?
Why am I stripped of power and voice? Why is there nothing to fill my emptiness?
I had a couple of weeks that August when I doubted, for the first time in my life, that God even existed. I had tried everything I could think of to get work, and no one wanted me. I was on the verge of being homeless, hungry, and without hope.
If you love me, why don't you help me? The emphasis was on the “if.” I could no longer trust, because there was no reason to. If God was there (as I still felt he was), he did not care that I sought him, did not care I was hurting, did not care that I had no hope. I could not rely on him—or at least I had no reason to believe I could.
I had never felt that I had experienced God's salvation, his power exerted on my behalf. I grew up in a church where many people had literally been saved, pulled by God's active power out of deeply destructive lifestyles, additions, abuse, illness. Saved, healed, delivered. I never felt any of that. I grew up learning right from wrong, and tried to live rightly always, in God's strength. I was not broken enough, not ill enough, not bound enough for God to demonstrate his greatness to or through me.
I never had proof. Only faith. And now? Faith was not enough. When someone tells you again and again to trust them but does not back up their words with actions, what do you think? That they don't mean it, or at the least that they cannot deliver on it.
At the bottom of that doubt, where the faith I had held to my whole life dissolved away, I found only one thing: a gut-deep wordless longing to see my Creator in person. Even as I wondered whether he was real, I longed to see him.
Where can I go to find you
in this world of mixed-up colors, of wind and water,
fluid and chaotic and more than just mystery?
How can I seek you
when all seeking ends either in
the denial of anything absolute and whole,
or the denial of paradox itself?
When is the day of salvation,
every day, or no day? Did I miss it?
And how can I answer that question
if I cannot even unlock the place
where you and I come face to face:
almighty and ever-imperfect,
perfect and ever-empty,
love and the hunger for love?
Why do you place yourself so far,
far from my eyes,
from the words of my groaning?
Why did you promise to be found by me,
yet refuse to answer my calls?
What are you? Who are you, oh blessed I Am?
I would know. I would know you. Not about you, not what you are not,
but you, everlasting, all-fulfilling, all-loving,
creator who fills all in all.
I would know you.
But where can I find you?
And when will you answer my call?
I read the Psalms a lot, the past few years. One thing about the laments in that book is that one eventually finds that there's nothing metaphorical about prayer. We're so often taught in church that the prayers are meant to be prayed about our own hearts, about sin, about deliverance from our own ignorance or hard-heartedness. There are prayers about that in the Psalms. But in most of them, the writer cries out to be delivered from some tangible sorrow or hardship, from evil men or betraying friends, from illness and poverty and violence. The cry is: God, come here and fix this! Help me! Show me your love and your power in your actions!
We humans need to see love in action before we believe it exists.
Yet we're not taught this. We're taught to walk by faith. We're taught that those who do not see and yet believe are blessed, as Jesus said to Thomas when Thomas insisted on touching him to be sure he was real.
But Jesus did allow Thomas to touch him.
For the past several months I've been seeing a spiritual director, someone who is mature in faith and trained to look for God's work in an individual's life. It's like having an extra set of eyes. One of the first things I told her, weeping, was that I couldn't trust God anymore. She never told me that was wrong or that I should change it: she saw that it was a product of what I had been through, and allowed me to express my doubt, to call God out for not helping me. Even when I used a metaphor I wasn't entirely comfortable with (describing my relationship with God as if it were an abusive or neglectful marriage), she wasn't weirded out.
Having that permission not to trust opened up my heart to a lot of things. To awareness that I felt discarded, unloved, unappreciated. I've been reading the story of the prodigal son very differently for a while now: I'm convinced that the elder brother wasn't in the wrong as much as he was simply desperate for affirmation and attention from his father. All those years of faithful filial service, and no acknowledgment. No wonder he was jealous of his brother. No wonder he begged his father for recognition.
As close as I have felt to God over the years, as much as I have loved and served and sought him, I still didn't have active proof of his love for me.
Jump forward in time about 9 months. Present day.
I find that I can now trust God easily. But it's because he finally sent me his tangible salvation. I trust Him because I finally have proof that I can. Because in his kindness God loved me enough to give me that proof.
It took months even to consider that. When I was in the middle of trouble my boyfriend reminded me that sometimes life just sucks, and it doesn't mean that God hates me. But the corollary to that would seem to be that when good things happen, you don't feel like God is involved in that, either. Maybe it's just an accident that anything good happens. Maybe it doesn't mean that God loves me, any more than difficulties mean that he hates me.
For the first time in my life, I have a job that I actually enjoy. I have a fiance who loves me, whom I adore and cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with. I'm beginning to find in myself the strength and permission to try things that I may not be good at, to trust myself, to see my own beauty and brightness and wisdom. To open myself up to the possibility of loving again, of not being alone and independent and brittle.
All of that came to me while I did not trust God.
All of that, while I learned that he didn't mind, that trust wasn't a requirement for him to bless me. All of that, gently pouring into me everything I've needed for so long, everything I've never thought I could have.
God ministers to us where we are. And if we listen—both when we cannot trust and once we can—we don't stay there.
If you don't have proof of God's love for you, ask him for it. If you don't feel comfortable asking, at least know that God can handle your doubts. Own them; own that you are loved and beautiful despite them, even because of them; keep walking.
Then you will see the salvation of God, whatever that looks like between you and him.
Current Mood: contemplative
I am glad things are going so well for you and that have a spiritual peace. I believe faith is a very personal thing. I derive much comfort in mine (after going through soul searching and a crisis long ago).
Thank you for your lovely comment.
I believe faith is both a very personal thing and a very communal thing, in that what affects us personally affects everyone around us. I'm glad to hear that you find such comfort in your own faith. *hugs*
Thank you. Thank you. This is very much what I need to hear. I am crying right now, because I am in that place. (points to icon)
I was not broken enough, not ill enough, not bound enough for God to demonstrate his greatness to or through me.
Oh yes. This.
I am so glad that my experience could speak to where you are. My heart is with you.
|Date:||June 29th, 2011 02:18 am (UTC)|| |
Dark nights. I never think they will even end, but so far they always have.
May the days ahead be filled with blessings and joy.
I just wanted to say thank you for posting these. I know I almost never comment on them, but I do read them. It goes against my nature to comment when I know I have no idea what's I'm talking about (true, ignorance has never--ever--stopped me from saying things, but the much rarer awareness of my ignorance often does). But I've really appreciated being able to read them, as they have opened my eyes to a lot of perspectives that I think I wouldn't have otherwise known existed. Our spiritual lives are so different and yet sometimes oddly similar. What you said about not feeling like you're broken enough to deserve deliverance really struck a chord. I think a lot of us that grew up in Christ have a similar sense of how undramatic or abstract our relationship with God can be.
(If this comment is a little incoherent, I apologize. I read your post before drinking a glass of wine, but I wrote the comment after, and I must not have eaten enough for dinner or something because I'm having an unusually hard time making words into sentences. Also, thank you for chatting this afternoon, I always enjoy talking to you so much.)
Aw, thank you for commenting. I'm glad to know that you read these posts (when you have time, hah), and that they have been at least interesting and possibly useful to you.
What you said about not feeling like you're broken enough to deserve deliverance really struck a chord. I think a lot of us that grew up in Christ have a similar sense of how undramatic or abstract our relationship with God can be.
Yeah. What bugs me is that we don't talk about it. I'm not sure why--I think I have just too often felt that Christ has no answers for those of us who are less broken, that he only came to save those who have been obviously "lost," so what would the point of longing for more be?
But that's something I'm still thinking about and working through. And maybe, if I say it enough, it will allow others to say it, too, and think about it together.
Wine! No, don't worry, the comment was coherent, even if it didn't feel so when you wrote it. :) Thank you, my friend, I love you. *hugs*
I think I have just too often felt that Christ has no answers for those of us who are less broken, that he only came to save those who have been obviously "lost," so what would the point of longing for more be?
Oh, yikes. I've got the whole 'raised Christian' thing going on, and I've heard this before and felt it and struggled with it. So I feel a burning urge to tackle this one.
It goes like this: being transformed into Christlikeness is more than just getting rid of sin and its effects.
That is, yeah, we have sin in our lives, some of us more than others. But sanctification isn't just pruning the bad: it's growing and blossoming into something completely new. On one hand, sure, the gap between us and perfection is infinitely large, but on the other hand, if God is the God I think he is, then perfection isn't static. I think it is infinitely variable across all dimensions. So perfection wouldn't just look different on two people, it would look different on one person at two points in time.
From another angle: We can't just look at where we've been or how far down we could go. It's not enough. We need to look forward. Then we can see all the marvelous places we can get to, all the things we might be, the goals we can shoot for: the path doesn't end, it just gets better. It's pretty amazing to be pulled up out of the miry clay. It's even more amazing to take flight among the stars. Casting off the "old man" isn't enough, it's the never-ending adventure of putting on the new.
Does that help?
I agree with all of this, and have thought it through numerous times. But it's hard to hold onto when what one hears at church and what one feels are acceptable ways to talk about salvation and spiritual growth simply don't go here.
It's lonely--as I would assume from this comment you know very well. Or maybe you just were lucky enough to be around people who were actually able/willing to see this and talk about it, rather than either 1) not realize it's important or 2) think it's wrong and avoid it altogether.
I hadn't thought about it, but you know, this really isn't something that's talked about, is it? We need to change that.
Back in college, one of my professors told us that there are three parts of salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. The first is the moment we believe, the second is our spiritual walk on Earth, the third happens at death. He explained that the first saves us from the penalty of sin, the second saves us from the power of sin, and the third from the presence of sin. Which did two things for me: it cleared up large parts of the New Testament (esp. Paul vs. James), and it got me thinking about salvation as a process.
We totally need to start talking about the positive side of Christianity. And that we gain things here and now, not just at death.
Would it be true to say that "permission to not trust God" may in fact be "trust that God can handle (and won't punish us for but in fact help us with) our mistrust"?
Maybe, but to me saying it that way is just another way of saying "you're sinning if you can't trust God," and after these past three years I do not for one second believe that to be true.
Er, I didn't think it meant that at all. ::is making an idiot of oneself::
My train of thought was that God is a God of reason and order, he gave us brains, therefore he would speak to our reason as readily as he speaks to our emotion and creativity. Therefore if we have no proof of love, it wouldn't be sinful to doubt. Therefore he doesn't answer doubt with "Repent, sinner!" He answers doubt with proof.
I am being pedantic. I get that way when I'm fed up with things I've heard other people (not you in this instance) say. :-D
And you clearly understand what I am saying, because that's a very nice distillation, right there. I think what I reacted to in your first comment in this thread was a sense of us needing to be "fixed," when in this case it's more that we need to receive, to be given to, to have our doubts answered with proof. Not fixed or mended, but answered, yes.
I was reading some of my old entries/comments and somehow found my way back here.
Thanks for this. I can't stop crying. I can't trust Him anymore either. But I'm happy He rescued you. It gives me a tiny bit of tangible hope that maybe He'll do the same for me. Maybe this endless unemployment and darkness might finally come to an end for me too. Someday.
If there's anything I've learned over the past decade, it's that I cannot predict Him--or life. But He does love you. And I shall pray that He shows you in whatever way will be the most revealing to you. I didn't know what that would be for me until He showed me.
And you are welcome. I'm always glad when something I've gone through speaks to someone else. It makes it feel more worthwhile.
I appreciate it, thank you.