Special thanks to Douglas Adams for the inspiration behind this numerical demarcation – and a wink and a nod to all Hitchhikers and Lost fans for the chapter number discussed herein.
PART ONE: HOW AND WHY TELEVANGELISTS HAVE IT WRONG.
I recently had a friend write me to say she’d read the previous posting and the secondary link at the bottom of it – and that she’d love to be able to sit down over coffee and just talk about life and what I’m feeling and what I’m going through. In my email response to her, I made some kind of half-hearted jab at myself, stating that there are times when I almost feel spiritually (and subsequently, emotionally) bi-polar. Like how, or example, I can in one breath both bemoan my lot in life and find despair in some of the struggles I’ve gone through, and yet then turn around, hear Kai laugh or see him smile as he walks across the floor, or simply hold him as he falls asleep in my arms, and feel so incredibly blessed, fortunate, content and secure in “just” being a stay at home parent. How, on the one hand, I love and honor the journey my life is taking me on and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and how on the other hand, I just wish that I had one fraking clue as to where I going, and that I’d sleep better at night if I just had one clear road sign on this journey.
It’s true: I waffle between what I feel and what I think. And the weight of this starts to take a toll on Ashley as well, because she wants to help me, but doesn’t know how. It’s a struggle. I feel like I’m unintentionally frustrating her and myself by constantly swinging from one extreme to the next.
And of course, as we all know, showing these cracks in the veneer of perfection is not what the faithful are supposed to do. Noooo…we’re the original shiny, happy people. We’re supposed to just have enough faith to see things through, and if we doubt, have fears, or have questions – well, then. We clearly just aren’t trusting God enough, and we need to just pray more to have deeper, stronger faith. That way, all our doubts will be cast away, all our fears will be turned to joy, and all the blessings from God we can imagine will come our way, if only we have enough faith when we ask.
And I’ve got some lovely oceanfront property in Idaho I’d like to sell you.
I was fortunate enough that during the formative years of my youth, I stumbled across a little band called the choir. Now, other than their music totally rocking my world (and inspiring the original name of this blog), at a time when I needed it most (translation: angsty teenage years) one of their songs – “Sad Face” – hit me square in the heart like nothing had ever before. Based off an incredibly painful time in the songwriter’s life and utilizing a passage from Ecclesiastes, this song connected me to something deeper than I’d ever known before:
In my sadness, I was not alone. In my emotional teeter-tottering, I was not alone. And what moody, emo-before-emo-was-cool teenager DOESN’T need to know they’re not alone? Conversely, what person regardless of age doesn’t need to know they’re not alone in their struggle?
We’re socially conditioned to almost always answer, “Good; how are you doing?” like some Pavlovian creature whenever asked about how we are, in fact, doing. But the reality is, we’re not always doing good. We’re not always okay. And Christians have it doubly worse in some ways: we pressure ourselves to think we have to say or act like we’re doing great, great, GREAT! in front of others, or else it may look like our faith isn’t as strong as we say it is. We also get the one-two gut punch of guilt (“Am I just not trusting in God enough?”) and anxiety (“If I just pray, it will all get better.”).
What you feel is perfectly normal. Not just any doubts, struggles or issues you may have about God or spiritual matters, but the mundane, day-to-day, dirt-under-your-fingernails issues as well…like, for example, what one is supposed to do with one’s life. We all get depressed and lonely at times, feeling disconnected from the world or from God. Even in this passage in Psalms 42, the writer constantly uses the refrain “Why are you so downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” Not everyone has the attitude of “God will always work it out and be totally in control of everything” as espoused by certain manic preachers on the telly or the rock-star wannabe pastor down the street.
Why are you in pain, oh my soul? Why is my life, both literally and figuratively, so wracked with pain and questions to the point where it takes my breath away? Why do I feel a question, a despair, a doubt that permeates my being? Far beyond a simple “I feel bad” notation – far beyond a simple “I’m sad.” 42:3 reads “my tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me ‘Where is your God?’” Or in this case – where is your faith?
It’s interesting to note that in this verse, the word “say” is the same one used in the creation story when God spoke (or said) the world into being. That’s how powerful the author is – well, saying that it is when people ask “where is your God:” these tears speak, making the pain a reality all its own. Every drop tells a story; every tear is a different word, echoing words spoken to us or by us throughout the course of this pain that cuts across our very soul: fat. Ugly. No good. Never amount to anything.
These verses, these lessons in the Bible were not written down or passed down generation upon generation simply to hold up and extol these giants of faith, nor are they to be used as unattainable ideals for modern audiences. Personally, I don’t want God to tell me to go build an ark or something to the equivalent. I don’t want to hear the Spirit say to me to go raise the dead. I mean, I'd do both if prompted by God (and no one else, thank you) - but I know me. I know that my "giant-ness" in faith is more mustard-seed in execution. And I'm totally comfortable with the quiet, with the small.
Just as it’s written that no sin has come against you and tempted you except that which is common, so has no pain overtaken you except that which is common.
You are not alone.