What The Waves May Bring You
Life took yet another sucker punch at me yesterday when someone I love deeply was critically injured in a motorcycle accident. The layers of scarring that a heart can accumulate reminds me of the backs of whipped slaves. After the delivery of so much bad news, I have trouble now differentiating between which scars belong to which death, which hospitalization, which divorce, and the chapter in my life in which it occurred. All of my pains seem to stack themselves one on top of the other like a big tangled pile of ugly, stinking laundry, weaving in and out of thrashed and bloodied knots.
I survived these emotional beat-downs each time because of my faith, and like I always do, I turned to prayer to get me through figuring out how to sort through my feelings.
My friends provide their own kind of comfort, always sending a “praying for you” and a “lifting you up” my way. I appreciate it, and in my rural southern community, like most communities I assume, it’s as natural a gesture of consolation as bringing someone food. I respond with a robotic “thank you” so I won’t seem ungrateful, but it doesn’t feel authentic, and as for me, I don’t tell people “I will pray for you,” because I probably won’t.
That’s because I say the same prayer every night, so it’s a pretty rehearsed script. My bedtime ritual isn’t a grocery list of requests like a new job, a raise, a warm day for baseball, or for the Patriots to win the Superbowl. Instead, I like to think of my conversations with God as being on par with, say, a corporate negotiation. I promise to keep believing, but He’s got to give me some slack on the guilt I sometimes feel by never measuring up.
When I say I swear to God, I mean I really do.
First of all, I cuss and say things I shouldn’t say out loud. It’s so unladylike and not at all Christ-like. The things that come out of my mouth are not always laced with beauty and inspiration. It started during the years when my marriage was falling apart and I trembled with constant fury, trying to find a place to lay down all that unchanneled anger I always carried around. The person I became doesn’t mean to hurt anyone, but saying exactly what I think did turn into a nasty habit. Paired with a harsh dose of my own reality, I know I am also guilty of dishing out reality to other people instead of petting them and telling them what they want to hear. It has cost me.
I don’t go to church. Churches are for families. Plus, a part of me believes church has failed me in a sense. Back when I was a regular attendee, it didn’t save my family, and now I don’t want to go alone. Church actually makes me uncomfortable and irritable. Divorces, suicides, adultery, lying, doubting, broken hearts, illness, death, rejection, and hopelessness have become such a part of my own experience and now I feel so much judgment when I’m there. It feels like I’m not immune from anything the pastor might preach about on any given Sunday, and I don’t want to be pressured to ask for forgiveness or declare myself in submission to a bunch of strangers who don’t know me.
I don’t witness. Strangers don’t know or understand my story, and there’s no way to express to everyone how sorry I am for everything I’ve ever done wrong. I’m not always comfortable trying to use my failures to help others. It’s awkward. I know I should counsel people who are struggling, and I should encourage repentance, but I think people need to keep their spirituality between themselves and God, privately. I see no reason to wallow around in what to do with my ugly past, and church just keeps me in a constant state of remembering and feeling sad about it. So I feel like God concedes to me when I say, “You know, Big Guy, I’m not taking on any more guilt, not today.”
The Godly couples around me do more to inspire me about Godly marriages than church does. A man who leads his family, who lives his life as an example instead of by making appearances, who treats his wife well, and who disciplines his children gives me more hope for finding a good husband of my own than sitting through a sermon about those same things. Even a harmless lesson on finding healthy Christian friendships leaves me recoiling in doubt, thinking that if any of my friends are soaking up the preacher’s passive-aggressive teachings, they won’t want to be my friend anymore. And most of the churches I’ve been to in my community promote intolerance of all sorts, and I do not agree with certain doctrines passed off as God’s will, the ones that rebuke flawed people like me and shame them for things that happened in their life that they had no control over. So in that way, it feels dishonest of me to listen to them in quiet submission.
Instead, I read my Bible and look for verses that help (Romans 8:18 is on standby all the time). I was raised in church, reading scripture, and yes, I’ve read the whole thing (it was really long and has a lot of sex in it <eyeroll>). As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, He must more approve the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”
So back to my prayers. I pray for my son to grow old, which is something I actually have to worry about. I sometimes talk to my husband, who has passed away, because he is the only other person who would rejoice in seeing Ben grow with the same pride I do. I pray for my parents to live long, healthy lives, because losing either of them is inconceivable to me. I pray for my sister to find love and a stable life with a good man. For me, I only ask for the patience to see my life through, to find happiness in easy things, and to be a strong woman, so I can be a good mother to a child who’s had it too hard already. When I am having these conversations with God each night, you can see why they absolutely wear me out. By the time I am finished, there’s simply nothing left for strangers who have silent prayer requests, or world famine, or the president.
My faith has been rocked more times than is really fair for one person, if I’m honest. Still, I am faithful and assured that He has a plan for me. I have never wavered from that truth, and it does give me comfort. Sometimes it’s all that keeps me from staying in bed all day. I do not understand anything terrible that has happened to me or to anybody, or why any of us deserve any of it, but I trust that there is something glorious and magnificent waiting for me at the end of this <cruel joke> of a life I think I have sometimes.
My faith in God was built on rock and not sand. I believe that every day brings a new opportunity and new people and hopeful experiences to me like the tide carries in fresh, cool water and seashells each morning. You never know what the waves may bring you. Trust in it with all your might.