Choosing one particular post out of the 133 entries in the Out of Sorts synchroblog to feature as a guest post was nearly impossible. So many of the entries were worthy! (You can read a few of my favourites right here.)
But right from the minute I read Rachel’s post here, I knew this was the one I wanted to feature. Her words are emblematic of so many of the posts in the synchroblog, sure, but it’s also beautifully written, wise, wry, deep, beautiful, and honest about the mess and uncertainty that often accompanies our shifts. Rachel’s words will ring true for so many, I know. I’m thrilled to introduce you to her work – make sure you head over to her blog and check her out.
Here’s her post:
Addendum, 9:13pm: Am quitting everything and going into hibernation. Have become dark and cynical despite best efforts and will hand out sandwiches to the homeless or something but only if I don’t have to talk or interact with people. What no one tells you about adulthood is that you rarely know for sure what the best course of action is. It’s all a blessed crapshoot and I need a yellow brick road of obvious.
I wrote this to a friend during Holy Week a few years ago. We’d been following an online Bible study together and were journalling our thoughts in a shared Google doc.
She was an academic-turned stay-at-home-mom writing a dissertation, and I was a full-time teacher-mom driving 45 minutes to and from work with 2 young kids, one who puked regularly out of carsickness.
We saw the online bible study and thought, yeah. Let’s dive in. I had also had an additional motive, to try to gain some peace, some clarity during Lent and emerge at Easter with some sort of renewed vision of faith.
I was disillusioned. Having spent my 20’s in full-time church work, I was feeling less-than-clear. A few years prior I’d had a harrowing experience at another church, wherein I nearly lost my job for reporting a suspected abuse situation to the authorities, rather than hand it off to my boss.
Despite the legal mandate, I was threatened with firing, accused of insubordination and gossip, unprotected when the family in question guessed my name. I was still reeling, though in a new setting.
When the bubble pops, its popped. There’s no un-popping it. And suddenly it seemed the deeper I dove into scripture and prayer for guidance and support, the more questions I had. I’d always been so eager to please, so quick with the answer.
And suddenly, I was uncomfortable, unfamiliar in my surroundings.
What started as a feeling of betrayal by certain authorities within the church, spiralled into deeper and more enduring questions about faith itself. My prayers were not bringing clarity.
I’d read Job and mourn for the children that were killed in the tornado, angry that they were written out and then replaced like possessions. I’d read Joshua and mourn for Jericho, for all the women besides Rahab who were born on the wrong side of the wall and had no red rope to save them. I’d read Romans and mourn the women, the wives submitting as slaves in a culture that ignored them, dismissed their talk as gossip, distrusted their authority. And I prayed for peace.
Plowing ahead as if nothing had happened wasn’t working. I was supposed to be leading. Teaching. Submitting to authority. I led my students in silent Bible reading and reflection to start each day, with little more guidance than passage suggestions. I would sit at my desk and pray for clarity, try to shed my tears silently while I ensured no one was texting or doing their late math homework instead. And I prayed for peace.
So I laid a fleece during that lenten season. I’d grown up learning that testing God isn’t okay, but sometimes it is okay to lay out a fleece, to ask for guidance and certainty, like Gideon when called to battle. I was testing myself.
I prayed that in the 6 weeks of Lent, my friend and I would journal, we’d pray, we’d discuss the devotions and I’d find answers.
I imagined I’d know whether I was foolish and sinful to explore other faith traditions, critically judge my own, consider leaving, let my doubts rule the day, or at least listen to them…and I prayed for peace.
But it didn’t work. The email about my cynicism came right before an Easter service in which I left twice to handle crying and/or child vomit. In which I had more quesitons than answers.
In which the Syrian civil war consumed my thoughts. What if my children had been born there? What if I’d had Muslim parents? What if my authorities kept me from school, raped me, put a veil over my face, sold me as a bride at 12 and kept me in the house?
And I wept for lack of clarity. Because my white, American, 21st century heart was confused. I had nothing like peace.
having been born a Christian-
Because history and technology
and lots of blood and colonialism and imperialism,
(and blatant disregard for the environment)
have built for me an empire within which I am fortunate enough to live relatively conflict-free
(and through a series of many wars and mandates and conversions by sword live where the culture is “Christian”)
and thus ride this wave all the way to the pearly gates?
So within this bubble, in this tiny speck that is earth in the ocean of an infinite universe, I have been born into privilege and handed an “ancient” text about faith and so my eternity will not be hellfire?
Some days, I was stuck there. Thomas, demanding proof. I’m not trying to be cynical. But we’re talking about infinity, eternity, and vastness beyond my understanding. And I had religion lessons to teach. Children to raise. Coffee to pour and words to write.
And if He is He, God must be bigger than all of that. As such, I struggle with the preciseness of our faith.
So here I am. Doubt-filled, baptized, wide-open and seeking.
And here was Rahab. Bold, shrewd, outside yet not unwelcome.
And here was Job. Broken, angry, in conversation with the overwhelming forces that harm.
And here was Peter. Feeling betrayed, scared, distrustful of authority, outside the temple walls, loudly in denial.
What I miss when I pull my lens back and zoom out and stay there and refuse to come back because its all too much, is that these stories show the veil pulled back. The heart of God working inside those inside the tragedy. Presence inside the outsider, saving the sinful privileged. Endless chances for the frightened zealot with poor impulse control, warming his own hands.
And what I miss when I am stuck, zoomed-in only on the seeming minutia of toddler vomit, sleepless nights, bad traffic, long work hours and penny-pinching, is that despite this lack of peace, there was presence. We have some of these stories in the text we read, and some of these stories in our memories. Some connect us to the ancient saints and shrewd prostitutes and broken patriarchs of the past, and some connect us to our histories, our lessons, that time we were betrayed and that time we orchestrated the betrayal.
I didn’t get peace. I still don’t have clarity. There has been no yellow brick road of obvious. I didn’t find a way to poetically wrap up my faith crisis. The loose ends are frequently tangled . The bubble is still popped. 70 Syrian children have drowned trying to escape the world they were born into. Michigan has some 70-degree November days and all I can think about is global warming. My children still sometimes puke in the car. I still struggle with which church to join.
But what I’ve had is presence.
When a woman who’s husband passed away during the school year thanked me for the devotional time I’d given her son, unfettered and quiet space and time in the Word each day, reading Job, there was His presence.
She thanked me for giving him time to daily and privately work through angry conversations with God, which I told them was better than no conversation at all, to wrestle. While I wept quietly into my coffee behind them, God’s presence was with my students.
While I despaired that my Lenten devotion had not ended in a triumphant Easter of clarity, I’d still been able to dine with the saints.
While carrying a sleeping toddler, while questioning Him in and outside of the church gates, and from inside my privilege of safety, God’s presence insisted that I engage, rather than pull away.
And while I carry doubt with me in-step, while I now work from home, prepare to welcome another son into this world of beauty and conflict, presence draws me into the daily blessings my hands can reach.
So, I messaged my friend. I told her it was all too much and everything is too hard.
And then I had one of those revelations that is in no way new or shocking and is, in fact, the subject of a Michael Jackson song, the AA poem, cheesy motivational office posters, and the like.
Start with yourself, you genius, you.
Express yourself with your hands and feet and debit card.
What can you touch around you right now? What is within your reach?
So basically,I hummed “Man in the Mirror” a bit and then felt better about what is in my reach.
This could have been a story about Peter being a great witness to those also “on the outside”, but it isn’t. And this could have been a good story about Rachel, bold through doubts and outspoken about the wrestle with faith, but it really isn’t yet.
But “Are you a disciple of Jesus? Do you believe in this big God that you rage against?” The question asked Peter, the assertion of Rahab, the wailing of Job.
Yes, I am. I’m here to learn. I’m here to follow this meandering path. I’m here to find out how wrong I am and be gracefully turned around. And I’m here amidst other people. There’s no peace there, either, but there is presence.
And because I’m never ever dramatic, or throw in the towel and then pick it up again, and because I never ever ever let the minutia get to me, I email friends and declare hibernation.
I complain to my husband that the microwave stresses me out. Because it beeps at me. And coupons because they have expiration dates that I cannot seem to manage. Sometimes it all feels big, or small, and all too much. In those times, what I don’t need is peace. What I need is presence.
There is presence in prayer:
I stand in the courtyard and doubt, in the temple and hide. I wave branches and then drop them in shame, and yet I want to be a rock upon which You can build. Peter’s zeal was redirected and I pray the same for my propensity to stand in the middle, doubt and question and speak.
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Methought I heard one calling, Child!
And I replied My Lord.