I was going to write this two weeks ago, but then the second half of the story wouldn’t have happened yet.
So, I got Lent off to a bad start by not going to Ash Wednesday service, but I made two resolutions anyway: to tithe my spending every week, and to go to church every Sunday I was in Boston. The first one is going fine, but that’s not what this story is about.
I went to church on Sunday, March 1, the first Sunday of Lent and Communion Sunday at my church. Humorously, I was assigned to be the reader at the 6pm service; I actually thanked the Lord for that, because it helped to make sure that I would start off keeping my resolution. As I read practiced my passage that Sunday afternoon, I had to laugh: the passage in 1 Peter chapters one and four was all about understanding suffering as a normal part of the Christian life; how it refines your faith, connects you to the sufferings of Christ, moves you toward salvation. The Lord’s sense of humor amused me … and the amusement continued as praise song after praise song talked about reliance on him, being stripped of everything else to depend on him. The prayer of confession from Psalm 51 asked that the Lord “renew a steadfast spirit within me … Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
If you’ve ever had one of those days where events around you seem to all be sending a very direct, very personalized message, it was that kind of experience. The obvious conclusion was that all the trials of the last couple years were about training me to totally depend on God, and giving me understanding of a teeny, tiny portion of the anguish Christ experienced. A conversation with my mother later that evening seemed to confirm this, and even to provide additional comfort in realizing that what God had seemed to break, he eventually restored, perhaps even better than it had been before.
I was driving back from the Poconos last Sunday, so fast forward two weeks to today.
I just tried writing a whole paragraph about what I felt today, but I can’t get the words right. It comes out too flippant, and overdramatized at the same time. “Disconnected” sounds too technical, too calm; I wasn’t disconnected in service today. I was lost, in a church full of people singing to and speaking about a God I feared I had no relation to anymore.
I keep trying to write about this afternoon, but I still can’t find the words to describe it, and ultimately I’m not sure the details of my afternoon are relevant. The point is this: it’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s not even that I think he doesn’t take care of me; my family and I are all well, I have a good job, a good home, an income to take care of both needs and luxuries. But I don’t know if he cares what happens to me on the inside, if I am hurt or confused or so broken down in spirit that I can barely walk from one room to another. It’s like it doesn’t matter, so long as I get up and go to work and do my duties like I’m supposed to.
He doesn’t speak to me or comfort me in my distress, not even if I beg and plead in tears for some sign that will help me know he’s not just waiting to see how long I’ll go before I fail and lose my faith completely. I hear and read his words but there seems to be no love in them, just a set of vague orders that often leaves me wondering what I’m supposed to do to get it right. Every time I try to pray, I don’t really know who I’m talking to anymore.
It was easier not going to church, because then I didn’t have to come face to face with the reality that my faith feels all hollowed out, with only a narrow shell of habit and regulations still holding it in place. I liked not dealing with it, because then I didn’t feel so abysmal. I guess I’m going to try and work through this with someone who can give me good counsel, and hope for an outcome I can live with.