When kids start to question and doubt Santa Clause, we don’t continuously tell them to “Just believe in Santa.” Most of the time, we understand that they’re ready to have a real conversation about who Santa Clause is and why we’ve been making shit up about him this whole time. We know that it actually might hurt a child to keep telling him that Santa is real when his ability to reason tells them otherwise.
I think the things we tell each other about God can have a similar effect. After the church service I talked about in my last post, I was sent into what some would call a downward spiral. My friend Annie could definitely attest to this – she was visiting me in Tulsa one evening, and we went out to dinner at a pretty nice restaurant. I ordered a pasta dish that I wasn’t able to finish, so our waiter asked if I would like a to-go box. I knew I wouldn’t eat the leftovers but felt so guilty at the food I was wasting. I started bawling in front of the waiter and asked him if anyone in the back wanted the rest of my pasta. I’m pretty sure the staff (and Annie) thought I was clinically insane.
I just had this tremendous amount of guilt and shame at how privileged I was. I continued to go to church, mostly because it was the only way I felt like I could have a social life in a new town. And I tried, not for the first time in my life, to really seek God for the answers I had needed for a long time – answers not just about my own life, but about the world in general. Sometimes I felt like God heard me and responded. Other times, I felt like it was all in my head. This cycle continued for months.
In January of 2013, five months after the church service (see Part II in previous post), I was watching a news program, which was reporting on some tragic event or circumstance in which innocent people were suffering. I remember making a Facebook post voicing my deep-seeded distress that God allows such horrible things to happen. The post got a lot of attention. What I really wanted was for people to say, “I know how you feel.” What I mostly got was, “We just have to trust in God.”
I was really disappointed that my friends and spiritual mentors weren’t more receptive and reflective of what I was feeling. Surely they had felt like this too at some point.
It began to dawn on me that they were just as much at a loss for answers as I was. In fact, I realized that there probably wasn’t a single person on earth who had an answer to my questions. Telling me to trust in God was maybe a way of covering up the fact that they didn’t know what to tell me. Kind of like my professor who told us to trust the process. In those moments, I strongly believe that she didn’t know what the hell she was doing any more than I did.
Did you ever notice that religious people are not okay with not knowing? That’s why there are so many different subcultures of Christianity and so many different doctrines of belief. Because it’s not enough to just say, “I’m not clear on that.” Everything’s up for interpretation, and every one thinks their own interpretation is right. But in all my months (years) of questions and non-answers, I have realized that it is okay to not have the answers. It is okay to ask questions and to have doubts and to get angry and to roll your eyes when people tell you things just to pacify you. It’s okay to not know.
I think God is too big to know, anyway. If God were easily known and understood, I think the world would be far more peaceful. I think that we are separated from God in such a way that it isn’t possible to fully comprehend Him – not that we never see evidence of His existence. I believe 100% that there is something bigger than me out there. I also believe 100% in love – real, true, unfailing love. But I can’t wrap my head around these things. I don’t think I’m supposed to be able to.
It’s been almost 4 years since the church service and the crying over the left-overs and the constant questioning. I don’t go to church anymore, and I don’t really read the Bible. I guess you could say I’ve stopped getting to know God, and I truly think that I’m a happier person for that. I still wonder why there is so much hurt in the world; I just don’t associate it with God now. I’m always interested in hearing what other people believe and have to say, but I’ve realized that I can believe whatever I want. What I think I know about God has very little significance for those around me – what matters is that I treat others with respect and compassion. I can do that with or without a Bible in my hand.
Thank you for reading,