The first time I felt the distance between God and I was, fittingly enough, in the middle of a transition. It was Christmas, and I was a freshman, and no one knew how distant God seemed. It was my secret, and I was ashamed of it. I woke up one morning, and Haiti was in pieces. And I went to church, and I found out that the baby our college group had fought so hard to provide heart surgery for (by the way, check out preemptive love coalition. They are unreal amounts of cool) had died. Despite everything. I remember the numbness. And I remember that instead of worship we sat in the room and prayed. All of us, out loud, dealing with God.
That was the day I became a pacifist. That was the day I embraced a God who sees. That was the month I first read Shane Claiborne. It was a shock to find God outside of the Baptist mindset I was used to, but I wouldn’t trade that perspective for the world. There’s a letter that Jeremy Courtney wrote to us. When I read it, I can still feel faith welling up in me as hot tears. I can still hear the voices praying, Greg singing that Christ holds everything together.
And here I’ve sat. The second season of spiritual apathy was denser, more paralyzing. You’ve seen it, I’ve been a mess. And yes, there are days that you hold on because in the disconnect of any emotion or evidence that God is working there is still this stubbornness that you’d rather be wrong if it means you have this hope that things get better.
And Syria. And it feels for all the world like sitting at my desk watching Haiti fall apart. It’s the grief. It’s the pain. And it’s sitting in a church hearing the congregation beg for peace. Beg for God to be merciful. And I’m in a different church hearing them sing “Center” again, and crying desperate tears for the kids I’ve loved in Waco. Knowing they haven’t died, but feeling the sting of their absence as acutely as anything has ever hurt.
The work that God can do is new. But also I wrote an essay on the prompt “what’s old is new again”. It feels different. It feels the same. It feels like I can finally see outside of my own little shell of apathy and self pity. And maybe that was a lot of it. Maybe I was afraid that if I let myself be mad or sad or broken that it would chase God away for good. I need to tell you that I was wrong.
But most of all, I want to tell you that I got mad today. Mad like I haven’t been in so long. To tell you how I swore and slammed doors. The impetus is something we can chat about over coffee (or whiskey…whatever) sometime. But as I came clean to people about my little tantrum, I was surprised. I was surprised to realize that it’s okay to be mad. That it’s okay to hate the ugly, the painful. Yes, I said words I might not say again…but honestly? I’m glad I was finally honest.
And I read this book. It was seventeen kinds of good, but the part that really stuck was the idea that we aren’t tied in to this idea of God that we grew up with. He is so much more than we can comprehend (and when we think we know Him we suddenly discover that He is More). And here is what I am discovering: God doesn’t want me to be settled. He doesn’t want me to be comfortable with who I think He is.
Sometimes it means we have to be totally dissatisfied with our faith. We have to be longing for something beyond. But God is bigger. Guys…God is bigger. And I don’t know what He’s doing in me, but that’s okay also.
Listen. It’s okay that it’s painful. It’s okay to scream at the ceiling. It’s okay to be angry, or sad, or torn apart. But feel it. Lean into it. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t feel ashamed or broken. And if someone tries to tell you that you don’t fit into their Christian box, you have my full permission to swear and slam some doors. I really don’t think God minds so much. And I have to keep learning that God doesn’t like to be put in my boxes. And I have to keep learning to recognize Him in places I’m not used to seeing Him.
Boxes are for squares, anyway.