I went to church today.
John and Toby did not, as Toby has Chickenpox (great timing) and thus is under quarrentine. This meant I sat alone. I was joined by one of the pastors for a little while as she comforted and prayed with me. I spent the service intermittently crying and being still.
A few people who knew what has happened this week congratulated me on being there. Though I felt “where else would I be?”
Don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t out of some deep sense of running towards God in difficult times. It’s probably more habit than anything else, (and free childcare most weeks). But this week I wanted to go, and for more than just a break from the pox house. I wanted space. Not quite space to reflect – that’s too painful. Not quite space to hope – that’s too painful too. Not space to chat things through – I don’t have the emotional energy for that today. Not space to rant and rave at God – I don’t blame him for what we’re going through trying to conceive. Not any more.
Just space to be.
Space to stand and just be. Be in all my emotion. Be in all my pain and heartache. Not even to “bring it before God” – that’s too active a description of what I did today. I just stood there, with it hanging off me – broken bits, chipped bits, bits beyond repair.
I didn’t feel hard-hearted or angry today. I used to struggle with these feelings towards God, back when things were more black and white. Back when I believed one prayed and God answered prayer. Back when I thought I had “real” faith and that if I prayed enough, it would change situations for good. Back then this grating, nail-against-chalkboard noise that is unanswered prayer and delayed or denied hopes was much harder to bear. I looked for reasons, logic in the absurd, trying to make sense of that which went against my theology. And when I could find none, I grew disappointed and angry with God.
My reasoning for unanswered prayers changed as my faith evolved. In the early days, clearly I hadn’t prayed enough or had faith enough. As my faith grew a bit older, perhaps this was God’s will, and he was using the situation to teach me/my friend-in-need something bigger. Or it was my fault because I was asking for the wrong things. As my faith grew tired, perhaps God just didn’t care and was there to disappoint at His will, as He saw fit, and I would heap resentment on him for it. Just answer the fucking prayer already!
But now I’m not angry with God for hardships and unanswered prayer. My idea of who He is has changed. The person I think of when I think of God now is not the sort of being who deliberately allows difficulties in order to teach us stuff. He doesn’t need enough of the right kind of prayers to be persuaded to do good, and I think He probably does care, because if He doesn’t then what the heck is He doing with his time?
So I’m not angry with Him for not listening, or being inactive, or deliberately cruel. Perhaps He doesn’t involve himself like a puppet master in the minutae of our daily lives, and I have no idea what the grand script is or even if there is one. But now I think it’s irrelevant really. Life happens, in all its glory and all its pain, no matter how hard or what you pray. Perhaps utterly randomly for all I know.
However, I do believe that God is in this with me. And in a much more intimate way than just picking up the phone to hear and answer a prayer prayed with enough faith in earnest. Rather, I believe He’s here in the kind words of my friend going through hell who, despite her own pain, told me she’d hold my hope with hers until I could find it again. And in the words of my consultant who somehow saw a glimpse of my heart and saw fit to reassure me it was nothing I’d done wrong to cause this miscarriage. He’s in the joy I feel when I hear John and Toby laughing together, and in the deep, gut-wrenching sobs that shake my whole body when the pain gets too much.
I recently read an article that detailed problems with what the author deems a sort of unthinking Christianity. It said we’ve become guilty of removing the deeper knowledge-seeking part of faith in favour of surface-level emotional fluffiness that only goes skin-deep. This is a separate blog post I think, but the idea of this emotionally reactive, surface-level faith is interesting to me. The problem with this kind of faith is it starts to twist and fold in on itself when the heavy burdens of grief or loss or disappointment weigh it down. And as I used to do, one is forced to contort this faith to try to explain away these hard realities. Some people can’t manage the contortions, so leave. Others cope by going into denial. “Lalala, just pray and it’ll change. Lalala”. I’ve done both at different times.
But for me for now, these ragged, splintering, jagged wooden stakes of pain and grief and disappointment have pierced what once was a beautiful, neat and orderly garden of faith. But rather than these sharp truths destroying – which is a very real option – I feel like they can perhaps be used to tether. To drive my faith deeper, beyond the surface emotions. Perhaps there’s something I can tie to them that will weather the storms, rooted in a place beyond transient emotions and evolving theology.