It's the first day of Lent and I'm still a little fuzzy on what it is that I am giving up. It has something to do with freeing myself from the jealousy you feel when you see other artist's work and despise your own. And it has something to do with getting back in contact with my own inner dialogue that I used to be able to write very freely about here on this blog.
What I know for sure is that for the last two months, I have wrestled deeply with my life and loves. Depression, anger, grief and confusion were my close companions. It took me a long time to realize that I was angry with God. Maybe "angry with God" isn't even the right phrase. Because there are times when anger at God is a really correct response to Him that fits with horrible circumstances. Maybe more accurately, I was petulantly sulking about God.
It's a little hard to explain, but without going into a lot of details, I lost a friendship through church. The simple story is, that if it wasn't for church, I would never have gotten to know her but if it wasn't for church, I would never have lost her friendship. For a long time, I was just in an emotional fog. I knew I was deeply depressed and I remembered hearing that depression can arise from anger that is turned inward. I had a hard time even identifying that I was angry. It's amazing how we humans have the ability to stuff away, gloss over and minimize unpleasant realities. We adore the English manners on Downton Abbey because their avoidance of discussing anything unpleasant creates such a cobweb screen over reality. Why bother being angry? It won't change anything. Just skip to depression where you can wallow for a while, and retreat from the the world. Unfortunately, it was starting to put a strain on my marriage and parenting. Your friends may be able to let you off the hook when you say you want to be left alone. Your 10 year old can't.
The truth? In the last 6 years...
I lost a(nother) friendship.
My pretty house went into foreclosure.
I have to live far away from my roots and family.
The easy, nostalgic faith I knew is gone forever and even worse,
God-as I perceived Him for most of my life-has vanished.
When I started off on this journey of faith, none of that was on the table. It's popular in Bible college to say "Anything for God." You are young and exuberant and so willing. "I'll do anything you want me to do, God! I'll go anywhere! I give you my life!" The problem is, so many of the things I was willing to sacrifice for God...I didn't really HAVE.
My sister often remarks that she can't imagine why I wanted to be pastor's wife. It used to chafe me a little. In my more piously annoying moments, I thought..."I AM CALLED to be a pastor's wife, that's why I want to be one." But the reality is that I went to Bible college believing I would spend my life in full-time ministry. It's hard to crawl back into your 18 year old head, but I suppose I thought it was the best way to show the world just how committed to Jesus I really was. "I'm ready to give my whole life to this!"
But I didn't really have a life yet to give.
I was very willing to give up something intangible and non-existent. But I doubt I would have been willing, had I been told ahead of time, to give up all the things that make me feel secure: an established home, connection to my roots, the approval of others, and a faith that I understand and can easily manipulate to keep me feeling safe. Most of all, I would have been shocked to realize that what I most needed to give up for God....was God.
You know the God I mean: The God who works all things for good! The God who has a perfect plan for your life! A promise and a future! The God who answers prayers! The God who provides! The God who carries you on the sandy beach leaving one set of footprints! Rah Rah, sis boom God!
I wonder if some of the things we think of as a sacrifice are really just peace offerings to keep God from asking for a real sacrifice.
There's a story about David in the Bible. He gets it into his head to number the people of Israel. This is a bad move for various reasons. He repents. God says that he gets to choose his discipline and David chooses pestilence on the people of Israel. David sees the Angel of the Lord wiping people out with this plague. But then God says "enough." And David gets up to make a sacrifice to God at a threshing floor that he doesn't own. The owner learns that David wants to make a sacrifice there and says, "Take whatever you need for the sacrifice" but David insist on buying it and the oxen he sacrifices. He says this: "I will not offer anything that costs me nothing."
This story is utterly confusing in so many ways. The way God acts in this story defies an easy explanation. But what David says about his sacrifice makes sense to me. That sacrifice involves really giving up something that you actually have.
Today, as we begin the journey of Lent, I am keenly aware of things that I have had to give up for this life of faith. Things that cost me something. Things that have caused me to cry and question my calling, and question my understanding of God himself.
I feel like a fool trying to write on this blog again. I'm in an uncomfortable part of my faith journey that is hard to understand. Writing about it may even upset some people. But I think it is going to be part of Lent for me this year. I'm sacrificing the time it takes to write on this blog. I'm denying myself the comfort of closed doors and detachment. I'm giving up letting myself be oblivious to what's going on in my head and heart.