All You Need to Know

My old nemesis doubt has snarled at me yet again in recent days. I’m not surprised; we’re naturally floundering a bit as we make our way in this new place, feeling the geographic disconnection from the deep friendships that have sustained us over the past years. There’s more reasons, I know (tiredness, the necessary process of wrestling with new questions and contexts, etc. etc.). The bottom line, though, is that I have just felt that numbing, vague hollowing of my soul.

My first response in seasons of doubt is to rev the intellectual engines. Find an answer. Scratch around for more proofs. Connect with a philosophical voice that calms my anxious heart. There’s a place for bending the mind, absolutely. Ignorance is not our friend. However, I’ve peddled around those circles enough to know that they just keep going round and round and round. For me, hope is not found in a rational repose but in an inflamed heart. Eleven years ago, when I foolishly freaked out about whether or not I should marry Miska, my doubt and fear was not, at its core, a matter of proofs and logic. It was a matter of desire. What did I want? What did my heart beat for? It’s the same here. As a friend recently told me, “All you need to know is what you love.”

My doubts (in this season at least) aren’t signals that I need to better wrestle with my questions. Rather, my doubts make their way from a heart that has not surrendered to love. I find hope in Mother Theresa’s words (who said if she would ever be declared a saint, it would have to be as a “saint of darkness”): “My key to heaven is that I loved Jesus in the night.”

In the night, I loved. Not just in the day. Not just amid the answer. But I loved Jesus, in the night. That is my hope, my prayer.

Undone

Yesterday, I was undone. It was Sunday. Resurrection Day. But Resurrection was a long way away. My heart was dark and shifty and felt like it was drowning, being held under swirling, grimy water by an unrelenting, evil hand.

But we sat among friends. I heard the Gospel reading from the lectionary for the day. Miska led us in a contemplative prayer, helping us to “image” our prayer rather than “word” our prayer. We sang this refrain: “Oh, how he loves us.” Tears came as I realized I don’t really believe that line. I believe it factually. I believe it theologically. I would pick that answer on a test. But I don’t believe it, not in my gut, not in the places that matter most. But the words kept coming, from the screen, from the voices all around me. And I cried.

And then we passed the peace. In our church, we hug or shake hands (usually hug) and say something like “Peace to you” or “Peace of Jesus to you.” One and then two and three and four and five people came to me – Miska first. Only Miska knew where my heart was, but each physically offered Jesus to me…in a touch…with their voice. And the tears came again.

Next, I was supposed to teach. From John 11. The story of Lazarus’ death and Mary and Martha’s deep agony and disillusionment because Jesus refused to come when they had pleaded with him to do so. This is a strange story of bewilderment and disappointment and a God who doesn’t do what we expect. A God who lets Lazarus die. Who allows Mary to weep. A God who grows angry and then weeps himself. And a God who, when all is said and done, truly was (as he said) “the resurrection and the life.”

I was a mess. My story is no story of spiritual victory. Just spiritual brokenness. The Gospel (through friends and text and music and touch and sacrament) broke through, spoke to me, breathed hope into me. But I was still undone, still wounded, still wondering. My choice was whether or not I would give from that place. Whether I would weep and tell the truth. Or whether I would lie.

Thankfully, God didn’t really give me a choice. I stood, and the tears came. It was pretty humbling, but if church truly is community…If God truly is center stage…Then what we bring to the moment should really just be ourselves, hoping for the Gospel, desperate for Jesus. God wasn’t going to let me wiggle free yesterday. When you’re standing in front of your church blubbering, it’s pretty hard to hide or pretend or tell a cutesy story and move on. Left to myself, I might have chosen a safer, more dishonest path. But God wasn’t going to have it.

Resurrection only comes in ways God chooses. For Lazarus. For us.

I don’t entirely like these words that follow. But I’m beginning to believe them. I’m beginning to hope God will give me the courage to let loose of myself (my reputation, my leadership, my image) and embrace them:

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. Henri Nouwen

Jesus’ peace to you,
Winn