It seems a little melodramatic and overwrought to say “I lost my faith.”
Maybe better to say I misplaced it … for what feels like years. Maybe better to say I have felt mis-placed. That can be hard to grapple with, when so much is right. But there’s been a fundamental and growing emptiness in the place my connection with God used to be.
I’ve been pretty sure God was still there. I’m familiar with being the one generating the static on the line.
But when you are going on four years of chronic underemployment, even with degrees and experience and desire, and your field is God, well, you can start to feel like you must be doing something wrong or else surely God would have willed something to happen by now. (Ordinarily I know better than to believe in this sort of magical God. True.) And it’s a short step from there to feeling like you are wrong. And that shame will take you right out of relationship with your people, your self, and sometimes even God.
I stopped asking for help. I stopped asking.
Other people asked … reminded me to pray … reminded me God loved me. It began to dawn on me that I did not believe them. This was beyond sad, given that it had taken me until I was 42 to really get that God did love me. To lose faith in that love … well, that’s as bad as not believing in God at all. Since, we are reminded, God is love.
It’s silly, really, to think that you are the one misshapen human being that God’s promises do not apply to. That you are the one person God doesn’t love, in particular.
Anyway, last Monday night I was exhausted with the familiar lack and fretting. Settled into the prayer place in my mind, and just gave up the ghost of my own perfect dreams. I don’t know the why or how of what happened next. It was so quiet and so imperceptible, and yet so amazing, that it is a shame to mess it up with words. (But that’s what I do, so ….)
A tiny mustard seed of acceptance crept into my heart. Unfolded into a valentine of grace that wrapped itself around me. Love flowed through me. I slept.
And woke, remembering and feeling still that unbidden, unmerited, unshakable Love. Is this certainty what faith feels like? Is this a state of grace? Can I not try to hold on to it? Can I not even think about the fear of how it will feel for it to pass? Can I just rest here a little while longer, long enough to learn to love from this place?
This place. I am placed. For now.
Maybe this happens more often than we want to know. If you believe in a God who changes and becomes along with us — and I do — and if you believe that a life worth living is all about changing and becoming — and I do — then maybe this kind of becoming mis-placed and then re-placed is natural. Necessary. Not evil. Maybe not even hard, if we pay attention to how often it happens.
Honestly, it helps me to think about you. All I have to do to get in touch with grace is imagine you having my struggles. And immediately I’m full of compassion and “Well, yeah, I can see how you’d forget or think that God forgot you, but God will never forget you!”
I know that. I know that because it says so, in Isaiah 49:
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
I’ll tell you a little secret … that was the sly thought that dropped me into God’s lap, Monday night. I imagined my name written on the palm of God’s hand.
Not because there was any risk of God forgetting me (like scribbling “bread” and “milk” on your hand as you drive home), no, more like a teenager with a Sharpie, inscribing love on every surface, including and especially on the palm of the hand that wants so badly to hold the beloved.
Yeah. Like that. God loves me like that. And God loves you like that, too. Even though we continually put up walls between us and that love … God loves us just like that.
I will forget. Because I suck at this. Because there is some kind of perverse safety in forgetting that the Creator of the Universe loves me, and that my worth is not tied to anything else … yes, forgetting is a great way to stay stuck in small.
Tell you what … if I see you out wandering around, looking bereft and forgetful, I will remind you that there is a deeply excited Divine Being out there with your name written on the palm of her hand, and that she is looking everywhere for you.
I have no doubt you’ll do the same for me.