Breaking the Silence

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It’s been a long time since I had the wherewithal to think about blogging.  Not much has changed in two years of silence, except I bought a home so I won’t have to worry about moving my books for the foreseeable future.  But everything else – work, church, car, family, relationship status – is unchanged.  At least it appears to be unchanged on the macro level.  Minute shifts have taken root over the past two years, and it may yet be a while before the new shoots bear fruit.

All that is not to say the past few years have been straightforward.  The healing process is never linear, and the twists and turns that have surfaced as I wrestle towards freedom have changed me profoundly – even if I cannot articulate how exactly I’ve changed.  I have tried (repeatedly) to get away, to leave my past behind, to start fresh, to begin again.  Every attempt to accomplish something I want has been thwarted, and thus I find myself working the same job, living in the same city, and wondering if this is, in fact, all there is to life.  Unfulfilled dreams have a way of forcing you to ask the hard questions, and the struggles I’ve encountered only piled on more uncertainty and doubt.

Doubt and darkness seem to go hand in hand, so naturally winter affords me many opportunities to contemplate existential and ontological questions.  My life wasn’t supposed to look like this – according to my plan, anyhow.  And though I recognize the goodness of what I have found (namely stability, independence, and an occasional sense of purpose), my heart still cries out with longing for that which I do not have.  Good things I do not have.

My entire adult life has been characterized by a mismatch in what people can see of me and what I’m really feeling.  Where others saw a young woman eager to pour her life out to further Christ’s kingdom, my soul was frantically bargaining with God – “If I go overseas, Lord, please give me at least this compensation!”  Where others saw courage in the face of danger, my heart could only see its own worthlessness.  While I always had a ready smile and quick laugh for others, my mind was always tormented by depression and despair.  I lived in invisible melancholy.  I still don’t know if the fight for life is worth it.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living.  I’ve spent the last seven years pondering life – who I am, how I got here, why I’m here, and what it all means.  I don’t have answers.  Medication helps, at least insofar as it clears mental space that can be used for wrestling.  Beloved authors provide respite from the hard work of learning, stretching, and growing, both mentally and emotionally.  Friends and counselors willingly offer themselves as sounding boards and fellow wayfarers.  Occasional glimpses of truth remind me that there are worlds beyond the small, dark cave of my mind.  And so I press on.  I keep walking.  And I pray each day brings me closer to wholeness, to healing, to hope.  But I still don’t know if the struggle is worth it…

Waiting

Advent began yesterday.  This season of celebrating the waiting and awaiting the celebration is one I have often passed over, choosing instead to get caught up in the hurry and rush and whirlwind that so frequently characterizes our experience of “the holidays.”  Rather than muddling through and hoping for the best, this year I am setting aside time each week to ponder the mystery and immensity of the Incarnation, the eucatastrophe of humanity.

Last evening my sister invited several friends to share in a simple Advent liturgy – prayer, scripture, and song in the comfort of our living room.  My heart was stirred as we took turns reading from the Book of Common Prayer, the Psalter, the Prophets, and the Gospels.  I was reminded how easily I spend all of life waiting and hoping, rather than living each day fully as it comes.  There was a moment of silent prayer, and I found myself asking the Lord yet again for something that has been my deepest desire for many years.  It has not come, despite anguish and tears and trying and years and years of prayer.

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I was glad to be sitting with a friend who has been by my side through nine years of life – a woman who has faced her share of mountains and still clings to Christ.  She knows my prayer, even as I know hers.  Our individual struggles for wholeness have run on parallel paths, and by God’s grace we have been present to uphold, strengthen, and encourage one another at significant points in our respective histories.  Four years ago we were housemates, putting the very fiber of our friendship to the test.  Liturgy was an important part of our routine, one that strengthened our faith as well as our relationship.  In addition to using the Morning and Evening Prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, we composed several of our own to reflect our callings – present and (hopefully) future.  Recently I asked her if she still had those prayers we wrote, and together we marveled at how appropriate they still are for both of us.

One of those prayers has again become part of my routine.  I pray to remind myself that although I cannot see God’s hand at work, I still trust that He is working things out for my good and His glory.  I pray to remember the prayers He has answered, the wonderful things He has done in my life, the way He has cared for, led, and protected me.  But I also pray because I still hope, I still wait.  And time and circumstance have not altered this desire – though gratefulness has tempered the sense of urgency that used to accompany it.  Petitioning for the future helps me remain in the present.

So then, here is our prayer – one that many others share, I am sure.

Lord, we know that all things are in your hands.  We want your will a whole lot more than we want our own.  Yet you have created us with these desires: husband, home, family.  So we want to be honest: Lord, we do want these things.  We humbly ask for them.  Father, would you give us husbands we can honor – men after your own heart.  Men who will match, fit, and balance us.  Lord, we ask for this sooner rather than later – but we want your best, no matter what the timing is.  And Father, we know your best may include singleness.  If that is the case, give us grace to live full lives in singleness.  God, keep us from planning, scheming, or searching this out as you ask us to wait.  Keep our hearts pure in our relationships with our brothers.  Lord, we submit our desires – our whole lives – to you.  Married or single, may we honor and glorify you in ALL that we are, by the grace and mercy of your precious Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Renewal Prayer

My faith has been wobbly for more than a year now.  It is a strange, painful, gladsome realization when things once believed immovable become giant question marks instead.  At times it feels like the floor has opened up into a yawning abyss, and at times it seems the sky has been punctured, letting in a glimpse of a deeper reality beyond what is visible.

I was quiet at first about my own wobbliness.  I have continued attending church, continued experiencing the physical grace of Communion, continued sharing life with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  But I could not voice the doubts that alternately whispered and shouted in my day-to-day life.  I have listened to great thinkers, read great authors, and sat perplexed in the midst of prayers and sermons and Bible studies that no longer made sense to me.  What was the point?

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Scripture used to feed me.  Then I began to see how much it had been twisted to control me, and suddenly I couldn’t open my Bible without my heart racing and my hands shaking.  Now when I am alone, the most I can manage is a verse or two in Latin; I chose the Vulgate as an antidote to mis-comprehension in English.  I am grateful for a pastor who encourages doubts and questioning, because I now have space to meet the Real Jesus.  And what I found in the Real Jesus is grace, love, and mercy.

On Sunday mornings, I still find myself with hundreds of others, gathered in seeking, worshipping, learning, questioning, doubting, finding.  The pews are as familiar to me as the opening Doxology, and the lilting Scottish accent of my pastor is comforting whether or not I can digest what he says.  My heart usually settles into patient, uncertain hope by the time we recite the collect as a congregation.

O God our Father and King, forgive us for thinking less of you than we ought; for we think your truth too high, your will too hard, and your power too remote; but they are not!  We pray that you would resolve our confused minds with your Word, redirect our divided wills with your law, restore our troubled consciences with your forgiveness, and revive our anxious hearts with your presence, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us.  Amen.

And so, despite my wobbliness, I still hope.  Despite my doubt, I still believe.  Despite my questions, I rest in mystery.  What is that but grace?