Category Archives: God
I have a confession to make: I was in my high-school production of Grease.
Whew. That feels better.
I might not feel so lame about it if I actually had a real role, but I played Johnny Casino: a bit player in the stage show who didn’t even make it into the movie. Danny got Sandy. Kinickie got Rizzo. Johnny Casino sang a song at the high-school dance. No love for Johnny. The way I see it, in a show about teen love, any character who isn’t either in love, or helping the ones that are in love get together is an extra. You might as well be a talking prop.
Such is life.
I got an email last week from a youth pastor that was concerned with a post that one of his Grade 9 girls had put up as her facebook status. It was essentially a set of instructions for how a boy should treat his girl, with things like ” Tell her why you think shes so cool . . . Pick flowers from other peoples gardens and give them to her . . . Throw pebbles at her window at night. When she starts swearing at you, tell her you love her . . . Lend her your cds . . . Write on her . . . Kiss her in the rain. When you fall in love with her, tell her.”
He was concerned with the passion that was in this; the yearning to fall in love and be loved in return. He lamented her failure to grasp God’s love for her, and the ideology that seemed to say that she NEEDED to be in a relationship. He was asking for help getting through to her.
Of course, she didn’t actually write this. It’s a lesser known meme that’s been cycling around the net since about 2004. It’s viral. That means she saw it somewhere and grabbed it. Something about it pulled at her. Maybe the words settled into her mind like they were moving into a comfortably decorated room, all made up and waiting for them. Maybe she just recognized a glimmer of truth in them that tickled her fancy. Maybe she wanted to look wise. Whatever the reason, she decided share it with her online family.
The fact that it’s stayed alive this long, moving from host to host, though, shows that the sentiment is more symptomatic of our culture rather than the heart’s cry of one girl.
So then. Is he right to be concerned?
God’s love has never been a substitute for earthly physical love, but in collaboration with it. We aren’t just meant to be in community with God, but with each other. I am fully cognizant of the love God has for me. I know personally his covenant love and how he pursued me to the grave because of his great desire for relationship with me. I also need my wife. I was made to love her and she was made for me. God designed us so that in romantic relationship, his love would be reflected, and we would have a sense of completion; we would have someone on earth to represent his love to us. Is it wrong for a girl to desire that? Absolutely not.
The depth of that desire, though, and what she’s willing to trade for it is a very legitimate concern, because it stems from a warped perspective of love. It’s often used to fill a gap larger than it’s meant to. It fills the gap of absent or uncaring fathers, of abuse, of being left with feelings of inferiority and insignificance by the people that should love her most. It fills the gaping wound in her soul surgically inflicted by a media that pries us open with messages of incompetence and incompleteness and leaves us with a desperate desire to fill the artificial emptiness they create. She needs to hear early and often how wonderful she is, or she spends the rest of her life trying to get people to say it. We all do. This isn’t by any means just a “girl problem,” or even a teen problem. This is us. This is our life. The things that should be good enough aren’t. The things that should be sufficient aren’t. We aren’t enough. So we spend our lives looking for the things we’ve been told will make us better.
So many of the kids I work with have, by grade 7 or 8, reached a place where they’ve been taught that rather than having a committed and/or passionate relationship being a part of being loved, part of being a person, it’s the end all and be all. Being told of God’s amazing love doesn’t negate all that we’ve been conditioned with. More than that, a head knowledge of God’s love and all he’s done for us doesn’t necessarily translate into heart knowledge of it’s sufficiency. That takes time. It takes an act of God. We’ve got to keep telling them – we’ve got to keep telling each other; Not saying that we’re wrong to feel the way we do, because our self-esteem is damaged enough already, but to be there as God is, to continually and gently present the truth of his love, to water the seed and pray for it to take root.
Honestly, it drives me nuts when I see a facebook status go from “in a relationship” to “single” then back to “in a relationship” in less than 24 hours. It makes me want to take my head off and put it in the freezer when 2 hours after being asked out the kids are talking about how in love they are. If they’d ever actually been in love, they wouldn’t throw the word around so easily.
It makes me want to cry when a week later their world ends because they broke up.
Is it a problem? Yes. But it’s not THE problem. It’s a symptom of a culture that says our identities are found in others. That we’re only as good as other people think we are. As the things we have. As the money we make. As our status in our communities. It’s not going to stop because we say that’s wrong. It’s only when we understand the sufficiency of ourselves in who God made us to be that we can put that behind us. Then we can be the whole half of a healthy relationship here on Earth. Then we can see all that he intended earthly love to be.
Some of you remember my friend Mikey. Like 2 years ago he was given 3 months to live. Today he found out his cancer is in remission! FTMFW!! [For The Many Faceted Win, you dirty minded people that are scouring for something to judge… don’t worry, I’m sure by the end of this post you’ll have at least 5 other things]. I’m so stoked! It’s awesome. But his FB profile has been flooded with people talking about answers to prayer, and praise for Our Powerful God. He’s talked about how hard he’s prayed for this. One of my other good friends wrote about feeling guilty for not believing, deep down, that God would actually save Mikey. Don’t get me wrong, I wept huge, real, tears of authentic and ecstatic joy when I read the news, but the follow-up has left me hurting. It seems other people have this amazing push-button Saviour that they use. If they just push hard enough, everything will get better.
Can I have your Jesus? Mine’s broken…
I can remember when my Jesus Button broke. It was when I lost my cat.
My wife and I had to leave the country for several weeks. It was the dead of winter, and it got away from us as we were bringing it from the car to the friend’s house where it was going to be watched. We chased it for hours until it disappeared and we had to get to the airport or miss our flight. We prayed. We sought God. We read scripture. We prayed more. We prayed hard. We prayed with faith. We believed that God could, and would, return our cat to us when we got back. The cat did not come back. WTF? [Yes, that F means what you think it means].
Since then, the button’s been dropped, kicked around, sat on, run over, and fallen in the toilet over the course of five miscarriages. We believe that life begins at conception. Alongside our beautiful son, we’ve had five babies that died. Five. Figurative hands up if you believe that we didn’t pray our metaphorical asses off. One of them died at 9 weeks. We didn’t find out until 12 weeks when we had an ultrasound that showed a very still baby with no heartbeat. The pregnancy was at 17 weeks before the miscarriage was completed and I held my tiny, inch-and-a-half long Sayuri in the palm of my hand. In those intervening weeks we PRAYED. We believed that God would work a miracle and we’d go for a confirmation ultrasound and they’d be like “hey, a heartbeat… our bad”.
Seriously. I’m pretty sure I learned in Sunday School that if you pray for something and really believe that God will do it, he will. Unless it’s important for our discipline. If God wants to teach us a lesson, then he’ll say no. Because it’s not In His Will. Real people say that. Well meaning Christians will stand next to someone wracked with grief and tell them not to worry, because it’s Part Of God’s Plan.
To which I now respond: “Bite Me.”
Don’t tell me it was God’s plan to kill my baby. Don’t tell the mother left paraplegic after being hit by a drunk driver that it’s her fault she can’t walk because she just doesn’t have enough faith in God. Don’t tell the 5 year old with the dead father that if he had only prayed and believed, his dad would still be around. That’s bullshit. That’s exactly what you’re saying every time you credit fervent prayer to God as the reason for a person’s recovery. It mocks and belittles the prayers of all those who have gone before, who have died or been left bereaved waiting for a God who never came. God doesn’t work that way. He’s not sitting up there waiting with his Grovel-ometer to see if we’ve reached a sufficient level of begging to warrant his attention.
How can I even be a Christian then? How can I be a pastor who doesn’t believe that God answers prayer? Well, for one thing I never said I don’t believe that God answers prayer, and shame on you for drawing that conclusion. Nor did I deny the healing power of Christ or the reality of miraculous intervention. I just don’t believe that they have anything to do with the force of your conviction or the number of times you say “Lord God” in a three-minute interval.
Scripture tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]. It doesn’t say that all things are good. It doesn’t say that God causes those things for our good. It says that in them, in our time of bitter grief, God is with us, caring for us, and working in the background for our Good. That’s what lets me be a Christian. It’s not having some vending machine god that I can put a prayer coin in and pop out a happy day; It’s belief in a Christ who was known as the “man of sorrows”. It’s having a God who has suffered ultimate loss, betrayal, and pain walking beside me through mine.
For anyone out there reading this who has felt abandoned by God, because you sought him in your hour of need and he was nowhere to be found, when you were battered and beaten, when you had a loved one on their death bed, when you were waiting for a miracle that never came, I’m sorry. My heart goes out to you. Here’s the hope I offer you, and while sometimes it may feel empty, it isn’t: God’s heart goes out to you too. He has compassion. For anyone that needs a vocabulary lesson, that means “With/Alongside Suffering”. God suffers with us. He is the friend who sits with us in the dark when all we can do is cry. He’s the hand that holds our hair while we’re puking. He’s the strength in our legs that lets us crawl and the force in our lungs that keeps us breathing when we can’t even do that anymore. He is the reminder that there is more. There is light. There is hope. We are not alone. We are loved. Having that is more important to me than having a button to push. That’s my Jesus.
Hopefully more Funny next time. I’m just not feeling it right now. Mikey, I really hope that when you read this it doesn’t bring you down. Be happy. Praise the God who’s carrying you through this. I definitely am!