When a person experiences the death of a significant person in his/her life, an evaluation of faith and belief inevitably follows. For that reason, as a grief counselor my first session with a client includes a spiritual assessment. Because I don't want anyone to be caught off guard, I also introduce the assessment by explaining the reason for it; then I leave the conversation open ended and see what comes next.
I've heard a lot ranging the gamut of emotions and beliefs. I've heard repeatedly about the ways in which the Church (Christian) has caused additional harm by throwing judgment about the ways people are grieving. Seriously, the stories I could tell--and the pastors I want to give a piece of my mind.
But I digress.
As I was saying, I've heard a lot. But nothing evoked more pain and resonance in my own soul than a conversation earlier this week.
It started as a typical initial session. I could hear pain and the person made allusions to deep childhood pain. Then, at a natural place in the conversation, I began the spiritual assessment. From one question, the person poured out a lifetime of hurt. A woman who still cries for the child she was when she was abused by one parent and not protected by the other. That same child who was raised not going to church, but sought it out on her own. That same child who prayed every day for God to save her from the danger and pain. That same child, who became a teenager, then a young adult; that same child who never felt/saw/heard God respond. That same child grew to be a woman who holds with deep conviction that God cannot exist and certainly cannot love, because a God of love would never allow that kind of suffering to exist. She even extends it to broader and more wide-ranging suffering that God also doesn't stop.
My soul resonated. I needed to keep my reaction in check and not divert the conversation. My soul resonated.
When life doesn't make sense, when the prayers that erupt from the deepest part of you, rip you raw, seem to go both unanswered and unheard, it causes one to wonder, among other things: what is the point of prayer and is God even real?
A few years ago I was at a crossroads. The daily prayers and requests and hopes seemed to be pointless. And yet, I couldn't let go of my faith; I couldn't just turn off my certain faith that God is God.
So, I called God to the mat. I sat down with a notebook and wrestled with God. I don't have a permanent limp and I walked away with maintained faith, but I didn't walk away unscathed.
We wrestled hard. I was exhausted. But questions still aren't answered. In fact, years later, I have more questions now than I did then.
But I don't regret it. I stood on that mat and I demanded God do as God's word promises. What does it mean that God didn't do as I demanded?
I don't know. That is why this person's story resonated so deeply.
If I had been her chaplain, instead of her grief counselor, I don't know what I would have said. Maybe I would have talked about living in a broken and sinful world. Maybe I would have talked about God answering prayers, but in different ways and different timelines. Maybe I would have talked about God's will. But I don't know where I sit theologically on those topics at this point. So, I'm just thankful I was her grief counselor.
Have you ever taken God to the mat? Have you ever wrestled with God about an injustice, personal or communal? How do you live with the mysteries?
Think on it and leave a comment...or two. Then, stay tuned next week for part 2.