On the news this morning, I watched as a giant Christmas tree was brought to a local shopping center for raising and decorating. The radio is already playing Christmas music full time, and my choir is fully immersed in preparations for our Christmas concert music. For any of you who have read my blog in the past, you also know that for me, this season is a time of reflection and contemplation on what the year has been and what the future could possibly hold. Not uncommonly, this reflection and contemplation has directed me down some difficult paths.
You see, this year for me is a season of “without”. It’s the first year I will be without my dad.
Granted, he had been living in New York for the past 4 years, but I still knew that I could pick up the phone and talk to him or check on him or even jump on a plane and go visit him. But this year I no longer have that option.
Losing family members, even (or perhaps most especially) furry family members, is remarkably hard. It often feels like the rug of reality has been pulled out from underneath and the whole of our reality is now off-kilter and we hang on waiting for that one final gust of wind to push us over the edge. We become the physical manifestation of that cat in the poster desperately clinging on to the ledge to save ourselves from the final descent. Descent into what, I don’t know, but it feels like wherever it is, it’s terrifying.
If you have ever struggled with depression, I’m sure you can absolutely relate to these feelings of mine. And if you’re like me, the things that are necessary to overcoming the feelings of depression feel as challenging as swimming through one of the La Brea tar pits – not only incredibly difficult, but who wants to even try?? Besides, at least for me, the more I try, the worse things seem to turn out. I end up making mistakes at work, with my finances, with friends and co-workers…you get it.
And yet as awful and pitiful as this may all sound, I do have something to lean on that carries me through these difficult time.
I have faith.
Faith that God created me, that I have a purpose, and that God has never nor will ever leave me to wallow in my desperation.
So why am I struggling?
Because things are different for me this year. I am not surrounded by people of faith, being caught up in the whirlwind that is church and its structure and excitement. Instead, while I am seeking that new place to land, I find that I have not at all lost my faith in God and His place in my life, I am struggling with the way our modern culture paints the picture of God and faith.
I know that for many of us, even the words faith or God are challenging and the idea of actually leaning into these concepts is nearly impossible. There could be a number of reasons for this, but for me this year, I am struggling with the self-centeredness that has become the keystone of Christianity.
If you read my post a couple of weeks ago, you know that I am trying to find a new church and this process has been, to say the least, difficult. I finally realized one of the main reasons for this struggle is that I am tired of the modern focus of “Jesus did this FOR ME” or “God sent his only Son FOR ME”. Worship songs, sermons and Christian culture as a contort themselves to ensure that each person understands that they are reason that Jesus came, died and was resurrected. His ministry was all about saving “me, me, MEEEEE!” The church as a whole so wanted to help people understand that there is a purpose to this life and that our relationship with God is a part of that purpose that it has taken the focus off of God and put it squarely on each one of us. I daresay that we have so distorted who God is and what He has done that He has transformed from a God to be worshipped, respected, and at times feared to be our own personal genie.
I get it, I do. God, being God, is able to focus Himself on me as an individual and on the rest of the entire world at the same time. He does hear our cries, our prayers and our frustrated screams and is able to tend to them all and provide for us all more than we could ever imagine. At the same time, it is His will which has sculpted the past, present and future and we are playing our own individual roles in accomplishing the plan He has created. And it is that tension – that dichotomy – that often leads to feelings of despair depression. How is it possible for us to find our own purpose when it feels more like we are simply puppets in His great design? The idea of having free-will while simultaneously being a part of a great plan is nearly incomprehensible…and yet, it is.
The thing is that God’s plan is about us individually and us collectively. Despite what our current culture wants us to believe, God didn’t create all that is around us merely for our own enjoyment nor for us to do with as we please.
Additionally – and here I may lose you – God hasn’t created a new world in the heavens for us with streets of gold, waterfalls flowing with milk and honey, and a place for us to lie around on the clouds all day, enjoying a life free from trials and tribulations for all eternity. Again, I realize many of you may see this as blasphemy, but the thing is it is our human desire to be free from growth, learning and challenge.
God wants more for us than that.
God created us to live in community with Him but despite our human understanding, this doesn’t mean for us to necessarily be physically in the same place with Him for all eternity. Instead, God wants us to grow and learn, to develop beyond our early understandings and become beings that are a true reflection of Him – beings full of love, generosity, compassion and grace. And even if we were all Gandhi and Mother Theresa rolled into one amazing individual, there is simply no possible way in our brief time on this planet at this time that we can achieve God’s goals for us in the blink of an eye that is human lifetime. God is bigger than this present reality and He created us to be as well.
I hear you. How could I possibly suggest there is no heaven? Heaven is a central theme in the Bible – how can I possibly deny its existence? I clearly have fallen victim to the secular view of who God is and am dangerously close to being – gasp – Buddhist.
Despite how it may sound, I don’t actually deny that “heaven” exists, I just think it looks significantly different than what you and I have not only be been taught, but what we individually want it to look like because in God’s heaven, it isn’t about us – it’s about HIM.
Heaven is about growth, maturing in our faith and our understanding, about truly becoming the individuals God created us to be without the barriers of a linear, narrow existence. After all, we are created in God’s image and God is far from linear.
And that is why, despite my feelings of loss and sadness, I can find joy in this time of struggle. I may not be the life of the party, but I can know that this struggle I feel is part of the growth that God created me to walk through.
The amazing grace of God is a gift that can be shared even as we walk through time of trial. In losing those we’ve loved, we gain empathy and greater capacity to love. In making mistakes and floundering, we gain the strength and wisdom to carry others who fall. And in seeing things in new ways, removing ourselves from the center of it all, we can come to understand that God’s presence is truly all around us creating joy and wonder in even the most challenging moments. All we are called to do in these times of struggle is know God IS. He is all that we need, all we could imagine, and His design of our lives is the very definition of perfection.
If you, like me, are struggling for any reason, I want to know that you are not alone. Ever. You can reach out to me here, you can find a furry critter to absorb your tears, and you can cry out to God, knowing that maybe that street of gold may not really exist, but the true heaven is so much greater and God will get us all there to be in community with Him in ways that are greater than that street of gold.
Peace to you all…