Crisis

(I wrote this in 2018 as I processed the illness and then the death of my mother…)

I am not sure I would call what I have been living through, a crisis – that would make it sound like a moment when in fact I have been living in this space for a while. It is more like a journey of evolution where one faith ends and another is awakened. It is a painful process but also a liberating one. I have heard it referred to as a reconstruction of faith – like a breaking down and a rebuilding. Others have called it ‘the dark night of the soul’ where you face your soul’s deepest anguish and may come to the point of completely doubting if God even is…

No one chooses this, although it is something that seems to come to lots of people in their story of belief in God. For many this ‘crisis’ happens through trauma whether historic or recent, through bereavement, divorce, some health issue or some deep pain within your identity. It is provoked by anything that acts as a pin in the balloon which says ‘life will always be beautiful’. It goes even deeper, because of the questions that arise about the nature of God. Often our expectations of life are rooted in a certain belief about what God is like: ‘God is good and loves me, so I expect that life will always work out for me in the way I hope’. When that balloon bursts, it happens with an unimaginable agony.

I read someone say that the pain we experience in life is down to the fact that we believe in so many illusions. Oswald Chambers I think. A crisis unfolds when we discover that what we believed about ourselves or another, or life in general, is not the reality. In my previous faith, I was certain of many things and with it, came a great deal of spiritual pride. I was sure of who God was, what life and people were like, of how I should be judged, and inevitably therefore, how others should be. I could diagnose other people’s issues, hold them responsible and maintain my own standards. I cringe when I remember my former self.

I heard someone say the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty. I think they meant that true faith involves humility; the realisation that you do not know everything and so maybe it won’t work out as you think and hope. If you are certain, then you put God in a box – that becomes the end of the humble expectation that real faith involves. If you ever get to the point where you think you fully understand life or comprehend God, then you’re either deluded or you must be ignorant of a whole lot.

In this process of reconstruction, I have become awake to the reality of my pain and weaknesses and life’s troubles and struggle. It has made we weep, and left me with many questions and uncertainties, sometimes I have felt that I could not even trust the ground beneath my feet.

The truth is though, that I cannot escape God. It would be easy if I could just walk away and pretend that the last 30 years of life have meant nothing. At one low point I actually imagined how much of my life I would actually have to change if I did ‘chuck it all in’ – ‘it’ being faith in Jesus (no small feat for a theology lecturer). But the issue is the history I have built with God throughout my lifetime. I could look back and say I imagined it, I was mentally imbalanced or swept up in the euphoria of my upbringing. But there are moments that cannot be explained by that. I would then have to explain away the stories of moments we described as God’s action, in the lives of my family and friends and wider community, and the history of the world…that’s a huge task.

There is a story in the Bible of a man called Jacob who in a moment of crisis and great fear, wrestles with God and wins a very particular blessing as well as a new name. Our chaplain at work reminded me of this the last time I spoke to her. I am definitely a wrestler.  It is not in my character to give up easily, and having a true faith stripped of illusions and false religion is worth fighting for. I believe that my mind was a gift from God, and not a barrier to my faith – it was made by Him. So I will continue to cry and shout, to wrestle and reason, to write my prayers when I cannot say them, to struggle through church and sometimes to not go, and then to go again. And in that, I have some hope that God is present and gently leading me to a greater truth and a clearer view of who he is and what life in Him is really about. Anybody with me?

Love

On the anniversary of my sweet mom’s passing, I remember her with these words that I wrote last yearIMG_0944 a few days after we said goodbye. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Before we could even pray or ask, God gave us the greatest gift in our mom. We could not have chosen the womb that bore us, but Gods love for us is shown in the fact that we were loved all our lives by an angel. She showed us what it meant to be a believer in Jesus, not through clever words and heavy rules but through a heart of love. She leant money to the poor knowing she would not be repaid, she loved to be generous out of the little she had. Her words were always good about other people, even those it was easy to judge. She was humble in asking for advice even from her children, she always thought of the person who was overlooked or misunderstood. Eternally optimistic and full of hope she refused to see the bad in people or circumstances. She was our number one champion cheering us on, our encourager and the one who believed more than anything that we could change the world. She was a lifelong learner, a hard worker, quick to get tasks done and diligent in everything she did. She has made us who we are. She was a true friend to me, showing me the way to love, faith and patience. The truth is I wanted to be more like her, I wanted to absorb her character, I admired her so much. Mom lives on in each of us, every time we follow her voice and her example. She lives on in us through every act of compassion, every moment we choose faith over fear, every time we laugh and dance and sing, every time we drink a glass of baileys. In the moments when we are lighthearted and joking, when we are hopeful and courageous and determined – our mom remains with us and we live to make her proud.

Survival

When did simple questions become so complex.

Someone asks me ‘how are you?’ and I freeze for a moment. I know what they expect, because they asked me with a smile and some excitement. They want ‘things are good thanks’ or ‘yeah I’m fine how are you?’ The problem of course is that I don’t have enough words to explain how I am, but all I know is I am definitely not fine.

Although on one level I may be a little bit ok. I woke up this morning, I may have even had some moment of prayer and reflection today, I had a shower, dressed well and took out my moisturised hair twists from the night before. I arrived at work calm and on time despite my commute and enjoyed my colleagues and students. I went to the gym and had a good dinner.

But then.

I sat down in my lounge about to watch the next episode of Good Girls and my heart filled with an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. It has been building all day really, and it all floods in although I’ve been keeping it at a distance. The triggers were all there: the Fred Hammond song that reminded me of mom’s constant singing, the mom and daughter on the train, the song at morning worship that we sang at the funeral. The grief, like a fire, then sets aflame any other material it can find. Feelings of isolation that force me to right down all the names of people who love me, the fear of being alone which almost makes me call that guy I let go for good reason, the anger that I thought I had conquered but now again forces me into silence before God.

I heard someone say depression grows in isolation. So I pick up the phone, scroll and call, and she answers and says ‘Sel, how are you?’

To her, I can tell it all.