The “Jesus 101” class brought me to a hopeful plateau. I still had doubts and questions and negative feelings about God and the Bible, but my fascination and, dare I say, love for Jesus grew in that month of October last year. Maybe Jesus was who I wanted him to be. Maybe I could keep going in my regular Christian life, eyes pointed his way, the rest on the back burner. Of course, this is the method of coping that I’d tried many times in the past when I encountered doubt. Find the easy answer, ignore the rest. Hold on to one true thing, stop searching for more truth. “Jesus,” the cover-all Sunday school answer, was all I needed.
That, and gratitude, I decided.
In an effort to right my attitude of resentment toward God, and to convince myself of his goodness, I read One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. It’s the book your childhood best friend’s mom’s women’s group at church probably did a study on about five years ago. Voskamp wanted to “find joy” in her daily life, so she developed the spiritual practice of thankfulness and wrote about her experience. I read it with a similar goal: if I wanted to see God’s goodness in the Bible, and in all the history of the world, I could start by counting my blessings. I picked out a pretty notebook, numbered the lines 1 – 1,000, and began jotting down my own thankfulness list, trying to mimic Voskamp’s style while occasionally slipping up and adding my own flair. My list hard stops at 217, and contains things such as:
17. Christmas music in the morning
27. Looking fly
67. Driving with windows down in November
104. Shower beer
107. Getting fed dinner instead of turned away when accidentally showing up early to life group
112. When Hagrid [my rabbit] licks the throw pillows
131. Simple coffee-making morning ritual
166. The fluffy yellow blooms of acacia
I was trying to bring out the positive, Anne of Green Gables side of my personality that I’ve always wished was more prominent. Ultimately, it was a failed experiment. I would read the book and get so on board with her imagery and romantic writing, but after ten seconds of stepping away from my reading nook, my soul would do a mega eye-roll.
Bubbles, Ann? You have ten items on your list about soap bubbles? And bread?
But I’ve still been chewing on one of the biggest messages of the book: “all is grace.” The good and the bad, all gifts from God. That’s kind of the most basic thing we have to put our faith in when we believe in a God who is omniscient, omnipresent, and is supposed to love us more than we can understand. “God has a reason for everything,” is what I believed as a kid, but this “all is grace” thing asks me to go a step further and redefine what grace means. In all this time that I’ve been struggling with believing that God is good, maybe I’ve missed the part where I define “goodness.”
About a month ago, I had dinner with a friend who wanted to talk about this blog and my recent posts. My friend is gay, and the first few posts I wrote kind of focus on the questions a lot of Christians ask about homosexuality. I was nervous for this conversation. I assumed he’d be coming with his own questions and want me to answer them, which I was not in a good place to do. As it turned out, after knowing this guy for two years, I had no idea he was Catholic. I was immediately humbled by our conversation, and so grateful to feel like I was the one being encouraged, not the other way around. He taught me a lesson about grace when he confessed, “I’m okay with a God who gives us hard things – doubts, being gay – and says, ‘You have to figure it out.'”
…What could be more human than that?
Don Miller, in Blue Like Jazz, writes one of my all-time favorite analogies: “I can no more understand the totality of God than the pancake I made for breakfast understands the complexity of me.” We are the created ones, and while I don’t think that God, like an overtired mother, is saying, “I am the one who defines what’s good and if I say it’s good then it’s good,” maybe when he made us in his image he neglected to build a born-with understanding of grace. Maybe, though I look like God, I still have to define my words on his terms. Maybe questions are part of the answer.
If grace is why we exist, created out of love, and there is nothing more human than wrestling with the things we do not understand, I can only conclude that the struggles with Scripture, with doubt, with faith, are all under the umbrella of “good.” And if someone like my friend, who many would say God detests, can say that they are fine with the hard stuff, why shouldn’t I be?
I think some of my Christian friends would read this and say, There it is! You’ve found the answer! Game over. Hand to the sky: He is God, and I am not. But I don’t want to end up right back where I started; I’m afraid I would go back to worshiping what I want God to be, rather than knowing who He is and making the choice. To avoid the wrestling match is to avoid any engagement with God. My humanity will keep bringing me back to the ring.