I've been reading the Chronicles of Narnia out loud to Drew before bed.
(Should I be more embarrassed to admit that? #nerds)
And a few nights ago, we were reading the part in The Silver Chair where Jill meets Aslan for the first time. She is faint with thirst and comes across a stream, but before she can run to it, she spots a massive lion sitting next to the water.
“Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I am dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
"Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.
"I make no promise," said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
"Do you eat girls?" she said.
"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.”
There is no other stream.
Let me back up.
It's been a pretty crappy couple of months.
I mean that literally, since Aidah has been potty training and occasionally decides to use evacuation as a form of passive resistance. I tell her it's bedtime and she looks me in the eye and poops her pants.
It's chilling...and effective. I'm wavering on all of my policies here.
She may be a criminal genius.
But I also mean that figuratively. Just all of that when-it-rains-it-pours, being-kicked-while-we're-down type of stuff. We've been grieving, yes. That's a complicated crapshoot in its own way. And then a few months ago, Drew was laid off. And then our central air broke down and our sewage line needed replacing.
I'm going to be honest here. I don't know how to be this person who navigates hardship on a somewhat public level. But grief has this effect - this savage clarity, the burning away of artifice. It makes so many of the affectations I used to put on seem trite. I am operating at my lowest emotional threshold...I'm rationing out the cares I have to give. So maintaining an illusion of shiny, happy Christian no longer even factors in.
I know, I know.
I've never been that shiny, happy Christian. It's just not my thing - I'm too dark and twisty for that. I'm all at once too empathetic and apathetic to try and convince you that life with God is sunshine and rainbows. But even more so lately...I just don't have it in me to filter.
So I am just going to tell you where I'm at, in this, the crappiest year of my life.
There's this story in John where Jesus, after feeding the five thousand and walking on water, delivers a theologically challenging message to the crowd and many of them get frustrated and leave. And Jesus turns and asks His disciples, "Do you want to go away as well?" and Peter- oh, Peter- pipes up, saying,
Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.
And I used to think that was the kind of pious - maybe even obsequious- answer that a happy, shiny Christian would give. Should give. I used to read that and think that someday, when I was older or wiser or more mature in my faith, I'd be able to say something similar. I'd be able to tell Jesus that I'd choose Him over anything and anyone.
Lately I've been reading that verse and casting my own shadow over it. I've heard my mourning heart ache with an alternative tone. I hear a different sort of faith- the one I'm surviving inside of.
The kind of faith that says God yes, I'm here. But where the hell else would I go? I'm almost thirty. I've asked hard questions and wrestled with hard answers. I've walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death - psh, I've been camping here for months. I HAVE SEEN SOME STUFF. I edited world religion books for years. I don't know everything but I know enough to decide that You're my best bet in this world.
I'm still with You and I know You're still with me, but that's not saying much because honestly- WHERE ELSE WOULD I GO? You alone hold the words of eternal life.
I'm not waking up every day and faithfully seeking God to comfort and protect me. I'm not trusting in His word to provide. I am not greeting the morning with songs of hope and trust in spite of it all.
I am faithful from a place of practicality. Selfish, primal, survival.
I roll my eyes and read the Word.
Does that count?
There's a big difference between thriving and surviving. I've seen those people who enter seasons of hardship and THRIVE. They experience massive growth, they shine, they show us all how to be better.
But that's not where I'm at. I'm in this messy middle place.
And there's a lot of frustration in that. I want to thrive. I want to stop being asked to do hard things. I want things to stop crumbling just long enough so I can catch my breath. I want God to make sense again.
But there's relief too. This sort of quiet that results from things spinning so far beyond my control or understanding. The grief - this season of hardship - it's been clarifying in its onslaught.
He alone has the words of eternal life.
There is no other stream.
Well that's that.
And so I'm here. Sad, confused, surviving, sullen. Sometimes I'm at peace and sometimes I'm so frustrated and bone-weary that I could scream. But I'm still here and that has to count for something.
For a long time, it has felt like this weird season of faith that I'm in disqualifies me from talking about God. From writing in this public sphere. People who grieve, doubt or struggle are often treated this way, aren't we? If you don't have anything nice to say, keep quiet until you're ready to praise. Endure until you have a great testimony. I mean, whatever you do - don't bring down the shiny, happy vibe.
But I'm greatly comforted that the two men who wrote those quotes above weren't shiny, happy Christians either. Peter - rash, earnest, historic screw-up and C.S. Lewis, who described himself as, "the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape."
So I - who have run out of cares to give and filters to don- reject the above messaging, even if it's only in my head. I reject the idea that I should either get happy or have a full on existential crisis so that I can be properly ministered to.
I've decided to just show up where I'm at and I know Jesus would be the first to approve. I know I speak for a spiritual minority here but I want to carve out a place for us to exist. The dark and twisty, the mourners, the downtrodden, the valley-dwellers, the angry, the doubting. We are the Church too. The stories around me would have me believe that I either need to endure beatifically or skulk away into sullen agnosticism. But I have to believe that there is something... stout? gritty? maybe even worshipful in the simple - even exasperated- acknowledgement that it all may currently suck but God exists and holds the words of life. I am here, showing up in the messy middle of it and I have nothing much else to say but that it is a place that exists and I'm sure there are other people here too.
Let's be here together, in the very least. Let's roll our eyes and read the Words of life.