Sunday, 21 March 2010

Growing into love

Chatting briefly with a friend about an impromptu children's passion play earlier today, I was struck by how the children seemed to understand, on some wonderful and very basic level, that God loves them.

I hear similar tales from this friend fairly frequently and it always warms my heart.

Tonight I found myself wishing I'd had something similar, growing up. Oh, I went to Sunday School or Youth Group or whatever else was available at whichever church we were at, providing it didn't conflict with musical activities. But always I was playing a role, being the minister's daughter, having the right answers. I was never really allowed, let alone encouraged, to ask the questions. Or maybe I was just too scared.

So I grew up in the church and somehow just didn't get that the whole point is that God loves us. I don't quite understand, now, how I missed it. Was it the disconnect between what we professed on Sunday mornings and what happened in our lives the rest of the time? That disconnect is present in most of us, I think. No matter how good I hope to be, I am imperfect. That doesn't mean I shouldn't state the hope. But perhaps not addressing the contrast was part of the problem.

Was the theology at fault? It's hard to say. My stepdad preaches well; I have accepted this. I can't remember ever finding much fault in his sermons, which were logically coherent and, from what I recall, doctrinally sound. But I don't remember, now, any of the content. Half-snippets of phrases, perhaps. Yet some of the preaching I have heard (or in some cases, read) since I started attending church again has stayed with me. Maybe that's because now I'm listening differently...but the sermons that have bothered me stick, too.

This goes along with my complete inability to remember any of the content of my confirmation classes, other than having to learn by heart the order of the books in the Bible (long since forgotten) and the Lord's Prayer (which I had already committed to memory), though I do remember the more general content of many other lessons.

But I do remember some of the Sunday School classes. Either the message that God loves us didn't get remembered, or it was lost among all the cutting and sticking... someone forgot to say, because they were more concerned about having run out of glue sticks.

And the liturgy? I don't have any service sheets ("bulletins") so I can't be sure. But we definitely had the Apostles' Creed, we definitely had the United Church of Canada Creed. We definitely had at least two readings per service. There were some antiphonal responsive things that I now think may have been psalms but I don't really remember. How is it that despite all this I did not make the connection?

There were the hymns. Some of those did make an impact, I think, but one I'm only really becoming aware of now, gradually, in fits and starts. Hymnody wasn't enough to keep me in church. It's more something that I'm discovering is still there now that I'm coming back.

I remember the pain of it, the searching that led me first to reject Christianity and then to walk away, too, from Judaism... and I see what is happening with my friend and the children she works with, and I think, "I wish I'd had that." I wish I had had such an environment. I wish I had been able to understand such amazing belovedness.

Oh, I don't always understand it now... but how is it that I knew, beyond any doubt, that God exists, and yet grew up in a church that tries to proclaim God's love and I didn't have an inkling of it? What would it be like to grow up knowing you are loved, unconditionally and beyond your wildest imagination, by Someone completely reliable, all-powerful?

But now I am veering off into the "what-if?" game. What if I'd been born somewhere else, what if my parents hadn't split up, what if my mum hadn't married my stepdad, what if, what if, what if? It all boils down to what if I'd been someone else.

As much as I wish things could have been different... I also have to take into account that if this love which I am somehow becoming aware of, somehow growing into... if this love is real, then I am loved for who and what I am, and that includes my painful experiences and my reactions to them. That does not mean I should not work to alleviate others' suffering -- far from it -- but it does mean that the yearning, the loneliness, the pain of feeling utterly unloved, which have shaped me and formed me, were not for naught. They are part of who I am, and who I am is a beloved child of God, even if that sometimes seems impossible to grasp.

As much as I wish things could have been different when I was a child, I don't think that I'd go back and change them if I could. The last few years have been such a journey, such a discovery. If one little thing had changed, perhaps I wouldn't have moved to England. Perhaps I wouldn't have met Sweetie. Perhaps I wouldn't have a household with him and with Intrepid Anthropologist...while our domestic situation is trying at times it is by far the most rewarding I have ever lived in. Perhaps if my path were different I would not have encountered Ambassador for Compassion, who convinced me by actions rather than words that some people really do walk the walk. Perhaps I would not have started blogging here and found you lot, for that matter. I still have so much to learn, so much to discern, but of late it seems that God shouts, not whispers, to get the message across. Christ on the cross (with his arms out to embrace the world) isn't just waiting patiently for me to get there. Instead I have this sense that he's running to meet me, and somehow already with me when I stumble.

I don't imagine that the times of feeling forlorn are over. It only takes a bad night's sleep, a missed meal or a particularly uncomfortable joint pain day to put me right back into self-pity mode, and I'll be surprised if those are the most difficult things I have to face. But for tonight I rejoice in the children who are growing up being told they are loved by God, and I wonder at my own growing into such love, and I give thanks for all those who have helped me on the way.


UKViewer said...


A really profound and thoughtful post. I wonder if I actually 'Got it' as a child, and even as an adult, practicing a faith, which I did not really understand or believe it. I went along with it. I was in it, but not of it.

Eventually, I came to what I thought was my senses and got rid of all of the baggage and stuff associated with the fairy story, I believed my life to have been up till than.

Some things hung on - unlike you, the Religious stuff I was taught, learned by rote (by heart) hung around in dark corners, rebelling, but I quelled it by ignoring it. Telling myself not to be stupid. I effectively silenced the 'Small, Quiet, Voice deep inside".

Two years ago, God shouted at me - in the form of a whisper, the silent voice spoke and said, "I am here - let me in". I was in such desperate circumstances that I actually listened, and more importantly acted.

God is love - he proclaims it in so many ways through creation, nature, the arts, science, technology but most importantly, through people, created in his likeness.

Your allegory of him shouting from the Cross is one, which I can relate to. When he used the words, "My God, Why have you foresaken me" they could have been applied to me in the dark, empty years between loss of belief and 28th June 2008, someone died that day as well - a man, but as a result of it, I live again, after dealing with its aftermath. It showed me that your strength is not enough - you need to be able to lay all of your troubles at the feet of Jesus, who suffered for all to heal our wounds and our sins.

Things are not perfect, stuff continues to come back from even childhood to raise issues requiring to be dealt with, but the difference is that I have support and love surrounding me and helping me to be healed and reconciled to what happened over 50 years ago.

God is Great.

Grandmère Mimi said...

What a lovely dialogue between the two of you.

Song in my Heart said...

Ernest, thank you for sharing so much of your own story here with me and others.

Grandmère Mimi, thank you.

God is indeed very great.