Mom recently asked me why it’s important to keep going during this season, why any of it (and all that “it” encompasses) matters now. Why shouldn’t we just resign ourselves to inevitabilities and just… stop. Why continue to live life actively instead of curling up and wallowing? The question was half rhetorical, half challenge. I’d only half articulated an answer to myself before she asked, and I promised a more thorough explanation. Well, here’s my attempt.
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I’ve long since stopped believing in answers. Especially easy ones.
Instead, when I ask myself what keeps me going during this strange season of simultaneously having and losing, I hang my hat on certain truths, and those aren’t the same thing as answers. They are not trite, and frankly some may not quite be hermeneutically acceptable or accurate. But they are truths nonetheless. And, most days, they are enough to convince me that that day matters.
I remember back a decade and quite some change ago when I first encountered G.K. Chesterton, who introduced into the fatalism of my hyperCalvinist mind the possibility of mystery and beauty. In Orthodoxy, I found a new way of seeing in the philosophy of fairyland, of “imagining for one mad moment that the grass is really green.” The world could be so much less–and so much different–than what it is, and yet there’s a Creator who somehow made it just so. Seeing the beauty in the everyday, in the ordinary, broadens the scope of my imagination, and lets me believe that there is more beauty than I have yet encountered. As Chesterton expressed it,
“But nearly all of the people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.”
Something secure–orthodoxy–paired with the strange–the remarkable fact of creation. That worldview is a starting point for hope. I believe wholeheartedly that this world is full of things far greater than I can understand because there’s a great Magician who created it with powers far beyond my little scope. So that’s my first truth: that faith invites me to see beauty and mystery in the everyday.
Independent of and complementing that, I have come to accept that this world-gone-whack as not the Magician’s fault. Cancer? Fallen world issue. Loss? Common, but not natural. Lack of miracle? Well, what kind of a world would it be if I expected the Clockmaker to fix everything on my own timetable when he’s managing something much bigger? I admit to bordering on deism sometimes, so my Clockmaker naming isn’t incidental. But that’s the trick, isn’t it–believing in a God who can intervene yet often does not. I make peace with this because decay isn’t his “fault,” but a natural consequence to abide. So when something miraculous does happen–it’s the fairytale wonder that emerges, not a foregone fact taken for granted.
Do I believe God doesn’t intervene because somehow loss is “good” for me? Insert-every-four-letter-word, NO. I have yet to have the verse/passage pointed out to me that says our suffering per se is good. Rather, I choose to believe that God will take the broken and redeem it, not merely leave me with the pieces. I believe that he makes beauty from ashes, not that he stokes the fires consuming what I love. That’s cause for hope. Hope that redemption means better.
Maybe I could say that I choose to believe that the good in this life is from God’s hand, and the evil/death that happens is part of sin’s consequence on the world, the laws of atrophy at work. Do I believe that God is sovereign? Yes. Do I believe that God sends a violent hurricane on an unsuspecting New Orleans to chastise us for specific sins, some punishment that doesn’t fit the crime? No no, I don’t. I have yet to believe that all hardship is discipline (sidenote: Hebrews 12 is talking about the struggle against sin and the discipline that comes with that, how is that descriptive of all suffering? Even Jesus said the son’s blindness was not for sin of his parents or his own). Sometimes, the worst happens simply because the world and our bodies are broken.
Frankly, when I hear someone talk about the “frowning providence of God,” I think that person is overestimating our own importance. Yes, God cares for the sparrow, but he does not tailor the wind to each sparrow, nor bend the laws of nature to save us heartache; a hurricane that gives one person a fresh beginning will leave another reeling for years. When were we ever promised a tailor-made path through this world? We are not promised a unique world, but a meaningful life and redeemed experiences despite a world held in bondage to sin.
Accepting loss becomes easier with this perspective, that God doesn’t owe me a customized trip through life. It also makes the hope and comfort offered in surviving the experience much more precious. And finally, this understanding frees me to believe that rain falls on the just and the unjust–and that even in a drought, I believe it will fall again. I want to be ready to plant my seeds when the rain falls, so I better keep pushing through now.
Well, that was a bit of a tangent. What else? Well, I see nothing in Bible or in my heroes that encourages me to quit. Paul encouraged us to run the race set before us, not quit halfway. And if he can keep going, maybe I can too, sustained by grace. Nowhere do I find my God saying, “Well done, good and faithful quitter.” Do we reshift? Reorient? Radically evaluate our priorities and rail against a fallen world? Absolutely, but to quit would be to admit there is no hope, no future. I choose to believe continuing will be worth it, someday, because I believe God redeems even what I cannot bear.
I believe our losses matter to God. I also believe that our little lives matter to him. Well, whether you eat or drink… I believe that was I do has purpose, meaning, and therefore I will not quit.
This is a particularly deep valley, no doubt. It may go so far and so deep that I forget what sunshine feels like; but sunshine will still exist. The dragon might slay a hundred knights before being slain himself, but the fairytale only depends upon the one knight who lives. I refuse to believe that the story ends here, before the end. For me, I’m still “young” and I have reason to believe I’m not done yet.
It’s not a particular secret that I’m in love with Doctor Who (well, David Tennant), but why is worth exploring. Really, I love that the show is about a man who loses everything again and again, and somehow keeps moving forward–allons-y!–and proclaiming the small wonders of small lives “fantastic.” The world keeps turning, and we keep breathing. Can I really bear to spend those breaths waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next calamity, curling into a fetal position for however long I have? I will, at moments. But there is too much beauty and living and ordinary adventure to stay in that position forever.
I’d rather a life of pain and acute loss punctuated by eternal hopes and moments of sunshine than a gray half-existence. Will I be able to convince myself of this when the days turn darker? I do hope so. But even the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, is a little less dark the next day. I will rely on the slow return of spring as a matter of fact, of faith, even when all I see is the night.
“The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost… This world and all our powers in it are far more awful and beautiful than even we know until some accident reminds us.” – Tremendous Trifles, 1909