Terms and Conditions

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I’ve spent the last few weeks avoiding coming to terms with my trust issues. The simple exercise of writing a list of those I trust turned into ten days of me either avoiding my journal entirely or staring at a blank page and then walking away.

With the start of Lent, I have found myself thrown back into the same emotional grist mill where I spent all of Advent. I kind of expect the teary moments this time around and that’s okay. I can handle those. That sounds like such a simple thing. To be able to cry and be okay with the tears. But the reality is it has taken a long time for me to get to this point. To stop believing the lies that crying over things that hurt is a sign of instability or weakness.

What has been so much harder to come to terms with has been my anger. This time of year always sits like lead. The end of January to the end of March is always haunted by memories of my father’s last weeks. The one place, the church,  I often turned to for solace has become so tainted that it is no longer a sanctuary and the church I have moved to is still too unfamiliar to be completely comfortable. I’m angry that I have been driven out of my refuge. I deeply resent being betrayed and abandoned by people I trusted, most especially my pastor and confessor. Every time those tears come because I’m feeling adrift, the anger comes raging up behind the tears.

So here I am. Second Sunday of Lent. A blank page in my journal staring back at me. Trust. Who do I trust? There is a list. It has more people on it than it used to. But is a very gradational list. I trust only up to a point. And that point depends on the situation and the person and our relationship.

Am I on my own list? No. Or maybe a better answer would be: Not yet.

Is God on my list?  Cautiously, yes.

How is that God, who loves me unconditionally, is so hard for me to trust? Because too often what I’ve known as love has always been conditional.

Conditional love can be defined, broken down, and understood. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. Expectation and reality. That makes it strategic. That sets up the conditions that are the rules of the game. They’re a pattern, a puzzle to be figured out; terms to be agreed to. I can learn how to play that game. What risks to take. What strategy to use. And when the stakes are too high, to walk away.

Unconditional love is a total unknown. There is no game and therefore no strategy. There are no terms and conditions to agree to. Unconditional love just is. Which means there is no control. And that is terrifying. Things beyond my control have a nasty way of coming back to hurt me.

I know enough of God to know God doesn’t work like that. More than ever before, it seems like Lent for me means working through who God is not. The tears, the anger, the resentment, the betrayal and abandonment, the broken trust: none of those came from God. But if I can hand them over, God will take them.

If… for two little letters that’s a really big word.

 

 

Are you ok?

I spent yesterday afternoon with a houseful of good friends celebrating St. Patrick’s day with good food, good whiskey and lots of laughter. I was chided for having not posted recently. I had promised my friend Frank that I would post 2 weeks ago and well… life got in the way. So in answer to the question that I was asked repeatedly yesterday: Yes. I’m okay. Really truly okay.

I’m not really in a church at the moment and yesterday’s party was full of people I’ve gotten to know through my parish over the years. It was a gentle reminder that I can’t stay without a community for too long. Do I miss it? Not yet. Will I? Yes, eventually. Probably sooner rather than later. But right now, I’m where I’m supposed to be. Where is that exactly? I suppose this is my desert, my time and space to be alone with God.

If you’ve been reading my scribbling long enough, you know I have my share of issues with God as well as my issues with Mother Church. Trying to separate the two finally became impossible to juggle. It filtered through my thick skull that trying to figure out where I stand as far church without understanding where I stand with God is quite simply a waste of time.

Life always comes down to the same question. Where am I with God right now? In a very strange new place. I’m not entirely sure that I like it but I haven’t run screaming either so I suppose there’s something to be said for that. I’ve spent so many years locked into a fight-or-flight stance with God that giving it up, is well…. a little terrifying. I’ve made my disquiet about it very well known, probably a hundred times a day. That level of honesty is something new for me.

It’s not like I’ve never let Him know when I’m afraid. Many a night I stayed up all night when the marriage went to hell, when Eugene was sick, when my eyes went haywire and I was afraid that one morning I’d just wake up blind. He’s heard about all of it. Not that I would dare to think He was going to step in to fix it but He was the only one awake and listening at 3 in the morning.

And it’s not like I’ve never let God know when I’m pissed off. I’ve cussed Him a blue streak. In several languages. But instead of hanging around for an answer, I’d usually end up screaming, “Go away and leave me alone!” I was so furious with Him, I kicked the door shut between us and slammed and threw things and broke things. Like a kid who had a really bad day, I threw a full scale temper tantrum.

And when I got tired of running, tired of fighting and tired of yelling, I sat there in the middle of the broken mess that I’d made of my life and realized that He was standing there at the door.
Waiting.
Patiently.
I don’t know what I expected exactly. Anger? Annoyance? Disappointment?Impatience at the very least. Compassion and gentleness weren’t exactly at the top of the list.

So for the last couple years, I may have opened the door but I’ve been pacing in circles. Watching Him. Waiting for even a flicker of trouble. Little by little the conversation became less one-sided. The anger, the impatience, the disappointment that I expected from Him never materialized.

Now, I’ve stopped pacing. I can say what I think. I can say what I feel. I still flinch. But at least I can say it. I could finally say the one thing I never would. “I’m afraid of You.”

There was no argument to the contrary. No attempt at persuasion. His response was simply, “I know.”

So here we are, in this strange new place where blatant honesty is not only acceptable but expected. It’s a little unnerving. But it’s okay. We’re okay.

See I have a thing about doors. I know where they are. Always. I know if they’re closed or not. I know if they’re locked or not. I know how many steps are between me and the door. Most importantly, when anyone is between me and the door, I how much I trust them.

He’s in the room.
We’re talking.
And I’ve quit counting the steps to the door.