going through hard times

The Summer of Unbelief

It rained almost every day this summer –not the brief and angry afternoon storms of my childhood, but in intermittent streams all day long, like someone turning a faucet on and off. The honey-golden days of June and July were swallowed by a colorless sky and air so thick and sticky that walking to work in the mornings felt like wading through molasses. The barometric pressure swelled every day, the pressure inside my head building with it, straining for equilibrium, my nose and eye sockets and temples pulsing with pain like I’d been punched in the face. Sometimes I felt like the summer had been one long headache, though in fairness, I suppose it could have partly been from all the crying.

April and May and the beginning of June were an emerald green haze of hope. I felt energized, excited about the future, and more open to God and to life than I had in a long time. We made the decision to stay in Korea, the cherry blossoms were scattering beauty everywhere and my parents came all the way from America to visit. I joined a Bible study and Husband and I started meeting with our friends each week for “church.” I was running again, my writing was gaining momentum, and I felt like I could see God’s fingerprints everywhere I looked.

When the summer came those fingers I’d imagined sweetly leaving their mark on the world turned into fists that pounded me so relentlessly I was sure that if I looked closely I’d actually see bruises blooming purple under my skin.

Some blows were truly big and terrifying things, like cancer and ISIS and planes falling from the sky. Some were only personal tragedies – losing our cat and saying forever goodbyes to friends moving away, moments of disconnect and frustration. And some were simply annoyances—a broken computer, a busted kindle screen, a new shirt that shrunk in the wash—but piled on top of the big things they felt like a conspiracy to suck all the goodness out of life.

I have prayed more and harder over these past few months than any other time I can remember. In the middle of the night when I have lain awake, exhausted but unable to sleep, I have begged God for mercy – for the world, for my loved ones, for myself. But I always woke in the morning feeling alone and unheard.

Part of me was angry. Because even though this goes against everything I believe, some subconscious piece of me felt cheated. Like I’d been faithfully holding up my end of the bargain and God had let me down.* And another, larger part of me was simply bone-weary.

Husband says these are the moments that draw him into God, make him see his own need. I suppose that’s what the people who suffer so beautifully through great tragedies experience. They are drawn to God in their pain.

I’m not one of those people.

When it seems like the darkness is winning and God feels utterly disinterested, I lose heart. And I lose faith –not in God exactly, but certainly in God’s goodness.

See, I’ve never really questioned the existence of God. My Big Question isn’t if God exists, it’s “Is He good?” And even if He is good, how can I know that he is really involved in the world in any significant way?

I know, I know. Oh me of little faith. But the problem is that you put your faith in the one you trust. And it would seem that I am not to-my-bones and in-my-belly convinced that I can trust God’s goodness. When I see the vast power of the ocean or the way the mists roll over the mountains in the morning, or when I see ordinary, messy people made beautful, I see God’s work in the world and I believe that God is good and maybe even that he cares about me. But when the ugly bits of life break in and I beg for grace and rescue that doesn’t seem to come, I waver. Is God still good here? Now? Or (maybe worse) is He good and simply not interested?

I don’t believe God has promised us an easy life. He has simply promised to be with us. To give us Himself. But sometimes He doesn’t seem to be doing that either.

My wise friend Julie said to me “Maybe God is asking, ‘Will you still trust me now?’”

If He is, I’d like to be able to answer His question with a grumbly, big-sigh, reluctant, “Yes.” But the truth is that I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The summer is ending and I am running out of tears and out of prayers. All I am left with are the words of the father in the gospels whose name we’ll never know: **

“Help my unbelief!”

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*Which, of course, isn’t Christianity at all. It’s karma. But that’s another story for another day.
**The man in Mark 9 whose son has an evil spirit.