I’ve been in a spiritual desert lately. Which isn’t so bad, really, except that I’ve also felt like being in a spiritual desert is something to be ashamed of. “Why aren’t you reading your Bible?” I imagine people asking with judgmental concern. “Why aren’t you praying more?”
It seems kind of petulant to just tell the truth: “Because I don’t want to.”
It seems kind of silly that all it took was eight pages of a book to convince me that I may as well speak up. Reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People (also the author of the amazing Pastrix) is like simultaneously being calmed and inspired. I love her for her mess: she’s a Lutheran pastor, former alcoholic and stand-up comic, current struggler with loving people and caring about God. I want her to be my pastor so badly.
I recently was asked by an earnest young seminarian during a Q&A, “Pastor Nadia, what do you do personally to get closer to God?”
Before I even realized I was saying it, I replied, “What? Nothing. Sounds like a horrible idea to me, trying to get closer to God. Half the time, I wish God would leave me alone. Getting closer to God might mean getting told to love someone I don’t even like, or to give away even more of my money. It might mean letting some idea or dream that is dear to me get ripped away.
My spirituality is most active, not in meditation, but in the moments when:
I realize God may have gotten something beautiful done through me despite the fact that I am an asshole,
and when I am confronted by the mercy of the gospel so much that I cannot hate my enemies,
and when I am unable to judge the sin of someone else (which, let’s be honest, I love to do) because my own crap is way too much in the way,
and when I have to bear witness to another human being’s suffering despite my desire to be left alone,
and when I am forgiven by someone even though I don’t deserve it and my forgiver does this because he, too, is trapped by the gospel,
and when traumatic things happen in the world and I have nowhere to place them or make sense of them but what I do have is a group of people who gather with me every week, people who will mourn and pray with me over the devastation of something like a school shooting,
and when I end up changed by loving someone I’d never choose out of a catalog but whom God sends my way to teach me about God’s love.
I crave that kind of real talk. I’m so tired of hearing about what I should do or be. I think about that endlessly anyway, because I neurotically associate achievement with worth. I want to be assured that I can fail and fail and fail and still be loved by God and by his people.
I’m really looking forward to moving to Greece. I think it will be really healing for me to live in an interdenominational school, to work with an organization that revolves around diving into the deepest pains a person can experience, an organization that insists we workers understand and accept our own failings – individually and communally.
It is so easy for me to fall into the “good girl” role, which is horrible because all it takes to being a good girl is putting on a smile, being friendly, and making everyone believe you have it all together. That is what I want everyone to believe (I’m so obsessed with self-consciousness), so being rewarded for it? Toxic.
I keep thinking about how a new friend of mine said she was intimidated by me for so long because I was well spoken of in our church. Actually, two people have said that in the last couple months. I really fucking hate that. There, was a curseword enough to shatter my good girl image? I try to keep this blog clean, but why? Because of what people might say? Just one more way I’m trying to pander to other people’s ideas of what is right or wrong.
But the alternative is like clear, fresh water. Being myself in all my neuorses, selfishness, achievements, and apathy–and still being loved by God? THAT IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT. I love moments like these when I think, “I should read the Bible more, pray more, care more,” and then I feel God whisper, “I love you right now. You don’t need to get closer to me. I’m already with you.”
The gospel is all about God loving us at our worst, kind of side-eyeing our attempts to please him with a fond smile, constantly saying, “I’ve GOT this, please stop.” And then somewhere in the safety and comfort of stopping, of resting, of trusting….God just changes you from the inside out. And it is SO MUCH MORE rewarding than any time I strive or struggle to change myself.
Hmmm…what was the point of this? Honesty, I guess. And wow, I mean, when I started writing this, I felt really low and and kind of bitter. But now I feel hopeful. I’m reminded that it is OKAY to be in a spiritual desert. God doesn’t change. He’s always with me. I’m in a long term relationship with him, and my short term struggles don’t make a dent in his love for me. It is really healing to be reminded of that.