“Be Still and Know Me.” “But That Sounds Scary!” : Two Conversations with God

I’ve been learning a lot about myself in 12 Steps.  I learned that I hugely fear people that threaten my sense of security, and I try to avoid this potential threat by withdrawing from people who might hurt me or else being so competent that no one will ever want to hurt me.  Then I realized that I was playing out this exact pattern with God, and that my distance from him these last few months has largely been because I’m very scared he’s out to hurt me.

The other night, I decided to bite the bullet and open myself up to talking with God in a real way for the first time in a long time.  I had this imaginary conversation (some might call it prayer, but I’m a doubting doubter who doubts, so there’s all my cards on the table):

Me:  I TRIED to get close to you, God.  I was going to read through the whole Bible, but Leviticus, God?  It sucks!  You’re awful to your own people!!  What are you going to do to me?  If I make one mistake, are you going to send my family members after me with machetes?  You want too much!  You just want and want and want, and it’s never enough!

God:  …

Me:  Okay, fine.  You tell me.  What DO you want?

God:  Be with me.

Me:  That sounds like a fake thing that I just want you to say.

God:  Be still and know that I am God.

Me:  Just be…and know you?  For what purpose?

God:  This is a relationship, Tricia.

Me:  So knowing and being known is the whole point?  So…who are you?

The next step is about getting to the root of my character flaw (believing that I can prevent myself from harm by either withdrawing or being competent).  I pretty quickly remembered a conversation from childhood in which a person who didn’t usually show me attention DID show me attention because of something smart that I said.  I’ve been chasing people’s attention through being smart ever sense.

Again, this led back to God.

Me:  I just want everyone to love me!  And the only way I know how to do that is to be so smart and useful that they have to.  I don’t think I can have their attention any other way.

God:  …

Me:  …You’re right.  I don’t believe that I can have your attention unless I perform well for you.

God:  Why?

Me:  Because it’s usually true with people!

God:  What if it’s not true with me?

Me:  That feels way too scary to risk, because if I’m right about this and I try another way, then you’re going to hate me and punish me.

God:  Who am I to you?

Me:  Fickle.  Impossible to please.

God:  Is that true?

Me:  I honestly don’t know.

And that’s where I’m at!  I still don’t trust God, but we’re finally talking about it, so that’s major progress.  Ugh, listen to that.  “Progress”?  What an action-oriented word to describe a relationship.  I want everything to be progress and growth and productivity.  What I’m trying to learn is that maybe I can have a loving relationship with God even without all of those things.

It’s a hard habit to kick.

 

Overcoming Doubt with Vulnerability

I’m on Step 5 of the 12 Steps, which says we “admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  This step is about confession, obviously, but its also about the connections we form with people when we are vulnerable.  Keeping secrets is isolating, and it heightens our shame and our loneliness.  The scariest thing – revealing the worst of ourselves to another person – is our only hope.  If we risk trusting a safe person with our secrets and they still love us, well.  That is simply the best feeling in the world.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I’ve been going through a faith crisis.  This isn’t new; I’m a doubter by nature, and every couple years I start thinking, “Am I wrong about everything?  Is there a purpose to life, is God good or even real, can anything ever change for the better?”  This time, my faith crisis began with the election of Donald Trump.

It has been so confusing for me to see Christians support a man who is explicitly racist, sexist, and xenophobic.  When people who taught me the Bible as a small child defend his actions and even give Christian defenses of his “safety” measures that seem hateful and fear-mongering to me, I just…I wonder why our beliefs are so different.  The God I believe in is more loving and grace-giving and patient than our wildest dreams.  If other people believe in a God that calls us to hunker down and keep people out in order to stay safe, who’s to say whose God is the real one?

It hasn’t helped that I am reading through the Bible chronologically, and I’m currently wading through the Exodus/Leviticus laws.  It’s a crime to kill a fellow Israelite, but if you beat your slave so badly that he or she dies, you simply have to pay a fine.  That is…God’s law?  That is not something I can stomach, and it’s been eating me inside out that some of these verses seem to support the hateful, elitist God of Trump’s “Christianity.”

I used to be able to see how the God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament went together, but right now, in the midst of confusion, anger, and sadness, I can’t see it anymore.

All of this felt immense.  I worried that I was losing my faith and that I was hating God (I am, a little).  It was suffocating me.  But then I studied Step 5, and during lunch last week, I poured everything out in front of Luciana.  She tried to encourage me, but I told her, “I’m sorry, but right now nothing you say is going to make me feel better.”  She assured me that she shared my belief in a loving God, and I said, “Maybe you’re a heathen like me.”  Finally, she suggested we share dessert and said, “It’s good to doubt.  It makes our beliefs stronger, even though it’s painful.  You’re in a really good place right now.”

I didn’t believe her, but talking to her DID make the weight on my chest ease up.  I’d told someone that I kinda sorta hated God, and she had shared dark chocolate mochi with me.  So a few days later, during a dinner to get to know my new roommate, I casually mentioned that I was going through a faith crisis.  Two days later, we went out for coffee, and she carefully said, “You know how you said you were going through a faith crisis?  I am too.”  My vulnerability had opened a door that allowed us to complain to and encourage each other.  We might have sat in adjacent bedrooms for months, not knowing that the person next door was also feeling confused and betrayed and scared for the very same reason.

Nothing is necessarily figured out for me, faith-wise.  I’m still in the middle of a period of doubt, but it no longer scares me.  I even believe that God timed things so that I would study Step 5 just when I needed it, that he isn’t annoyed by my “hating” him because he is excited for the moment when I see HIM, the real him, again, and love him even more than before.

Our fears and doubts are scary, but we make them bigger than they need to be when we keep them to ourselves.  Finding the courage to share them with others can bring relief to yourself, and sometimes, for other people who need to know that they are not alone in their own fears and doubts.

We’re not meant to live alone.  It’s only in a community of honesty and acceptance that we can grow and thrive and change, and I’m so glad that I was able to live that this past week.

We Remember: A Ceremony to Lament and Honor Women

One of my least favorite things about the Bible are stories where women are neglected, abused, raped, and chopped into twelve pieces.  Worse than the stories themselves is the way in which God is silent about these stories.  When Abraham sacrificed his son, God saved the day by providing a ram.  When Jephthah sacrificed his daughter…she died.

One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it is full of people screaming at God, desperate to know why things happen and where we can find meaning in the midst of misery.  Although I still don’t understand why these stories are in the Bible, or why God allows so much abuse to continue today, I know that one way I can find meaning in all of this is to remember their stories and tell them again to a world that so often doesn’t want to hear.

“Those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories.  They have forgotten the concubine of Bethlehem, the raped princess of David’s house, the daughter of Jephthah, and the countless unnamed women who lived and died between the lines of Scripture exploited, neglected, ravaged, and crushed at the hand of patriarchy are as much a part of our shared narrative as Deborah, Esther, Rebekah, and Ruth.  We may not have a ceremony through which to grieve them, but it is our responsibility as women of faith to guard the dark stories for our own daughters, and when they are old enough, to hold their faces and make them promise to remember.”

-Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood, pg 66


After reading Rachel Held Evans’ book, a friend and I decided that we wanted to recreate a ceremony she describes, a ceremony meant to lament the fates of women in the Bible and in present times so that their stories will not be forgotten.  It was an incredibly moving experience, and I encourage anyone interested to consider trying it yourself.

Based largely on the suggestions made by Evans, this is the layout of our ceremony:

Should we remember Hagar, Tamar, Jephthah’s daughter, and Lot’s?
Should we tell of their wretched lives to our daughters?
Should we speak on our lips the tales of torture, misery, abuse, and violence?
Would we do better to consign them to silence?
We will listen, however painful the hearing,
for still there are women the world over
being raped
being whipped
being sold into slavery
being shamed
being silenced
being beaten
being broken
treated as worthless
treated as refuse.
Until there is not one last woman remaining
who is a victim of violence.
We will listen and we will remember.
we will rehearse the stories and we will renounce them.
we will weep and we will work for the coming of the time
when not one baby will be abandoned because of her gender
not one girl will be used against her will for another’s pleasure
not one young woman will be denied the chance of an education
not one mother will be forced to abandon her child
not one woman will have to sell her body
not one crone will be cast off by her people to die alone.
Listen then, in sorrow.
Listen in anger, Listen to the texts of terror.
And let us commit ourselves to working for a world
in which such deeds may never happen again…

  • Read the story of Jephthah’s Daughter (Judges 11)
  • Light a candle: “We remember Jephthah’s daughter.”
  • Read the story of the Unnamed Concubine (Judges 19)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember the unnamed concubine.”
  • Read the story of Hagar (Genesis 21)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember Hagar.”
  • Read the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13)
  • Light a candle:  “We remember Hagar.”
  • Light candles for any other women who you want to remember

We ended our ceremony with discussion.  I felt drained by the horror of the stories we’d read, but also furious.  The male privilege throughout was infuriating – men mourning the death of the son but not the rape of their daughter – men throwing their concubine to a crowd to be repeatedly raped and then using pieces of her body as a spiritual warning – men taking God’s will into their own hands and then discarding a woman when it is clear she is no longer necessary – it is MADDENING.

But I remember their stories.  And I let this despair and outrage fuel my work with HD, reaching out to women who have been sexually exploited and abused.  Their stories are also too often forgotten.  Their actions are explained away, their experiences become statistics, and laws never change.  But each of us can make a difference, beginning today, by giving some of your time to remember the dark stories of women who came before us.

“From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah” (Judges 11:39-40).

Running Away From God is a Good Thing

I was talking to a friend recently about fear, doubt, and faith.  We’ve both come to realize that having and expressing our “shameful” feelings is better than hiding them or trying to conquer them.  But then my friend paused.

“I feel like God is coming closer to me, and I am away.”

“You’re going away from Him?”

“Yes.”  After a half hour of confident expression, she’d finally said something that she was ashamed of.

I’ve gotten to know this friend well over the past several months.  I know that she struggles to be close to people, and that she would prefer to have fortress-like walls around herself to keep herself safe.  So I immediately realized:

“Maybe it’s a good thing.”

“To run away from God??”

“Yeah.  Because that’s how you treat people.  When they get too close, you run away, right?”

“Yes.”

“So if you run away from God when he gets closer, that means you see him as a person.  Otherwise you could just keep going through the motions of “serving” God and assume that he’s some lifeless thing to manipulate.  You’re acting like you’re in a real relationship.  That’s pretty awesome.”

“Is it??”

“I mean, let’s not stop here.  I want you to be in a place where you feel safe with God.  But I do think it’s a really good sign!”

My favorite thing in the whole world is to turn shame into hope.  It’s much easier for me to do this for other people, so I’m writing this here both to encourage others and to remind myself that it’s true.

5 “Worship” Songs That I Can Stand

I don’t like Contemporary Christian Music.  I think this is mostly a knee-jerk reaction against my teenage ALL CHRISTIAN EVERYTHING SEPARATE FROM THE WORLD asshole days, so I am probably throwing some babies out with the bathwater (sorry, babies!).  But there is also a little truth to the fact that a lot of CCM is just…not creative.  Not technically good.  And most importantly to me, they are often too Happy Happy Joy Joy.

I can’t stand a faith that pretends life is good.  I can’t stand a faith that refuses to acknowledge domestic violence, addictions, bad moods, and doubt.  Unfortunately, most of our worship music is “blissfully” free of our uncomfortable reality.  But I want to be uncomfortable!  I want the songs I sing to God to be messy and truthful and desperate, because that is how I am.

So even though I don’t like traditional worship music, I DO love me some songs about faith.  Here are a few of my favorites.

1|  “Jesus, Jesus” by Noah Gundersen Continue reading

God Finds Me Even When I Don’t Go To Church

I am writing this on a Sunday morning when I ought to be in church, but instead am sitting at a coffee shop table in the center of a park near my house.  I am only here after an hour of mental anguish, because I knew I OUGHT to go to church, but I didn’t want to.  Well, part of me wanted to.  It’s the first Sunday of the month, which is when the church I (half-heartedly) attend does Communion, and Communion is the one thing about church that I find consistently satisfying.

But mostly I didn’t want to.  I loathe the process of going to church on my own.  Getting ready alone, walking to the metro alone, riding the metro alone, walking several blocks alone, opening the door alone, scanning the seats for a familiar face alone, seeing them sitting in a full seat and therefore finding my own place.  Alone.  It is hell.

So I didn’t go.  But it’s a beautiful day, and I DID want Communion with God, that mysterious practice that reminds me that I cannot do life on my own but must, in some way, consistently take Jesus inside of me as the food I eat and the wine I drink.  So I came to this park, and I’m drinking coffee (it felt weird to order wine at 11:00 a.m.), eating a croissant, and reading Gospel by J.D. Greear.

For the past few years, I have been trying to trust that God’s love for me is not dependent upon my actions.   Continue reading

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Yesterday I wrote about fear’s power in destroying love.  Thankfully, we can choose which of these worldviews we feed.  And just as focusing on fear can make love shrink, so to can focusing on love banish fear.

Again, this is easiest to see in the world of human interactions.  Growing up in the Midwest, surrounded by white middle class girls and boys, I had a fear of the other that zeroed in on Muslim people after 9/11.  I didn’t hate them, necessarily, but I figured that if I ever met one, I wouldn’t want to be friends with him or her.  I was afraid of the actions of a few, and it kept me from loving a massive population of diverse people.

Luckily, in college I went to Turkey and met Muslim men and women.  I was overwhelmed to realize that they were normal human beings with fears and passions and hobbies. Continue reading

Perfect Fear Casts Out Love

Yes, you read that correctly.  The actual Bible verse is “perfect love casts out fear,” but I’m reading Jonathan Martin’s book Prototype, and I fully agree with him that the reverse is also true.

Perfect fear casts out love.   Continue reading

The Doubting Christian’s Starter Pack

Are you drawn to the story of a God who lives and dies full of love for a rebellious creation…yet find yourself wondering how it could possibly be true?  Have you grown weary of rules that seem to cause slavery rather than freedom?  Are you skeptical about the usefulness of “good news” that doesn’t seem so good?  Do you worry that the religion you grew up with doesn’t apply to a more diverse population?

Welcome to the Doubting Christians Club!

In a desire to provide a strong foundation for its members, the Church has often promoted a rigorous belief system that seems to leave little room for doubt…which can make doubters feel like they either need to leave the Church or else hide their doubts.  I don’t believe either of these options is a good idea for the Doubting Christian – the first because you will miss out on the beauty you are drawn to, and the second because you will live a double life that will slowly isolate and destroy you.

Luckily, there are others out there just like you (myself, for instance)!  Listed below is the Doubting Christians Starter Pack that will stretch your mind, give you hope, and assure you that you are not alone.

71891781|  O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling by Jason Boyett  

This is the book that began my journey toward becoming comfortable with my doubt.    It was given to me, unasked for, by my pastor, which has earned him my undying respect.  In this book, Boyett gets honest about his doubts and comes to the conclusion that perhaps doubters are closer to God than those who never question their faith – after all, doubt is an inextricable part of a faith given to something unseen.

Continue reading

Fundraising Worries

At HD, the staff meets every week for a Formation of Servants meeting.  FoS is a 12 Steps program that is a more explicitly Christian version of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps.  These mandatory meetings were part of why I wanted to work with HD; I love being part of an organization that focuses on the brokenness of its staff simultaneously to the brokenness of the people we serve.  BUT.  I also.  Don’t like it.  Because it’s haaaard!

We’ve been doing these meetings for at least three months now, and I’ve been stuck on the first two steps the whole time.  The first step is:  “We admitted we are powerless over some of the effects of God’s sovereignty in our lives and because of our lack of trust in him our lives are unmanageable.”  I was on this step for a LONG time, because I do not want to admit that I am powerless or that my life is unmanageable.  I’m pretty good at managing my life, thank you very much.  But eventually I did come to a breakthrough of sorts that allowed me to move on to step two, where I promptly got stuck again.

We came to believe that our loving God, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, could restore us to sanity.”  This is the natural progression of step one; if I am not in control of my life, then God is.  And…is he?  Do I want him to have all of that power?  Do I want to admit that I’m insane without him?  No, no, no, I would much rather have everyone believe that I have it all together and can do anything that I put my mind to.

Underneath all of this is the question: do I trust God?  Do I trust that he is both loving and powerful?  I mean, definitely not always.  It is hard to be a counselor and not think, “Um, God, what are you allowing in their lives!?”  It is hard to be a human being and not think, “GOD, I could have used you just then!!”

These abstract thoughts are taking a coherent form in my new round of fundraising.  This time last year, I worked on raising $27,000.  I sent out many letters, I worked in a church where everyone could hear my story any time they stopped by the office, I ran a t-shirt drive and put together a yard sale.  I had a team of people who consistently showed up to support me.   I made a month-long road trip to visit people and tell my story.  I did it.  I mean, God helped.  But in the narrative running through my head, I’m definitely giving myself the majority of the credit.

A caveat: I don’t think that is entirely bad.  I definitely think God used my fundraising experience last year to develop my creativity and confidence, and I think I’m going to use those skills in the future for HD.  But that was last year’s lesson.

This year’s lesson?  It’s about actually trusting God, I think.  It feels INCREDIBLY daunting to do fundraising in the United States from halfway around the world.  I can send letters and emails and make Facebook announcements, but I can’t BE there.  I can’t talk to people face-to-face, and I can’t motivate or manipulate or beg.  I just have to…sit here, and trust that God will work in people’s hearts.

THAT IS SO HARD.

It is going to take a lifetime to learn to trust God fully.  And the part of me that isn’t scared is really grateful for this chance to see God work.  But.  You know.  There’s still that part of me that’s scared.

I guess I just have to wait and see what happens!