There is a way in which I sometimes I felt a sense of belonging. Belonging to a family. But I never felt I belonged to you.
It was like I was walking alone, next to a ghost who had died centuries ago, drifting silently at my feet, as my shadow cast over the sidewalk like a blanket dragged behind me solemnly. I knew you were lurking somewhere near, though I could not see you. I felt you hang on me like a weighty neckline, pushing me past the edge of good posture.
It is true. I feel you are weighing me with a curse. The curse of never truly knowing you. Who are you really, and why do you care about my life? I don’t know you. Yet I am weighted with your heavy curse. I walk among these crowded streets of lovers, lawyers, and logistics, and yet I feel lonely in your invisible company….
Here I sit, at age 19, writing a letter to God. I am waiting in a tea shop where a lot of Jesus-freak Christians like to hang out and gush about the Bible together. But I am not here to do that. This letter is just a time-filler for me while I wait for my friend. She’s always late.
When she gets here, she’s flushed from worrying about being late. She’s excusing herself and looking back at me, back at the menu on the wall, back at me, back at the menu. So I excuse her to order her drink and I scrawl something else in my notebook.
Why are you making me feel so guilty? You say you died for me, but how can that be? What did I ever do to you? What did any of these people do to you that you would make them feel indebted to you?
My friend, her name is Liz, comes back. She is one of those Christians, who often come to this place, but she’s not necessarily a Jesus-freak; there is a difference. We’re here to chat. We used to be roommates, and when we were, we wouldn’t really do things like this on purpose; it just kind of happened, because we lived in the same dorm room. Now, now that we live across campus in different apartment buildings, we have to arrange meetings with each other.
I am hearing her make small talk, mostly about the Newman Center, which is where she goes to church. She’s a Catholic, the same faith that I was allegedly raised in but now have walked away from. She’s very involved there, so naturally, I assume this must mean she’s firm in her religion and knows all the answers.
Today I am feeling heavy. I am searching for God. I’ve heard that if I search for him, I’ll find him, but that’s not happening. I’m also feeling very pms-y. Liz is talking about how this girl Terra is making a new painting of Jesus being crucified for the Newman Center activity center’s walls. There is a small pause and my subconscious takes advantage of it.
“Why did Jesus have to die for us? I mean, I don’t understand that whole thing. Jesus was a really good person, but how do we know he was actually God, and even if he was, why did he need to die to save us? I’m not seeing the connection….”
Liz looked at me, a little stunned probably (as was almost every other person sitting near us), and not sure how to answer to my barrage of negativity and doubtfulness. “Well”, she cleared her throat, and then took a sip of her milk tea. Mine was all gone otherwise I would have mirrored her actions. Instead I just stared at her expectantly, my eyebrows arched to indicated how doubtful I was that she, or anyone really, could answer my question to my satisfaction. “I’m actually not sure…. I mean I know he had to die for us, but I guess I don’t really know why…”
“So you’ve just been kind of believing everything your priest tells you, even though he doesn’t explain the why. You’ve just been declaring yourself a “Jesus-believer” without truly knowing why or even if his death has any impact on your life what-so-ever?” My words were hot with anger, but not at Liz. She cowered nonetheless. Staring into her teacup, she breathed a sigh.
“That’s why it’s called faith, Claire.” The words fell out of her mouth in a whisper that was hardly audible. They could have drowned in her tea for all I cared. I heard them, but I wasn’t listening to them.
If this was faith, this unknowing, ignorant, unable-to-defend, kind of BS answers, then what good was it?
I peered over at her face. It was flushed and there was the trace of a tear in her left eye, but her long lashes covered it when she looked further into her teacup, as if something was written there in the milky pool at the flat bottom of the rounded sides. I felt bad. I wasn’t angry with Liz. My anger did not stem from her inability to articulate such a complicated answer to such a hostilely worded question. No, my anger was rooted deep within the confines of my past, beginning early in my years attending church, praying for healing that never came, and being tossed about by two parents who were probably just as confused as I was, or possibly even more so. My anger was deep seeded and connected to almost two decades worth of suppressed shame and resentment.
Of course, I did not know this at the time. But it was the reason I felt guilty for making Liz feel bad.
The truth is, I felt pretty guilty about a lot of things, which is easy to understand now that I do know why Jesus had to die for my sin, and for all the world’s sin. Since I had no concept of what was accomplished at the cross, when Christ gave his life as ransom for me, I was carrying around a heavy cross myself, not accepting Jesus’s help with lugging it around wherever I went. In fact, I was convinced that God was the one who burdened me with that load– that “curse” as I called it. I felt guilty, shamed, forgotten about, and un-forgiven, and I blamed God.
When you walk in life, not understanding your own salvation and unaware of the blessings Christ’s death and resurrection offers, when you don’t recognize the promises that were fulfilled in the cross, you can’t fully understand the great love God has for you. You become angry and hostile. Or you just become numb.
My story is one of redemption, much like most of our stories. My story is one that weaves itself into the fabric of a larger story; God’s story. I am only a supporting role in my story, because really, it’s not my story; it’s God’s story.