We Make the Road, by Brian McLaren – Chapter 42 “Spirit of Love: Loving God”
Fear. Stress. Anxiety. Worry.
Love. Peace. Belonging. Rest.
These are the wars that rage within my soul.
This week’s chapter on Spirit of Love: Loving God had a few excerpts that kept whispering to me off the page.
Whatever ember of love for goodness flickers within us, however feeble or small… that’s what the Spirit works with, until that spark glows warmer and brighter. From the tiniest beginning, our whole lives—our whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength—can be set aflame with love for God.
At times, then, our hearts cry out, “When, Lord? How long, Lord?” or “Why?” or even “No!” But the fact that we share this pain with God rather than withhold it turns out to be an expression of love.
Below is my attempt to put into words what my own journey into a broken faith has been like for me.
It’s a work in progress.
Love on Fire
It’s a scary thing to have lived a life, knowing once the hot flames of passion, a virtual bonfire of a faith on display for all to see—only to have it burn you and slowly reduce to coal and ashes before your eyes.
You run to all the normal sources – trying to stir the embers. You blow and blow and blow. You take the lighter fluid of other people’s vibrant faiths, thinking that if it will just get you started again, you will be ok.
You douse the coals and throw the matchbox of well-rehearsed routine on only to find when you take it away that once again the fire inside has died.
You think this is it.
My faith has been reduced to coal and ashes – memories of yesterday that float away with the slightest breeze.
Grief hits. You wail. You ache. You sob in the car, into your pillow, as you run – feeling like the well of loss will never, ever end. You fill your day with more trying to avoid it, until the night comes and you can’t anymore. So you cry some more not knowing what to do to fix it, and not knowing what to do without it.
The darkness engulfs you.
“God where are you?”
You try to lose yourself in busyness. But what do you do with a life of faith habits?
Have an angry thought towards someone – “God forgive me.”
Feeling overwhelmed with the number of activities, commitments, and things to do in my day. Come home to a messy house. “God help me” I’m a terrible wife. I should manage my time better. Be more disciplined.
Running late. “God please make the runway light be on and let there be a plane landing so I will have a legitimate excuse.”
A friend or family member asks you to pray for them. “God please help so and so. I know praying for myself isn’t working, but they are hearing from You and they want Your help, so please help them… if you even listen to me anymore.”
Something amazing happens. You see a beautiful sunset. “God thank you.”
Life gets crazy again. You feel stressed out. You are worried about so many things. You think, “I should probably be praying and taking my thoughts captive.” The next thought haunts you… “Praying for what?”
“Oh yah we aren’t talking anymore. I keep forgetting that. This is just more proof that this seems to be a one-way conversation. Hello?”
The running conversations in my head; the prayers I offer without even thinking about it and stop mid sentence remembering my doubt; the scripture that comes to mind at the strangest moments; the worship songs I catch myself mindlessly singing while running, driving, or doing the dishes – all of these never left even though I finally admitted to my doubt and braved opening up Pandora’s box.
“See God? I have this wound, and this, and this!”
Questions. Doubts. Fears. Pain. Betrayal. Abuse. Misuse. Manipulation. Religious platitudes. Religious control. Performance. Exhaustion. It’s like a big box of legos dumped on the floor in a sea around me.
What do I ever do with all this?
The tower has fallen. The castle is broken. Everything is in pieces.
Whatever happened to that spark? That spark that was so tenderly kept, tended, and burned for so long?
So you run from the fire ring. You run into the ocean until the waves are over your head. You swim until you are exhausted and all you can do is tread water in the deep, dark, raging seas.
You lose track of time.
Eventually through a slow journey of releasing and waiting you find your way back to shore.
You circle back to the fire pit that once burned so brightly. The memories hang like the scent of smoke in the air.
Will it ever burn again?
You sit down, just to wait.
Not knowing why, but knowing you can’t just erase a lifetime of warmth and beauty, no matter how hot it got, no matter the burns and scars.
Over time you find a comfort in the silence and the stillness.
You know it will never be the same, and that if it ever burns again that you will tend it differently – but for now its enough to just be.
You’ve lived through the fire.
You’ve lived through the wind and the smoke and the damage of the aftermath.
You’ve survived the rains…
The waves crashing…
The downpour on everything once vibrant and alive now lying in charred remains around you.
So you wait.
Because after night comes morning.
Because after fire comes death and then renewal.
I have seen it.
I have been in it.
I have been marked by it.
I know its absence.
Love on fire.
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. (Song of Songs 8: 6-7)
If you have any thoughts on Chapter 42, on experiencing God’s love no matter the season, on faith, on burnout, on doubt, on life — I would love to hear them.