PLEASE READ UPDATE AT BOTTOM AFTER ORIGINAL POST.
August 12, 2011
“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” (Abraham Lincoln)
This quotation of Lincoln’s has taken on a different meaning to me now than what it used to have; quite different, but deeper in a way . . . to me at least.
When I have quoted it in the past (or printed it and stuck it to my cubicle wall at work) I was granting, first of all, something which I then considered obvious—that everything anyone ever taught me in Sunday School is the absolute unmarred truth, that “God” is not only real but is exactly the entity described to me, a distinct personality who created me with purpose, loves me and is always listening when I pray and involves Himself in my life in ways that are according to His best for me. And, given that premise (generally accepted by anyone with whom I would have shared it) I was additionally indicating something else we would all have considered fairly obvious—that, like Lincoln, I have encountered times in my life when I just didn’t know where else to turn for help but to that God I learned about in Sunday School, and so I got on my knees and prayed to him. And that assumption would have been correct at that time.
That works better when you still have a relatively firm grasp on your faith. When you still believe completely that everything is just exactly as you always thought it was, and that everyone is just exactly who you thought they were. It becomes a little less useful, or meaningful when you begin to lose, or have lost, all or most of that. When you are more sure of doubt, fear, hurt, confusion, and loneliness than of anything else.
I’m not saying I no longer “believe in God.” I am saying, firstly, that I think it is a little silly and simplistic to use the word ‘god’ as if it were someone’s name. I know there are actual names attributed to this all-powerful being—Jehovah, Yahweh, and a bunch of others, but . . . I’m not really sure who those guys are either, or if they are even all the same one (a little bit of research of scholarly work will show that they probably are not.) And secondly, I am saying that this thing (faith, religion, whatever it is) which I’ve looked to, leaned on, and cried my heart out to the supposed leader of for most of my life so far . . . doesn’t seem to have worked for me at all, but instead is, at the root, the reason for many of the problems in my life. The most concise way to sum up the answer to the question of what I now believe is—I just don’t know anymore. And I became really tired of pretending that I do, so I began letting go of some stuff.
And I’ll tell you something about the process of letting go of long-held things – it is the most effective means of getting to the realization of what is most precious, most needed, most wanted. Sort of like cleaning out a closet. First you get rid of the clothes which you haven’t worn for many years—the ones that have been accomplishing nothing at all except getting in your way, making it harder for you to find what you are looking for. After you toss them, you wonder what took you so long. Then somehow, the clothes you haven’t worn for the last year or so, but you thought you still wanted, start to seem not so great after all, and out they go. Then maybe a few more get tossed which don’t get worn that often and you don’t really get much joy out of. Your closet just keeps getting prettier and nicer and it is now much easier to find and wear the fewer clothes you are left with that you really truly enjoy and want to keep.
So, I have discarded much, and none of it do I miss. I don’t miss going to church, not one little bit. SO many things about it I don’t miss, but rather feel liberated from, grateful that they are no longer a part of my life. The further I get from it, the more I realize how much of it was pain, and how little of it was anything else. (Yeah I know; I was probably just doing it wrong.) I don’t miss the made up by men rules about what is okay for women and girls to do or when it is okay for them to speak. I don’t miss my pain being the subject of discussion by others, sometimes in the guise of a “prayer request,” and always inaccurate to what I am really experiencing. I don’t miss binding myself with unnecessary rules about morality that really mean nothing when sifted for substance—just traditions and rules invented by people so that they can draw a line between “good” and “bad” and determine for themselves which you are by watching (or listening) to see which lines you will cross.
So. My closet is getting pretty empty now, I’m breathing a little easier, and I can see a little more clearly what it is that really matters to me—the one thing I haven’t been able to let go of, do not want to let go of. I can see it there in the closet in my head, with lots of empty space around it. I haven’t discarded it yet — not because I know it is real or of any real use to me, but because I really, really need it to be, want it to be. I need there to be someone powerful who cares about me and will listen to me and help me. I need to not be in this alone. But, even though I haven’t let go of it, I don’t really know what to do with it either, since I don’t really know what it is, or even IF it is, or how to access it.
So recently, when feeling this need for a protector pretty acutely, and not knowing what to do with that need, where to take it, I remembered Lincoln’s words that once meant something to me and suddenly, they meant something else. I realized that they fit with what I was feeling at this time better than they had ever fit before. I need so desperately to have someone to take this need to. I need someone to lean on, a lap to rest my head on, arms to wrap around me and something to lead me to help. I still don’t know that it is there, or hearing me or caring about what I say – because I’ve certainly never seen any proof that it is – but I need it to be. So . . . the reason I still seek it is not because I know it is there or will help me. The reason is—what else am I going to do? Where else am I going to go? What have I got to lose? If I speak to nothing and nothing hears me, am I worse off? But, maybe, just maybe, it isn’t nothing. And I have nowhere else to go.
From my doubt, my fear, my pain, and my anger, I cry out to Love, in the name of whatever is good and true.
May 12, 2019
Update: It’s been almost 8 years since I wrote the above post. Since then I’ve made more progress cleaning out this metaphorical closet of mine. I finally tossed that last thing – the one I had held on to longer because, even though I didn’t know if it was real, I needed it to be (wished that it were.) But. It wasn’t. Isn’t. I just needed time to be able to come to terms with that truth. It wasn’t real, and yet it took up so much space. So now it is gone and I can see much more clearly.
Pain is still pain, but any that I have is much lessened by acknowledging that it is is just life, rather than believing it is coming from decisions made purposely by someone claiming to be all powerful and to love me.
If so much time had not gone by before I had figured things out, I am quite sure I would be a happier person today, have had a happier life overall, because my major life decisions would have been made based on good sense and planning, rather than superstition and fear, and thinking “God would direct my steps.” But, having finally figured it out, I am happier than I was before, more at peace, and more sure of what I believe than I have ever been before in my entire life.
What we have is each other, and a limited number of breaths before our time is up. What we should be doing is making the most of what’s left. Spend our hours usefully, do all the good we can, love each other, teach those coming after us, enjoy the good, and support each other through the bad.