When it snowed last week (I am desperate for it to stop snowing), Mike took this picture of one of the first signs of spring covered in ice. To him, it was just a picture. I saw an image that represents so many of my own struggles: I begin to trust and allow my heart to grow, and then something happens and I am frozen again, afraid to move.
When that happens to me, I cry a lot. When it happened to Susan Isaacs, she took God to couples counseling.
“Susan,” Martha declared, “our relationship with God is nothing short of a marriage.”
“Well, in that case,” I replied, “God and I need to go to couples counseling. Because we’re not getting along.”
The Sacred Romance wasn’t the first book foisted on me. Someone else told me to read Conversations With God, that new age piffle where God is like the Big Lebowski, telling you to “just follow your truth, dude.”
Who on earth had conversations with God like that? If I wrote my conversations with God into a book, they’d be very angry conversations. They’d go more like:
SUSAN: What the —-, God? Are you trying to kill me?
GOD: Shut the —- up or I will!
And that would be the end of the book.
(I think I have had that conversation with God myself.)
To our great good fortune, that was NOT the end of the book. Susan Isaacs did, in fact, talk through her relationship with God with a couples counselor, a former pastor who both let her be honest and challenged how she represented God in their sessions. (Her version of God was sarcastic and a little bit mean.) As she worked through her issues, I recognized myself in her questions and experiences. This is a passage that comes close to the end of the book that sums up a lot of her journey.
When I think of the people whose character I admire, they’ve all walked through deserts or hells far worse than mine. And when they got to the other side–the ones who did get to the other side–they always said God got them through it. They have a peace and a friendship with God that I want. But the problem is, the man who’s stuck in the desert because God put him there looks exactly like the man who’s stuck in the desert because he’s lost. And I don’t know which one I am. I don’t know if I’m here to find friendship with God or if I’ve been left to die.
My ex used to get angry when I said that. He would say, “God isn’t personal. God isn’t good or bad. God is like science. God just is.” But even with science . . . Look at the stars. You see such beauty and order, and you sense the Thought that went into their making. But if that thoughtfulness is not extended to me, then all that order and beauty is merely cold and sterile space that mocks me because I’ve been excluded from it.
If God wants to burn up everything useless in my life, amen to that. But I want to know whether or not this sorrow has an end. Do these longings in my heart for love and purpose mean anything? I say yes. Is my need for God just misplaced longing that has no place to be satisfied? I say no. The body thirsts because it needs water and water exists. The soul longs for purpose because it needs it, and because it exists. And I wouldn’t long for God if he didn’t exist. I am taking this personally because I am personal. And I don’t think that an impersonal God could create humans to be personal. So I’m taking this personally from a personal God.
A sixteenth-century monk wrote a treatise called Dark Night of the Soul. When we first know God, he lavishes us with blessings and signs of his love, the way you do with your children when they’re small. But God wants us to grow up. So he removes his blessings. The sense of his presence. And even signs of love. Because he wants us to trust when we can’t see, to believe we’re loved even if we can’t feel it, to walk by faith and not by sight. And maybe he wants me to love him for himself, not for what I can get out of him.
Well, if that’s where I am, that’s okay. I can be here. I’m in my own Dark Night of the Soul. And I’m just waiting for my sun to come up.
I have said before that one of my main definitions of myself is that God is busy taking care of other people and that he’ll get around to me if he’s got time. It is very easy to see things through that paradigm. Any challenge, any adversity is just God looking away, taking a nap, worrying about people who have much bigger problems. It is much harder to believe that a personal God wants me to be a better person and to take up the challenge and accept that becoming a better person is part of why we are here and what we should be about.
The best thing about this book is that, while Susan talked about her struggles in a way that I could relate to, the book was also wickedly funny. Here was a conversation with God that I particularly enjoyed. (Rudy is the counselor.)
RUDY: Last question. Let’s talk about creativity. No one in Susan’s family “got” her. Doesn’t sound like the church did either. Why is that, God? Do you not like art?
SUSAN: Only if it ends in an altar call.
GOD: Come on. I love art. The Sistine Chapel, the Bach B Minor Mass. A Man for All Seasons. Love that stuff.
SUSAN: You didn’t like my kind of art. Show me one joke in the Bible.
God snickered and Jesus joined him. Well, that’s how I saw it.
(That’s how I see it, too.)
That’s on page 58, and by that point, Mike was already tired of me reading stuff from the book to him. But he had to admit that that one was pretty much awesome. And written just for this family, yes?
I loved this book. It balances a lot of my favorite things very well: faith, questions, humor, personal stories. Even more than that, it showed how Susan pushed for real answers and had to change her thoughts and actions because of them. Susan’s tenacity and desire to work through a relationship with God resonated with me, as did her frustrations with how a relationship with God is so different than our ideals. And I laughed. A lot. I’d recommend it for fans of Don Miller (she toured with him), Anne Lamott (of course), and Sara Miles. Also recommended for friends and family who would like to understand me a little bit better.