“No!” he shouted. “I don’t want that! I don’t want it!” Our 5-year-old neighbor was losing his business in front of us. Then the big tears came, the raindrop splatter down your face kind. Even as his voice got bigger, he pushed himself farther back into the couch, trying to be smaller.
He’s still pretty little. So he was still able to mostly cover himself with a sofa pillow. He kept trying to make his body disappear. As if somehow he could just get his body tiny enough, the gaping hole of pain inside him would get smaller too.
I recognized the move immediately. I’ve done it all my life: make myself smaller, thinner, more palatable to others so the hole of pain inside would somehow stop growing.
But it doesn’t work like that. You can’t starve it out or fill it up with liquor or bread and cheese. You can’t ignore it or dress it up as humor to pretend it’s not there. The big, gaping hole of need that being alive seems to rip inside everybody never fully goes away.
I’ve been thinking about him for days. He is suffering because of circumstances out of his control. He is hurting. And while it may not be as obvious to the neighbors, many of us are. The big questions of the Universe are hard to answer.
Can you prove any of the stuff you believe in? my son asked me & when I said that’s not how belief works, he nodded & said that’s what he thought but he was just checking to make sure he hadn’t missed a key point.
I got an email from a friend about one of those big questions of the Universe, the kind of question that cause the big tears and bigger screaming matches. It was just a draft of some things he’s been thinking about. It walked through some difficult territory. The conclusion was simple: I don’t know.
It was a breath of uncommon fresh air. Someone with a lot of education and training was simply willing to say out loud there are things he doesn’t know for sure. It was possibly the most reassuring thing I’ve read all week.
Faith is a tough thing for me sometimes. I’m a nice Christian girl, so this is a big week for my people. Holy Week has a lot of pageantry, yet I’m in a place of a lot of uncertainty. It’s hard to write that: this week of great glory is also a time of doubt.
Then I’m reminded that’s exactly what faith is. It’s learning to live with the sticky, wildly awkward awareness that is uncertainty, not pretending it’s not there or covering over it.
“My scientist friends have come up with things like ‘principles of uncertainty’ and dark holes,” writes theologian RIchard Rohr. “They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of ‘faith’! How strange that the very word ‘faith’ has come to mean its exact opposite.”
I don’t know why my neighbor kid has to hurt. I don’t know why people get broken and damaged. I’m a reasonably smart girl. I’ve read a lot of books, but I don’t know why bad things happen to good people.
The only thing that has ever made the big, gaping hole of need any smaller for me was my faith. My uncertain, shaky, weird, messy faith. Because I just don’t know.
So I’ll take myself back to church again this Easter Sunday with my family. We’ll sit with a community who is also still trying to figure it all out and listen to the miracle that seems so impossible that somehow it must be true. In my pockets, will be my doubt and my faith all mixed up together. They’ve become pretty good roommates.