Monday, September 28, 2009

I am an Old Woman

Someplace inside me is fifteen and a half weeks old.  The rest of me is a hundred.   

I sit in my chair and watch the children.
I flip between Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
I eat dry toast.
I stare blankly.
I am uncertain of my body.
I wonder if I'm dying.

Do you really want to hear about this?  
Of course you don't.  

I'm not dying.  I am, in fact, very much alive.  

But I'm in that dying place.  The season when everything withers and my spirit crawls inside itself and the world is very cold and dark.

And I would love to write that I am praising in this storm, suffering joyfully.

No, in fact I am a terribly crabby old woman.  

It is something I try to keep it to myself, a place in my mind I go to at the end of the day when it is all too much, everything hurts and I cannot bear one more day to feel this way.  I retreat to my dark room, where I can be alone and curl like a fetus into myself and try to lie so still as to calm this raging within.

And as my body rages I think dark thoughts, things I thought I was over, places I don't want my mind to go.  I fight old fights and scrape open old wounds and replay old regrets.  Fears that leave me cold.  Prayers that never were answered.  Pharisees and hypocrites.  Pride and ambition.  Human cruelty.  The unbearable sadness in the world.  

I wonder what it all means.  I doubt everything.

As often happens in my dark moments, God lights a candle with a book.

In Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? Philip Yancey wrestles with these hard questions.   What is prayer anyway?  Why does God seem so arbitrary in answering prayers? Is God listening? 

He quotes one philosophy professor,
If God can influence the course of events, then a God who is willing to cure colds and provide parking spaces but is not willing to prevent Auschwitz and Hiroshima is morally repugnant.  Since Hiroshima and Auschwitz did occur, one must infer that God cannot (or has a policy never to) influence the course of worldly events. 

Even for one who rejects the professor's extreme conclusion, the haunting questions linger.
Yancey doesn't try to draw any fast formulas or conclusions.  He isn't afraid to let questions linger, to deal with the messiness.  He frankly discusses his own struggles with prayer, and gives examples of others who have experienced times when God seemed far away and not listening.  He reminds the reader that the Bible is not only a happy book, that it is indeed full of passionate emotional outbursts, questions and accusations and laments.  

In another place he writes,
Walter Brueggemann suggests one obvious reason for candor in the book of Psalms: "because life is like that, and these poems are intended to speak to all of life, not just part of it."  Brueggemann finds it jarring to visit upbeat evangelical churches and hear only happy songs, when half of the psalms are "songs of lament, protest, and complaint about the incoherence that is experienced in the world.  At least it is clear that a church that goes on singing "happy songs" in the face of raw reality is doing something very different from what the Bible itself does.
It comforts me to know that I am not alone with my questions.  I am so thankful for thinking, honest people who wrestle with God and write about their own struggles and doubts.  

Just as my raging body is curled around a small, still body yet to be known; so I sense my raging doubts and emotions curled around a small, steady faith.  
I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me--that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.
— Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)
By the way, Yancey's website is worth checking out, especially his Q&A.  And of course, I highly recommend anything he writes.  I have also been greatly impacted by The Jesus I Never Knew and Soul Survivor.



16 comments:

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

What you're going through is so difficult. I'm am so sorry for you and will be praying for you. Also, if it's any encouragement at all, another great blogger I read is also pregnant and in the throes of HG and just wrote a similar post here.

I'll be praying for you!

Elizabeth said...

Jess. This break in your silence here was so well-timed for my life. Your words "fight old fights and scrape open old wounds and replay old regrets. Fears that leave me cold. Prayers that never were answered" were strangely comforting and a reminder that I'm not alone in my questions, in my conversations with God that occur in the midst of pain. I'm sorry that life is so difficult for you now... and yet thankful that you can be free to be yourself, to ask questions, to sort and sift through the pain. Your words have encouraged me today in so many ways. Thank you.

Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...

You write exquisitely.... because you write from a place of soul transparency, brave honesty.

We live into the questions, don't we? Trust the mystery, eat the manna of now that doesn't make much sense, find that even here we find nourishment, even in the unknowing, the "what IS this?"

I forget... try to remember again. Your words remind me again: to trust the mystery, God in this moment, just as now is.

Tonight, I whisper your name with Jesus, He who lives to make intercession for us...

You are loved and Jesus cups you close.

I pray, beautiful heart. He shines radiantly through all the broken places....

(((so much love))))

All's grace,
Ann

Becky said...

beautifully written. jess, i have been thinking and praying for you daily. just know that we are where we are if for no other reason than to keep us close to Him...to keep us seeking with all we have left...to keep us pursuing that peace in Him. joy comes in the morning. luv you so much. can't wait to talk when you are better. *hugs* luv, becky

e2 said...

Glad to have found you through Jen. And impressed that you're reading Yancey right now!

There's nothing that helps my body cope at the moment--except regular trips to the hospital for IV's. My babies are living with my mom and dad while I lie on their couch. Poor husband is alone 1100 miles away.

I found that I can keep down warm tea and hot water--sometimes Ramen soup or cream of wheat with the drugs. I can read Dorothy Sayers mysteries because they don't talk about what the detectives are eating too often!

Many prayers for you--and your beautiful family!

in Jesus,
Erika at Philosopher Mom

charrette said...

I'm so sorry you're suffering -- both inwardly and outwardly -- but it sounds like that suffering is leading you to a thoughtful and ultimately healthy place. You're in my nightly prayers.

And I'm learning how to manage a faith that acknowledges and wraps itself around all the mess. Keeping it suspended at times, when there is that lack of certainty...trusting without answers.

Anonymous said...

Im confused. You live a wonderful, blessed life. And now God is giving you the blessing of another child. You have a wonderful husband, home, marriage, family that is amazing, shelter, food....GROW UP. Whah! So you are not on some trek in some 3rd world country all "look at me"! and what I can do with my parents money. Frankly, you are pathetic.

Shannon said...

To Anonymous:

Shame on you.

I obviously don’t know who you are or if I know you. I do not follow Jess’ blog, but my wife does and she called my attention to your post. Because I don’t follow this blog, I really don’t know the tone or content of most of the posts here (other than those Elizabeth shares with me) but I do know this... Jess is open enough and courageous enough to share her thoughts and her walk with God in a way that promotes fellowship and discussion. This is “her place” in this world-wide-web. If you disagree with content, you can certainly go elsewhere. If you choose not to, and must address your disagreement, then share your contrasting opinion on the issue and don’t attack her person. You’ve attacked her person and done so anonymously. Frankly, you are a coward. (...or at least you've acted as one here.)
Signed,
Shannon Bradley

To Jess (& Jim):
I hope you aren’t hurt by anonymous’ comment - or mine. If you feel either or both of these should be deleted, you’ll have no argument from me. I just felt that someone else should speak the truth and that your defense should come first from a third party. Thank you for continuing to share your heart and walk here. It is clear that you are attracting other women who are also thoughtful, open, and sincere. We love & miss you both.

Jessica said...

Anonymous, I don't know why I feel the need to defend myself against an anonymous, cruel comment, but I will:

1. I am, indeed, immensely blessed. I try not to take any of it for granted. My husband, who knows me best, would say that I am a deeply grateful person.

2. You don't know me, though you seem to think that you do. Every life has shadows, dealing with that is the point of this post, and apparently the point of large portions of the Bible. I want to be honest and real on this blog; as in the Brueggemann quote, "life is like that," . . . I don't want to pretend that it isn't.

3. My parents never funded my travels.

Shannon said...

Zamni mwen,

I love you dearly and am so thankful that you choose to share with us, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am extremely grateful that we serve a God who WANTS to hear all of it.

Don't ever stop being who you are-
Those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind (Dr. Seuss)

Love,
Shan

Heather of the EO said...

Jess, I haven't been checking my reader, so I totally missed this post (and the comments).

I'm so glad you commented today so I could come see if you were "back."

This post, once again, made me feel a little more grace than I had been feeling. What a beautiful gift.

As you most likely know, I'm often in my own "dark night of the soul." People with little depth of understanding, very little empathy, see that as a very black and white thing. They say "get over it" and "you're pathetic." How terribly sad for them. To have so little understanding and grace for the human condition.
Recognizing your blessings and being grateful for them does not take away from your heart cry, to be Home, for a hurting world to stop hurting, or from hormones or depression. Silly Anonymous, you don't get it.

(I love Yancey too)

deb said...

Amazing Grace was my first Yancey love.
I was so moved to see you'd posted, and more so by the truth of your words.
Wow to your words, and wow that I get to read them.
Sending you my whatever, for whatever that's worth.
Bless you

Joe Hartzler said...

Anonymous:

What an oddly ignorant response to such a sincere post.

josh clark said...

Proof again that ignorance and arrogance are a dangerous combination. My prayers for those who lack perspective to the extent that anonymous does include God graciously blessing them with the circumstances necessary to change ignorance to experience and arrogance to humility.
Heidi and I love you and Jim and pray for the day we can lock shields with you again.
My rule of thumb - if someone won't own their own crap, they don't get to comment on mine.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:
You must be very sure of yourself to stay so anonymous. Obviously Jess is someone you know very little about to make such ignorant posts. If she bothers you- stay off her blog and leave the rest of us to enjoy her and her open mind. What a cowarly thing to do.
Kristen Zahner

Betty said...

Oh Jess, anonymous is back or maybe this is a different anonymous. I don't even begin to understand your level of sickness but I would never presume that it isn't real just because I don't experience it. I agree with what Josh had to say and add that you are 100% entitled to defend yourself on your own blog! Strangers find encouragement from your blog so I find it baffling that someone who thinks they "know" you can't see an ounce of that encouragement and the pure heart it comes from. I love the transparent authenticity that is you- through sickness and health. Write on dear!!