We have these times in our lives in which things simply shift. Plans, carefully made, with to-do lists and intricate formula for setting up a particular experience of life – a trip, a marriage, a house renovation, a career, a day or weekend event – even just a ride up to get ice cream late one night in bedroom slippers (“Nothing will happen. It’s just 5 minutes to the store and back.”) end in a drunk driver swerving into your lane and what was supposed to be a short trip to the shop ends up catapulting one into a new story. There you sit in the emergency room, in bedroom slippers and confusion (even of faith), with the movie at home still on pause.
Was that the wrong thing to happen? Painful yes. Disruptive, definitely. Disappointing, assuredly. Possibly expensive. and demanding a change to the annual personal budget. But was it wrong?
If the event is “wrong,” then God is not in control or is cruel – which many of my friends believe. But perhaps God is in control, but simply allows some levels of autonomy to life on this singular bright blue ball in the dark black cosmos. Perhaps some suffering is essential to our not becoming that purebred, diamond collared, pale, spiritually shallow prima-donna-poodle-of-a-person which is pretty, but has a … well … rather substantial problem with celestial narcissism… at least.
When I preach to children about why bad things happen to good people I use the metaphor (parable?) that the spoonfuls of ground cloves, cinnamon, anise and citrus rind are bitter when taken in the mouth all a once – fed from a spoon, hard to suffer in their bitterness, hard to choke down, so dry and spicy. And yet, remove that spice from an apple pie and the final product will be bland, gastronomically pale and shallow.
Why do some get too much “bitter apple pie spice” in their life-pie? I do not know. That is above my pay grade. But what I do know is that there is simply too much evidence that God loves and that God is at work. That evidence holds back the darker, fragile-Christian, honest thoughts about absence, disinterest, cruelty or a lack of empathy in some bi-polar-kind-of-God. They occur. But they get held back like a wave on the other side of a door against which my back is pressed- with the door key in my teeth.
We will at times crack and fall, no doubt. But in the glory of God, with that glory’s colorful, beaming light pouring down on us in the darkness with our head down on the kitchen floor in anguish and exhaustion from what life throws at us, we wait. We pray. We seek support from others. We make buttered noodles. And each time we release the grip we have on what we think should happen – what we want- and we simply abide, an angel smirks with approval and a demon winces.
Detachment is the most difficult spiritual discipline… so un-American! And yet, it is detachment which God seems to be teaching humanity, event by event, by event if we are willing to register for the 401 level class.