Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fully Known and Fully Loved

This week we said goodbye to one of the matriarchs in the family. My aunt Kathy had a tremendous gift for making everyone feel welcomed and loved. Her cheerful manner, warm disposition and smiling blue eyes greeted you on every visit. She made sure there was plenty of food and coffee on hand while games of Hearts and Golf carried on to the wee hours of the morning. Family was at the top of her priority list, kids most of all. Along with the rest of my family and her friends I'm going to miss her a bunch.

Aunt Kathy (right) and her daughter Taunya
Death is such a roller coaster, full of all sorts of emotional mountains and valleys. Sadness over of the barrier that now separates us. Happiness that the suffering is now over. Regret over any words or actions left unspoken and undone. Hope that the comforting passages of scripture are true. Doubts that they may not be. It's exhausting.

As I grieve with my family over the passing of my aunt, I think about others I have said goodbye to. Both grandfathers, an uncle, several friends, my daughter. Especially my daughter. And the same questions I've been asking for years circle around and around in my mind. The one that lands most frequently is just two simple words: now what?

What do I do with all my questions and feelings? Where do I go to get answers? Are there even any answers at all? I feel that somehow if I can work through the crucible and fire of these trials I can somehow grasp the meaning of life and what real truth is. If I can look at, understand and even embrace the toughest parts of the journey maybe, just maybe I can see my past, present and future with more clarity and even joy.

For the past couple of years I've been reading, thinking, praying and conversing on what to do with the pain in my life. The more I examine the more I see a simple truth emerging. This seems to be the foundation upon which all of reality hangs. And it's this truth that I have to revisit over and over because it is forgotten so easily. The basic truth of all existence is:
God is love.
That's it. Simple yet profound. Easy to say but difficult to fully believe. If we are to make any progress in life we must begin with this as the foundation. Resting on anything else is like building a house on sand. Sooner or later the tide of reality will rise and wash away all we have made.

I'm currently making my way through a book by Ty Gibson called See with New Eyes: The True Beauty of God's Character. In it he starts a chapter with this line:
To be fully known and yet fully loved is the essence of our redemptive healing.
I think all the suffering we experience ultimately has its root in an issue of trust. Pain is most painful when we think God is holding out on us, has abandoned us and ultimately doesn't love us. But if we knew, really knew deep down at our core that God knows us, loves us and has nothing but our best in mind, the trials of life would lose the sting of meaninglessness and begin to take on another shape, one of purpose and care. Pain could even be embraced as a vehicle to bring about something greater than what was lost.

I used to hate Romans 8:28. And I suppose I still do, at least to the extent that people in the church use it:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
I cannot count the number of times this verse popped up the first few months after losing my daughter. The context was never one of hope but of judgment. Rather than bringing comfort these words brought silence and hypocrisy. If I experienced the slightest bit of anger, sorrow or doubt that verse would be trotted out and I had to bury my true feelings under a mask of religion. To be honest this is one of the reasons I think most churches are not likely places to experience healing, especially if you've attended for an extended period of time. We are not allowed to be human because that doesn't fit the narrative of an ever onward and upward path of righteousness.

The sad reality is we can't handle other people's suffering because all of us to some degree don't trust God. And I don't think we can perfectly trust him on this side of heaven. We are uncomfortable with other people's pain because we aren't comfortable with our own pain. So we quote some pithy saying in hopes they will go away. Suffering is a reminder that the world is not as it should be. Suffering ultimately can and will bring out a hope that something much better is coming but it also needs to bring out the fear that God has abandoned and forgotten us. Just as the serpent in the garden told Adam and Eve that God was not to be trusted we still face the same temptation today. For those of us with some religion under our belts rather than admit to and deal with our fear we box it up and wrap it in the onion-skinned paper of scripture.

I forget where but I once heard someone say, "True faith is accepting God's acceptance." It means allowing yourself to be fully loved by God exactly as you are. Being fully known and and simultaneously fully loved is what makes God God. His perfection is how he has complete insight into who you are. His perfection is also why he loves everything about you. He knows your struggles and your suffering. There is no pretense with him. No need to be anything other than who you are at exactly where you currently are.

If you are in the fires of bitterness and anger God's love is with you in the midst of the flames. If you are in the darkness of depression and sorrow God's love is there holding you up. Don't run from where you are. Don't be anything other than what you are. For whatever reason you are walking through something and its very important to God that you let him into everything you experience. Church may reject you. Friends may reject you. Family may reject you. But God will never reject you. Allow yourself to be fully known and fully loved.

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