Thursday, January 17, 2013

Strength, Faith and Life Preservers

Dear Abba,

I know I said I was going to try to write more this Epiphany, but sometimes the best laid plans -- well, you know that reference. Anyway, today I did have something I wanted to talk over with you about an epiphany of sorts I had.

The other morning I was driving to work. It was still dark, it was really, really cold and I'd struggled with another night of broken sleep. I remember thinking that it's been nearly five years since my husband's death, and I'm still here, still functioning, still maintaining a roof over my head (and a home for the boys--and Phoebe), and, despite some rather unexpected and life-altering diagnoses in the past year, I'm still upright and not really depressed or melancholy about the whole thing. I have my moments when things seem to be almost too much to deal with, but so far I've been able to work through it with a little (hell, make that a lot) of help from my friends and what I devoutly hope is a mature but not ostentatious faith.

The thought that stuck with me was that I am a stronger person than I thought I was. I've grown into it, in a manner of speaking, and, Lord knows, it's taken me long enough. The old saying that "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" seems to be the case for me. I am surprised to have gotten through a lot of changes and shifts and growth spurts, and when I look back at where I was, I can recognize that I'm a stronger person than I thought I could be. My faith seems stronger too, but then I wonder, is my faith stronger because I am stronger, or am I stronger because my faith is? 

Somehow I got to thinking about faith and life preservers. Someone in the water can hang on to a life preserver for quite a while but sooner or later, through intent or circumstance, they will have to let go and either sink or swim on their own merits (or get rescued by someone in a very convenient boat).  Even so, to get in the boat would still require letting go of the life preserver. Now is faith the life preserver that holds the person up, or is it the ability to let go of the life preserver and reach for the boat? 

I don't think I have a fatalistic faith, the kind that would say that you're in charge of whatever happens, and whatever happens does so for a reason and mine is not to question why but to work through it with faith. I don't think you punish me for messing up, nor do I think you put things in my path to make me stumble and learn what it is to fall.  I think I have a purpose in life, but I don't seem to be able to determine precisely what that purpose is. I do know, however, that I am more accepting that I don't have all the answers, I can't do things all by myself, and I have to rely on you to keep an eye on me and be there for me both when I'm standing tall or when I'm about to crawl on the floor. I don't think I have to understand everything; I can leave that to you with no problem. I don't even have to understand much other than that actions have consequences, and I have to pay the consequences when I screw up. I accept that because I think that is the way it is supposed to be.

Jesus was scornful of those about whom he said, "Oh ye of little faith." Somehow the Greek, ὀλιγόπιστος (oligopistos), "of little faith," has a bit more kick to it than the English translation. The point is that the phrase Jesus used indicated that most of those folks were still hanging on to the life preserver (or, like the disciples other than Peter, staying firmly in the boat). I have to stop and think -- would I get out of the boat and try go walk on water or would I stay in the gunwales, knowing I would probably sink like a rock if I did try getting out?  How strong is my faith, and how much is my faith based on my perception of my own strength?  How much can I trust you?  Having trust for and having trust in seem to be worlds apart. I trust you -- but how much do I have trust IN you?  Am I just talking semantics or is there really something there?

Society says I should be this way or that way, depending on my condition in life. As a widow, I'm supposed to be a bit sorrowful, but able to get on with life alone. As a cancer patient, I'm supposed to be frightened and unsure (which, I admit, I am sometimes) of the future and what it holds (which I do question sometimes).  As a woman, I'm supposed to have to either be ballsy enough to do things that women traditionally aren't supposed to have to do (like be the breadwinner of a family, even if that family consists of cats!) and do it relatively successfully or be reverential and deferent to the male of the species as the stronger who can do things I can't. I don't live in a house with an alarm system and/or umpteen locks on the door like some ladies of my acquaintance. I am not vain about my appearance; I dress for comfort rather than fashion, and I admit my favorite couturier is Wal-Mart (because I can afford their clothes). Society would look at me as a somewhat lesser success simply because I don't spend hours at the gym doing exercises to make me look fitter, hours at the salons and spas to make me look better, take botox treatments, color my hair or even care if I put on my prostheses or not most of the time. I am a success in their eyes only because I am not totally dependent on social programs and do pay my taxes. Beyond that, I'm not a social success, but that's okay with me. A lot of what society sees as success is what I see as more false than the prosthetics I have. But what I have that they maybe don't see (or don't care about) is that I get up every morning, go to work, take care of myself and the boys (and Phoebe), and then do it all again the next day, whether I want to or not. That's a kind of success in my book.

And what they don't see is that I write about what is important to me, like life and faith and theology and that kind of stuff. I write to try to come to an understanding of what I believe, where I got that belief, why I believe and how it impacts my life, which brings me back to the original question I began with, is my faith stronger because I am stronger, or am I stronger because my faith is?

I still don't have an answer, but I think simply being able to ask the question and want to know the answer is an epiphany of sorts. I guess you and I will have to talk about this and other stuff more before I maybe "get it."  I definitely don't see my self in the "Oh ye of little faith" camp, but ... I don't know, some might see me in it and most don't give a flip whether I am or not. As for me, I want to know for sure -- I think. Mostly, I just want to know whether I really am on to something or whether I'm just mouthing platitudes and being "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." 

So there is where I am, still driving in the cold, dark morning of my mind, wondering. Guess I will need to work out an answer eventually -- with a little help (ok, a lot of help) from my friends and, of course, from you. Think that's a possibility?

With much love,


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