Church has been a significant part of my life for the past thirty years or so. It isn’t that I didn’t believe in God prior to that, it was that I chose to believe God had more important things to do than pay any attention to me. I figured I’d leave God alone to do God-things, and I’d just bumble happily along doing Jimbo-things. We’d both be happier for it.
The first reexamination of that relationship came when I lost my fiancé to leukemia. It seemed so utterly unfair, especially to her family and her young daughter. Was I angry at God? Of course. What little relationship I had with God subsequently took an extended vacation, one on which I behaved badly at times. After all, what did it matter? Whether I lived as a saint or a sinner, the rug could be pulled out at any moment.
Looking back, the lesson I had not yet learned is that life is fundamentally unfair but not without hope. Fairness, of course, should be strived for and cherished when found, but it is not guaranteed. It is on the journey to fairness, justice and equality that we grow as human beings. It is on that journey that we see the faint, almost invisible outline of God’s design. It is on that journey that we start to sense how we fit into things, if we are brave enough to do so.
I didn’t start my journey toward God again until I was well into my thirties. Do I now know precisely what God is? No. I can only say with personal certainty that there is a God. I also recognize I cannot prove God’s existence to someone else any more than they can disprove God’s existence to me. Our journeys, you see, are our own.
Over the past few years, as I have faced one challenge after another, it is that underlying faith in the journey which has pulled me back from the abyss time and again. Whenever I have felt the urge to throw my hands up and say, “…there is no hope; there is no fairness; there is no point in all this,” I have instead quickened my step and turned closer to God. Adversity has strengthened our relationship. I have also discovered that the only time I feel truly at peace is in church. If I miss a Sunday, I enter the next week with batteries that are half-charged. Any adversity is harder to face if I’ve missed Mass because at times the most marvelous thoughts pop into my head as I sit in my pew.
For example: one Sunday, during the priest’s Homily, it occurred to me that since I have a strong tendency to show up where I’m supposed to, I must get more involved with Mass. The weeks I missed Mass were invariably the weeks I didn’t have any ministry duties. The solution was obvious and a voice in my head said: Do more. It was as close to a personal message from the Almighty as I will likely ever have. I decided to let some things in my life go so that I could better fit into God’s design. I became a lector at my parish, doing a reading prior to the celebrant delivering the Gospel. I have listened to readings countless times over my life, but the first time I read aloud to my fellow parishioners I realized the power of the words I was speaking. It was if I had never truly heard them before.
I know now that I am firmly on that journey I spoke of. I am far from perfect. I still need to grow in so many ways. I make a ton of mistakes. But the angry young man who took a break from God after a terrible loss no longer exists. That person vanished on this journey. The human being who remains is fundamentally different. My journey may end many years from now or it may end tomorrow, but I am so thankful I decided to walk it.
Your journey is of course your own, but whether you realize it or not you don’t walk it alone. Take a pause. Try to sense the design. If you can’t, then don’t walk away from the journey. Embrace it. Hug it fiercely. Help those around you. Strive for fairness. Strive for justice. With each step you will change and change for the better. You will start to feel a sense of wonder at the universe around you. You will make a difference, I promise you. And you will end your journey a better person than the one who took that very first, halting step.
Be good to each other…
James is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient/advocate and a hopeless chicken wing addict. He is also a prostate cancer survivor and warrior. He passionately believes we can all make a positive difference. His shoe size is 10 1/2.