‘Integrity is often a willingness to hold the dark side of things instead of reacting against them, denying them, or projecting our anxiety elsewhere.
Frankly, it is just another name for faith.
Without the inner discipline of faith, most lives end in negativity, blaming or deep cynicism – without even knowing it.’ Richard Rohr
A little while ago I was in the car with a friend who was driving me home from a night out. We had been talking and laughing most of the way, not listening to the Sat Nav and making a few U-turns. As we drove along there was a moment of quiet and into the darkness my friend asked,
‘So, what’s it been like without your dad, Tory?’
There are questions that take no thought to answer at all. Questions like, where did you get your shoes? or did you see the Bake Off Final? And then there are questions that require deep courage and a shed load of vulnerability to answer. And so, my initial response was to mumble ‘I don’t know’ which is ridiculous because of course I know. But articulating an answer meant venturing into a wounded part of my heart and soul. And it’s hard to know the outcome of that scenario. My friend was courageous in asking me the question but I struggled to find an equal amount to respond. A silence ensued.
Then my friend did something so simple, but truly difficult.
She just drove along without saying a word and allowed whatever needed to come to the surface an opportunity to rise. She didn’t change the subject. She didn’t offer me her advice. She didn’t panic.
She was able to sit and wait.
And slowly, I began to talk about my dad and my life now and faith in the midst of deep sorrow. I started to talk about a new understanding of brokenness and how I am learning to hold darkness and light, together. I told her that when dad died nothing really mattered much to me – all I really needed then was God. And there are days now I miss that same sense of dependency.
I share this little story because that car journey was important. To anyone else it was just an awkward quietness, but to me it felt like permission to share some of my struggle and experience. It was the encouragement I needed to think it all through. Most of all, it was so healing and helpful.
And the thing is, my friend said very, very little.
I have been thinking about growing up in a religious culture where the general response to asking questions and waiting for honest answers – was fear. I wonder what it was about difficult situations and broken people that filled us with such trepidation. Perhaps it was this fear that led to a pressure to say something, to hurriedly fix the brokenness and somehow right all the wrongs. When faced with a tangled mess of uncertainty we felt an urgency to remind the struggling few about the joy of their salvation. And somehow I learnt that those who wound up in the difficult ‘grey area’ were backsliders. Sometimes they came back to the church, but often they would disappear and who knows where they went.
Did we make them feel like less of a Christian because their faith was not all wrapped up in a pretty bow? Was there a way to talk about Jesus when all that existed was hurt and loneliness and ache? Did they have permission to bring their doubt and struggles to the table?
Because if there is one thing I felt growing up in church it was this:
My faith was predominantly experienced in black and white. Them and Us. In or Out. On fire or backsliding. We knew how to be liked and accepted but not so much about how to dwell in the grey area. We knew how to rush in with our truth and heap on our theology but it all lacked a sense of humility and grace. There wasn’t much sitting and waiting.
And now I wonder why.
Since dad died I’ve felt such empathy for those who struggle with church because they aren’t sure what to do with their questions. I think in the past I found it difficult to believe and cope with faith as paradox. I feared it. I rushed in with my own smug and succinct explanations of joy and despair. But then I’ve heard that experience changes your truth. And when my dad died so suddenly grief flung me into a world of darkness. It was there that I discovered there is much about faith to be sure of but there is much that is mystery, too. And God dwells in the tension. He moves in it. He speaks in it. He loves in it. I don’t need to fear it.
But if my faith is to mean anything to me I do need to learn how to live in it.
Because I walk a road that is straight and narrow with questions that are deep and far-reaching. And the work required to stay on this road and walk this way is far from simple. Or quick. Or easy. It can be lonely.
I am learning that those of us who struggle with faith should never carry fear or shame. In fact, it is deeply important that we don’t rush the difficult, messed up murky parts of our lives in a bid to keep it all neat and simple. It’s vital we take our time and ask our questions. It’s vital we keep finding ways to share our stories of faith, even if it is just with a close few. We need to make room for healing and hope by spending time with others who will humbly sit and wait while we unravel the mess.
May we embrace our God-given permission to sit and wait.
May we pursue a willingness to exist in the tension and learn how to make room for others to do the same.
May it become a transformational, faith-filled act in our lives.