We were walking to get lunch, he and I, the chilled late winter wind slipping through the seams of our coats, under loose hems and up flapping sleeves. Wall Street comes alive at lunch hour, and sidewalks fill with street vendors selling children’s books and scarves and incense as stock brokers in their perforated blazers and executives and their assistants all pour from high rises to fill their stomachs.
We were among the hungry masses, making our way two blocks over and down chatting about the normal things: How was your weekend, Tell me about your trip, What is that new project you’re working on… He– my short (hairy) Russian Jewish friend with the wicked, frat-boy sense of humor– started telling me about his brother’s surprise party on Saturday and the christening he attended on Sunday. With a good humored glint in my eye I asked him what it was like to be in a church, and he cocked his head back, grinning as he retorted, “I felt something burning.”
He went on to tell me, serious now, how bored he was and how he kept watching his friend (the father)’s parents– traditional Jewish immigrants also from Russia– squirm in the Catholic ceremony. He felt sorry for them and wondered aloud why his friend and his wife couldn’t honor both their faiths when raising their child. “You shouldn’t indoctrinate a child with what to believe, they should be able to choose what they want when they grow older.”
We were standing in line for lunch at this point when I responded, “But doesn’t that invalidate the very idea of believing something? If you believe something is true and that’s the way the world works, wouldn’t that affect the way you raise a child?”
He protested and we went back and forth for a few minutes as we placed our orders and paid. Finally I said softly, carefully, “I guess it’s hard for me to say because I don’t think you should marry someone who doesn’t believe the same way you do.”
This was it. I knew where the conversation was going after this, and I girded my proverbial loins.
“You don’t??” he asked, eyes widening.
We stepped back out into the winter wind and he probed further dubiously. “So you… You wouldn’t marry someone who didn’t believe the same as you?”
I smiled and said, “No… I wouldn’t.”
“What if he supported you entirely and said, ‘Whatever you want’?”
His large brown eyes were growing larger with every response. “Not even if he said, ‘I support you in whatever you believe, whatever it takes, I just want to be with you’?”
I laughed softly and shook my head.
This was clearly beyond his realm of reasoning.
I paused. “Well, to me, the most important thing in my life, the foundation of who I am, is my relationship with God. …I believe the reason I was created, the reason I am alive, is to know him. He made me for himself, for me to know and be in relationship with him. And every decision I make, and the way I view my life, is based on that. So if I were to marry someone who didn’t fundamentally believe that, then at some point our relationship would begin to splinter and we would separate because we weren’t building our lives together on the same foundation…”
He didn’t like this. I remembered the guy in college with whom I had had nearly this exact conversation… He didn’t like it either.
We continued in silence for a few steps before he said, shaking his head, “…So why do you believe what you believe? Is it because you were raised that way?”
“Partly. I grew up in a Christian home– both my parents were Christians, we went to church every Sunday… But when I was a teenager I thought, ‘I’m only doing this because my parents want me to. If I’m going to keep doing this, it has to be because I believe it. I want to know who God is, and if all this stuff is true or not for myself.’ So I asked. I asked God to reveal himself to me and I wanted to know that these things I had been believing all my life were true. Because I’m not interested in being part of a big club… If I’m going to do this, it has to be real.”
“And it happened? You found it?”
“It did. I asked God to reveal himself to me and he did. And I decided that I wanted to continue in that relationship for myself– not for my parents, but because I knew for myself that it was true and that being in relationship with God was the only thing that would ever satisfy me.”
We passed through security and waited to board an elevator.
“People will disappoint me, my career– no matter how hard I build and work and succeed– will disappoint me, relationships will disappoint me, the only thing that will never disappoint me is God.”
This was too much for him to handle, and he spat out, “GOD will never disappoint you? Are you kidding me?”
“No. He never will.”
“You’re telling me that when bad things happen, you get hurt, you don’t wonder, ‘Why did God do this to me?'”
I shook my head and opened my mouth to respond, but suddenly there was a flash, and I saw my mother’s swollen and incoherent face as she lay in her hospital bed dying. A flood of pain and heart scar tissue started to throb, and suddenly all the nights I spent crying myself to sleep on the floor of my apartment, all the tears poured out onto pillowcases and journal pages, began to fill my vision until I could hardly see him standing in front of me. The scars on my heart opened their jagged mouths to speak, “Really? You think you can honestly say you’ve never felt disappointed by him? We’re STILL wrestling with that right now! LIAR!”
The elevator doors opened with a ding and I snapped back.
We walked in relative silence back to the lunch table and were joined by more friends and the conversation turned to other things, but for the rest of the day the sting from that aggravated scar tissue lingered, tugging on the edges of my concentration.
Was what I said true? Did I really believe that? For so long, no matter how much I didn’t want to, I had felt so betrayed by God– abandoned and rug-ripped-out-from-under. I had entrusted him with the biggest, most important thing I would ever trust him for– my momma’s healing– and my heart had been broken. Abandonment, mistrust, hurt, and anger all came like infections, seeping into the cracks in my heart. In the four and a half years since her passing, many of those broken places had been healed, cracks filled, wounds salved. But scars remain.
I just kept picturing her face, her grotesque, once-beautiful face, staring at me from that hospital bed. How could I say God would never disappoint me… when he had?
Lies are loud but truth is soft, and as the questions started to die down I began to hear, “He is alive… He is alive… She may be gone, but he is alive.”
He is alive. He died so her death wouldn’t be forever. He is alive. He saved us from death and sin forever. He is alive.
What I already “knew” began to register… She is alive. He died for her, and for me, to take our sins and death forever. My pain, as awful as it is at times, is temporary, and the only hell I’ll ever know. Her death is only temporary. She is alive.
He does not fail, he does not let down, he supersedes my disappointment and understandings of failure.
He is alive.
And that is when I knew what I said was true. He will never disappoint.
He is alive.