Fittingly, since writing my series Hungry has taken me back to my early years of college, I’ve been listening to a lot of the music that I accumulated during those years. In particular, I’ve been listening to Sufjan Stevens (who I got to see in concert my freshman year of college-a very rare occasion for me). The main song I’ve been enjoying is “Casimir Pulaski Day.”
It’s a beautifully narrative, with a boy sharing memories of being with and losing the girl he loves to bone cancer. I imagine them as high school sweethearts, small town Christians, newly married when they hear the news. God is as much a character in the song as the boy’s love. All of the lyrics are wonderful but I very much relate to the final stanzas, after she has passed away:
All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see His face
In the morning in the window
All the glory when He took our place
But He took my shoulders and He shook my face
And He takes and He takes and He takes
I particularly relate to that last line. The main reason I became bitter with God in college, and seriously considered walking away completely and instead have spent many years wrestling with Him, is because He takes and He takes and He takes. He puts us into people’s lives so that we can love them, then He takes them away and sometimes we never know if they ever cared about us back. And He takes away the people who do love us much too early. He gives us homes, communities where we find peace and comfort and encouragement, and He takes them away too. And He asks so much of us. And it isn’t easy and it’s often painful and lonely. Especially lonely. And He breaks our hearts.
He was a complication I thought I could do without. I wanted to hate Him and be hated by Him so that I could be free of Him once and for all. (Because I’ve always believed in the fox’s logic in The Little Prince, that we belong and are responsible to and for those who love us). The reason I couldn’t walk away entirely, was because I could neither hate Him, nor believe He hates me. Because I couldn’t spit in the pleading face of the God of the Old Testament begging for justice and mercy and love. Because I couldn’t piss on the cross where, for love, Jesus sacrificed His perfection (perfect unity with the Father, perfectly blamelessness, perfect wellness) for the sake of the very people mocking and torturing Him. Because I couldn’t forget Paul’s assurance in Romans 8:38-39:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
No matter how bitter I’ve been, I have not been able to escape the fact that God has given more than He will ever take. For He’s given me life itself, and all of my talents, and every other good thing from friends and family to creation. Along with all of these gifts, I never asked for or earned, He’s given His love. It is everlasting. No matter how despicable I make myself, He continues to love me for love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).
Still…trusting God is not easy. It was for this reason that, after I felt He’d broken my heart enough, I couldn’t allow myself to rest in His arms. Instead I heavily guarded my heart from Him. This Lent has made me aware of more ways in which I’m still on guard. In a recent email exchange with a friend, who is newly married, I gained some perspective that has been helping me. She was sharing with me how marriage is much more challenging than she ever imagined and wrote,
God teaches us the wisdom of love; knowing that it’s a choice and you must choose it… But in a marriage, it’s not enough to know love’s wisdom, you have to be love…It scares me to think that my husband may not accept the love I’m offering… If this is a tiny glimpse of what Christ felt before laying down his life, then no wonder he wept blood. He gave it all up, his whole self, knowing we have the freedom to reject him, to continue hurting him…
Her words have given me more confidence to trust Him as she reminded me that even for God love is painful and risky. (The ones it’s dangerous to love are those who don’t understand the cost and the responsibility). My mother has also reminded me that love isn’t always about rescue, protecting us from every pin prick, it’s about care. So I’ve been learning to forgive God for all He takes, because of all He gives and how He loves.
Feature image by Ben White.