For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him. – Isaiah 64:4
… I’ve been thinking about what I said to you in my last letter. And if I were to take my own feelings out of the equation and look at things objectively, I would see – I have seen, in my calmer moments – that you’re also emotionally and existentially invested in your belief. That’s another important reason you keep shutting the door in my face.
So objectively speaking, it’s not entirely fair for me to be upset over the fact I’m not as important to you as the deity you worship… ’cause if the question were put to me, I know I would have to choose God over you, and Mom, and everyone else too.
But considering how you reacted to my conversion, I don’t see how I could avoid feeling the way I do either. Growing up, I listened to you and Mom and our relatives talking about how Christianity is an undesirable, frightening religion because it demands exclusive loyalty from its followers. Because it turns people against their families and roots. So to see you and Mom acting the way you have – betraying us, defending the medium and justifying the things you’ve done (even if you try to cast it in a different light) – strikes me as supremely ironic. … And frightening, if you ask our relatives. They’re in fear when they think about what your beliefs have done to you; my brother is afraid the same thing’s going to happen to him.
Funnily enough, I haven’t had this effect on them. But do you see that you’re actually no different to the Christians whom you’ve derided and disapproved of in this regard? … That plus the fact I know what your god really is – I compare myself to that, and I can’t fathom you making the choice which you have.
That’s why I’m angry and feel rejected. Any way you slice it, you prefer a devil to me. Even if that’s not how you see it.
If I’m to be rejected, I’d rather it were for something better, Dad. Not worse. Because it’s the only way all this hurt and rigmarole could possibly be worthwhile. So I guess the whole question boils back down to a matter of truth. … What is the truth, and are you willing to accept it if what you believe turns out not to be it?
When it comes to that, I believe your pride does play a major part in your recalcitrance.
You’re a difficult man. And I’ve seen you glory in it, because you’ve come to take it as a sign that you’re able to see things other people don’t (and for at least some of the time in your life, that’s been true… which has unfortunately reinforced your behaviour). That’s where your self-justification began. But let’s think about this.
You said to me once that the god you worship is an immortal angel, someone who actually serves the Supreme God in heaven. Someone who has power enough to be considered a god, and basically is a god – a lesser god, one of many (you have no idea how aptly that describes a certain figure in the Bible, by the way). You tried to posit therefore that we’re all on the same side, that my God and your god aren’t opposed.
Now I don’t know if you came up with that yourself in your hours of musing or whether it’s what he told you, but seriously Dad?
If that were true, why the upheaval when I became a Christian? Why the need to label me a traitor? Why was I branded an ingrate and a disgrace? … If all I did was graduate from worshipping a lesser god to the Supreme God, I should’ve been patted on the back and congratulated – not the opposite.
Why the desperate attempts to come between D and I? Why the deliberate, hurtful driving of a wedge between you and Mom and myself as well? Why all the disapprobation and disappointment in me?
Was it all for nothing? Some pointless, perverse, meaningless exercise?
… You said that you all acted the way you did because you were worried for me. But if that was really the case, why were you worried at all? If your god served my God and he truly knew the future like he claimed, he should’ve known there was nothing to worry about. Everything that happened, everything he said and did to try to coerce/dissuade me from my choices should’ve been unnecessary. None of it would’ve been called for – unless I was actually doing something he considered subversive and undesirable.
See, none of it adds up. You practised law. You tried criminal cases. This should all be obvious to you. You’d see it if you only let yourself. But you won’t, because as I said, the implications are terrifying. You have so much invested in this, so much to lose: all that belief and dedication, all that money, all that time – DECADES of your life – all those promises that’ve been made to you: you’d rather cover your eyes with a delusion.
… The only way you’re going to come out of this, Dad, is if the truth becomes more important to you than anything else in the world. That’s how I came to Him. Regardless of the personal relationship I myself also had with the spirits; regardless of the fact I was dedicated to 2 of them; regardless of the awareness I would effectively be turning my back on all the beliefs I’d been raised to follow; regardless of the knowledge there’d be a rift between me and everyone else in our family and extended family from that point; regardless of all the miracles and displays of power I’d witnessed over the years; regardless of the fact you and Mom would brand me fool, traitor and infidel – I did it. And I have never looked back.
See, you always said that I’ve seen too much, so I should know better. Well you’re right. I’ve seen a lot. I had my eyes open; I was fully aware of what I was turning away from. I knew exactly what I would lose. But you’re wrong to think that means I should’ve known better than to be a Christian. … I became one precisely because I did know better.
You thought my conversion was reactionary, a juvenile attempt to hit back over the humiliation I got for first getting involved with D. But you’re wrong. I did it because I realised that a god who would lie about me and to me couldn’t be trusted – especially if he was lying to stop me from praying to a God who actually claimed to be the truth. I did it because the truth means more to me than power, or the patronage of a false god no matter how supposedly redoubtable (and for all their redoubtability, I guarantee you they will shrink at the name of Jesus because all authority in heaven and earth has actually been given to Him – you can test this if you don’t believe me). I did it because it was the only way for me to find the truth of how I’m actually supposed to live and think. Because I desire real salvation, not a counterfeit.
You and Mom planted the seeds for the ability to make those decisions in me. And now you have to do the same. You had a hard start to life and many challenges to surmount. You’re used to doing and seeing things your way. But that doesn’t mean your way is always right, Dad. You have to be able to admit when it’s not.
A lot of people have tried to tell you the truth over the years, not just me. But you’ve never listened. Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God. … Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. … When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. … If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”
… Does that sting? Or are you so deep in denial that you don’t think those words actually have anything to do with you?
The fact you think Jesus is just one of many faces that God has presented to humanity is erroneous, Dad – you’d know this if you just looked at what I had to go through when I wanted to become a Christian. The truth does not contradict itself. A house divided cannot stand. So if your god tried so hard to stop me from following Him, and has a habit of mocking Christians in general – if your own beliefs about God contradict what He’s clearly declared about Himself – don’t you see how illogical your premise is? Don’t you see what a big problem you have on your hands?
Think, Dad. Think, and admit that you could be wrong! It may be really hard for you to make a U-turn now, but it’ll be far harder at the end of your life – if you were to discover then that you were wrong and will have to face the consequences – when you could’ve done something to change it now.
Your god and mine are NOT on the same side. They are opposed to each other – fundamentally, morally and by nature enemies. My God has made this CLEAR if yours hasn’t. He has spoken, if you will only hear it! … And if you were to ring again… I think this might be the one thing I would try hardest to disabuse you of, agonising as it will be because of the reaction I expect to get from you yet again.
… Remember the prophecy in Isaiah 30 that I shared with you? Did you read it at all? Or did you start, then stop because you thought it was nonsense? … Did you make it to the end, then decide to ignore it? Or did you nullify its message with a willful reinterpretation? Because those words are either true, or they aren’t. And if they aren’t, how do you account for the uncannily accurate, practically blow-by-blow description of what happened to us? But if they are… why do you harden your heart?
… You know, I started this letter in a relatively calm frame of mind. But now that I’m thinking of it, the spectre of your stubbornness has come up before me yet again, and it makes me so – angry. It makes me so angry, to think of you telling me that all this essentially happened because of me; and then you try to reassure me that you don’t blame me for what happened. It makes me so angry to think of the few times you tried to say you were sorry during the early years after our home first collapsed; and then you turn around now and try to claim that things pretty much worked out for me in the end anyway. It eats at me that you’d say you’re sorry for how we’ve all been affected; but then slip in the caveat that it wasn’t really your fault, and that what happened to my sister wasn’t really Mom’s fault either.
Do you know what all those 180s mean? It means you’re chronically incapable of taking any responsibility. You’d rather buy into the lie that fate is cruel and I’m some unlucky, unsuspecting victim, and you’re the martyr. … Why? Does it make you feel better? Does it make you feel better to pawn the fruit of your mistakes off on your daughter? To lay this whole mess on me, chalk it up to the fact I was actually born, and then act magnanimously toward me?
… What do you mean things have worked out for me? I’ve been here, all this time, alone in a country and culture I struggle to assimiliate into, with the life I knew and my inheritance stolen from me and my future taking a hard left down a road I never anticipated; having to eke out something else for the last 10 years without your presence, guidance or support (in fact, with you providing the very opposite in the form of more pain and trauma and grief) and you’re saying things worked out for me? … My husband sheds tears sometimes at the thought of the pain he’s seen me in, and the changes in my personality. … So how dare you suggest it? How dare you try to rewrite the fact of my struggles, and use it to salve your conscience?
Your apologies are shams. Extracted from you like a bad tooth from an intractable socket. You may feel some sort of obligation, some vague, murky pressure at the back of your mind to offer them, but underneath it all you think it’s just because people are stupid and unreasonable and you actually shouldn’t have to. That if we understood, you’d somehow turn out to be a misunderstood hero.
It fills me with RAGE. I am so angry at you, and the fact I can’t say any of this to you – that you’ll reject it, deny it and refuse to let me finish – makes it worse, because I also feel so helpless. … You know few things mess up a person more than that combination. Rage and helplessness. It warps your sense of reality; and years and years of it will chip away at your self-estimation. Your ability to cope. Your basic confidence in your own capability to tell which way is up and what’s what in life so that you can face what it throws at you. And that’s what you’ve wrought. That’s where your bad decisions, your stubbornness and your false religion, have ultimately led.
You think that I’m doing fine, that I’m happy? No. There’re times when I am, but it’s in spite of what you’ve done, not because of it. I’m alive and functioning not because you purchased my future with your fortune, but because the grace of God surrounds me. It has cushioned me during the worst times of my life; comforted me, convicted me, upheld me, led me, protected me; drawn me continually on when all I wanted was to give up, shut down and give in to my worst instincts – kept me where I should’ve broken apart. But apart from that, your supposed sacrifice didn’t buy what it was supposed to. You spent all that money and went through all this so your relationship with me would be destroyed, and I – we, everyone who possesses a connection to you – would end up damaged. Your mistakes have brought this tragedy on us, and the fact you can’t make a simple, straightforward, unqualified, sincere apology after all this time shows how devastatingly deluded and deep in denial you still are.
You know I… I don’t know how to recover from this, Dad. I don’t. I wish I did. Most days I do what’s in front of me to do, and I get by. I don’t think about the things that give me grief. But they’re always there, somewhere, hovering in the background. There’s no changing it. It’s the reality I’ve lived with for years: there’s a piece of my heart that’s perpetually missing – snatched away, and nothing I do or tell myself can conjure up a replacement, or make it all right… make me feel like it doesn’t actually matter, and everything’s fine.
I can’t deny what is, or fool myself, or will a broken reality into wholeness. And I could slip so easily back into feeling helpless if I thought about it, because you’re not actually reading this right now. … I have to focus on the fact that this exercise is to help me, first and foremost, by giving me an outlet to express these things that I precisely can’t convey to you because I’m so sure that it’ll result in blowback. More punishment. More pain.
… Though maybe I’m wrong. … Maybe if I told you all this, you’d surprise me. But nothing in our past interactions has given me any reason to hope for such a thing. … Maybe the very fact I even consider such an outcome possible just shows how incorrigibly naïve I still am.
Or, maybe when I’ve got all my thoughts down, this will change. … Maybe I’ll find the courage to try again. To communicate, and take another run at the risk of rejection.
I don’t know. But for now, at least, this is like letting poison out of a wound, and the relief is tangible.
Quiet. But real.
… You know, I don’t know what’s going to happen Dad. Sometimes the thought itself is enough to drive me crazy. … But I know this:
He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry;
When He hears it, He will answer you.
And though the Lord gives you
The bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore,
But your eyes shall see your teachers.
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
You will also defile the covering of your images of silver,
And the ornament of your molded images of gold.
You will throw them away as an unclean thing;
You will say to them, “Get away!” …
Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun,
And the light of the sun will be sevenfold,
As the light of seven days,
In the day that the Lord binds up the bruise of His people
And heals the stroke of their wound.
That is the promise of God. Please read it if you haven’t; and read it again. Read it with humility, receptivity, honesty… read it without pride, self-justification, preconceptions, misconceptions or illusions.
Hear what it has to say to you, plain and simple. Your best days aren’t behind you Dad; they’re ahead. There may not be that many of them in comparison to the first half of your life because of how long you’ve delayed, but they are – there, for the taking. Waiting only to be activated at the sound of your cry to Him. … That’s a fact.
It’s why I continue to have hope. And I hope you do it. I hope you cry to Him soon.
… With love and tears,
… When D’s cellphone rings, my heart rate spikes. Panic wells up in me like heartburn, and my brain scrambles to make a decision: if it’s you, what do I do? Pick up? Let it ring? If it’s Mom, it’s worse. What does she want? What would I say? I don’t want to pick up. Am I even capable of talking to her normally? Then I think, what if it’s our relatives calling with some other bad news? More bad news? … What could it be? What is it now?!
All these things go through me in a flash, but at the same time, it feels like one long awful interminable moment. I agonise, churn, and teeter with dread and indecision until D tells me that it’s not you, or her, or them. Then I have to come back down, and take a little time to recover.
I can’t help it. It’s all a reflex. … The result of trauma.
Nothing good ever comes of picking up the phone. Nothing good ever comes of hearing from any of you. Not since the day Mom first called to tell me not to go home. That’s what the last 10 years have taught me. And when the phone rings, my brain cells bathe themselves in a slaver of anxiety like teeth in the jaws of a Pavlovian dog.
So I’m glad you haven’t called often the last few years. I’m glad I haven’t heard from Mom at all. It’s completely at odds with the fact I love and miss you both, but there it is. Maybe it’s cowardliness… sometimes when I’ve tried to talk to people about it, I feel like that’s how it comes off. That it’s what they see. I don’t know. I mean, I’m not actually afraid of the both of you, but I don’t want to speak to you either – because I know that I’ll end up taking the brunt of it emotionally.
… It’s not you I fear and dislike. It’s the effect of talking to you.
If I do, I know that it’ll make things worse – the pain, the rejection, the alarming consciousness of estrangement, the heartbreak over your condition. The frustration. It takes me days, if not weeks, to recover. And the after-effects can linger for months. Indefinitely.
I can’t put myself through it over and over. It’s too hard. So unless there’s going to be a substantial change in how we interact, I just – can’t. I don’t know how.
… Does that make me a coward?
I could pray for God to help me, but the fact is, He doesn’t take grief away. Not most of the time. It’s one of the things I find difficult about having a relationship with Him. He wants me to walk through it with Him, not around it. And at first, that’s what I did. But after 10-15 years… it just seems easier to spare myself and avoid contact because nothing actually comes of us talking anyway. If we’re lucky, it ends in a stalemate, unspoken or otherwise. If we’re not, things between us actually get worse.
You know how I said in my last letter that I’m not as important to you as the deity you worship? Well, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that and I’ve concluded… it’s not actually the whole truth.
If you get right down to it, the truth is… I’m simply not as important to you as you are to yourself. And the same goes for Mom.
That’s what lies at the bottom of all this. It’s why you won’t listen to me. Why you insist on continuing in your religious beliefs and arguing with me about mine. Why you’ve never let me question you or speak my mind. It’s because of your pride. … You can say that you did what you did for me, that love is what led you to agree to your wretched bargain with your god. But the fact is, your ego is bound up in your belief that you’ve found the truth, and everything I believe, everything I have to say to you is diametrically opposed to that. It affronts you, and until you decide that your ego is not a valid measure or guarantor of the truth, we will have nothing truly meaningful to say to each other. We will never be able to make any real headway in our interactions; we will never be able to converse honestly; and we will never have a deep or healthy relationship.
… That, in a nutshell, is really why I can’t talk to you.
How do you talk to someone you don’t respect? Whom you don’t intrinsically regard as your moral equal? Whose opinions you believe by default cannot be correct? You can’t. And every time you try, all I sense from you is a wall. You’re sitting on top of it looking down at me, much as you do with most other people, and refuse to see that unless you come down from there and meet me not as your child – or a child – but a grown up, rational human being who can, and wants to, have a real conversation with you where both parties are vulnerable to being appealed to and changed by the other – I can never freely or unreservedly participate. All it will do is hurt me.
… Do you remember the night you found out I’d become a Christian, I asked you a question: do you want a discussion or do you just want me to listen to you? Your response was, “I want you to listen to me.” And that has never changed. For 15 years, it hasn’t changed.
Do you really think you can go the rest of your life that way? That you can ignore me or have that one-sided dynamic going between us till the day you die?
… It confounds me, that you’ve always been so proud of me – so able to recognise that you have, at least to some extent, a gifted and intelligent child, and so quick to laud the fact to others – yet when it comes to the most important issues of your life, you won’t take the time to seriously listen and consider what I have to say.
Do you know what that tells me? It tells me that I’m acceptable to you only on your terms. … I can win awards, but I can’t give you counsel. I can work for your approval, but not hold you accountable. I may criticise those in whom you’re already able to recognise flaws, but not remonstrate with you. … I can only make you proud, but not help you to be humble.
It’s completely different to the kind of relationship I have with God.
… Over the years, He’s been teaching me to relate to Him as my Father, and even though it’s hard to do and I still don’t really get it (as I said, my relationship with you has affected how I perceive and relate to Him, because you’re the only other father I’ve ever known) – I have at least come to recognise that He’s essentially different in the way He treats me. I mean, if there was anyone who had the right to do it the way you have, it’s Him – because He’s God. He doesn’t require counsel, or correction, or accountability. He knows everything, has all the answers and doesn’t have to put up with anybody questioning or criticising Him.
But you know… He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t hold my finiteness against me. He listens, answers when He thinks I need an answer (or am in the state to hear it), and is very patient with me. He’s attentive and kind. … There’re times I sense disapproval from Him, and apart from the occasions I know it’s because I’ve done something wrong, there’re other times I wonder if it’s because my relationship with you and Mom has coloured my perception – but that aside, God doesn’t reject me. He doesn’t cast me aside. And apart from my own struggles to believe that He loves and delights in me the way some people have said He does, we have a 2-way relationship. … Or at least, as much of a 2-way relationship as is possible between a weak, imperfect human being and an omnipotent, omniscient God.
But you see – the point is we do have a 2-way relationship. And the only reason that’s possible – the only way it could be possible at all – is because He wants it, and is willing to engage in it with me, warts and all. And that tells me something. … It tells me that He has genuine regard for me; that I mean something to Him beyond my inadequacies and His utter superiority. That He genuinely cares to know and interact with me as a person, and whether He has all the power/answers in the relationship or not has nothing whatsoever to do with it – is in fact quite beside the point.
… Now, I don’t expect you to be like God. But I also know, at the same time, that there’s something you can learn from Him in this regard… that there’s a different way to be a father that doesn’t require perfection or divinity, but which is better suited to the role than what you’ve shown thus far.
So it pains me – and you don’t know how much it pains me, to have to recognise this and say it out loud – but your pride in me, ultimately, is superficial.
… I don’t want that. I want you to accept and interact with me as a whole person.
And again, it brings up the question: if you can’t trust and listen to someone who wants this because they love you – because they want to be able to tell you the truth when you need to hear it, not because they want to control you or make you feel bad about yourself but because they believe in you and have your best interests at heart – who else is left to you?
… But you know, it just occurred to me that in a strange way, this is what it was like with God, too, with you. … You had this treasure within your grasp but never knew it for what it was. If you’d had a little more faith and a little more perseverance, it would’ve yielded so many good things to you. … But for all intents and purposes, you despised it. Turned away from it. Then you tried to redefine it according to your terms, so you could believe that you were still somehow in touch with it. … And you’re making the same mistake again with your own child, whom He blessed you with.
And just so we’re clear, I’m not saying this to toot my own horn ok – what I’m trying to say is, if you’re not careful, your life will be a story of that man who threw away every good thing he had because of his pride. … It’s an old story, and a perennial one. And it’s hard for me to see you fit so neatly into a cautionary trope.
And again, I’m not saying this because I know everything or have all the answers. But you should know that I made it a personal policy a long time ago not to speak about something unless I have a reasonable degree of certainty that I know something about it – that I’m likely correct or have a valid point to make. So if I want to talk to you about this – if I’m actually clamouring and desperate for you to open your ears and hear me – you should know that it’s important.
… I’ve thought about what you were like on our last call, Dad. I remember it quite clearly. And from what I could hear… you’re coming apart. Years of exile, being all alone and unable to talk about the deepest things in your heart, having no one among your loved ones to listen or understand or accept what you have to say, will do that to you. I know.
You’re coming up against yourself, Dad. When there’s nobody else around, that’s all you’re faced with. But you’re still refusing to yield to the process. You’re turning it all outward instead, looking for people and things to argue with, ways to make you feel better about yourself, looking to make others agree or acquiesce to your view, still. But it’s getting harder, isn’t it? … It will continue to get harder. And you will look more determinedly for somewhere to lay the blame. Cast your eyes more fixedly away from yourself. You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about how hard and unfair life has been for you. Try even more to act like nothing’s really wrong. Insist again that none of these things that’ve happened are really your or Mom’s fault. … But it’ll only make things worse. You mayn’t think so, but that’s what’s going to happen because reality isn’t going to bend itself to your will. And the reality is, you’re as much responsible for how your life is now as others have been. And if you try to bury this truth or distract from it, you will suffer even more. Your redemption will elude you even further. Your dead and mangled conscience will haunt you even more loudly from its grave. … God forbid, your stubbornness will end up destroying you.
It’s been 10 years, Dad. How much longer are you going to sit in denial and stew in self-justification? For how much longer are you going to wallow in your pride and hold out for a change that will never come without the auspices of the one true God?
… Will you simply hold my silence against me, and use that as a pretext for proving that it’s always other people who don’t know better?
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” So you know, even if I – if everyone – were to magically change our minds overnight and completely agree with you about everything, it will avail nothing Dad. You know that right? … You will only get your life and self-respect back, and the things you always truly wanted, deep down – you will only come fully and irrevocably into your own – if you recognise and admit the truth. It’s the only thing that will save you. And there is only one source of truth in the universe – but if you can’t admit this, at least please start by admitting that you’ve gone to the wrong source!
… I’d beg you. My instinct is to beg you. But I know that it’ll achieve nothing. It’s a wall I’ve run up against over and over, both during our interactions and in my own mind. And it’s the bitterest pill in the world to swallow. … You have to do this yourself. Because you want to. Out of your own conviction.
God will settle for nothing less.
… But I’ll leave you with one last thing before I end this missive. Jesus also said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of Me will find it. For what will a person be benefited if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life?”
Don’t keep holding on to yourself, Dad. There’s something better. Something true. Something so much more right. Something you’ll always regret refusing if you try to keep this world that you’ve constructed for yourself intact. … Can’t you see that it’s already in ruins? Don’t forfeit your future for something that’s already broken. … You’re smarter than that. You have to be. For your own sake, and for all our sakes.
… With love and tears,
… I had what you might call an epiphany recently. I was thinking about something I said in my last blog post, that I’m still struggling with certain things after 10 years, and it occurred to me that maybe it’s because I’ve never been able to talk to you.
Human beings need communication. Resolution. An honest connection, especially with the people who matter to them. And that’s something I don’t have… never got because I was never allowed to speak to you or Mom frankly about the things that matter to me.
I don’t know if you’ll ever read this… I’ve had what feels like a vain hope for a long time that one day, when things mend between us, maybe I’ll be able to show you this blog and let you hear my side of the story… so you know how things were for me at my end, and how I understand what happened to us (I don’t know how you’ll react; I’m inclined to think you’ll be angry and embarrassed, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it I guess – if we ever get there, this’ll be a good dilemma, so I’m choosing not to worry about it).
By writing this, I’m not saying that I think it’ll never happen now… but I realised that since becoming a Christian, I’ve accumulated 15 years of thoughts and feelings that I could never express because you didn’t want to hear them (as far as I can tell, you still don’t). And I realised that maybe, regardless of what happens in the future or whether you ever read any of this, I need to say them as if you are listening – so I can actually let them out and not leave them churning around endlessly inside me, keeping me stuck.
I don’t know how many of these I’ll end up writing. I might write to Mom too. But when the idea came to me, it felt right. Really right. Like I hit on something I actually need to do, just I wasn’t aware of it. So here I am.
… There’re so many things I could say to you. That I want to say. We were never close the way some families are – open and demonstrative and affectionate. But in another way, ours is one of the most tightly knit families I’ve ever seen… there’s no way we could’ve weathered what we’ve weathered and still emerged with such a strong sense of being each other’s flesh and blood otherwise. And it wouldn’t hurt so much. It wouldn’t be so hard. I wouldn’t think of you and miss you all as often and instinctively as I do.
That’s the main thing I struggle with. Following God can be so hard. He wants me to give up what’s most important in the world to me – and I don’t mean consciously important, I mean important as in foundational and essential to your being. A person might not be aware of the air when they’re breathing because it’s such a natural part of being alive, but when it’s gone – you sure as heck know it.
And that’s where our paths essentially diverge. … The Taoist gods offered you a way to keep what was most important to you when they spoke to you about me all those years ago. They inflamed and indulged your attachment to something that was never meant for you to keep, over which you actually had no control (or the right to control) – they offered you the power to thwart fate, when the truth is, no man can escape what has truly been ordained from above. And in the pursuit of that, they got you to betray the very thing you were trying to save. They said you had to compromise yourself, sacrifice yourself, destroy yourself to do it. But not only will you not be able to keep that which you tried to save… you’ll end up with nothing. You have ended up with nothing.
God has done the opposite with me. He’s asked me to give up what’s most important to me, and relegate my earthly attachment for a heavenly one. He hasn’t catered to it because He knows that it’s a weakness in my heart, a doorway to undermining my judgement and character as it has been for everyone in our family. And He’s taken all power over the situation out of my hands so that I’ll learn to trust that He is all-powerful and all-sufficient. That I’m not to strive to save or hold on to that which doesn’t actually belong to me (and certainly not through methods that will harm myself or others). And He has promised that I will get it back – if I first hand it over to Him so that He can give it back to me, redeemed.
You see, there’s a right way and a wrong way to love something. And only a truly good God will care about the difference.
I know you don’t want to hear this. I know you don’t see it this way at all. I know you think it’s nonsense, and that I don’t have a clue. … And I know that if you were to entertain what I’m saying, the implications are devastating.
I also know that I can’t make you listen. I can’t get you to believe me. You have no idea how much pain that causes me. How much frustration. … You know I haven’t asked you for much over the years Dad. You gave me enough, more than a lot of children get to have growing up. But the one thing I’ve wanted more than anything else, the one thing I would ask above all, you’ve denied me. Repeatedly and adamantly. You don’t know what kind of effect that has on a child – the overwhelming sense of rejection it engenders. Not only has it harmed our relationship, it’s led me to conflate your hardheartedness with God’s firmness. Because when I pray and He withholds the answer, I see you. I see Mom. I see the both of you in your utter disregard for my feelings and your stubborn, uncaring attitude towards shutting me out.
But that doesn’t change the truth. And the truth is, look at what’s happened to us. Look at everything we’ve lost and all the people we’ve hurt. Do you honestly think the misery and bereavement we’re suffering is all the salvation a supposedly powerful god is capable of? Is this all the help you can expect? Endlessly cheating, scrounging, hiding, evading responsibility and lying to yourself – do you honestly think these are signs that you’re following the truth?
You say that God will lie if it suits His purpose. The only reason you say that is because you worship a god who lies. A god who has instructed you to lie, who condones and justifies it, who’s cauterized your conscience against it. But think about it Dad. A god who has to resort to these measures – a god who tells his followers that they must at times rely on deception to achieve their ends – cannot be the truth, for if his ways are not as powerful as the truth – if he must work against it or in spite of it to get what he wants – then he is not its master. What’s worse, you’ve listened to this pretender for so long, you can’t even conceive of a God who does not, needs not, and cannot lie: a God who is truly noble and just and honorable and powerful. The concept is so absurd to you that you tell me I must doubt Him – He who has never lied to me – when you, yourself, hold absolute, unquestioning faith and loyalty in a deity whom you know is completely comfortable with lying.
How did you end up here? People always say that a mistress cannot trust the man who leaves his wife for her, because sooner or later he will do the same to her. If your god lies to people and tells you to lie, what makes you think he won’t – hasn’t – lied to you? … Can you even consider the possibility? Or does the mere suggestion of it perturb you too much?
You’ve said a few things to me about God, Christianity and the Bible over the years. Things that I now know, which I would testify to you, are untrue, if you would only listen. You were wrong, Dad. So – wrong. … I don’t know what happened to turn you away from God in your youth, but it was the biggest mistake of your life. I’ve had my struggles and personal conflict regarding His intentions over the years because of how hard life has been, but one thing has always remained clear in my mind: coming to Him was the smartest, truest, best thing I ever did. In a life full of mess-ups and failures, it’s the one move I know I definitely got right.
And you know what? I like to think that it’s because of qualities I inherited from you. I got your looks, and God knows I have your weaknesses. But I also have your strengths. And Mom’s. You gave me an instinct for reasoning, the natural desire to figure things out, the backbone and independence to insist on finding my own way. And I did. Oh, you don’t know the things I’ve learned from and about God the last 15 years – things I would share joyfully and unreservedly with you, Mom, and the rest of our family if you only wanted it… the one great treasure I have to offer after 10 years of estrangement, and a lifetime of black-sheephood.
I’ve finally learned how to recognise what the truth really looks like, Dad. And it’s the best, most important gift any human being could hope to possess. It doesn’t mean that I know everything or have all the answers, but I can tell now when something belongs to the truth. I can recognise it because He’s renewed my mind, reshaped my sensibilities so I have an affinity for what’s true – made truth my friend and my kin. You see, when you have a relationship with God, He changes you from the inside out. It’s not just a matter of listening to His instructions and doing what He tells you; you become like Him in your character and perspective. And since He is the truth, the closer you get to Him, the more natural truth becomes to you.
And you know what else? You always said that Christians are at a terrible disadvantage because they can’t see or hear their God, whereas Taoists can. But that’s not true. If you want to have a 2-way interaction with your god, you can only do it at a séance. You have to make an appointment, and the medium has to be there – without that middleman, you’re as cut off from your deity as you suppose Christians to be – so contact is only temporary and limited. But when a person becomes a Christian, God’s Spirit comes and dwells within them. He never leaves them. So I mayn’t see God, but I can hear Him and feel Him. He lives with me, inside me, and any time I want, I can talk to Him and have Him talk back. My access to Him is 24/7.
Do you know what it’s like to enjoy private, reciprocal, spontaneous communication with the Creator of all things Himself? … I imagine not. It’s something that has to be experienced.
And my concern is that you’ll never get to have that experience for yourself, Dad, because it’s not where your heart is. You don’t want the truth. You don’t want God. You say you do, and you may even think that you do – but what you really want is something else. You want power, a way to justify yourself and the decisions you’ve made so you never have to admit that you had more responsibility over the choices and actions you took in life than your pride and self-image will allow. … You want metaphysical capital, philosophical vindication, cosmic absolution – a way to make others believe what you already do: that nothing is really, truly your fault.
You’ll never get it the way you’ve been going about things. It will be the death of you – literally. Absolution doesn’t come from trying to find ways to justify yourself… it comes from admitting that you need forgiveness and justification from an Authority far higher than yourself; it will only come when you are willing to exercise humility and confess that you’ve made a mess of things – fully, freely and without qualification. And I’m telling you this as your daughter, as someone who loves you, who sees your flaws and sins yet still accepts you and believes in you. … If you can’t trust such a person to tell you the truth when you need to hear it and have your best interests at heart, who else is left to you?
But that’s precisely the problem. You don’t trust me. You’d rather listen to a perverse and perfidious god. Who called me a traitor and told you falsehoods about me. Who mocked me, bullied me, threatened me right in front of you without drawing a word of protest from your lips. Who used me first to get your trust and money, then to hurt and humiliate you when I exercised a freedom which you promised me from childhood would be mine: to follow a faith of my own choosing.
… Do you have any idea how much pain that’s caused me? How much grief? To see our family wrecked, you and Mom turned so upside-down, all this tragedy and destruction in our home – and be completely helpless to do anything about it because you wouldn’t let me speak to you about our situation. Because the thought of receiving any input from me struck you as unhelpful and ridiculous. … Because I’m not as important to you as a liar. A big, fat, scheming manipulator and liar (yes I’m going on the record with it: you’ve been manipulated and lied to – completely and unequivocally; and if you want to know how, you’ll have to ask me).
Sometimes I think you’ll never know. Sometimes I think that even if you could, you’d refuse, because it’d be too hard for you to find out just what it’s like – to see yourself and this whole situation through my eyes. To know the strain of the weight that’s been pressing on my heart all these years. … Though at the same time, if you were to repent and have your eyes opened, I hope for your sake that you never do, either.
… I don’t want you to go through pain, Dad. I don’t want you to suffer. I don’t want you to be put in my shoes just so you’ll understand me or get some kind of payback. I bear you no ill will or malice. I never have. I’ve been extremely hurt and disappointed. Angry. But always I’ve loved you and hoped – prayed – for your greatest good. And I continue to hope, and pray, for it… even as I love you from a distance, and in silence.
I hope you understand this one day. And I hope things will be different the next time we see each other.
… I know that you’re not really reading this right now, but it does help to act as if you are. So… I have to stop for now, but thanks for listening. … I hope you’re doing ok where you are. Write again soon.
With love and tears,
It’s been unseasonally cold and grey over the last week… as if summer knows its time is coming to a close, so it simply sighed and withdrew quietly into the gloom one night – conceding its place tiredly and without a fight to the encroaching chill of autumn because there’s no point trying to hold off the inevitable. Or to hold on to something it’s going to lose anyway.
A light blush, deepening by the day, has begun to sweep over the apple-green spheres of our grapes. I look at them, standing outside in the wind, and try to let the naïveté of their beauty remind me that a harvest is yet to come… that there’ll be warm, sunny days ahead yet that’ll make me forget what I’m feeling today. Even as I shiver angrily at the early theft of precious life and heat from the world.
But I know that the winds of change are blowing back home too, in Malaysia, and Chinese New Year is basically here. Again. That even though I’ve been both consciously and unconsciously trying to stave it off, a heaviness has been growing in my heart and mind that come April, it will be a full 10 years since my home collapsed and my family broke apart.
… I’ve had a feeling for a while now that this year might turn out to be a hard time for me, though I don’t know how much. Certainly I hope it won’t be too hard; I don’t want to do anything to make it harder. But I can’t help feeling that it probably will be, and that it’ll just get harder as the year goes on.
Probably because of this mood, I started thinking lately about some things I haven’t thought of in quite a while. And it’s painful to realise there’re places in my memory that still feel so close, so near, that are still so fresh and familiar and clear to me – and yet in reality they don’t exist anymore. … Like my home – when I think of it, it feels like it’s still out there somewhere, in some undefined limbo where time has stood still, waiting for me to come back to it sometime… as if I’d only been away on campus for a while, or a long holiday in another country – and when I return, everything will be just as I left it.
Realising that this feeling is just a trick of miscognition causes me a pain which leaves me wondering that I’m as sane as I am. That I haven’t had a complete nuclear meltdown yet at the fact my life, and the lives of people I long for, were horrifically damaged and have yet to recover. That I don’t panic more often at the thought I have no idea what I’m really doing here, or what purpose I could possibly still serve from such a broken, thwarted, bereft position.
Every year it’s hard. Mother’s Days, Father’s Days, birthdays, Chinese New Years, Mid-Autumn Festivals, Christmases… I remember, and get reminded multiple times. My memory stirs; or I go on Facebook and see the pictures other people post – the group photos and smiling faces – I read the status updates about the families and gatherings and good times – imperfect, but relatively intact, lives inundating me one after another – and I ache. Ache hungrily and futilely like a ghost at the window of a ball, watching the dancers whirl by whom it can’t join.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for all the people I see. I wouldn’t wish anything less for them. And most of the time, I focus on trying to make the best of things. On hope, and when I can manage it, gratitude. But it’s been almost 10 years… and even though I’ve tried to quiet it in patience and confidence, with prayer and perspective and faith, there’s a voice inside me that’s gotten louder and louder with the passing of time, even as it’s made its complaint less frequently. And over the last week, it’s been practically screaming. Screaming for something to change, for the walls to move, for the bars to break. Screaming that it won’t – can’t – go on with things the way they are.
The violence of it has unsettled me. Made me feel ashamed that 10 years on, I’m still wrestling with something that refuses to submit, that won’t go quiet, that refuses to accept the portion it’s been given, and just wait.
I can’t keep waiting. I don’t know how much longer I can do it.
And when I think about it, I hear the verses of Swinburne, burning and balming at the same time as only a truth wrapped in poetry can do:
Exile, what of the night? —
The tides and the hours run out,
The seasons of death and of doubt,
The night-watches bitter and sore.
In the quicksands leftward and right
My feet sink down under me;
But I know the scents of the shore
And the broad blown breaths of the sea.
Captives, what of the night? —
It rains outside overhead
Always, a rain that is red,
And our faces are soiled with the rain.
Here in the seasons’ despite
Day-time and night-time are one,
Till the curse of the kings and the chain
Break, and their toils be undone.
High priest, what of the night? —
The night is horrible here
With haggard faces and fear,
Blood, and the burning of fire.
Mine eyes are emptied of sight,
Mine hands are full of the dust.
If the God of my faith be a liar,
Who is it that I shall trust?
… Oh God, help me. Be my strength. Keep me holding on even as my mind, my emotions, my will revolt. Give me the grace to keep bearing this. Let me wait, and find my certainty that it will not be in vain.
Let me not fail this watch. … And please, if it be at all possible, please, let the rain stop soon…
Q: In Acts 16, why do you think Paul tolerated the evil spirit for days before confronting it?
A: My opinion: the girl was not free. Paul’s general style was to preach and appeal publicly to people, and speak to them further/visit their homes only if they responded and invited him, not to target individuals who didn’t welcome or accept his message. The girl belonged to a master who was not a believer and had not expressed a desire to be; interfering with such a man’s slave would therefore be an affront to the man himself, and not something Paul would ordinarily, readily do. The only reason he confronted the spirit at all, in the end, was because the girl wouldn’t stop following him around and harassing him.
Q: Do you think a lie is ever justified? Like when people would hide Jews during WWII.
A: In my opinion: yes. The commandment specifically states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” It doesn’t say that one should never ever lie, but that one should not lie AGAINST one’s neighbour, i.e. to their harm or detriment. This is borne out in other parts of the law which talk about not misleading people, not putting a stumbling block in a blind man’s way, not moving land markers, not giving false testimony in court to condemn the innocent etc.
Granted this doesn’t mean that we can simply say white lies or dissemble about things that, to us, seem harmless. Jesus said to let our yes be yes and our no, no. So typically, a believer should be true and honest in their speech and actions. But lying to save someone’s life as in the case of Rahab and the two spies, or hiding Jews during WW2, would be considered moral or even mandatory, as the alternative would mean being complicit in said individuals’ hurt/death. That would be a definite sin against God.
… I think lying should be a last resort, and that on no account should a believer ever feel comfortable with simply lying or fudging the truth. Just that if it comes to the crunch, esp. in a life or death situation, I think we should be able to do so without feeling troubled in our conscience too, since Scripture gives us that much leeway.
Q: Don’t ever associate Jesus as the light; Satan is collectively known as the light throughout history.
A: Satan being the light is a counterfeit to Jesus being the light. John 1:4-9 says: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” Jesus being the light is not a misconception, it’s the truest truth, because He is the real Light. In John 8:12, the Lord Himself says, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Jesus is both light AND life. We shouldn’t deny it just because Satan’s a liar and a fake.
Q: Many, many people in this world claim to have the truth and yet, don’t have the whole truth; whether or not they know it. Many of us are deceived and some more so than others. … “Trust, but verify.” The Bible is the “living word” which means that different people can read the same sentence and get two different meanings.
A: The notion of the Bible being a living word, I think, comes from the verse in Hebrews 4 which says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” But to determine what exactly this means, one needs to keep reading, and the passage goes on to say: “… piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
This is the context by which we ought to understand the Scriptures as being “alive” – it’s not alive in the sense that it’s flexible and subject to change as other living things; rather, it’s alive in the sense that it’s perennial, timeless, and always relevant – in other words, the Bible is not a “dead” book the way some languages and cultures are said to be dead. Rather, it is and will always be able to speak to us precisely because it is unchanging in its ability to discern human nature and reveal God (who Himself is unchanging) to us. So the way we understand the Scripture as being a living text is quite different to how secular parties may define it.
The non-believer’s definition of a living text is organised around the human reader and his/her propensity to difference and change. But the Christian definition centres on the Author of the Book and His immutability. This is why the Bible shouldn’t be treated like any other book; we have to accord it an entirely different level of respect and authority and allow it to renew our minds as we read it.
Q: Soon the world will run out of food.
A: Well actually, Isaiah 45:18 says that God formed the earth to be inhabited, and didn’t create it in vain. Research by the UN has already established that there’s enough food and resources to support everyone. It just needs to be distributed equitably. The population of the world isn’t the problem. The problem is greed, corruption and selfishness. It always has been.
This morning I read C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed for the first time, and though the circumstances in which he wrote it were very different to mine – though no two griefs are exactly alike – there were parts of it that resonated. Thoughts which I’ve thought and feelings which I’ve felt myself.
… I can’t imagine how hard it must be to lose a spouse. There’ve been moments when I tried to in a vain mental exercise, but I always stopped pretty much straightaway because I knew that no amount of imagination can do such a loss justice. The chief things in life, good or bad, can only be experienced, not envisioned.
But at the same time, in reading the pain-soaked passages of Lewis’ prose, I saw parts of my own soul reflected back at me, because grief is common to humanity. And it often seems to me that great writers and thinkers have a way of expressing that which is common to all of us in uncommonly memorable/eloquent/accurate ways.
In the introduction to his stepfather’s book, Douglas Gresham wrote,
What many of us discover in this outpouring of anguish is that we know exactly what he is talking about. Those of us who have walked this same path, or are walking it as we read this book, find that we are not, after all, as alone as we thought. C. S. Lewis, the writer of so much that is so clear and so right, the thinker whose acuity of mind and clarity of expression enabled us to understand so much, this strong and determined Christian, he too fell headlong into the vortex of whirling thoughts and feelings and dizzily groped for support and guidance deep in the dark chasm of grief. … If we find no comfort in the world around us, and no solace when we cry to God, if it does nothing else for us, at least this book will help us to face our grief, and to ‘misunderstand a little less completely.’
Reading the book did, at least partially, have that effect on me. It consoled me that the things I’ve struggled with in my own mind and emotions are not unusual. So I thought I’d copy the passages which gave me that “Me too!” moment here, as a summation of the things I’ve been going through for the last few years. … And as a reminder for the future that these things will pass, and that like Beatrice, or Lewis, or his wife Helen at her death, we will all, eventually, turn back to the eternal fountain.
“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often—will it be for always?—how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again.
They say, ‘The coward dies many times’; so does the beloved. Didn’t the eagle find a fresh liver to tear in Prometheus every time it dined?”
“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I’ve already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench. But it isn’t. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat.”
On being tried
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.”
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”
“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”
On theodical struggle
“The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.
Either way, we’re for it.
What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?”
“Is it rational to believe in a bad God? Anyway, in a God so bad as all that? The Cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?
I think it is, if nothing else, too anthropomorphic. When you come to think of it, it is far more anthropomorphic than picturing Him as a grave old king with a long beard. That image is a Jungian archetype. It links God with all the wise old kings in the fairy-tales, with prophets, sages, magicians. Though it is (formally) the picture of a man, it suggests something more than humanity. At the very least it gets in the idea of something older than yourself, something that knows more, something you can’t fathom. It preserves mystery. Therefore room for hope. Therefore room for a dread or awe that needn’t be mere fear of mischief from a spiteful potentate. But the picture I was building up last night is simply the picture of a man like S.C.—who used to sit next to me at dinner and tell me what he’d been doing to the cats that afternoon. Now a being like S.C., however magnified, couldn’t invent or create or govern anything. He would set traps and try to bait them. But he’d never have thought of baits like love, or laughter, or daffodils, or a frosty sunset. He make a universe? He couldn’t make a joke, or a bow, or an apology, or a friend.”
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that.
And now that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them.”
“Two widely different convictions press more and more on my mind. One is that the Eternal Vet is even more inexorable and the possible operations even more painful than our severest imaginings can forbode. But the other, that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’”
There were other, smaller overlaps of commonality scattered in the book, but these were the chief things which I’ve found staring me in the face – which have appeared and/or been explored on this blog in some form or other – over the years. And I’m glad that I’m not alone in facing them.
In her foreword, Madeleine L’Engle said,
It is helpful indeed that C. S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.
The turmoil of grief, worked out in the presence of God – though it be at times directed at Him rather than to Him – does indeed produce that fruit. And for those of us who’ve been wrenched by such pain, it’s redemptive, at least, that this fruit should become part of our witness. Soli Deo gloria.
Last weekend, I watched a new episode of Elementary, one of my favourite TV shows. It’s a modernised take on Sherlock Holmes set in New York (and in my opinion, superior to the BBC adaptation led by Benedict Cumberbatch).
In this version, Holmes is a thoroughly 21st century man with a meticulous, eloquent way of speaking that, oddly, serves to characterise him, still, as a man out of time. He’s also a recovering drug addict 2 years into his sobriety, unlike the original Doyle iteration who only dabbled with narcotics recreationally.
In this episode, however, Holmes has been missing his Narcotics Anonymous meetings and evading his sponsor; so Watson confronts him about it. This was their ensuing conversation.
Holmes: If you must know Watson… I’ve been feeling a little bit down of late.
It’s the process of maintaining my sobriety. It’s repetitive. It’s relentless. And above all, it’s tedious.
When I left rehab I… I accepted your influence. I committed to my recovery. And now… 2 years in… I found myself asking, ‘Is this it?’
My sobriety is simply a grind. It’s just this leaky faucet which requires constant maintenance. And in return offers only – not to drip.
Watson: You have your work. You have me. You’re alive.
Holmes: I’ve told myself that many times. … So many times that it has become unmoored… from all meaning.
*ironic chuckle* Odd. I ah… I used to imagine that a relapse would be the climax to some grand drama.
Now I think that if I were to use drugs again, it would in fact be an anticlimax. It would be a surrender to the incessant drip, drip, drip of existence.
It was a quiet, poignant scene, charged with comfortingly raw honesty. D later told me he could tell it was hitting home as we were watching it. I thought back to my penultimate post (rather ironically titled “Medicine”, in light of the current subject), and realised it was about essentially the same thing.
Sobriety is to an addict what faith is for a believer – it is our goal, and at the same time, the enabling factor that keeps us moving toward that goal.
Without it, all things healthful and positive are rendered impossible: right living, proper functioning, sound judgement, meaningful relationships, seized opportunities… but it’s a difficult, narrow, long and often lonely road that could be more easily traded in for the short-term euphoria and relief of a false choice. And pursuing it can wear us down – take all the meaning out of the process – because it’s an invitation to continue in the same grey, onerous reality.
… Yet we know that it’s the right thing for us to attain, and sustain. In our better, clear-headed moments, we know that in light of the alternative, we have no real choice. Because there are times when the grey gives way to light – and in any case, it’s preferable to utter darkness.
And speaking for myself, I’ve spent years trying to guard myself against big tests (even passing some of them tolerably well, I think, all things considered) because like Holmes, I’ve often thought that if I were to lose my faith, it would be in response to some grand drama… a crisis so great and profound that I’d succumb to its pressure.
But in the end, I’ve found that it’s the little foxes which are hardest to deal with. The incessant drip, drip, drip of interminable days spent hoping, waiting, praying, watching, telling myself the same things over and over to keep myself going (then hoping, waiting, praying and watching some more) – until they become unmoored from all the meaning they once held for me.
… Some days, faith is not a source of strength. It’s a grind. A tedious, repetitive, necessitous regimen that stretches on with no perceivable end in sight.
It’s during those times that the question becomes real – the question which presented itself to me at the beginning of this journey – all over again. It’s then that you realise faith is really a decision you make, and remake, everyday. … And for me, just so it’s said, the answer is still yes. But it comes a little more slowly than it used to. A little heavier with deliberation.
And sometimes, one may lift up one’s eyes and glimpse again that epiphany which first inspired one’s commitment. Realise that the grind will, in the end, still pay its due… still feed into the strength and justification which are supposed to come with continuously making the right choice. And rejoice. … But there’re just some days where you look for the meaning of it all, and wonder that you’re still sitting at the same old millstone.
Because faith may promise, and yield, great reward; but before and until it does – it’s a lot of investment for what can appear to be very little (if not a total deficit). Though I guess that’s what having faith is essentially about.
… But apropos of that, the detectives had one more little exchange at the close of the episode.
Watson: You know, I’ve been thinking… if it helps to have me around even for a little bit, I can come back for a while.
Holmes: That’s very kind of you Watson. But it’s a temporary malaise, it’s nothing more. I will be fine.
And that’s really the long and short of it.
Some days, faith is simply knowing that what you’re going through is temporary. That you’re going to be fine. That each day is its own battle, and they’ll keep coming – but they will also end.
“It’s a temporary malaise, it’s nothing more. I will be fine.”
That’s all you can say. … And that’s enough.