“Why did you bring me back here?” he asks. “Because here’s where you got stuck,” replies Papa – movie/book “The Shack”
The Shack doesn’t sound like an appealing movie judging by its title. I came across this movie title at work yesterday while creating a playlist for an upcoming flight. My playlist title- God. God? Yes, God. If you’d ask me 3 months ago to make a playlist with music praising God, I’d likely get pretty annoyed at you, scoff and judge you as incompetent for believing in God as some loving Creator that you’d want to praise. While I’ve always believed in a “God”, I would refer to the mastermind behind this earth, universe and who the heck knows what else, as the “universe”, “spirit”, “cosmos”- anything else but God. Something impersonal. Just some fantastic simulation or unexplainable phenomena that quantum physics is trying to explain. Definitely not a personal mastermind that cared about me. Except when life was going right, then I felt a tinge of hmm…maybe the universe is looking out for me.
The word God carries a ton of baggage with it based on the terrors that occur, supposedly in the name of this being. And that’s just carry on baggage. The heavier, checked baggage comes with how you/I were raised to know or not know God- was God good? Did God cause the sufferings of your childhood? Was there a God? Was God a punishing God? Were you forced to get up early on Sunday to sing lifeless hymns and be preached at that you’re a sinner? Did you see people who supposedly believed in God but acted poorly, to which you only saw hypocrisy? Or if that’s who God loves and they still behave like that, then it’s not a God you could trust or even understand? How could this loving, all-knowing entity allow awful things to happen, in the world and in your life? Yeah- I carry all of those bags and many, many more but I’ve begun emptying the bags.
As I wrote in my last article, Compass Recalibration, the past few years I had been pretty deep in New Age beliefs without ever really understanding the roots of those beliefs. I always believed something created all of this that I see, and I am overwhelmed in unexpected moments when I can’t even believe how perfectly everything exists and how it possibly came to be. As a lover of science, especially the cosmos, it’s impossible for me to watch shows like Planet Earth, the Cosmos and more recently One Strange Rock (Netflix) and believe it’s all random. If that’s where you are, that’s ok but what if you’re wrong? What if I’m wrong? Well, I will tell you my answer to that in a bit. Ok, so yes I always believed in something bigger but naturally when terrible experiences happened in my life, of course I’d question the purpose, the why, and if this thing I believed in was good/bad/indifferent. I was never taught about this God figure in any terms that I could relate to or understand. Being forced to go to church for a short period of time, while my Mom was coming to her own personal faith, but not understanding what a personal relationship with God/Jesus meant or how to start one, turned me completely away from this impersonal, rule driven, judgmental God. I didn’t give God much time or thought until I moved to France and was completely alone, away from all my loved ones, and didn’t know a single soul. In an effort to meet people, I joined spiritual meetup groups as I felt called to reopen that part of myself and explore what spirituality meant to me without family/friend influence- so began the pull into New Age. New Age philosophies disown the concept of sin, believe we are all God experiencing God itself and our energy/thoughts create everything in our lives (good and bad). That all sounded great to me- I’m in control, I can manipulate the laws of energy/attraction to create my dream life, and I’m not a sinner so I have nothing to repent for. While I followed all of this, it doesn’t mean I suddenly started hurting people and doing whatever I wanted; I still had a moral compass though what dictated that moral compass is an article for another day. I still worked each day to do my best to be a good person and ease my own suffering and the suffering of others even if just a little bit. However, being my own God or trying to be like God was like a dog chasing it’s tail. Running, searching, seeking, trying, trying, trying and just never quite getting there. It was an endless search for something that always felt so empty inside of me, some unconditional love I just could never quite access, a peace that was so fleeting and rare.
Fast forward a year after the beginning of my spiritual journey and my Mom dies. And not just dies, but dies slowly. A painfully slow decline of her body consumed by cancer. First day or two, she was just very tired and laying in bed most of the day but still able to walk around, to hug, to talk, to use the restroom on her own. A few days later, so weak she couldn’t get out of bed but insisting she will go to the bathroom on her own because she was strong-willed and wanted to keep her dignity in tact. After leaving her alone in the room for barely 1 minute to get her morphine, she loses strength getting herself out of bed and smashes her head open- cue to the worst sound I’ll never forget. Running into the room and seeing my Dad holding her as blood runs down her face and he’s hysterical. I’m completely numb but survival mode kicks in like I was on autopilot as I calmly grab the phone and call 911. Spending the night in the hospital with her as her body is convulsing in an uncontrollable inconsolable agitated state and struggling against the restraints. Knowing that this was a turning point, she was gone. My Mom was gone even though her body was physically alive, I knew it was over. Her soul’s time had come for her to go back to our eternal home. A few days later, after finally getting a 24 hour nurse to administer the morphine properly when previously it was left to me and my Dad to somehow figure out how to do all of that, her body was finally resting peacefully, seemingly out of pain and the horrendous suffering we’d witnessed for nearly a week was over. That week was a traumatic end to the 10 months that preceded her final breath where her impending death snuffed out the light in my heart. After she died, any chance of me believing there was a personal God out there was completely squashed.
Somehow I survived to still be here writing this but barely. I couldn’t see it then, when the pain was clouding my heart and sight, but now in hindsight I can see how many things were working together to bring out the good through the tragedy. To quote the book/movie, God says “I can work together incredible good in the tragedies, but I don’t orchestrate the tragedies.” You may be wondering how God isn’t orchestrating the tragedies if He is the one who created everything, knows everything that was, is, and is to come as well as the only one that allows anything to exist including sin, pain, suffering, etc.- I wonder the same. It’s one of the big questions many have when it comes to God and stops most from trusting that God could be good at all when He allows atrocities to happen and not stop it. Instead of working good out of my tragedies God, how about you just stop the tragedies from happening in the first place? It’s a biggie and it’s one I know I’ll wrestle with often. Trust and letting go of control, which includes letting go of the need to have all the answers, is something most of us can’t do at all or at least can’t do every single minute of every day. Trust can waiver with each circumstance and how we perceive it. When life is sailing along smoothly it’s easier to trust that God has your back. When life is hitting a storm, trust and faith will get crowded out quickly by the clouds, thunder and lightning. We can’t see God through all of it but He is still there. Just as the blue sky, the sun, moon, and stars are still there even when we can’t see them in the night or through the clouds.
Last November when I found out some things about the roots of my New Age beliefs that mismatched with my heart, I decided I would give this Jesus fella a chance. I turned away from all religion previously and didn’t believe it was possible to have a relationship with God. I would look at others praising God and think they were faking it; what did they get that I didn’t? They’re just pretending because they need something to make them feel good, or worse, use it as a means to feel superior and condemn others. To find out for myself, I started researching about the Bible, proof of Jesus and all of my big, unanswered questions. But the most important thing I did in deciding whether any of this Jesus stuff was real or for me was reading the Bible for myself. It sounds trite and corny but it is the truth- as I was reading the New Testament, particularly when reading what Jesus had to say, I began to feel like a relationship was beginning. I felt trust growing. I felt the endless empty void of seeking answers filling up. I started to get it and actually feel it. It started to resonate with something deep in my soul. It felt familiar. And not because me or the Bible have all the answers but because I got to the point where I didn’t want to sit on the fence anymore of is this true or not. There’s a bajillion arguments for both and I read a ton of them. I decided that I am not God, and I don’t want to be God. I was trying to be my own God for my whole life and that wasn’t working out too great in terms of my constant unrest, depression and hopelessness (and honestly isn’t working super great for the rest of the world either). I still experience those emotions but instead of remaining there as long and blaming myself for bringing such pain upon myself, I am giving it to God and building trust every single day that while sometimes it seems completely contrary, God is actually good. I don’t know why God allows the bad stuff. I don’t know what the purpose of it all is. But I do know that I did not in fact create the Universe, the Earth or even my very existence so it brings me peace as I read this ancient book and work every day to be changed by the act of God descending to Earth, in a form we could understand (human), to sacrifice himself in an ultimate act of unconditional love.
So now you know a small blip of my very own “Shack.” I moved out of NJ after my Mom died as it was far too painful to stay in the horrible state where her human existence ended. 3 years later a small voice whispered “maybe it’s time to go back.” While the voice inside was mine, it was definitely not a thought I personally generated as I vowed to never move back and had no desire to ever do so. But I decided to trust this odd thought and see where it lead. Well, it lead me back to NJ and like the opening quote, and premise of “The Shack”, all this time God was walking by my side bringing me back to NJ where the stuckness began with Mom’s death. He brought me back here to heal that pain and bring me to forgive Him for allowing my Mom to suffer and allowing the cancer to take her from me and bring her home to Him. The movie tackles the many big questions thrown out throughout this article. It’s a beautiful movie that explores love, forgiveness, pain and grief.
What if I’m wrong? I’ve thought about this a lot and in the 3 months I’ve been giving Jesus a fair shot, I’ve forgiven and reconnected with my Dad after 2 years of not speaking, I’ve developed more patience with myself and others, I’ve been healing my grief, I feel at peace more often, I am more grateful, I’ve begun volunteering at the animal shelter (after many years of wanting to do so, but never doing it). The point of those actual examples is to show how believing in God/Jesus isn’t something you can fake but real belief results in changes. This doesn’t mean I am perfect or if I mess up that I don’t believe- it just means I’m not Jesus so I’ll never be perfect but so long as I keep him and my eternal life as the priorities in my life, it will continue to result in a changed heart which will translate into more loving, kinder words, actions, and thoughts. If all that is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. If believing results in me becoming a better person, having more peace and finding hope and purpose even in tragedy, then I’m grateful my Mom planted the seeds all those years ago for me to find my own path to a relationship with Jesus. And when I die, if that really is the end of my consciousness and there’s nothingness/I cease to exist, well, I won’t exist anyways to know I was wrong but at least my belief in an eternal afterlife gave me the ability to have hope throughout my life no matter the circumstances. And if I’m right? It will be unfathomable beauty, love, and joy. All pain will be wiped away and fully understood. I’ll get to meet my Maker face-to-face and reunite with all those I’ve lost, especially my Mom. I’ll get to experience the mind of God and see through His eyes. I’ll finally get the answers to all these questions and so much more.