My parents got me a copy of Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret for my last birthday. I read it in a day and finished with mixed thoughts. I mulled over the fact that the main character talks to God despite belonging to no religion. She looks for him in a variety of churches and doesn’t find him, yet she doesn’t hesitate to tell him what’s going on and what she’s thinking.
I remember the first time in my life the idea of God’s presence was addressed. To prep us for prayer, my first grade teacher looked at the open door and said “I think I see Jesus coming in right now.” I looked, then said “I don’t see him.” One of the other kids said “That’s because Jesus is air!” Of course, my six-year-old mind believed him. As a result, believing in God isn’t an issue.
But talking to him and gleaning a response? That’s a whole other ballpark.
One of the issues getting in the way is how to see and/or address God. Everyone in my life suggests treating him like a revered leader, a parent, and a close friend. Absolutely none of that computes. There are things I’d say to my friends that I’d never say to my parents (favorite swear words, for example). Plus, I generally talk about leaders, revered or otherwise, with the expectation that I’ll never meet them in person. And just imagine the hubris that would come from treating God—the king of everything and everyone—like a parent.
Another issue is everything I’ve been told about what we’re allowed to say to God. Just this week, my prayer group at work studied the first chapter of a book by Francis Chan, who argues that God is just and fair, so his judgment is absolute. And if we disagree—or even dare to argue—then it means we’re arrogant. That doesn’t mesh well with what I’ve learned from my mentor, which is that God prefers we be honest with him even if we’re angry with him.
Once again, it doesn’t compute.
And then there’s the issue of closure. A few nights after reading Blume’s book, I decided to try telling God everything that was on my mind. All that was left was this feeling of “Now what?” But it’s not the only time I’ve been left confused or hanging. When I pray for guidance, it takes months to get an answer. It’s easier to get a clearer answer if I’m praying with a second party, but I can’t expect people in my life to drop everything every time I have a question only God can answer. Once or twice someone will feel moved to speak to me on God’s behalf, but in those cases I have no idea what to do with what they’ve given me.
When I was a kid, a woman visiting the school shared a story of how she lay her broken heart at Jesus’ feet and was showered with his love. In college, a friend told me about how she prayed for guidance and was answered on the spot. Me? Sometimes it feels like I’ve got nothing. Then I hear the last thing I want to hear. And in those few times I hear what I want to hear, it feels less like God talking and more like wishful thinking.
The truth is, when I started writing this I didn’t know how to finish. I couldn’t think of a realistic conclusion without sounding negative. So I closed my laptop, left the phone and 3DS alone, and lay in bed for a while. With nothing else to do I decided to focus less on when I heard God and more of when I felt him nearby. I thought of the Hunger Games song “Deep in the Meadow,” and the image of lying in the grass under a willow tree. I thought of the bishop from Les Misérables showing mercy to Jean Valjean when no one else would. I thought of my mentor, and the fun yet insightful conversations we can always have. I thought of the aftermath of the first Charlottesville march, and the people in my hometown coming together on Monday night and asking “What can we do about this?” I thought about my favorite comedians drawing attention to things going on in the world. And I thought about my alma mater, the place where my faith became real to me even though I dared to wrestle and ask questions.
I’ll never fully understand God. But maybe I don’t need to.