For many years now I have spent a great deal of time writing Letters to God. I believe it all started after seeing the movie under the same name, of a young boy struggling with cancer who thought God was the only one who would understand, despite the unending doubts and dissatisfaction of everyone around him. It all began in similar fashion for me as well. They began rather briefly without much depth, often with a question that burdened me or something that just didn’t make sense. It was a way of getting out of me what so often seemed to become internalized, and being freed from the burden that often became associated with the question, the thought, the experience, or whatever it may have been in that time and space. Needless to say, the way we have internalized experiences is not always the way it really happened.
Since then, I have written literally hundreds of pages, binders full of these letters that I would not want to share with anyone. There’s only one person I have, but that’s a story for another day. It wasn’t simply, at one point, being accountable to someone larger than myself, like God, but to another person who could mirror back, free of judgment, shame, and fear, my deepest thoughts and experiences. It’s funny, if you would have asked me when I was young what I wanted to be when I grew up, a writer would never even have crossed my lips. Always, a teacher, but also meteorology a close second. The natural world still fascinates me and feel at home there, but it has also given me much to write about, and more importantly, a path to redemption over and over again, seeing creation as God’s first and greatest act, and myself intimately connected.
The letters, though, over time, have become more complicated and more nuanced. I often have to return to them for my own reference, unsure where some of it even comes from, supposing a place deep within me. It has become a place where I can freely be myself and allow my imagination to engage on levels I could not have imagined even existed, a place where I can often become lost, wander, and over time, be found while finding myself. They are letters that are filled with quotes, movie scenes, and other images and metaphors that become attached as a means to going deeper and to discover with greater certainty, the One in which the letters are written. Not only has it been a discovery of the complexity of mystery and the unknown, but how true it is of my own life and how easily any of us can allow ourselves to become imprisoned where and when we feel most comfortable, exiled from the very mystery we fall in love with, even when we feel as if we don’t belong.
I never knew if God was really listening, just as it is with people. I often wondered if God understood what often felt like one misunderstanding after another. It’s never been about the peripheries, the trappings that often capture our attention as humans, but rather a quest for the marrow of life, what makes it tick, what gives it meaning and purpose, what and who gives life. I’m just as guilty as the next, believing there’s an easy answer or fix to what comes at us in life, but it often takes a blow to knock that type of illusion from our hearts and eyes, when we begin to experience that God has been listening all along; I just wasn’t aware of how much he was listening because of the illusions that crippled me and were used as a crutch to hold onto what was never real in the first place, but was a way to protect, to feel comfortable, to hide in fear from what it was I desired the most. It was hidden all along and in plain sight. It wasn’t God’s fault, revealing the path, step by step, but rather my own inability to let go, to surrender, to the very mystery that captivated me from the beginning.
So here I sit writing, in a similar format, with questions that in the past would have seemed insurmountable but now are a part of this ongoing quest for truth and love. Dear God; they are sometimes the easiest words to put on the paper. The doubt of God listening never seems to completely disappear, and maybe that’s the point. It’s in that doubt where courage is found to write what comes next in that letter or any of them for that matter. At first the words that followed came out with great trepidation, not always wanting to put into words what was really going on within me because somehow, once out, they become real, as if words being breathed become embodied in some way. When I’m asked if I’ll ever share such writings, I hesitate. My experiences, like any, are very personal. They’re about difficulties with identity, love, heartbreak, struggles, questions, joys, and all the rest. Of course, that’s what binds us all in the human family. We all have a story to share and is important to share that story so hopefully one day the words that follow, Dear God, will lead me in that direction.
A friend shared with me a quote from a book this week (which has a lot of great quotes) entitled, Poverty of Spirit. The author says this, “We are all beggars. We are all members of a species that is not sufficient unto itself. We are all creatures plagued by unending doubts and restless, unsatisfied hearts. Of all creatures, we are the poorest and the most incomplete. Our needs are always beyond our capacities, and we only find ourselves when we lose ourselves.” He goes onto write, “Left to ourselves, we still remain the prisoner of our own Being…if we attempt this [hiding], the truth of our Being haunts us with its nameless emissary: anxiety…in the final analysis we have one of two choices: to obediently accept our innate poverty or to become the slave of anxiety.” I’m convinced we are all beggars when we utter the words, Dear God, but I’m also nearly certain that we come begging for the wrong thing. More often than not we come to God begging for answers, only leading to a greater anxiety when answers are not found. The true invitation to losing ourselves is living into the unknown of the very question that leave us with doubt, restlessness, and unsatisfied hearts. The answers may, and probably never will, come, but in time we begin to embody the question that God has placed in our hearts and begin to step into and out of our deepest selves, our truest selves, where we no longer need to cut off or shun who it is within us that remains prisoner.
What started as two simple words of imitation of a young boy in a movie, Dear God, has led me to many places within myself and beyond that I will never fully comprehend, but it also leads me to this point in my life right now. Somewhere in the pages and pages of writing, God has led me to a choice and an invitation to enter into the unthinkable, of surrendering myself to that interior poverty that scares and yet is most enticing and seductive. As I said, it’s never been about the peripheries, the pomp, the dress, the performance, but rather about this journey that binds us all, from our own sense of exile, crossing threshold after threshold, to a deeper understanding of the promised land that lies within and yet so far beyond my own comprehension. Needless to say, it comes with a sense of fear, stepping beyond the walls that have held me tightly and have given great comfort, but that too is simply a passage, a threshold to cross, just as any new birth, into an unknown world. The difference is trusting that journey and trusting that whatever follows, Dear God, will once again be yet another invitation to a new way of living, a new way of loving, a new way of learning to embody the deeper questions of life and living that revelation as, again, God’s first and greatest act of creation.