Categories
Viewpoint

Faithful in the darkness

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5 ESV). This deep spiritual darkness is no doubt the state of many Christians, perhaps you, today. A hard-to-explain gloom casts its shadow, and the joy you once had in the Lord feels like a vague memory. Though you continue to read your Bible and pray, God feels far off. 

In these moments, many feel that God has abandoned them. Many secretly wonder if God, fed up with them, has finally decided to cast them off. Or, one may know God will bring them into glory but feel that until then they must walk alone, cut off from God.

Is such thinking correct? Has God abandoned the sorrowful Christian?  No, absolutely not. It is imperative that we remember this during dark seasons. Yet how do we know that God has not abandoned the Christian even though it might feel like it?

Firstly, we have God’s promises in His Word. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). “… [W]hoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). The “Lord Jesus Christ…will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). God cannot lie. His Word is always true. Therefore, we can know these words for a fact. “But,” you say, “I don’t/can’t feel this. It feels hollow.” Remember, though, that your feelings do not determine truth. My feelings, for example, on what day of the week it is (“It feels like a Thursday”), or how I did on my test do not make objective realities any less true. Our supreme authority is God’s Word, not our feelings, and our feelings must be subject and conformed to the truth of God’s Word, not the other way around. So if the Bible says something we don’t believe or feel, we know we are the ones in error, not the Bible. We are called, then, to trust God and his Word, even when we can’t see or feel it. This is the very definition of faith (cf. Hebrews 11:1). This by no means is to suggest that we, once understanding this, will automatically be joyful. But it reminds us of our foundation and leads us to trust God when he says he will never leave us nor forsake us, despite our feelings to the contrary.

Secondly, we know that such sufferings are not foreign to the Christian life but have been experienced by faithful Christians throughout the ages. In our sorrow, it’s easy to conclude that no other Christian has felt such darkness as we do, and, therefore, we must be cut off from God. Yet a cursory reading of the Psalms quickly puts such concerns to rest. Many times, David thought himself forsook by God (Psalm 22:1), yet he was not, for he later writes, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25). The fact that God thought it good to repeatedly show us examples of true Christians going through dark times reminds and comforts us that we, too, may feel cast down yet are not abandoned by God.

Thirdly, recalling God’s grace and faithfulness in the past assures us He will not forsake us now (Psalm 77:11, Lamentations 3:21-24). “But how,” you wonder, “does God’s faithfulness prove that he will be faithful and deliver us now?” Surely, though, you would think it disrespectful and untrusting to ask the same question to a faithful friend or parent. How much more should you be trusting of God, who has never failed you? Note also that his faithfulness is not wearied or decreased by our sin because it is not on the basis of performance but his steadfast love and grace (Psalm 51:1, 109:26; 2 Timothy 2:13). This leads us to a great truth; in the words of John Flavel, “As God did not at first choose you because you were high, so he will not forsake you because you are low.”

Lastly, and most comforting of all, our standing in Christ guarantees that nothing can separate us from God. If our relationship with God depended to any degree on our own works, performance or piety, we would have been cast off long ago. Yet we are not forsaken because our standing with God is not, as mentioned earlier, based on our record, but on what Christ has achieved. He “bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) and “[became] a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). He suffered the wrath of God in our place, and, through faith in him, we are forgiven of all sin (Colossians 2:13-14) and are children of God (John 1:12). Because we have been united with Christ (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:3) and now stand before God in his righteousness (Philippians 3:9), God can no more cast us out than he can cast out his own Son. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38). Not the world, the devil, death or your own sins. Not even the frailty of your faith or your spiritual darkness. Even more, as God’s children, he works all things—even sufferings (Romans 5:3-5) and discipline (Hebrews 12:7)—for our good (Romans 8:28). God’s sovereignty and love, based on Christ’s atoning work, is a tremendous and comforting truth for the sorrowful soul.

Know, then, that far from abandoning you, God cares for you and works all things for your good — even in your sorrow. It may certainly not feel like it, but it’s true. Do not think God is being stingy with you. He silenced all such accusations at the Cross (Romans 8:32). How deep his love is for us—even in our darkness, even when we feel so little for him.

Andrew Sveda is a senior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at asveda@nd.edu or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Categories
Viewpoint

Soggy dog kibble Saints

Editor’s note: This column includes discussions of suicide and drug addiction.

Do you ever wake up and feel something is wrong? 

On Aug. 18, 2014, the birds chirping, the sun shining brightly over Lake Washington and a fully planned day of hanging out with friends. The perfect way to end the summer. The recipe for a perfect day, yet something chewed at me.

I bounded down the stairs and slammed into the door excited to talk to my mom about the day ahead. The chewing was providential, I ran in and found my mom dead, stolen from me by a cocktail of suicide, opioids and depression.

This August was the eight-year mark since my mom’s death. I woke up early again expecting it to be like any other day. Birds chirping, the sun high up in the sky peeking through my windows and my dog licking my face. 

I walked slowly downstairs and got ready to feed the dog. As the brown little droplets poured into the bowl, I realized I was filling the water bowl with kibble. Tears tore out of my eyes like a day hadn’t passed since I lost my mom.

I found God in the water bowl with the puffed-up dog food pellets floating and breaking apart. I found my mom in the bowl, too. 

If we were to imagine God as a food (besides communion) we would describe God as steak, truffles or some otherworldly food item, but I found her in the broken, discarded and disgusting mush in the water bowl.

My mom is not a saint in the traditional sense of the word — she was an on-and-off-again lesbian who had three children out of wedlock with three different men (two of them gay!), she held tightly onto many different prejudices and flip-flopped between the Mormon and Catholic churches depending on which was able to give better aid. 

However, she was a saint to me. She suffered a lot, was kicked out of her house when she was 17, worked three jobs to push her kids through school, endured 49 back surgeries and had a severe opioid addiction. When the coroner was cleaning up the house, he told us he’d “never seen so many pills in my life.”

Despite this, she possessed an almost effortlessly self-deprecating sense of humor that would make a whole room turn into a jubilant cackle of hyenas. One time while shopping in a Walmart superstore with me, my niece and my sister, Mom got us to play hide and seek from my sister. The three of us running and ducking between aisles and avoiding her for hours.

She would summon the whole U.S. army if she had to, if someone threatened someone she loved or if they were doing something she deemed unjust. My brother has autism and our local public school wasn’t providing education that was accessible to his learning. My mom, fuming, grabbed a ream of paper, smacked a few pages of meticulously documented wrongdoing on top, marched to the district office and wouldn’t leave until they were able to provide him with the resources to succeed. She forced the district to change how they helped my brother and other folks with disabilities. 

And, she never gave up. Deciding to go to college in her late 40s to prove to her kids that she wasn’t a quitter. She persevered through neck braces, poverty, addiction and other crosses she bore every day.

It’s been eight years, but the tendrils of her life still linger throughout my own. She lives in the ashes necklace I wear around my neck every day, the 65 emails left unopened since the night she died, the books I read, the forests I go to find peace and the work I seek to do for the rest of my life. She’s never let go, her arms still tightly wrapped around me.

Some of the people we admire in the church can (and should) be more broken than a shattered vase, have more flaws than possible to count and more parking tickets than mass attendances.

When she wasn’t at church, she was leading the PTA even though she was working three jobs and had no time to herself. I remember some nights, the family stayed up until two in the morning to finish up buttons for a function the next day or cupcakes for a kid’s birthday. She poured herself into service for others even when she probably should have been focusing on her own well-being. 

God meets us where we’re at — in dark alleyways, in our weary hospital rooms, on shag carpet flooring and on dirty bathroom mats. 

I want my saints scrappy like my mom. I want my church with all of its flaws shining through the stained glass. God accepts us all not in spite of our brokenness, but including that brokenness. I can think of nothing holier than to discuss the truth in the stories of folks around us who try to do a little bit better than they did yesterday.

I am not holy, nor would I ever pretend to be. I sin like all of us 1,000 times every single day. However, I spend a lot of time in community with those who are so holy it tingles your toes, and they help me take one step closer to God every day.

In this column, I will look at the cases of some people I’ve met who are so close to the divine that it tickles you. Through looking at the lives of these saint-like individuals, I hope to understand better what it means to bring the kingdom of heaven here to earth.

We’ll explore the lives of people from every faith and no faith. Conservatives and liberals. The wealthy and the poor. Straights and gays. Women, men and nonbinary folks. The Holy Spirit exists within each of us, and I’ve met everyday saints in each and every one of these groups.

The stories we tell can have power over how we see faith interacting in our lives. I think there are more saints like my mom than we’d like to admit, who did a pretty damn good job for the circumstances they were given. Who devoted their life to God and to others in profound ways. More saints that remind us of bloated, falling apart kibble in a water bowl than of steak with truffles.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Gender Studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS wants to chat and can be reach at @danesherm on Twitter or lsherma2@nd.edu.

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.