A pastor, after much sharing of his personal life story with his friends, comes to realise that he doesn't or couldn't feel an emotional love for God because his own father died when he was a mere nine months old. After his father's death, he had never known a father's love.
After relating that story to me - which he had heard over the radio and which was more detailed although I tried to tell the gist of it, hoping I haven't mangled the story - my husband asked me if that was my story as well, why I could never feel, or have never really felt, God's love. Mine differed in that I had told him that I was afraid of God. I wasn't sure why. I was raised Catholic and had done much reading about my faith, even experienced Him personally in my life. I knew about God, I even professed that I believed. And I do. But it is all happening inside my head for I haven't really experienced it in my heart. There were times when I thought that I did. And maybe I did. But they weren't enough to convince me. Convince me of what?
My father died when I was seventeen. And there were many regrets and fears that were swept under the carpet after his death. Is that why I can't really bring myself to trust God the Father? Is that why, even with all my questioning and searching, I can't bring myself to see Him as He truly is?
And who is He truly?
Is it so important that I feel loved by God. Is it so important that I know that He is really there for me? I tell myself no, but yes, it is. There. I said it. Yes, it is.
I am a cradle Catholic who believes in the eternal struggle between good and evil, that I still wrestle with my own issues - self-esteem, motherhood, body image, faith, feelings of inadequacy, academic pursuits, sexuality, among others - and I know that He exists and yet, I want to know even more. It is not that I wish to test Him. Then again, I sometimes know that I do by the requests that I make. But I also know. I know. I know. But I want to know something else. I need to know something else and I'm not sure if I myself know what it is.
If I feared my father before he died, if I was wary of him and his actions before his death, is that why I am afraid of God and a little wary of Him as well? Is that what this is all about? It is not a fear of God that His followers are supposed to have. I am somewhat afraid, not willing to trust Him the way I am supposed to trust Him.
When I attended the Life in the Spirit seminar many years ago, during one of the sessions, the participants formed small groups to pray over each individual. When it was my turn to be surrounded by the others in my group to be prayed over, I couldn't relax nor let go, I was just so very aware of my surroundings and what was going on. It was desirable to have the gift of tongues for it was clearly obvious when someone had it. And I certainly didn't want to be slain in the spirit and slump to the floor.
Like a few others, I felt that I didn't receive any gifts, not even one, and I felt very disappointed. We felt that perhaps having the gift of tongues was such a big deal and if one didn't have it, what did that mean? I was hoping for the gift of Interpretation for wouldn't it be wonderful if someone could actually interpret what another was saying? No one else had that gift, or professed to have it, and I wanted to be different. But it didn't happen for me. I didn't trust enough; I couldn't trust enough. Later, my mother told me that I had the gift of Love. But aren't we all called to love? What was so special about that gift? It sounded rather special at the time and I even understood it at the time. And if it doesn't sound too trite or ridiculous, I did - and do - feel the call to love. It is hard to explain but why explain? During one of the vocation encounter retreats that I attended as a young woman in my early twenties, I came to know a new word: Agape. It was a different kind of love but sometimes Eros got in the way. I realise that love can be misused and abused, even misunderstood, and that the road to love is not a particularly easy one. And whether or not I did receive that gift, I will never know. That was such a long time ago. And I wonder sometimes if love and regret go hand-in-hand.
When I was a much younger woman and desired to know more about Jesus the Man, somewhere along the way, I fell for a priest, someone that I had known for a few years and whom I also considered a friend. A part of me was crushed that he didn't respond although he always seemed willing to hear me out. But when I think about it, really think about it, I would have been even more crushed if he had responded. His priestly vocation, his convictions, made him even more attractive somehow. It had started out as something very simple and very pure. It really did. Wanting to know more about Jesus the man (after having attended a private retreat with a Good Shepherd sister) led me to the priest (and holiness) which led me to the priest as a man. Then it became very painful and very complicated and my whole world turned upside-down. Privately, I had always been aware of my sexuality but my femininity always took a back seat, it seems. And being in his presence made me aware of who I was, the way I dressed, the desires that I felt. My repressed femininity was slowly surfacing after having been stifled for so long. It was both wonderful and agonising all at once. Who knew this would happen? Who could have guessed? I certainly didn't. So there I go again, in my usual roundabout way, trying to explain how it all happened.
And the road to healing began slowly, and uncertainly, after that.
I am an emotional creature yet I don't feel an emotional connection with Him. And sometimes, when I break down and cry, is it because He has touched me, or is it just me responding emotionally like I usually do? I talk to Him and I know that He's there. But I don't really feel it. And even if I did feel it, would I trust that feeling? And I wonder how He feels when I go outside and greet a brilliant, full moon that stands out against the night sky. A grown woman saying hello to the moon that He created. But He is not in the moon.
It is true that I have been healed of some of the painful memories where my father is concerned. But not all of it. Not entirely. And I think I just fully realised it. I mean, I have always known that about me but it is as if it is a given, that it will always be there so why fight it? Is there confusion within because I am fighting it? Or is there confusion because I am not fighting it enough? Or am I just confusing myself for no good reason? If I were not a Catholic - a Christian - would I be going through this? But I am Catholic, although not a very good Catholic at the moment. I still choose that path. And God the Father must know that I still miss my own father, maybe even in ways that I myself still do not fully comprehend. So I reach out to Him but I also stay away from Him.
The darkness frightens me, Father, the darkness that will surround me when I myself am dead and gone from this earth. What is wrong with me? I never really thought about my own mortality until recently. If I were hanging from a ledge and it was about to give way and You asked me to trust You and to let go, would I let go? Something tells me no. Or maybe I would let go but questioning it all the while. Why don't I trust You? Yet I have trusted You over the years but not enough. Not nearly enough. And I tell others that You love them, that they are special to You. Why can't I believe it of myself? And the manner in which I talk to You, not to mention the frequency, must mean that You are real. Because You are real. But then do I only relate to You on an intellectual level? Can You believe that I actually used that word, "intellectual" ?
My father passed away when I was seventeen years old. I have grown in my faith and in my knowledge of Him since then. Or have I reached a plateau? Where my father is concerned, I seem to have this need to know more about his youth, his thought process, the man that he really was. My father and I never reconciled before his death. If one were to ask another fellow human being, there was no need for a reconciliation. But God knows. And I wonder if my father knew. In dying, he released me, in a way. And yet, how much have I really grown since then? I have aged, grown older with time, and I'd like to think that I also experienced valuable lessons along the way. Am I any the wiser after all this time? I think so, yes, even if it's just a little. Did he really have to die to release me? Am I feeling guilty? Even a little bit?
Where were you, God?
The voice in my head says, "I am here."
Is it You? Is it me? I don't know.
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