Finding the Words
Grief. Trauma. Confrontation. Suffering. Disaster. Terror. Rage. Loathing. Horror. Pain. Death.
At one point or another, in each of our lives, these words have touched us. These words are among the least desirable in the English language. In fact we spend most of our lives doing everything possible to avoid these words. No one goes looking for them and yet, we find they invade our lives without giving us any choice in the matter. These are not words we invite into our lives and yet, we would not be human if they didn’t exist.
We spend our lives hunting for love, joy, happiness, pleasure, comfort, ease, satisfaction, contentment, confidence, life. All of these words seem to be the antithesis (or opposite) of the ones above. And yet, without those negative words, those positive words we hunt for would not exist. Without grief, we would not experience love. Without suffering, we would not know comfort. Without death, how much value would we place on life?
We all have mechanisms in place to cope with the negative words. Simultaneously we have faith in these mechanisms to help us avoid them. There are countless Faiths built upon the words of doctrine and actionable liturgy. And although they may temporarily alleviate the pain those negative words bring, the real world application of these things lack the power to remove them entirely. We create a pseudo-reality in which we are in control of our lives and our destiny. When those words invade our lives, it is with an acute realization of truth — we are not in control. The pseudo-reality we have taken such care to construct crumbles under the immense weight of truth.
The American English language is a language based upon nouns. A person, a place, or a thing. We take great pride in our acquisition of nouns. Everything from the giving of Titles, purchasing of goods, or naming relationships, these ‘things’ define our very existence. This is, in large part, how we understand the world. If we take this formula for living and apply it to faith, we will inevitably find it is flawed. This is where we find it is impossible to possess words. This is where the story of this illustration begins.
This illustration was the beginning of the end. The end of the kind of faith that doctrine and dogma demand. This illustration is a representation of the moment when pseudo-reality crumbles under the weight of truth. It illustrates the contradiction so often found in faith, in doctrine, and in actionable liturgy. This illustration is an expression of sorrow, grief, and love.
The Christian word “faith” is a noun. A feeling. A strong conviction about something. It has replaced the original biblical word “trust,” which is a verb. A word denoting action. Trust is absolute and definitive. It is the difference between knowing and understanding, between success and wisdom. Between merely surviving and enduring.
We try to make verbs into nouns. Why? Is it that we must have something concrete, something tangible in order for that something to be real? Does this action facilitate our faith? Is our faith ‘confirmed’ only when we acquire the necessary nouns?
All my life I had been taught that if you have the right kind of faith, that nothing will be impossible for you. The often quoted scriptures of Mark 11:22-24 “…whoever says to this mountain ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” Or Matthew 17:20 “…if you have faith like a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible to you.” Further teachings on how purity of heart and upholding the moral Christian imperatives were also necessary ingredients of the right kind of faith. The implication being that the right kind of faith was necessary in order for God to hear and answer our prayers. Without the right kind of faith, God would not grant your requests. In my mind, this idea inferred that you must be ‘sinless’ and your belief (faith) in your request, unassailable. Anything less than this, would not result in your petition being granted by God. In this way, we attempt to make faith a noun.
In addition, this kind of faith requires that I must control my emotions. After all, my emotional state heavily influences my ability to hold onto faith. Condemnation follows closely on the heels of this behavior. Feeling anything contrary to the expected outcome is perceived as weakness and doubt, leading to guilt. My lack of faith has caused the very result I tried to overcome.
In the midst of the most gut-wrenching trauma I have ever experienced, the kind of faith I had been taught my entire life, failed. When I needed it most, when those around me needed it most, faith failed. While my Father-in-law lay dying upon a hospital bed, where was God? An entire community rallied around him, praying. This young man of integrity, honor, and love – why wouldn’t God save him? Everyone who rallied around him had the kind of faith that was demanded in this situation, we prayed the right prayers, confessed healing, and held firmly onto faith.
God was silent. And Jim died.
Why? Why does this happen? In the weeks that followed, I revisited this thought over and over again. I went through all of the events, trying to see if we’d missed something, done something wrong, not been firm enough in our belief….. Everything I have ever known or believed, was called into question. Every one of those negative words took their turn visiting. No answers were forthcoming and a profound emptiness replaced faith. I was utterly gutted.
Finally, at the end of my rope, I prayed – “God, what does it take? What must we do to move your hand? What is required of us to bring Your power to bear in our lives?” His immediate answer was this image. This image brought with it understanding and a remembrance of love, peace, joy, satisfaction, kindness, confidence, and life. Everything that made Jim’s life special and special to those of us that had the great fortune to be a part of his life.
Faith was replaced with Trust. These two words are fundamentally different. Faith is a noun, Trust is a verb. Faith is a conviction you hold that things will change and turn out the way you want them to. Faith is our way of trying to control God, of believing we are able to change His mind. It is our way of trying to be in control. Whereas Trust, is an understanding that no matter what happens, God is firmly in control and has your best interest at heart. Trust is doing what He says no matter the situation you find yourself in because His way is best.
Trusting God doesn’t mean that life will be without the negative words. In fact, it is those very words that teach us that only thing that is truly trustworthy in this life, is God. His truth and His wisdom are the conduit by which His power is made manifest in our lives. God doesn’t halt the trial, He works thru it.
This drawing is a memorial to Jim’s life, an expression of grief, and an answer to prayer. Jim may be gone physically, but his example lives on in the many lessons learned from his life and death.