Monday, March 27, 2006

Shakin' it off

Been in a funk the last few days and I'm working really hard to shake it off. But first I need to get some things out of my head...

I've been asking religious questions the past year or so...because I want some answers. It is not, nor has it ever been helpful, for people to tell me the following:

1. You're just not appreciating the good things...counting your blessings...fully enough.
2. You shouldn't worry about what other people have and you don't. Alternative to this one is that your suffering is nothing compared to others' suffering. (I'm not really sure how the two coexist, but they seem to.)
3. You should read your Bible and pray. or...you just need to have faith.

I'm sure there are more, but these are the key ones that really bug me.

I have fully counted my blessings. I appreciate them more than you could ever know. But you see, I'm hung up on this one point...my son is dead and buried in the ground. That doesn't mean I don't love my living son with all of my being...it just means that I mourn for what Alex lost. I don't give a rat's ass what other people have that I don't...all I grieve is what we lost...my family, our community, the world. Does it bother me that other people have happiness? No. But it does remind me of what is missing in my life. I don't want what THEY have...I want what WE had.

Telling someone who is lost in a forest that they should have brought a map is NOT helpful, and it is similar to telling someone to just pray or have faith. Good grief, do you really think these questions come up out of the blue and are given no thought at all? Because I don't understand your version of God, I'm somehow ignorant and/or stupid? I ask the questions in the hope that I will find some guidance. I'm not looking for exasperated sighs and eye rolls. I have read the Bible. Aside from the beautiful stories and the long-winded family trees, I have found very little "truth" there. You could lock me in a room with nothing but a Bible for a hundred days and my son would still be dead and I still would not understand.

Now, I have my suspicions as to why people throw these pat phrases out there. First and foremost, people don't want doubt to touch them. Just as people shy away from you when you experience death, people shy away from anything that causes question of their belief system. Even if they never internalize the questions themselves, they are uncomfortable even having an association (however loose) with any form of doubt. Maybe they are worried that perhaps God will hear and punish them? I don't know. But I have found that people, when asked enough questions about their religious beliefs, will become almost defensive and throw one of the above comments my direction (and the number of acceptable questions seems to vary by the individual).

I find that I lump people into two groups I can respect...those that simply believe (and admit that they don't know why)...and those that will try to answer your questions (no matter how long it takes and how many times they have to repeat themselves). There are very few people in these two groups. The majority of people that I have run into fall into the middle/third group...the group that gives up on you. It's almost as if they say, "You're never going to 'get it,' so why bother trying?"

There are certain things that are not helpful when dealing with someone who is grieving...and they're not well known (but really should be). I truly feel there are similarly things that are not helpful to say to someone who is having a crisis of faith. And there are things that cross both lines (Hey...It's not at all helpful to tell someone who has lost a child that they aren't really suffering...if only they will see it from an eternal perspective instead of an earthly one).

Why are so many afraid to examine what they believe and share it with others? Why does the sharing seem limited to only the crowd that already "gets it?" Doesn't that seem a little redundant? Isn't your faith worthy of examination and scrutiny? question and doubt? Or is it a point system where you only get to heaven if you never ask a question?

My fortune cookie for today said, "Keep a green tree in your heart, and one day the singing bird will come."

I'm still looking for books. I've started reading The Buddhist Handbook, and it is really quite interesting. I'm only at the very beginning, so I have no insight as of yet...but the history that has been presented makes me identify with the Buddha already. A search for truth...a search for something.

There...it's all out of my system and I'm ready to go out and enjoy this sunshine...maybe hunt up some chocolate for my afternoon snack. My son is still dead and I still don't have any answers...but I have sunshine and chocolate. See? I count my blessings all the time!

7 comments:

R said...

I don't know if you're talking about me or not, but I hope I've made it pretty clear in my blog that I DON'T understand the answers, and I DO doubt. Quite often, in fact.

Jill said...

I totally get what you are asking but I slept in and have to get the kids ready to go. But I would love to get into this with you.

Suffice to say, if it doesn't stand up to scrutiny, then it ain't worth all that much. In my opinion. But is it the beleiver and their understanding failing to stand up to scrutiny or the belief system itself?

I'll be back:)

James said...

Catherine,

R sent your post to me. I hope you don't lump me in with either: (a) the group that rolls their eyes and tries to pretend they understand everything when they don't (because I don't really understand anything, and I guess I'm not sure I'm supposed to be able to based on my reading of the Bible -- I'm SUPPOSED to trust and follow even when its hard and even when it may not seem fair from my limited perspective) or (b) the group that gives up on you or (c) the ones that say your suffering isn't real or shouldn't be there.

I cannot pretend to know how the death of your son affects you, any more than you can really know how the death of my son affects me, and neither of us knows how others' sufferings, seemingly large or small, feels to them. Is a person who can't hear and can't afford a hearing aid suffering any more or less than someone who lost their best friend in a car wreck, or someone who was just told that their wife is leaving them for someone else . . . or someone who has lost their child? It all hurts.

Having lost Jackson, I can definitely appreciate your feelings even though you and I experience things and respond to things uniquely. I do understand one thing you said for sure -- I want what I had, too.

But do I want what I had any more than anyone else wants what they had? Does the wanting make it come back the way it was? Does believing it was all just random happenstance make it feel any better or more fair to me, or lessen the longing for what was?

The questions are there, are natural and will always be there. I happen to lean on my faith and it helps me get through it. It doesn't mean I don't have questions, but the teachings of my faith also tell me that I may not get all the answers I ask for, and that if I nevertheless keep the faith in the difficult times and try to follow Christ, my time here is relatively short and I will then be reunited with my son forever.

I don't know if I doubt God . . . I of course did in my past pre-Christian life. In my darkest moments now, I know I at least question Him a lot. But I still believe because there have been things that have kept me straight in this world and that have kept me out of trouble and even remarkable things that are still happening because of Jackson's life that I can't just explain away without some type of faith.

The belief that I will get to see Jackson again one day is also a motiviation to stay faithful that I never had before he died, and it gives me a peace about the situation that surpasses my need for understanding or for seeming fairness, and it helps me bear the burden of the questions.

I am miserable without that hope. I would rather have that peace provided by my faith than not. For me, my faith and my prayers ARE my map to lead me out of the forest. But sunshine and chocolate help, too!

lauralu said...

what really gets me is the "everything happens for a reason" or "it's all part of god's plan" philosophy. someone (in "real" life) said that to me last week, upon hearing that milo is in good shape, regarding hans's death. i was *this* close to slapping her. i do understand that this line of thought is comforting to some people, and boy, do i envy them their faith. but i do not accept that hans died for the betterment of humankind or for the glory of god or whatever. that people can say such things to me with a straight face shows me how much they have deluded themselves. i miss faith, but i don't miss pointless, brainless faith.

ahem. i should stop hijacking your blog and go post on my own, eh?

Catherine said...

Rachel and James: I specifically do NOT lump you into the categories I was speaking of. You have both shown me great kindness in attempting to answer my questions and sharing your points of view. I truly appreciate every one of your words.

James: No, I suppose it doesn't bring back what I had not to believe. But I'm not quite sure faith would make any difference on that front. I'm not sure I'm up for a promise that may or may not be true. I'm not sure I'm built to believe in something out of fear that I won't get what I want in the end. I'm just not sure about anything anymore.

Laura: I understand. I'm still trying to figure out how someone can claim to know God's plan but can't answer me when I ask questions about the plan. It confuses me.

Julian's Mom said...

I am not a religious person, but I find that Buddhist teachings do resonate with me, as a non-theistic religion. I recommend the book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron. It's sort of the Buddhist version of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People."

kate said...

Laura: you SHOULD have slapped her. ARGH.

Catherine: Eventually, believing in any religion requires some leap of faith, and a leap of faith is by definition un-explainable. So, it will depend on who you are talking to, really -- but alot of people will give up and just say ' read your bible' or whatever to you. Because what they see is that you will not understand their religion until you believe in it. This is not particularly helpful when you are deciding *what*, if anything, to believe. It is one of the reasons i gave up on worrying about religion for years and years.

Of course i am the wrong person to talk to, because i am still completely struggling with this myself, and only recently started going back to church at all. But i do find that going to church helps me, and 'feels right' to me, whatever that means.