I’m sharing my own story of faith in the dark and joining Addie Zierman as she celebrates the launch of her new book Night Driving.
After a calm and sunny February, one in which the water experts in this drought-stricken state were looking ahead to summer and bemoaning the lack of rain, the first two weeks of March fulfilled the old adage: they were fierce, feral, feline. The wind flung the rain against the windows, against the skylights, howling and roaring and doing all the things good storms do, threatening a good drenching should one dare to step outside. In ten days, our area received more than sixteen inches of rain.
I lay in bed last weekend, dry, safe, warm, and listened to the storm. I thought of the sugar pine tree in our yard. The one that succumbed this past fall – to the drought, perhaps, or to disease, or to age. The one with bare branches, with no life left. The one we’ve been meaning to bring down. I lay in bed and thought of the dead tree twenty-five yards from my house and prayed that its root structure would be strong enough to hold, despite the soft ground and the strong wind, despite its tall, dead weight. I prayed that it would remain standing through the night, through the storm.
It did. Its roots held. Against all odds, the tree stands, still.
We have these metaphors for the hard times in our lives, the times when God seems far away, the times full of pain and sorrow and questions. We liken them to storms, to deserts, to darkness.
I faced a storm once, five months in which I struggled to keep my head above the water, in which everything I thought I knew seemed to come crashing down. The clouds were gathering on the day I received a call from a teen acquaintance, asking us to adopt her unborn daughter, six weeks before she gave birth. I’d have felt the raindrops on the day her baby girl was born, three years ago today, had my senses been attuned to such a thing; instead they were wrapped up in the sensations of motherhood, of holding a newborn in my arms and calling her my own. The storm dropped on me full-force, unexpectedly, shockingly, thirty days later, when we learned that her father had filed for custody.
I’ve marked the passing of time here on this blog, noting each birthday, each anniversary of our final court date, of the day we lost her. I’ve marked the passing of time, and yet, this year, it’s easier, somehow. It isn’t a hard day, necessarily; time, as they say, heals all wounds and life goes on and the deep sorrow begins to fade. My life is rich and full. But there is a hint of sadness, a touch of anger, a moment’s pause, wondering what might have been.
We have metaphors for the hard times, but we have them for the good times, too, for the times we feel alive and present and vibrant in our faith. We talk about passion, about fire, about springs of water. We speak of God as a living Presence, of sensing Him, hearing Him, seeing Him. We speak of His guidance and His hand with certainty.
But here’s the thing: though the storm abated two and a half years ago, it was followed by a desert, and then by darkness, a darkness that has yet to lift, and there are times when I feel as though I am only fumbling my way forward, reaching blindly for what I hope to be true.
The doubt, the questions, the wrestling: these things have become a part of my faith, and an integral part at that. Gone are the quick certainty, the easy answers.
My constant prayer is this: I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief!
Night has fallen, and that pine tree stands, skeletal in the dark. I can’t see it, but I know it’s there.
I think about its roots that held strong though there’s death above, and then I think of my faith, of the storms that assailed it.
It isn’t a perfect analogy, by any stretch, for that tree is dead. There’s no life in it, and the same cannot be said of my faith (at least on my good days).
But there’s this: though the wind lashed at me in the dark, though the things I thought to be true were stripped away like so many dead limbs, though the storm took so many of my preconceptions about God, the easy answers and the trite clichés and the empty platitudes, and showed them to be the lifeless things they are, my roots held true. Even in those moments when I thought I must surely topple, when nothing made sense, when all I could hear was the howling in my ears and in my heart, my roots held true.
It stands, my faith does, skeletal in the dark, anchored by its roots. I can’t always see it, can’t always feel a Presence, but – sometimes, on my good days – I know it’s there.