As we begin a new year, Pippa White writes candidly about the deep frustrations of the last twelve months and her relationship with God.
I’m not good at being angry, but I do seethe quite well. It is very much a weakness of mine – when whoever said ‘don’t drink poison and expect your enemy to die’, I can’t hear them because I’m popping open another bottle of arsenic. As we approach nearly a full calendar year of living in the void of COVID-19 my seething levels have reached a new finesse.
The problem is, of course, that there is no-one to seethe against. How do you show an indiscriminate and unthinking virus that you’re silently waiting for it to ask ‘You okay?’, so you can finally unleash the tirade you’ve drafted in your head? In this pandemic I have had endless material to stew over: my favourite record is that I’m living my mid-twenties not by going on impressively mediocre dates or getting sunburnt in pub gardens, but by sitting on the sofa with mum and dad watching telly.
As I write this, as an ordinand, I feel that to insert some instance of ‘Jesus Making It All Better’ is to make the circumstances – and Jesus – blithe.
Because, frankly, I want to sit and weep with Job. I want to tut and sigh conspicuously with Martha. I want to laugh hollowly at the writer of Deuteronomy who urges us over and over to always love our God. People are dying, people are suffering, and those are the facts.
I’ve spent so much of 2020 being furious at God because there’s no-one else to be furious at. Nothing and no-one tangible or recognizable, so I throw it all at God. I know this isn’t right, or fair, or even the last time I’ll blame God for something which isn’t God’s fault. But I wanted to know why we are being made to go through all of this, and to mark my protest at COVID.
Yet as I calm down, the realisation dawns: my seething really is my own self-inflicted punishment. This is not to say that if we change our mind-sets everything will be okay, nor am I making light of the mental health crisis which is happening hand-in-hand with COVID. But by focusing on everything I feel I am missing out on, with (if I’m being brutally honest with myself) a dash of western millennial entitlement, I really am injecting poison into myself.
And if I’m being brutally honest again, I know that God has been with me during this last year but I have resisted these moments because they’re not what I think they should be. Because I believe (making quite a generalisation) we have tried to glamourise God. In our celebrity culture, we have tried to make any of the Godhead a celeb: expecting moments deserving of flash-photography and a red carpet. I want moments with God that would be Instagram-worthy, getting me at least 100 likes and two new followers. But of course this is not how God works.
God has been there in that moment of stillness, in heart and mind, when I took the time to go on a self-care walk to the top of our valley. There, in the lightbulb moments when I gave myself the space to work out what has been niggling at me all day, putting me in such a low mood. Or (and I share this in embarrassment), one evening when I was being truly bratty and my parents showed me such unconditional love I had to go and have a quick cry.
As I appreciate where God has been, a more fundamental shift in me has happened. Particularly over the last two months or so, I can now see that I have been so adamant that I am in My World, which has been Ruined, and this is Unfair. There is so much to grieve; that is undeniable. But what I had forgotten while I was waiting for God to reach through into My World is that we are actually in God’s creation – the depths of the use and abuse of which are finally showing true.
In my sullen expectation that God should be reaching out to me, I had twisted my perspective so it fit with my emotions. It is when I actively stop seething that I open myself up again to the truth that I live in God’s creation, as a God-made creature. I have to wrench my mind out of the idea that God ought to explain Godself to me for the horrors we are living through. I have had to break my human-hardness open to God, and to realise that God is dwelling in the heartbreak just as much as the rest of us. I don’t say this to try and gain God some pity, nor as a call to despondency. I say it as a reminder that God is not Out There, watching on impassively from some cloud, but when someone is holding the hand of a patient on a ventilator, God is holding their hand too.
I urge you to find what your equivalent of seething is. I do not promise that this will make everything okay, or even less awful. But I do promise it will chip away at the stumbling blocks between you and God, and your heart will beat more freely.