There's a thing that I can't get off my mind. It came to me on 9/11, at Mass in Maine, near my hometown. It's not exactly 9/11 related, but I got to thinking when the priest, during the homily, asked "where was God that day?"
You know, too, that this has been a year full of bad news, for people that I know and love. It's been the kind of year that makes a person wrestle with her faith. I never did lose faith but all along, since almost exactly a year ago, I have had a vague understanding that I was coming to know God in a whole new way.
Anyway, I was in Mass that day, thinking about how God works, and this is what came to me:
I am not a parent but I have seen this happen, so maybe you have too. Picture a young child, a toddler, who's pinched his finger. When little kids pinch their fingers, they cry like their heart is permanently broken. Their pain is REAL! I know, because I've had my finger pinched too. This child's mother responds by holding her child and soothing him. She knows that the child's pain is real, because she's experienced it too. She doesn't do much to fix the pain though, and she doesn't remove every possible pinching thing from her child's existence. She has the perspective of many years. She has a whole lifetime of experience to know that, although the pain is real, it's temporary. Seen in terms of a lifetime, that pain is practically nothing!
Here's another thing I've seen. Teenagers get their hearts broken, and feel like it's the end of the world. I remember so many teenage girls over my years in ministry, who were absolutely crushed by some rejection, some hurtful thing that a boy did. I know that their pain is REAL, because I've experienced that pain myself. There is nothing you can do for a heart-broken teenage girl but listen to her and love her through it. I know things will get better and that the world is not better because I have the perspective of time. I almost wouldn't even want a teenage girl to go through her teenage years without having this experience, however truly painful it is.
So, it occurred to me, if the experience of a lifetime helps me have perspective about the pain that we all feel in youth, then how must the experience of ETERNITY give God perspective about the pain we all feel in life? Maybe this explains, in a way, why God doesn't intervene the way we would want Him to, when we're in trouble. Like the toddler, or the teenager, we turn to our parent and beg them to take the pain away and never let us be hurt again. But the parent, even if He could, doesn't. He knows that however real our pain is, it's temporary. Not just temporary, but God knows that in terms of a eternity, our life-time pain is practically nothing.
We can't believe it because the pain is so REAL. It's hard to imagine in the moment, or the lifetime, that this amount of pure and real pain will ever be dwarfed by anything.
God knows our pain is real, because God has experienced pain. And God knows that we can't see beyond our very real pain enough to say "aw heck, this pain is really insignificant, compared to eternity!" It's not our job to have that perspective, but it is God's.
So if this is true, then I know it has implications for my prayer life, and my relationship with God. I can stop asking God to fix things because I know God doesn't do that. It's not a question of whether God could fix things, and whether God won't fix things, but that God doesn't have to fix things for me, any more than a parent would splint a pinched finger or home-school their teenager so as to avoid her having any romantic relationships. God simply loves me through my very real pain and knows that I'll figure it out when I have more perspective.
How, then, do I pray? I think... we can look at our young people again. The toddler runs to his mother and cries, accepts her comforting. The teenage girl does a lot of crying too, and turns to someone who will love her through it (this is where Youth Ministers earn their stars!). When we are hurt in this lifetime, we run to the arms of our God, who almost wouldn't even want us not to have this experience... who knows that in terms of eternity, this is so temporary... who loves us through.
(I'm not totally settled on this new theology, I'm still mulling it over. But it's giving me a new way of thinking about God that I'm kind of liking. It's probably heresy. I dunno. Don't call the pope just yet, let's work this through a little more.)