When God moves (or when God says goodbye)
Two months later, I still can’t guess why my soul chose that unremarkable moment to break itself open again. Nothing about that grocery trip or the subsequent piling of everyone and everything into my hand-me-down van had been particularly inspiring or thought-provoking or otherwise unusual. My kids weren’t being particularly endearing or difficult. And as best as I can remember, I hadn’t heard anything on the news that morning or at church the day before that had left me feeling especially emotional or introspective.
Still, that’s when the empty place that God had once filled so easily and brilliantly decided to make itself known again, and not with a polite nudge but with broken, hollowed-out sobs that crashed through me until I was again filled with the familiar longing and despair I’d first met as a stunned Mormon girl in fresh-from-the-packages temple clothes.
Fortunately, I didn’t actually break down until I’d managed to finish buckling my younger daughter in and slide the side door shut, and because I’d parked in the back, I let myself cry for a minute before pulling it together enough to climb in, start my car, and send some Caspar Babypants through the back speakers so that my two backwards-facing girls were happy and I could spend the 7 minute drive home sitting with this painful, blessed ache that I’d thought I might never experience again.
It had always been painful to think back on the ease with which I’d once been able to experience God and then to puzzle over why that had all so abruptly ended. Months after the temple sent my spirit into chaos, I was still overcome with that contrast and unable to find a sufficient answer to the desperate What did I do wrong? that played on repeat in my heart and mind. Every so often I’d feel a quiet blip of divine reassurance, but then the ache would return, and eventually, despite returning again and again to the temple and to the places and words that in the past had so dependably connected me with the Divine, I honestly don’t think my body could take it anymore. I finally began to accept that something had changed and that for whatever reasons, I couldn’t go back. And eventually, I learned to care less and less that I had lost God.
I know that might sound cold or even blasphemous to some people, and that it might sound like a childish overreaction to others. It sounds like all of those things to me sometimes, too, but there it is nonetheless. And after a couple years of this profound sadness and confusion, apathy wasn’t just a welcome relief but the thing that allowed me to keep going through the religious motions. While I eventually began to attend the temple less and less, to the casual observer, my current activity in the church still looks pretty much like it did 5 years ago (except with a husband and two kids).
But then, after a year or so without feeling much of anything about God, the grocery store parking lot happened. This time, though, I was overcome not just with familiar heartbreak but with gratitude, because the loss of God was something I was apparently still capable of feeling.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this experience or of the apathy I so easily slipped back into shortly thereafter.
Sometimes, I think that it was God’s way of saying goodbye, and that the profound gratitude I felt was there to provide closure in some way: to remind me to be thankful for the good times we had but that really, it’s time to let go and move on.
And at other times, I think that something within me was insisting that God is still out there somewhere and in some form, waiting patiently for me. That perhaps it’s like the beautiful analogy Pastor Alan Jamieson recently offered in an episode* of the “A Thoughtful Faith” podcast: that “it’s like God was sitting in a room with [us]… sitting in one corner of the room and speaking a particular language,” but then God “moves to a different corner of that room and starts to speak in a different language. And we are naturally looking to that same corner—the place we expect to see God—but he isn’t there anymore. And we’re listening for God, but we can’t hear him.”
Perhaps the message in that parking lot was that God misses me, too. That losing God doesn’t mean I’ve been abandoned, but that when God has moved, it is so that They can “[speak] to us in a new way so that our view and experiences of God can grow and get bigger.” The optimist in me hopes this latter option is true; that the Mother I especially sought and lost that day in the temple is still out there somewhere. But when I try to conceptualize the kind of courage it might take to find a God who seems to have moved, but who still so dependably seems to be found in the same places and the same words for almost everyone else I know and associate with, most of the time, I end up feeling unsure and exhausted and small, and indifference just works.
I’m not sure what that moment in a grocery story parking lot meant—whether God has bid me farewell or is waiting for me to take a leap of faith. Maybe it’s up to me to decide which it was.
*Listen here. The part that this quote is pulled from begins at about 35 min.