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My friend Jennifer Brown often reads these columns and offers her suggestions before they get posted to the interwebs. I’m seriously grateful for her help: many of the wisest and smartest things that have appeared in FKB showed up because Jenny encouraged me to add them in. Last week, however, I got my column finished too late to get Jenny’s reflections before we went “to press.” What she had to say was important, however. Thus, I’d like to add an addendum to my response to “Simon’s” question about how to repair trust. Jenny wanted me to remind Simon of two things:
First, rebuilding trust is a mutual exercise. If the person with whom your bond of trust is broken doesn’t want that trust to be repaired, then there is nothing that you can do to force him or her to make up with you. Trust, like love, can only be volunteered; it is always a gift, never something that can be hijacked or stolen. Second, even though you might never recover the trust that you once had, the hard work of reconciliation remains worth the effort. That’s because striving to be trustworthy is, in and of itself, an act to service to yourself and to the world. Whether or not it “works” and you get your friendship back, searching for reconciliation will make you to be just a little more joyous, just a little more hopeful, just a little more trustworthy, just a little more like person whom God invites you to be.
Thanks Jenny! And now onto this week’s question:
Will my faith help me through this very sad and lonely phase?
- Sad and Lonely
In 1993 I was 20 years old. And after laboring for a while with a vague sense of unhappiness, I decided to take a break from university, to leave my parents’ house, and to move from Vancouver to Calgary. In Calgary I had a lead on some work. And in Calgary I knew one person. And so, I packed everything that I had into my 1982 Toyota Tercel and drove away from the home in which I had always lived, away into the wilderness.
I’m not being hyperbolic about the wilderness: Vancouver and Calgary are about 12 hours apart and, while some of those 12 hours takes a young man in an old car through towns, much of the path is uninhabited and wild. Sometimes you are counting in hours between towns.
The mountain roads climbed and fell as I went east, and the wind was often cold at the summits, even if it was late in August. For a while, I could listen to the radio, but as the mountains increased in height and frequency, the stations decreased in power and in number. Pretty soon I was down to a choice between a twangy country station and one of those radio preachers who sounds strangely furious while talking about God’s love.
And then, I rounded a pass and the radio was suddenly, entirely gone. White noise.
In that uninvited silence, loneliness rushed into the car like cold water. The full, desolate reality of leaving home was upon me. I had never before ached with such intensity for my childhood home, for my parents and friends, for the places which I knew and which I loved. I suppose that I had been an adult for a year or two, depending on which legal test or milestone you choose. But, in my memory, that day in the Tercel feels like the end of my childhood.
My journey through the wilderness in that car was probably an appropriate introduction for my time in the Foothills City. In the year I spent in that town in which I knew one person, I would be underemployed a lot, I would be lonely a lot. And I would be sad a lot.
Did my faith help me get through that year? Yes. But, back in those days, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the word “faith” to describe what happened. Church wasn’t part of my life and, indeed, I was pretty suspicious of people of faith of general. I think that’s because I had heard so many folks try to turn God into something simple, into something tame. I didn’t — and I don’t — find a lot of consolation in arguments that make God easily understood; I think Augustine got it right when, all those years ago, he said, “If you understand it, it’s not God.” I didn’t — and I don’t — find a lot of consolation in arguments that make suffering easily understood.
Even as I didn’t understand, I noticed that something big and beyond naming was with me in my sadness, that something big and beyond naming shared in my sadness. I noticed that a big love was with me the whole time — the same big love that has been with me in every grief and every loss that I have had before or since. And you know what, SAL? My time of sadness and loneliness with that big love taught me more about life and about hope than any class I have ever taken or book that I have ever read. In a strange way, that year was a gift — a gift that I would never have chosen, but a gift nonetheless.
These days, I call the big love that was with me by the name “God.”
I believe, SAL, that the big love who is God is with you as well. God may not take away your sadness and loneliness, God may not make your sadness and loneliness make sense. But the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will share in your hardship. Just as that big love did for me more than 20 years ago, God will walk with you through the wilderness.
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