I rode with my boyfriend from some youth group gathering back to his house, staring out my window as dusk turned to night. We took the curves of Geauga Lake Road and descended into the woods’ shadows.
“What kind of God would save a murderer,” I spat, “just because he believed, and not me? I’m a good person.”
I couldn’t understand it. That kind of love poured out no matter what—no matter what!—seemed ridiculous. Wrong. Unbelievable.
I couldn’t imagine that God. I could imagine, instead, god with balancing scales, god with measuring stick, god of rule enforcement. I had followed the rules; therefore, at the end of the day, I would win.
My best friend and my boyfriend both entertained my questions and complaints, talked about grace and how we all fall short of the glory of God, how we all need mercy and can’t earn it.
So I tried to prove them wrong. I could be perfect.
I wanted to know this God, but I saw no need in me for forgiveness. I found no place where I really needed help. I’m not that bad, I thought. Until I started keeping track, and in my daily journal entries I lamented: No matter how hard I try, there’s always something every day, some way I screw it up. I’d be selfish. I’d think some thing I thought I ought not think. I’d snap. I’d whine. I’d give in to some temptation.
On Sundays I watched from the red velvet pew as my boyfriend’s family took communion. I wanted that bread and cup. It seemed so far away, not something I could take.
I read the Bible and understood nothing, flummoxed by its begats and barbaric laws. I sent up distant prayers to the god of my plaster ceiling at night, Umm, thanks? and fell asleep before I finished, prayer more effective than counting sheep.
How does getting on your knees do anything for you? I say.
Janice says, It makes you the right size. You do it to teach yourself something. When my disease has ahold of me, it tells me my suffering is special or unique, but it’s the same as everybody’s. I kneel to put my body in that place, because otherwise, my mind can’t grasp it.
Mary Karr, Lit
In the lobby of my college freshman dorm, I found the floor. Afraid I was pregnant, I had confessed earlier to a group of believers my fears and they had physically laid their hands upon me to pray. I went back to my dorm, sniffling and tired. Unable to sleep, I crept to the lobby at 2 a.m. sobbing.
Oh God, help me. Oh God, help me. Oh God, help me. It wasn’t your average, every day, scripted Sinner’s Prayer you might find printed on a website gif or handed out on a Bible tract. This was much more guttural. I prayed and wept and wiped snot on my shirtsleeve. Oh God, help me. Oh God, help me. Oh God, help me.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
I’d be lying if I failed to tell you this was life changing. With me then, suddenly, was peace. It was as if, as Mary Karr says later in Lit, “some level in my chest has ceased its endless teetering and found its balance point.” All of the uncertainty and powerlessness I felt in the face of my circumstances became somehow smaller, somehow manageable, somehow steady.
That autumn, I gobbled up the Gospels and New Testament like stuffing on Thanksgiving, a sudden thirst only quenched by this Word I had until so recently felt was incomprehensible. This Word would become the foundation on which I would stand, on which I would turn, pivot, trip, and bruise, the foundation I would interrogate and return again and again for peace and assurance when the still, small voice was still small but with me, ever with me, from then on with me, with me, with me.