“I Guess God Doesn’t Want Me to be Married.”

Two weeks ago, I headed back to my hometown in Michigan because my step-father, Bill, had had an “incident” on May 1, which prompted my mom to call 911 for him. At the time, we thought it was a heart attack, possibly a stroke, perhaps a reaction between his many and various prescriptions and the alcohol in his beloved beer. It was none of those things, and precisely what caused the initial event may remain forever a mystery, though we all have a hypothesis. But the point is, it was becoming clear that he wouldn’t be getting better after this episode.

That was a reality that my mom struggled to cope with. Mom has Alzheimer’s, and while her long-term memory is as sharp as a tack, she can’t remember things that happened yesterday or this morning or 30 minutes ago, sometimes things that happened seconds ago. But she remembers pretty much EVERYTHING from her past. That memory includes the deaths of her first two husbands.

When my mom was 18, she married Richard. Dick. Both a name and a fitting pejorative. Dick was a “mama’s boy,” whose mama was extremely meticulous. Like, literal “white glove on the door tops to search for dust” meticulous, and she had raised her son likewise, so when Mom married Dick, his standards were high. Each morning she was to fix his breakfast: a bowl of oatmeal with a perfectly square pat of butter placed directly in the center of the bowl. If the butter shape or placement didn’t meet his standards, he would throw the bowl to the floor and mom had to clean it up. This explains a lot about her later housekeeping habits, which were essentially non-existent and which I also seem to have inherited.

The 18 year old turned 19 and had the first of my siblings, Desi. Two years later, along came Sharee. Not long after that, Dick and my mom separated and were living in two different houses. On top of – perhaps related to – his meticulous standards, Dick struggled with alcohol and mental unhealth, specifically, undifferentiated Schizophrenia. This was a bad combination, and Dick died by suicide when Mom was about 30.

At 32, Mom remarried. John was my dad. He had been in the 101st Airborne, became a cop when he got out, started the police Union in our town. But dad also struggled with alcohol and mental health issues, including PTSD from his upbringing. Grandma Martin, I’m told, used to discipline both of her kids by flushing their heads in the toilet. Grandma was literally a grade-school bully. She was also a bit of a terrorist in ways that I won’t get into now, but the short version is that she had both my cousin Marty and me terrified to go into public restrooms since about the age of 5. Well, Dad’s mental unhealth caught up with him, and he, too, died by suicide.

Fast forward to 1978. Mom met Bill through mutual acquaintances, and they hit it off from the beginning. They got married in July of 1979, and we all became a blended family. Not quite like the Brady Bunch. You can start imagining there, but you’ll have to go darker. Like, add in some Addams Family and maybe a touch of Manson Family … no, I exaggerate. We were weird, but it all worked. It was really a good match.

The other day, as I was sitting with Mom in her living room, where she had the TV turned up to 11 (mostly to keep her from being able to think), she said, “I wonder why God is doing this to Bill. He never hurt anybody.” I said, “Why do you think God is doing this?” She said, “It just seems unfair. It’s so horrible! I guess God doesn’t want me to be married.”

“Ma! You and Bill were married for over 40 years! If God didn’t want you to be married, don’t you think he would have done something about it before now??” But her thinking is beyond logic now. Mom also has never been much of a theologian. She converted to Catholicism in 1976 so that she’d qualify for a St. Vincent de Paul Society scholarship that would allow me to attend the Catholic School that became my “pedagogue” for 12 years. One of the “benefits” of being a Catholic is, you don’t HAVE to be a theologian. There are guys who are willing to do all your God-thinking for you, if that’s your desire. Even though Mom taught CCD for a couple of years, she never really thought deeply about God. Her theology was and is the acquired kind, not the deduced or wrestled with kind. Which is fine as far as that goes. But when you run up against having survived 3 husbands in a life-time, maybe it would have been better for her to have developed a healthier view of faith and our relationship with the Divine.

I may be coming across as unfair to our Catholic siblings. Surely there are more than a few non-Catholics who inherited a bad theology along the way and never really had the tools to question it. I’m not saying people are dumb. By no means. Mom is really quite intelligent, for example. But she has never been equipped for faith when it meets a big challenge like the ones she has faced in life.

Here’s what I’m really getting at: Faith isn’t what most of us were taught that it is. We tend to think of it as a set of precepts that we need to believe in – i.e. give intellectual assent to – in order to “be saved” – another phrase that we aren’t really taught to deal with the meaning of. Faith isn’t about “belief” at all, really. It’s about TRUST. And trust comes from relationship, and this is something that’s built over time. We don’t just automatically trust anyone or anything. Someone needs to prove trustWORTHY over time before we can fully put our trust in that one. But when we do, our trust doesn’t waiver due to bad circumstances. It may be tasted, and it may be strained, but it doesn’t break.

When we think about our faith/trust in God, we come to that through a relationship with God in Jesus that proves God to be trustworthy over time, in our lives, in human history. But the question becomes, what can we trust ABOUT God? If we think we can trust God to pop out of the box at the end of the play and to save the day (a “deus ex machina”), then we’ve placed our trust in a God that doesn’t exist.

So what CAN we trust God to do or to be? Remember when we said a few weeks ago that God protects us from nothing, but sustains us in everything? THAT is how God is trustworthy. God can be trusted to be self-giving, because God shows Godself to be self-giving on the cross and in every circumstance. God can be trusted to be radically forgiving, because this has been God’s character forever, and we’ve seen it both in the scriptures and in our lives. And God can be trusted to be co-suffering, as we have seen on the cross and again in our lives as we face every kind of struggle. God doesn’t rescue us from our problems or save us from hardships, but God loves us so much that he accompanies us and struggles alongside of us in everything. That includes the loss of 3 husbands and two children.

I know Mom is kind of beyond comprehending that now, though I wish she had been given the tools to explore all of this in her own lifetime and test how it’s true. God didn’t take Dick away from Mom, but God did help her and my two sisters survive … for a time. And when they died, God was still beside Mom, weeping with her. God didn’t cause my dad to kill himself, but when Dad pulled that trigger, God was present with him in his final moments, suffering his pain along with him. And God was present again with Mom and me, quietly bearing our burden, too. Just as God was with Bill in those excruciating final weeks as his body craved the food that he couldn’t eat and as he felt the pain of his metabolic systems shutting down much slower than any of us would have hoped for him, for mercy’s sake. But God was there, co-suffering in it all. And God is here now in our loss and in our mourning. Weeping alongside of us again. Loving us still.

This isn’t something I “believe” with my mind, but rather it’s something I “know” in my innermost being. I trust that it’s true, because I’ve been here before. God is worthy of that trust. It’s literally the only thing I can “give” back to God. And even that is a gift.

2 Comments

  1. Cidnyloo says:

    WOW! That’s a lot! Your thoughts on our relationship with God and the trust we have in Him resonates with me. I have a struggle with people using the phrase ‘God’s plan’. His ‘plan’ is for us to love one another and to see the Devine in all his creations! He does walk with us and feels our pain, etc. He isn’t a bystander shrugging His shoulders and shaking His head!
    He envelopes us!
    When Daddy was was in the hospital in his final days, I was a wreck. My lifelong girlfriend came to see me and together we were inconsolable! I distinctly recall telling her ‘I’m not ready to let him go’- which I knew in my brain was not in my control but my heart was in charge at that moment and giving me another response. Later that evening or the next morning, I prayed for my dad and his team of doctors and nurses. In that space, my brain kicked in and I gave God permission (like He needs it!)to have my dad-He was in control! When I handed Daddy over to God….what a peace and calm showered over me! Nothing I’d ever experienced before. But I felt free! My chest was lighter and I knew the decisions that had to be made later that day were right! And God was with us every step of the way! Daddy peacefully died that day as I finished singing lullabies to him.💔
    I trust that God is with me always. He’s known me for many, many, many years. We chat throughout the day. I expect Him to be there for me but I must be better at being there for Him. We are all a work in process!!

    Like

    1. Robertchen says:

      Thank you, Cindy. Like you, I find the idea of “God’s plan” deeply problematic and largely unbiblical. At the same time, I think I understand and can appreciate that it comes from a place that’s concerned with preserving or protecting or maybe just proclaiming God’s sovereignty. But if one starts their theology with sovereignty, the cross makes little sense. But to start with the cross, it changes how we understand sovereignty, and that’s a much better place to start.

      Like

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