I’m not sure why the goodness and grace of God were so oppressive to me there at Alton Abbey.
The great (and embarrassing) disappointment of my life thus far has been the not-getting-married thing. (Embarrassing partly because I have not been asked, never been adored like that, and partly because in this feminist age I still want it so much.) And if that will sound crazy to some, since I am currently 34 and still very marryable, it may help to know the expectations in the conservative Christian world in which I was raised. Girls were supposed to grow up, go to college, and get married. Nearly all of my friends did just that. Well, two of my best friends got married before our senior year.
So as the years went on I worried about trying to catch up to them and their growing families, and gradually came to realize—contrary to popular American Christian belief—that God does not always give you what you want.
The American Christian mentality can be a dangerous one. We are so successful, so rich, that we begin to equate these things with the blessing of God. And they are great blessings, to be sure. But in some ways this leads to a faith that evaluates God’s work in our lives (and the lives of our friends) by the amount of stuff we have received. When things work out (marriage, children, 401K) God is clearly present. When things do not work out, we tell ourselves and others to hold on, that God will surely come to our aid and act quickly on our behalf, bringing us what we want/need/desire/cannot live without. These are not entirely untrue; God loves to give us good things. And yet, what we end up with in many ways is a faith focused on all of our riches, a faith that works only in America. (Just thinking about trying to encourage third-world believers the way we talk to each other belies the fact that these “truths” we hold on to are not universal.)
Through the window of this great disappointment, my unmet longing for someone to share life with, my eyes were opened to the other side of God—the withholding side, the hard side, the side that could smite the Amalekites and keep someone in the greatest want.
I chose to believe that this harshness was still love, was still somehow for my best, would work for my good. Of course, I love the freedom of my life. Nothing but my bank account will stop me if I want to fly to Paris for the weekend. And truthfully, I’m thankful not to be responsible for a gaggle of toddlers. But somehow through this loss I grew to associate God’s love with something harsh and difficult, with things that didn’t feel like love at all.
And now I was immersed in sun and friendship and something like love. I felt like God was asking me to believe once again in his actual goodness, in his ability and desire to give me things that not only were good for me, but felt good.