Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The end of famine begins with me....

I have this bad habit of asking God for really trivial things, and then getting them. Like today, for example. As I was driving my daughter and her friend to the pool for an afternoon in the sunshine, I thought to myself, "Please God, let there be a table with an umbrella available for me to sit under while I read my magazine." And I was immediately ashamed of my 'prayer', realizing the triviality of praying for shade when there are starving children in the world. Of all the prayers sent heavenward today, mine had to be the most selfish. And, to be fair, I'm not sure my utterance could be considered prayer, as much as just an ingrained way of thinking.

Anyway, we got to the pool, and looked around for a place to settle. The girls wanted sunshine to 'tan'; I was thinking more of a relaxing chair where I could enjoy The Reader's Digest and listen to the screams of children at play. And, of course, some shade. It being toward the end of the summer season, there were only six tables left with intact umbrellas, all of them occupied. Then I saw a mother gathering her flock and their flotsam, and made a beeline for their table. It was on the far side of the tables, and I figured someone else would surely beat me to it, but no one else seemed to be paying attention. So, I got my shade, and settled into a plastic Adirondack chair for an afternoon of reading, happy and content. And then, once again, I was engulfed in shame. I honestly felt tears come to my eyes as I contemplated Somalian mothers begging God for food to stave off starvation for one more day, burying their children when no relief from famine miraculously appeared before them. And the prayer that got answered today was for shade?

I don't think it was anything more than coincidence, but it really got me thinking about prayer, and God, and the capriciousness of life. I have a tendency to overthink things, obviously, but seriously, shade? I don't get it. Maybe it is all just trivial, and there is no conduit from us to the divine and back again, and I'm just imagining stuff. But then again, I've experienced enough to make me think there is something out there beyond what the mortal eye can see. So why am I so stuck on the possibility that God answered my prayer today for shade?

I've always struggled to make sense of the idea that praying for those suffering unspeakable horrors, such as watching their children starve to death, makes any difference at all. Why wouldn't God send them help and relief regardless of the faith and pleadings of strangers, but simply because they, too, are his children? Is he really so heartless that he would withhold compassion simply because we neglect to ask him for that favor? I don't understand that God, and I don't want to worship him. And I certainly don't want to become like him. I know how my thoughts come across to devout worshipers, and I don't mean to sound blasphemous, or arrogant. But if God wants my love and devotion, he's going to have to do better than provide me with poolside shade. Bless me to know how to end the famine in Somalia. Or civil wars that rage in many nations, devastating families and traumatizing children. Give me the ability to cure cancer. Or stop child abuse. Or maybe just bless me with the desire to pray for more than shade for myself. And then give me the opportunity to be his hands and offer relief to those who suffer from more than lack of shade.

So I guess the task before me is to do more than sit on my ample behind crying for starving Somalian children and the mothers who bury them. Maybe there is someone within my sphere of influence who is suffering because I'm spending more time looking for shade than seeking ways to love and bless those in need. Maybe I just need to get out of my own head for awhile and do something kind for someone else.

Friday, August 5, 2011

You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry......

I had 'the talk' with an old friend yesterday. The friend that I've most feared talking to, at least as far as religious discussions go. She is a very faithful, devout Mormon, and I respect her deeply held beliefs and the way she goes about living her life. However, she does seem to have a difficult time understanding how anyone could come to a different conclusion regarding religion than she has. In fact, at one point she looked at me as if I'd sprouted another head on my shoulders, right in front of her eyes. It was obvious that she could not accept that I simply do not believe what is so plain and simple to her. Yet, I don't. And we're going to have to agree to disagree.

At one point, I shared a story with her that I hoped would illustrate my awakening, so to speak. Last year, Grace confronted me very pointedly on the Santa myth. She wanted "the truth", and none of this "what do you think?" crap. Her words. I asked her what her friends and classmates had to say on the subject of Santa, to which she replied that most were unbelievers. But she herself still believed in him. I figured that was the end of the discussion, but she still insisted that I tell her the truth. So I did. I cannot knowingly lie to my children when they confront me with a desire to know the truth about anything. I can sometimes dance around it a bit, but when a child becomes as persistent as this one did, it's time to 'fess up. I then told her that I still believe in the magic of Christmas, and talked about my love for the holiday season and everything that goes along with it. And I told her that she would now get to participate in being Santa, to which she asked if she could fill the stockings on Christmas Eve! No, I explained; she would be long asleep by that point. But she could help me play Santa as we shopped throughout the season; wouldn't that be fun? Meh. Not so much, apparently.

A few months later, Grace accompanied Daron and me to Lowe's, where they had already set up their Christmas display. She and I walked through the display, looking at the various lights and decorations, while Daron shopped elsewhere in the store. At one point, she looked up at me wistfully, and said, "I wish you'd never told me the truth about Santa." I felt terrible! And I reminded her that she'd asked for the truth, in fact insisted upon it. She said, "I know, but I wish you'd waited until I was sixteen to tell me!" So I said, "Okay then, let's pretend that I never told you. You can go back to believing in Santa Claus if you want to." Her reply was profound: "Mom, you can't unknow something once you already know it." So true. You can't unring the bell, put the toothpaste back in the tube, put clothes on the Emperor once your eyes have been opened and you've seen his bare bottom.

I shared this story with my friend, hoping to help her understand that there was no going back for me. I can't unknow what I know. She looked at me with pity, and said, "You're right. You can't unknow what you know to be true." And I realized that we were hearing the same story and interpreting it in different ways. She believes that in my heart of hearts, I know the church to be true, and I can't really unknow it, no matter what I may profess to believe. And I know that I can't go back and say that I know something to be true that, for me, is no more true than the myth of Santa Claus. And we may never achieve a meeting of the minds over this issue. I'm okay with that, but I think my friend still struggles. And I am sorry for that. I am sorry that I make her sad. I wish I could make my own path without causing pain to others. But I've learned that we are each responsible for our own feelings, and she is going to have to find a way to accept me for who I am and love me regardless, or be sad and move on. And maybe, this God of hers has put me in her life to help her learn to do just that, accept others who don't see life the same way she does, who don't experience belief the same way she does. To truly love unconditionally.

I am puzzled by the importance believers place upon the idea that all must express religion the same way. Religion can unify in times of trouble, but more often than not it seems to divide. And I don't understand that. I've expressed this idea before, and it continues to be a sticky issue for me. I think religious preference shouldn't be given any more weight than food preferences, or movie genres, or hotdog condiments. I'm not trying to treat the subject lightly, but I truly do not get why it matters so much to others that I don't place the same emphasis on eternal life as they do. And in the long run, it really doesn't matter how I, or anyone, see this issue. What happens when we die will happen regardless of my opinion on the subject, whether I believe in exaltation in a celestial kingdom, or reincarnation as a maple tree, or simply nothing. And I'm not saying at this point which one gets my vote, though I will say that I really really don't want to spend eternity making spirit babies alongside my sister-wives and then being ignored by them (my children) once they get to earth because I'm just too sacred to have my name profaned by them in a fit of anger. But that's a subject for another day.

In the end, I really hope that my friend wants to stay my friend. But she will have to do it with the understanding that I may not change my mind about religion. I may not come back to the fold. Can she love me anyway?