This Sabbath Revival post is so beautiful and full of depth. I hope you have time to really ponder it. ‘Twas originally posted May 17, 2007 by Kristen
In 1986 English professor Gene England goes to New York City for Easter Weekend to present at a conference, and see several plays with an old friend. Passing some street hustlers playing the three-card shuffle con-games on the side of the street and seeing a tourist get taken advantage of, he stops to watch, and discovers that he guesses the right card every time. The patters notice this too. They invite him to bet. He declines, even though he ends up guessing the right card each time the tourist loses.
The patter sympathizes with him, tells him he’s so good, he should just go ahead and bet. The bets are raised, he decides to bet—he’s been right the last 10 times. He bets $60. He loses. Shocked and dazed, he tries to pull away. He’s bitter, panicked, betrayed…yet still feels the desire to win. He keeps watching. Time after time, he guesses right, looking over the shoulder of the tourist who keeps losing. The patter turns to him again, and says he owes him one, and that if he bets again, he’ll make it up to him. Gene put down $60 more dollars.
He guesses wrong.
He leaves feeling humiliated, violated, racist. He spends the rest of the weekend punishing himself. With his remaining few dollars, he does not buy more than a pretzel and a loaf of bread to eat. He does not tell his friend about his plight, or ask for help. He simply doesn’t eat. He feels like a hypocrite when he goes to present his Shakespeare paper, which was focused on Shakespeare’s preoccupation with Christian ideas on healing the soul.
Who is it can withstand your love?
Why don’t I want to feel the love God has for me, sometimes? Why do I push it away, believing that I’ve got to follow a set of silly rules I’ve created—before turning myself towards him to receive his love and mercy? Sometimes I feel that I would crumple and wither…if I did not first see justice served. That is—my sense of justice. Perhaps that is the problem. My sense of fairness. Perhaps I do not recognize the justice that already takes place when something happens…because I am trying to impose a different set of rules upon myself. Even when it is not a matter of erring—but simple sorrow, confusion, pain. Regardless of the situation…in times of emotional confusion, I try to figure things out before feeling love.
Gene struggled with this concept as well. That is what I most love about his personal essays. The same things kept him awake at night. He says:
It hurts very much to think of you. How could you suffer not only our pains but also our sicknesses and infirmities? Did you actually become sick and infirm or did you merely feel, with your greater imagination, something like what we feel when we are sick and infirm?…And if you did literally experience our infirmities, did you know our greatest one, sin? Everyone says you didn’t sin, that you were always perfect. But how then could you learn to help us?…I don’t want to hurt like this, like I do now..Yet I want you to know the worst of me, the worst of me possible, and still love me, accept me—like a lovely, terrible drill, tearing me all the way down inside the root until all the decay and then all the pulp and nerve and all the pain are gone.
Can’t you tell us directly, without all the pain and contradiction, if what I feel is right? Could it be that your very willingness to know the actual pain and confusion and despair..to join with us fully, is what saves us?…How can I refuse to accept myself, refuse to be whole again, if you..know exactly what I feel and still accept me?…Who is it can withstand your love?
Thankfully, I have never, no matter how hard I’ve tried, been able to withstand God’s love. I cannot resist it. He always finds a way to slip it in the backdoor. Lately it has been starting with me going outside to peer over the railing to see if any gladiolus sprigs are poking through the soil and I feel the heat of dawn and a new day, and at the same time a tiny desire to talk to Him. It continues when my daughter takes a longer-than-normal nap, and I find myself wandering around for a few minutes fighting the thought to go and just say a quick prayer. I don’t want to know what He may have to say to me. I’m not ready for it. Because I have not yet figured out what He is supposed to be teaching me, about why I miscarried our baby on Sunday. I feel like I have to be one step ahead, or I won’t be able to fully accept the love He could give me.
I am full of irrational thoughts and an intense drive to discover the “lesson” I am supposed to be learning in all of this. So far, I cannot bear to fathom that this is an act of love. That is why I am trying so hard to withstand His love with everything I’ve got. If there’s a lesson to be learned, why, I’ve got to get to the bottom of it. But not by first feeling love. That won’t provide any answers for me. I feel like a child whose father is trying to comfort her after having taken, or having allowed to be taken, something so precious to her. She does not want to look to him for love or comfort. Perhaps she is curious and respectful to know what she may derive from all of this. But love and comfort? She has been looking elsewhere.
My favorite part of Gene’s essay is when the narrator switches to an earlier ancestor, George England, for whom Gene was named.
This is my report. I have been assigned to George England, one of my descendants, for thirty years now. He carries my own name but does not use George often, though that is his first name. I have protected him well, but I do not understand him. I think I should remain on this assignment for at least one more ten-year term.
The main problem is that George understands what is right but does not do it. He knows more about the Atonement than I did–…He writes constantly about it. Many people praise him for what he says. They write letters to him saying how he has helped them live the gospel better and helped them understand repentance. But he still does terrible things. It is still hard for him to be honest. He covers over his mistakes with lies. He pretends to know things or remembers people or has read books when it is not true. I think he loves to do right, but has a hard time being honest or kind when the chance to do so is sudden or embarrassing or when he is painful or lonely. If he has time to think, he is often very good, but is not when he is surprised.
When I helped him marry Charlotte Ann you know how much better he was for a while. He began to learn from her to be generous before he thought about it. He even began to be honest like she is, without toting up the cost. But after all that self-pity when he lost his job..ten years ago he began to be a hustler, to cut corners, to take advantage. I was able to use that car accident to help him know that he was good….
I am certain that he is not praying enough. He is worried, though, and wondering—sometimes frantically, I think–why there is not someone to help him as he has helped some who have needed him. He does not seem to be able to ask for help. Perhaps something will happen that we can use. I hope so. My heart reaches out to complete the circle.
I feel like this! Not because I did something wrong…but because I do not really want to withstand Heavenly Father’s love, yet I’m doing it anyway. Just like Gene knew the right thing to do, but did not do it. God used a terrible car accident to re-awaken the deepest part of himself. The part of himself that knew that he was good.
I want to know what I have been lacking in my mortal journey to cause me to need a miscarriage. A little bit of ingratitude, perhaps? Lack of faith? Selfishness? Patience? If I only knew, then I could feel much better about saying to God, “Okay, I’m ready for your love and comfort. I learned from this, now can you help me feel better.”
Of course, the deepest part of me feels that I am completely wrong about all of this. That I don’t have to learn anything before starting to heal. That I am a good person and can feel loved with no strings attached, without having to present my portfolio of “What I Needed to Learn,” to Heavenly Father. But that part of me feels so diluted and hard to reach. It’s hard to reach because my sense of logic screams that there must be something rational in all of this sorrow and heartache. Why are my natural thought tendencies—my “natural man” so contrary to the mercies and tenderness of my Father in Heaven?
I was able to use that car accident to help him know that he was good.
Maybe Heavenly Father has to use painful experiences–tragedies, in fact—to love us. I can hardly bear to write that. But there—see? I’ve done it again. I’m trying to wrap my head around what I should be learning. And the deepest part of me is saying that it’s okay just to feel loved. That just feeling loved is enough.
So maybe, just once…starting today….I will stop trying to withstand his love, stop trying to see the lesson before feeling that the deepest part of me can be loved, and is good.
How do you withstand, or accept, His love? How do you make stay the deepest part of yourself?