A few days ago, I was traveling somewhere with a new friend. We had just been in the home of someone with various religious artifacts, and I asked: “Are you Catholic?”
“No,” she replied, nonchalantly. “I’m more of a zero.”
When I lived in Atlanta, I more or less expected the “zero” attitude, though few people admitted it quite so readily. In small town Georgia, it caught me a little (okay – a lot) by surprise.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to say, so I prattled on quickly. In hindsight, I wish I had said something.
Specifically, I wish I had said, “Yes, I’ve been there too.”
To be authentic, maybe I haven’t been an outright zero, but I have been close. It happened in my twenties, when I began to see so much bad in the world and no saving hand to wipe it all away. What kind of God would allow ______________ (fill in the blank with the injustice of your choice)? I wondered. Before long, it became easy to rationalize that no God would . . . hence, there was no God.
I confided my doubts to my dad, who didn’t panic. Instead, he shared that he had also been there, and then placed a tape in my Oldsmobile Alero for my three plus hour drive back to Atlanta. It was a sermon preached by his friend, Dr. Jim Jackson, about this very topic. I can’t remember all of the sermon, but repeatedly Dr. Jackson stated, “That staircase in your heart doesn’t lead to nowhere.”
I clung to that statement and went to counseling for the next year. There, in a safe environment, I unpacked my doubts and put them on the table. I tried on the absence of God and twirled it around as truth. I took my hard questions out of the hidden recesses of my heart and asked them. I shone light on my doubts and waited to see what would emerge.
And, through it all, I was terrified. I was afraid that I would find . . . nothing. Nothing at the top of the staircase. That the foundation of my life had been a terrible lie.
But that’s not what happened.
Somewhere in the midst of that difficult year of counseling and aimless follow-up walks through HomeGoods, faith met me. I wish I could describe it in detail, but I cannot. All I know is that despite my protests, God lifted me out of the “zero” space and reminded me that he loved me. That he loved people in general. That he loved even the people who had hurt me, and that was his right . . . something he had died to earn.
Somehow, that love became enough. And I found that I believed again.
In the end, zero (or close to it) wasn’t such a bad place to be. Scary, yes. Lonely, yes. Empty, yes. But it provided cleared ground for construction of my own beliefs. Brick by brick, nail by nail, it enabled me to build and wear and speak and write something authentic.
I think God honors, even delights in, the hard questions. I think he’d rather us visit Ground Zero than live in a borrowed structure with a heart full of doubts.
So, if you’re there, take heart.
God is with his children . . . in Heaven, but also at Ground Zero.
You can take it from someone who knows.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
– Psalm 139:7-12