When I graduated college I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not sure anyone ever entirely figures that out. Even when one has a normal, well-paying, steady job, has a fabulous relationship, or is happily single, has a nice place to live, has good friends, etc, it’s hard to know if one is ever really satisfied or has figured it out. I think we spend our whole lives “figuring it out,” and I’m not sure that goal is often accomplished in this life. This is all probably pretty cliche by now, but it matters. I think it’s important to be okay with admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going or why. I’ve been getting more comfortable about answering hard questions with “I don’t know.” There are a million questions that I don’t know the answer to, and that’s okay.
I do think it’s important to keep asking questions and to keep learning. On Thursday I went to confession and admitted to something I’ve been avoiding for a long time, and once I did, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. Of course, later I accidentally did it again. However, I think I figured out how to solve the problem. Something I’ve been thinking about for months now is how an infinite, perfect God, who loves everyone, and made everything not only pays attention to, but loves me no matter what. It’s actually the “no matter what” part that baffles me most. The ironic thing is that the more I get to know Jesus, the more I see my own imperfections. I keep trying to answer questions about why he created me and why he loves me, when he just does. I keep asking these questions that I can’t answer because I’m broken and he’s not.
Yesterday I came up with a new question. Why am I broken? Obviously I can jump to original sin, and all that noise, but really my question is, why did humans turn against God in the first place? The cliche answer, of course, is “because we have free will, and maybe we wanted to see what would happen,” or something along those lines. I don’t think people ever entirely grow out of the curious, rebellious child phase. I still have it in me, anyway. I don’t think there is a good explanation. While I don’t like it, I guess it’s a good thing that I’m seeing my mess more, and I do want to clean it up. Before receiving communion in the Catholic Church (and it’s probably the same in other churches), we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” I think it’s helpful to think of my soul as a messy house. He sees the mess and likes me anyway. He doesn’t approve of the mess, and that’s why I’m going to clean it up.
Jesus taught me what love is. I don’t mean that I understand it because of his actions or his teachings, at least not entirely. What I really mean is that he loved me until I loved him back. He loves me completely so I can love him more. Trust me, if it sounds weird to you, it sounds weird to me, too. It understandably sounds insane. For awhile I was using the word “unbelievable,” but that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve switched to “amazing,” which doesn’t really do the feeling justice. It’s amazing and awe-inspiring and baffling and crazy and exciting and a lot of other things that I don’t really have words for. The God of the universe, who was also a regular human being two thousand years ago, and is actually more human than I am, loves me, and I love him.
A lot of things about God “just are.” He wants us to love him because he loves us and he loves us because that’s just what he does. That’s who he is. He has infinite power and can do literally impossible things, but the very core of his being is love, and what’s crazy is that it makes him relatable and in some sense, vulnerable because we can say “no” to that love. He made us knowing that, not only was it a possibility, but that it was going to happen.
Last night I woke up crazy late (or early) and couldn’t sleep for a while, so I decided to read. The Bible site I use was open on my phone, so I went to the chapter I hadn’t read yet this time around, which included the story of the Prodigal Son. Last week, really by accident, I watched a video about this story. Apparently the people Jesus was teaching were familiar with another story that is similar to this one, only at the end of it, the kid’s father gives him exactly what he asks for and no longer considers him his son. I decided to try and find that story, so I googled “prodigal son,” and I didn’t find the story I was looking for, but I did find an analysis of Jesus’ story, which emphasized the role of the older brother.
Apparently, according to Jewish law, the older brother would have got two thirds of his father’s estate when he split it up–not half. Also, while the brothers owned the money and the stuff, they didn’t have control over it, exactly. The younger brother could sell his third, but for one thing, he would have sold it at a loss, and for another, it would have to stay with his father until his father’s death. Furthermore, by asking his dad to split up his belongings in the first place, the younger brother is basically saying that he wants him to hurry up and die. The older brother says nothing. He just takes his two thirds instead of trying to make peace between his dad and his brother. At the end of the story, he’s ticked that his brother is back and safe, but when his dad says “Everything I own is yours,” he means it quite literally.
I think it’s possible to see ourselves in both brothers. Even last night I felt stupid for doing the exact same thing I had confessed to only hours before on Thursday. Sometimes when that kind of thing happens I get a little crazy, so last night after reading that analysis I was praying and I just kept thinking, “Please forgive me.” And then I remembered. It’s no matter what. In the story, God is represented by the forgiving father. He willingly does what his son asks, and immediately forgives him. There’s no mention of anger. I realized last night that sometimes life would be easier if I knew for sure that God was mad at me, but really this is because it’s easy to get mad at someone if they’re mad at you first, so I dropped that thought. Confession is kind of a tool. When I go, it’s not always because I want to. It’s because “sorry” doesn’t really cut it. It’s because explaining what I’ve done wrong isn’t easy, but it’s liberating.
Before returning to heaven, Jesus tells his disciples, “what sins you forgive are forgiven.” He allows people to forgive sins for him. God already knows what we’re going to do, let alone what we’ve done. I think that’s a large part of the reason it’s important to confess to a priest. It’s for us. It seriously cuts through a person’s ego sometimes. It took me quite a while to admit what I needed to, but the first time is the hardest. I think God allowed me to make the same mistake again (key word being “allowed”) so that I’d have to admit it again today. He knows that really irritates me. God doesn’t make anyone do anything. He only asks us to do things, and if we say “yes,” then he’ll work with us to see how far that “yes” will go.
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!