What Do I Know?

As for my faith: I’ve become my father’s son…Doubt one minute, faith the next – sometimes inspired, sometimes in despair. Canon Campbell taught me to ask myself a question when the latter state settles upon me. Whom do I know who’s alive whom I love? Good question – one that can bring you back to life. ~ John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

I’ve tried, I really have. I’ve read each day from a Lenten devotional, one that I myself contributed to. I’ve worn a LIVESTRONG bracelet to remind me to forgive others, and not forget myself while I’m at it. I’ve attended our church’s Wednesday night Lenten services where in stillness and silence and candles we’ve reflected on that prayer the Lord taught us to boldly say. I’ve tried, I really have. But I am unmoved leaning into the culmination of the Christian year. It hasn’t always been this way, but it is this year.

I’ve worried at times I was becoming cynical. Self-deception is quite easy but I really don’t think I’m cynical. I do think I’m despairing, and there’s a difference although I don’t fully understand it. Maybe its my age and all I’ve seen so far that’s causing this feeling. I don’t know. I do know that I’m drawn back to that question from Irving’s masterpiece: Whom do I know who’s alive whom I love?

I love my wife and our three kids, kids who are us but not us. I love our beagle although that fella tries me. I love my parents, my brother and his wife and girls, and all my extended family. I love my grandmother who tries to rest in a nursing home these days, her pain teased by morphine as death crouches at the door. I love my friends, men and women far more faithful to me than I have been to them. I love my neighbors, people who help me shovel snow when its wet and heavy, and loan me ladders when I need to hang Christmas lights. And I love Jesus. I have loved him since I was a child. We’ve grown up together. With the exception of the faces of my father and mother, his is the one I’ve known the longest.

So I will don my old houndstooth blazer, the one I’ve worn several years now because doing so allows me to buy new Easter dresses for my daughters. And if new Easter dresses and plastic eggs rub you wrong, consider yourself rubbed. Please tone down the crusade. And I’ll attend our Good Friday service and sit with the faithful, no doubt some who are as despairing as I am but we still show up and take our place and say the words. And I’ll get up early Sunday morning and watch Johnny Cash’s The Gospel Road, as is my custom, and I’ll begin to weep, as is also my custom, when John the Baptist says ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’

I will celebrate this Easter as one despairing, but also as one who knows whom I love. And maybe in some still, small way that will bring me back to life because I don’t know much, I really don’t, but I do know a little about the greatest of these. 

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  1. alice scott-ferguson on March 27, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    love the loudness of your silent struggle!

    • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:34 pm

      Alice, thank you for reading along…it means something.

  2. nwhannas on March 27, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Wow. Thanks (again).

    • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:34 pm

      Gretchen, you’re welcome, and thank you too.

  3. consolationofmirth on March 27, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    When I think that I am alone in my struggles, when I narrow my eyes at the should’s and ought’s and wonder “who says?”… I read your words feeling encouraged that it’s okay to despair once in a while…or for a year. But on Easter, sacrificial houndstooth and brand new dresses look like the Gospel to me. Pretty sure little Owen would agree.

    • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Heather, that you would call him ‘little Owen’ is a balm to me. Thank you.

  4. Amy K. Sorrells on March 27, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    These thoughts remind me of Lauren Winner’s book, Mudhouse Sabbath, where over and over again she describes the Jewish traditions of saying blessings and praises and psalms on all and every occasion. No matter the state of the heart, they recite them. No matter the state of the off-the-chain world. Still and always they recite the blessings and promises. And still and always (most of the time), the words of the mind and the groans of the heart dance again.

    May all our stones be rolled this weekend.

    For He is risen, indeed.

    • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Thank you, Amy. I took your words as a prayer, to which I say ‘amen.’

  5. Sue on March 27, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Plastic eggs and Easter dresses and soul laid bare – thank you, thank you. Good Friday last I heard Ben Kyle sing his song ‘Mercy’ (youtube) and it lessened the load. Blessings.

    • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Thanks, Sue. I agree with you about ‘Mercy’…it does make light. Blessings to you too.

  6. Teresa Evangeline on March 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    My lord, man, goosebumps at the end. Wonderful, simply wonderful.

    • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      Teresa, thank you for taking the time to comment. Really, thank you.

  7. Diana Trautwein on March 27, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you. Lent saps me every.single.year. And I think maybe it’s supposed to? And I am sometimes the worship leader in the brown houndstooth jacket of despair. But then something shifts, maybe just a little bit, but it shifts nonetheless. The light, the flowers, the laughter on the courtyard afterwards. Maybe the words of the prayer, maybe the words of the sermon. Usually, the music. And that is enough. Thank you, Jesus. And thank you, too.

    • Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk on March 27, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      Oh, I hope you’re right, Diana. This feels like my first real season of lent and I’ve never felt so desperate for a “shift” as you say. I didn’t know it would feel this way.

      • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:41 pm

        Hang in there, Kelly. And I don’t use that phrase in a shallow way. Hang in there.

    • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Diana, I know that shift, and I hope for it in some small way. Thank you.

  8. anamcaratara on March 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I have no words right now, but tears. Thank you.

  9. genesmith12 on March 27, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Thanks John.

  10. Christie on March 27, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Thank you.

  11. S. Herron on March 27, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    John, I don’t know you but I know people who know you and they love you. Thanks for this honesty. This place where you are, Jesus is with you. One of my favorite books of scripture lately has been Lamentations. It’s just beautiful. The dependency. The truthful elegy moves me to know that “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” In the past I’ve used this verse out of context. It’s to be read and understood through some of the most trying and despair-driven text in all of scripture. It should be read with a loud wail and the falling of tears. The rendering of creation wells up within us and we fuddle around, even at Easter. If you are given the sacrament this weekend take it. If not take time to remember the sacrament as his blood was shed…a wounded heart desperate for his father’s love he was…so that the love of your father can be seen, even through desperation.

    He is risen…

    • thebeautifuldue on March 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm

      Scott, thanks for writing. Its not a paralyzing despair, I’m not in the fetal position or anything. Its more the ‘uninspiring’ Irving mentions. Don’t worry, I’ll take the sacrament, because yes, he is risen. I am thankful for the people that both know us, and love us. Grace,

  12. Holly Smith on March 27, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    I am right there with you, John. And I’m not exactly sure why…Sometimes, I feel like I ate the bitter scroll and sometimes I wonder why I did. but in the end, I know He is better than life. I know He is good. And I talk myself out of downcast thoughts with some arrow praises.

    BTW, love your new header! It looks like it needs to be a label on a tasty drink of some kind.

  13. suelarkinsweems on March 28, 2013 at 11:38 am

    This is a beautiful picture of real faith– trusting despite the despair. For me, Lent is always a kind of homesickness and I find myself mumbling under my breath that I am not home yet.

    • thebeautifuldue on March 28, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Thank you for writing, Sue. Yes, not home yet…

  14. Mike Graves on March 28, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Do you love yor enemies? Go visit the poor or jailed today

  15. Mimi on March 28, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I’m new to your blog, John, and so glad I started following in time for this post. A deeper realization of Jesus’ humanity has been gifted to me this Lenten season and it’s brought a strange mixture of calm and sorrow. It struck me as I read your post that Jesus may have had much the same sort of despair as he walked toward the cross. He donned the sacrificial houndstooth blazer so we could have the newness – because he knew whom he loved. Your words bear the Image so eloquently. Thanks and blessings.

    • thebeautifuldue on March 28, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      Thanks, Mimi. I’m glad you found your way here. I very much like what you wrote, it strikes me as true. Blessings to you too.

  16. Julie Olson on March 28, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    New to thebeautifuldue, been following about a month. Beautiful words, honest, touching. I have been in despair for the past 2 1/2 years. Sometimes the crippling lying in the fetal position-if only in my mind- kind. I was entering the empty nest period of life, my youngest going off to college when my oldest gave my husband and me the privilege of raising our precious grandchild-then not yet 2 years old. We had been pretty involved up to this point, but now it was all us, still is. I won’t go into details, just that the love is strong. The desire is there. But the fear, the feeling of unfairness that I should have to once again be there all this way through for another-in this world that can so easily crush a child, when I have no control-can only trust and it’s so hard to trust at times. I cannot make the way clear for this child. So I pray and try to trust. But more often than not I fail and find myself deep in despair knowing what could happen when she’s not in my care but in the care of the one who should love so intensely she would die to protect. Instead, I would die protecting her if I could, if need be-yet I cannot protect. I can only love, and that so intensely I ache. Despair comes, moving over me. I fight to rip it off and spend my day loving, teaching, holding, and praying-praying even when the words won’t come. I know He lives, I know He hears. I know I am where He wants me to be even when it isn’t where I wanted to be. I am working on accepting it all and making it beautiful. I also know that it is okay to hurt, to struggle and find one’s way through to the other side in my own time. It’s okay to question to want it different- for even Jesus asked God if it had to be. He felt anxiety and sweat blood all for me. His body hung broken for all to see so I could fall at the foot of the cross. He lives and I can ask for the eternity I was created for. How can I not do a fraction of that for one little life?

    • thebeautifuldue on March 28, 2013 at 3:13 pm

      Hi, Julie. Thank you for sharing those pieces of your story…I’m sure that’s just the tip of things, and yes – we can only love. I pray this Easter brings you glimpses of joy within the struggle. Thanks again for writing.

  17. Davey R Jones on March 30, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Ah, John, how profoundly you’ve conveyed the heaving sigh. I didn’t even know why I felt what I felt until my eyes told my ache what you said and my ache said, “He’s nailed it on the head.” Such a truth and beautifully couched, sir.

  18. Alia Joy Hagenbach on March 26, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    I felt little but despair and brokenness yesterday and I tried to push past it all because Easter is coming and I want hope that doesn’t make me fear my faith is not strong enough but maybe we often skip past the hollow aching space that is Lent and Good Friday.

    Yesterday, I took it in and allowed the despair and the tears and remembered that my Jesus understands it when I break, He breaks too. I’ve come to better know the God of Solidarity. And maybe, as I’ve thought before, growth isn’t linear, it’s circular like the rings of aged oak, ever expanding. And that expanding hurts sometimes. Maybe when it all circles back around, and I wonder why I’m back where I seemed to have started so long ago, it’s because I really am back. But I know who I love through all the cycles and circles and seasons and that helps.

    Thanks for your words, John. They stick with me in that haunting sort of way.

  19. pastordt on March 27, 2016 at 2:58 am

    Sitting with you as we wait. He is risen – I count on that. Blessed Easter to you and yours, John.

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