My prayer partner called this morning to say that she wouldn’t be able to make our 7.30am meeting. She asked if there was anything she could pray for me for. I dodged the question and said there was nothing. It was a lie. There is. There’s lots. But it really wasn’t appropriate to pour out my heart to an unsuspecting friend at three minutes past seven in the morning. Besides, she’s not the one I need to talk to about this. I need to talk to God, but I’m finding it hard to pray. The words coming out of my mouth or even forming in my head can’t adequately express how I feel. Writing makes it easier so I’m venting in a blog post – no change there then! The title of this piece is a line from from ‘Panic’, a song by The Smiths. Back then it referred to mainstream radio, but today I’m applying it to the Bible. This isn’t a rant dissing Christianity, it’s about wanting the Bible to say something about my life, because I’m lost and I can’t find it. I listened to a wonderful sermon on Sunday about why it is that God knows all out our suffering, because of what Jesus went through during the crucifixion. I’ve no doubt he knows everything there is to know about that, but what does he know about the sheer, utter FRUSTRATION of the normal, everyday life? Can he help me with that because I can’t find the bit where Jesus looks at his hopes and dreams sailing off into the sunset and comes up with some helpful parable to give me something to hold on to. This is about wanting to believe it, longing to live it and desperate to read something that will help with the unrelenting mess that surrounds me.
I have in front of me a NKJV (New King James Version) Women’s Study Bible. I bought it just over two years ago. It’s a lovely thing to look at, all green embossed cover and silver edging on the leaves. Inside, it’s beautifully laid out and includes some pages at the front where I can record the details of my family; from my own precious children, back through my mother’s family, my father’s family and those people who are special to me. It even includes a copy of something called the Ketubah Marriage Contract. I’ve never noticed it before and it looks, frankly, quite scary. On through the book, each wonderfully laid out page has the biblical text, along with study notes, explanations and periodically, sections expanding on topics that would be of interest to women. There are features on motherhood, time management, God’s plan for marriage, your appearance, keeping fit, weight control and tough subjects, such as euthanasia and eating disorders. It’s a lovely, beautifully presented book, but the thing is, that it isn’t ‘me.’ I am not that woman. I’m not beautifully presented, I’m not perfectly laid out and their box on eating disorders is nothing short of insulting.
They’re right in that Paul gets closest to voicing that inner frustration in Romans 7 when he speaks of things he does that he wished he didn’t do; but it’s one verse. It doesn’t tell you anything about that manifesting itself in anguish lasting decades. The little box doesn’t speak of all the times you’ve prayed and people have prayed for you, and you’ve thrown yourself at the foot of the cross time and time and time again; desperate to do whatever it takes, desperate to be well and desperate for a normal relationship with food. In its light little paragraph it conveys nothing about the utter, utter misery of living with an eating disorder that refuses to leave.
Marriage and family life are painted as a picket-fenced state of loveliness, where your husband adores you and your well-dressed and well-mannered children assist in your efforts to create a warm and welcoming home. Impeccably furnished, of course. It tells me nothing of a marriage that feels like it’s on its last legs, of two busy people and a bone-idle child who share an abode, but really can’t be described as sharing each other’s lives. And don’t think I haven’t bought into that idea of domestic bliss and haven’t tried! Read a great many Christian books and the advice is there, like needles under your nails: Make yourself beautiful for your husband, take care of yourself, wear a pretty outfit. Take care of your home and they’ll start to take care of it too. Tell them in love how you would like them to help you. I’ve been parenting for very nearly eighteen years and telling them ‘in love’ is now a screamed vent of frustration. You might as well talk to the wall. Thank goodness someone invented Twitter. At least there, talking to yourself can be passed off as ‘micro-blogging.’
And where is the help (and I mean proper help, not this 1950s ideas of help) to the woman who finds herself committed to her marriage but in tears because it’s just not giving her what she wants no matter how much they discuss it? You never understand. I explain it time and time again. Why does this never bloody well change? And then the killer advice from those well-meaning Christian women: You need to be the one that changes. Let me tell you, I’ve had years of counselling, I’ve lost 100lbs in weight and I’ve read and tried to implement every Christian self-improvement book on the market and it’s still no better. How much more changing do you want me to do? Is this what it comes down to, me running myself into the ground for someone who still can’t work out that a hug is the first response for any emotional upset?
Where is the help for the woman who is over-whelmed and over-burdened, desperate to feel like she’s making progress somewhere? Is it really in this perfect-looking book when her life feels like something dog-eared, with margin notes, rude words scrawled in blue biro across the end of the pages and coffee mug rings on it? All I can see in here is advice from well-meaning writers who sound like they’ve never had so much as a facial blemish.
And then the guilt starts. Shut up, you’re not living in a war zone. You’ve got your health. You’re not starving. You have enough money to pay your bills. You’ve managed to have one child, be thankful you have that! Your husband doesn’t beat you or mistreat you. You have a job, food in your stomach and a roof over your head – how dare you complain!
Yes, how dare I complain. So you slink away chastened, back to your life that’s safe but frustrating. Back to a life that you’re not allowed to vent about, even though you feel like a complete fraud, a failure and somewhere below an amoeba in the planet’s biological hierarchy. So you go to church and hear that God knows how you feel.
Does he? Do you God? I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and I can’t see the bit where he shares his time as a frustrated, fortysomething woman. Where does it give advice about coping with wanting to scream when you’ve been banging on about the same damn thing for twenty years? There’ll be some platitude about holding your tongue yet again in Proverbs. But nothing ever changes! If I don’t yell at them they don’t know there’s a problem! I’ve tried telling them nicely, I’ve even tried bribing them, but it just doesn’t work! Perhaps Moses would know something about getting frustrated with people, but we don’t hear much about the scream-worthy moments of being the one chosen to lead 2 million moaning Israelites through the desert for forty years.
When you’re worn out from trying, how do you get up yet again and do what needs to be done to sort yourself out, put right a family or rehabilitate a marriage that is essentially in bits on the floor? I know for a fact that God doesn’t have a magic wand. It’s not going to magically go right again. Some effort is going to be required and why is it always me who’s the only one who can see that – or wants that?
I’m not lashing out at God, but lashing out at the way the Bible, or this particular Bible has been presented to me. It’s perfect when I feel anything but. Beautiful, when I can’t even find one thing to like about myself. It gives me neat answers when the reality is much harder and frequently filled with snotty tears. I have faith that somewhere underneath all this wrapping and loveliness is a God who does really know about frustration, but I’m struggling to find it under the surface dressing. I know the Bible’s full of imperfect people – I only have to look at my namesake to get an idea of that – and I know that God still uses them. I hope he’s going to use me but I can’t exactly see where in this hotchpotch of a life.
And here’s the thing, I don’t want to turn into a beautifully coiffed, apron-sporting throwback, because that isn’t me. That would not be the person that God created if that’s what he had planned for me. Surely I’d have some interest in cake baking if that was my calling? I don’t really like cake, I like spicy stuff. I’m savoury, not sweet. I’m organised but only occasionally. I’m passionate but not pretty and there are 1001 other things that don’t make me into some imagined piece of perfection. I’m me. Rachel Lewis. And I hope this isn’t as good as it gets.
If you hang around any church for long enough, you will hear the phrase ‘God will meet you where you are.’ Well, I’m sat in the mess waiting for him and looking in all the places that people tell me to look for God, in the Bible, in people and in prayer. So far I haven’t found him. God speaks about a lot things, but I can’t hear him speaking into my life, or into my situation. Sometimes it feels as if I’m on my own in this. But surely, I can’t be the only one who feels this frustrated and powerless. Am I?