When I was in high school, we used to put our reports into these clear plastic folders and there was a hard plastic, skinny, tube-shaped part that clipped on to the seam to secure the loose papers. I think they still have them. Anyway, the clear plastic folder always kind of stuck to itself and you used to have to pry it apart a little at the edge to get it to open, but when you did, it could hold quite a bit of work.
Yesterday while walking the dog and praying, I had the sensation that I was moving into one of those skinny, clinging folders at the open edge, and even though that is super-weird, I immediately understood what God was trying to tell me. All along in our Catholic-Christian education, we are told that the path to God is narrow. Scores of parents, religion teachers, and priests have interpreted that the narrowness has to do with our behavior. So they teach: don’t stray from the path, or you’ll never get in. Yesterday, I realized the startling truth of the narrow path to a narrow gate. It does exist, but it’s not your behavior that gets you to God. It’s pain.
I have come to understand in a very difficult season that it’s loss, pain, and struggle that bring you to God. You can never be right enough or good enough to earn that Love, and a true awareness of the overwhelming mercy and personal help of Jesus will only come to you when you really need it. Desperate, on your knees.
I’ve struggled and finally had to let go of a lot over the past five years: my mother, a place in my nuclear family, many assumptions and ideas, my identity, my growing kids, and an unspeakable amount of control I thought I had all along. Everything I’ve struggled over and ultimately lost has torn a ragged hole in me. And as a result, I am super-holey. But as either Hemingway or Leonard Cohen said, the broken places are where the light gets in. I’m pretty broken, and as I’ve walked through this season of my life, I see how God is using it. I see how He’s shining in me in those places to help other people, and I have to hand it to Him. He knows what He’s doing. He always did.
Now I am beginning to understand all those scripture verses where someone talks about rejoicing in their suffering, and how they have peace that passes understanding. It comes from viewing life through a different lens. It comes from a narrow road that is all about dependence on Jesus. There is peace amid trials with Him, and I’m slowly getting it. As I walk this narrow road, the picture is coming into focus, and ever so slowly, my life and work are coming to fruition. I’m walking into that folder, like it’s a bit of an alternate universe, almost like Heaven on Earth, and it’s changing how I see things.
As Fr. Richard Rohr said, “We don’t come to God by doing it right. We come to God by doing it wrong.” Ah, it’s so true. Our church’s emphasis on the behavior of believers is important, I know, but it is really missing the point and it may leave lasting marks on our kids as they move through Christian education and formation. If we could earn love and grace by what we do, that would be an awfully small box for God to live in, wouldn’t it? The idea that we can control His actions to bless or curse by our own good or bad behavior seems to indicate that we are really the ones in charge, and it can’t be so. No. The love of God is wild and overwhelming. It’s a gust of wind and a drenching rain, falling on each one of us. Coming to truth and the need for mercy is the narrow road that will set us free. And it’s as simple and as hard as taking a breath and slipping into a spare, small alley that you never thought you could fit in, and continuing to walk until our vision is changed for good. It’s there that the work is secured and held in such a way that someone else can read it. When it’s all said and done, maybe that’s why we’re here.