A Tree in Winter

23 Feb

He needed someone to listen to him. You could tell.  He was desperate, his blood shot eyes, his greasy hair, his unshaven face.  He had been puking all morning long in our bathroom. He should go home, I told peter.  But He didn’t want to go home.  No, instead he sucked up energy from those of us near him – the sympathetic kind that you give to a burned out soul.  I didn’t mind coddling him.  He had a hell of a week.  He and his fiancé finally broke it off.  The ring is off of her finger.  Her naked finger; his broken soul.

He’s 38, wears bright, ill matching colors and a fedora cap.  He writes and plays reggae music in that I’m a white Christian kid kind of way.  Yet, despite the strangeness of his idiosyncrasies, they are charming – at a distance.  You can tell he wants to be accepted so desperately, aching to be loved wholly.  He was so close.  So damn close.

I feel sorry for him.  I tell him so when he sits down across the breakfast table from me.  Not in those words.  I don’t like telling someone exactly that.  I usually say something more like I’m so sorry this is happening.  And then I wait.  He unfolds his story.  Very briefly.  Very cleaned up.  Very I’m okay, see.  He is talking something, but he is not convincing. He says to me,“We talked last night, it was pretty rough. But by the end of it we decided that there must be some other purpose then marriage for our relationship.  So that helped me understand why this happened.”

He has his bandage now, I think to myself, he has his understanding.  Now he thinks he’ll be okay, meanwhile he’s puking in our bathroom and looking like his broken heart is eating him from the inside out.   You’re not okay, so don’t pretend that finding a quick answer will suddenly enable you to pack up your emotional baggage and move on from this relationship.

I reach out my hand across the table in a swift move just before he gets up to leave.  I need to tell him something.  Something honest.  Something that I know from experience.  He stops and looks at me, bare and broken, like a tree in winter. I say, “Don’t  look so quickly to find an answer.  Sometimes it takes a long time for us to understand something.  And that understanding may not ever come through any answer.”  He smiles a half smile and says something about how he knows that God is always  interested in the process and less of the destination and he walks away.  Another christianese rote answer, I think to myself.

For the last two days I’ve been considering this conversation.  It frustrates me.  Not in the beat your fist on the table kind of way, but in the how do you solve this kind of way.  I guess I feel like the Church is enabling this band-aid, quick-fix-it mentality.  I should know.  I had it or maybe I still have it.  Whatever pain you are in, there is a quick answer, three steps, four words to say, five scriptures to repeat and boom you’re okay. And if it doesn’t work the first time, then try, try again – meaning pray harder.  And most of all, never, never show weakness.  Never admit that you’re losing it. Or if you do admit anything, say that you’re “struggling” and then add a quick recovery line of, “but God is helping me.”

It’s unfortunate, but true.  I imagine God is wondering when we will stop saving ourselves through our own means, our own made up answers, our own church endorsed 12 step programs and learn to be comfortable admitting defeat.  Or in my case, admitting the worst of all, disbelief.

I don’t know how to reconcile what I’m about to say with what I have struggled with so I won’t.  I’ll just say it.  (See how I still look for an answer to my baggage).  Ironic that Job is the first book of the Bible ever written.  The oldest story on earth is about human suffering.  Human hurting, losing it all.  I mean, even Christ ended up dying.  Sometimes I feel that way about my faith.  Having it all, so beautiful, so perfect, so right, and then it fails, forsakes me, right when I need it the most.

Yet, despite all those unanswered questions.  Despite, despite, despite. I believe somehow, though would you mind forgiving this unbelief.  Slowly, dreadfully slowly, I believe again, for no logical reason, against all odds my faith did not curse God and die.  Like Christ, I experience my own personal resurrection.

I know that pain can hold open the door for disbelief.  I’ve experienced it.  Though I wonder, maybe it’s better to have that door open and know that you can survive it – the disbelief, the questions, the clenched fist, than never having the guts to open the door to begin with because you’re too busy slapping your band aid on.  I think many are too scared that their Faith won’t make it out alive if they dare to ask the questions they’re really craving to ask.  Maybe our Faith would be stronger if we allowed ourselves to stay on the cross long enough to ask, “Why did You forsake me?”

I’m asking uncomfortable questions as a result of disbelief in my life and though I am walking through a dark night (in terms of my faith), somehow I am beginning to see the morning; though not through answers, but through time.  Through silence.  Through listening.  Through love.  Through Resurrection.

I know I’m not finished with my learning, or even with this dissatisfaction,  but I’m holding on in a I’m glad we’re friends again type of way.

3 Responses to “A Tree in Winter”

  1. The Sister January 14, 2010 at 2:03 pm #


    I have really been mediating on this quote: “Don’t look so quickly to find an answer. Sometimes it takes a long time for us to understand something. And that understanding may not ever come through any answer.”

    I found that I am at peace now thanks to your message with a situation in my life where I was looking for a response from an individual about their inconsiderate actions. I’ve let go the anger and it floats away like ocean flotsam.

  2. theothergardener January 19, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    Sometimes people should take a vacation. I know this sounds flip, but I have a lot of experience in conflict resolution, mostly in a corporate setting but it applies equally to individuals and family.

    Think of the person as a mechanism stuck on a particular setting, it spins around and around. Part of its problem, as it bumps up against other things blindly, is its environment. But change the environment, people will say, while they’re in this state of disequilibrium, and you won’t change the erratic behavior. But that’s not exactly true, because unlike a mechanism we are also feedback machines, we tend to respond differently if we get different results.

    So a change in environment, especially a dramatic one, might cause you to bump up against different things, and force you to become aware of the problem. By the way, it is your problem, not the guy throwing up in your bathroom. He’ll get over that in his own way.

    • Joy Kusek January 20, 2010 at 12:07 am #

      This is an interesting observation, but I’m confused in how it applies to my problem?

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