Life can be far more complicated than it needs to be. In those days gone by, everything seemed easier without all the bells and whistles. From what we eat, from what we think, even from what we believe, existence has become a variable checklist of what we should and should not do. The most simple of ideas has the most complex commentary. It has gotten so that almost everything is scrutinized to the hilt. Most days now, I can’t help but wonder if the radish I ate will one day give me cancer. Every spiritual exercise tells me I am on the wrong path. Every Arab with a backpack gives me pause. This condition may seem appropriate within our modern age, but occasionally all those bells and whistles hinder more than they help. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
As a child, I don’t recall the concept of God being so confusing. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention? Perhaps I only heard what I wanted to hear? Regardless, the relationship most of us have with God when we are young is one without judgment. We understand in simple terms. We are not weighed down with formulas, requirements and expectations because we have not been exposed to that kind of thinking. We grow up, we try to find our path, but all the words get in the way. It takes so much time to figure out whether you are coming or going that any point is quite often lost on us. Some keep right on trying and some give in to the futility. No matter how you cut it, there is still just way too much noise.
“Do you remember how the summers felt when we were kids?
Oh we didn't think much about it, we just lived
Taking our time, beautiful leisure
When did we start, trying to measure up?
And all this time, love has been trying to tell us
Don't try so hard”
First I had to be baptised. Then I was confirmed into the Church. Eventually, I was instructed in the logic of communion and joined in the feeding. Then I was told I must accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour. I had to not only ask Him to come into my life, but I must surrender myself. Soon I was required to be born again. I had to ask Christ, once more, to come into my life. This time I had to welcome the Holy Sprit so that it could direct me and fill me with the love of God. If I followed all these Christian prerequisites, if I really meant each one, I would have the relationship that I longed to have with God. This all seemed like an awful lot of words to me.If I truly was a child of God, and a follower of Jesus, I would have to act and present myself in certain ways. There were set rules I had to follow to get where I assumed I had just come from. I was told that my works would determine God’s Grace for me. I was told that Faith was all I needed. I had to tithe. I had to go to Church. I had to walk in the light and sin no more. I had to believe what the Church believed. My political, social and spiritual positions had to conform with the ideologies of the sect that I currently found myself trying to wrestle within. I must hate the sin yet love the sinner. There were many times I felt like I was in a giant maze rather than a member of a congregation. It was all I could do to find my way through.
I was rejected because I refused to believe like they believed. I was tossed out for who I was and for how I thought, but most of all for how I refused to think. My sexual orientation, I was informed, was a demon I would need to cast out. When the exorcism failed, it was not the laying of hands that had met defeat but my willingness to allow God to cure me. I was to blame, not Jesus. No matter where I went, or why I went there, one formula after another met me on the way. I half expected to be given a prescription with precise instruction on how to find salvation in the bottle.
“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the
The other day, I was heading down to the parking garage on the elevator. It’s a fairly brief ride considering the 18-floor drop to the subbasement and the car. On the 15th floor, the door opened and a young woman entered with a large, bulky stroller and her toddler son folded into its basket. She made no eye contact and said nothing as she entered. The door closed after she selected the 1st floor and the space fell silent. From beginning to end, she stared directly at the door and said nothing. Talk about awkward. The carriage was so quiet, too quiet, then I remembered there was also a baby on board.Out of the corner of my eye I could see him. He just laid there like a pile of flesh, no movement, no indication that he was even breathing. I caught a glimpse of rustling and turned my head to look. From his mother to me and back again, over and over, the entire time he just laid there studying us both. You could tell from the look of him and the way he gazed at us that he wasn’t sure what was going on. He might even have been saying to himself “what the hell?” It was a curious thing to watch him glance back and forth between the two adults. It almost seemed like he was learning.
I will never be sure what was going on in that little head of his, but I am sure of what he wasn’t thinking. He did not assume the silence came from a bitter place. He did not assume that I failed to speak because his mother was a Latino and he did not think his mom was silent because she feared what I might do to her. All he knew was the quiet. All he cognized was what he experienced, not what someone had taught him to think. He was perusing the two of us, not presuming something that he had been conditioned to know. When the elevator opened at the ground floor, she shuffled around and began to push his safety out into the world. Suddenly, he started crying.
“Another Monday comes and I just wanna breathe
Cause it's a long, long week for someone wired to please
I keep taking my aim, pushing it higher
Wanna shine bright, even brighter now
Wish I would tell myself
Don't try so hard”
God is easy. It’s all the crap that comes with Him that complicates the matter. Everyone has an opinion and everyone thinks their opinion is correct. There are countless volumes of exegesis and eisegesis and speculation that goes far beyond the written word. Every day it seems like there is some new spiritual revelation that claims to answer it all. Even if just one was correct in its presumptions, how could you find it among all the clutter? So many rules to follow. So many choices to make. It seems hard to imagine anyone finding their way among all the bells and whistles.I strive to be better. I want to please my partner, my Dad and my friends. It is important to me to discover and maintain both the aesthetical and spiritually rewarding aspects in my life. Most of all, I want to please God. The very purpose of my day-to-day existence is to walk closer to Him, to get to Him through all the dissonance. I find myself reaching, pushing, hoping that I am on the appropriate path and heading in the right direction. At the end of each day, despite my intentions, it is still just so hard to block out all the noise. I tend to find God when I find silence.
Children know the way. Their wide-eyed and innocent demeanour masks great instinct. They do not need to be told what to do, or feel or think, especially when it comes to something Holy. We burden them with far too much criticism. We invade their silence. We should be learning from them and not the other way around. Well meaning adults simply help them to forget who they really are and that you just can’t learn God.
All those interpretations and demands, swirling around religion, only act to distract us. We try too hard. It is a difficult thing to know peace in such a noisy world. Quite often, you need to rest in the silence. If you don’t understand the silence, how can you ever understand all the words? God already loves you, despite what well-meaning noisemakers may claim. He accepts you just the way you are. We are saved by love. The rest is all commentary, cultural expectations, not Divine invitations. Those who think they are wise are fools making noise while playing with all those bells and whistles.
“Don't try so hard
God gives you grace and you can't earn it
Don't think that you're not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He's not leaving
Gave you His Son so you'd believe it
You're lovely even with your scars
Don't try so hard”
(Don’t Try So Hard, Amy Grant 2013)