No, Frog Sullivan wasn’t telling the high school students at First Baptist Church that Christianity is a myth. The year was probably 1974, and I was the new Sunday School director for the huge sophomore and junior department. I didn’t really know what to do, so I invited the founding leader of Corpus Christi Young Life to come speak. I shall never forget his message.
Too many believe a myth about Christianity: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt live happily ever after.”
No, that wasn’t Jesus’ promise. He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:8)…. Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
Joan Didion: “I did not believe…”
When I interviewed grief expert Helen Harris in Waco last month, I commented that memoirs written by widows tend to be very dark, without any hope for the future. I quoted from Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking:
“I realized that I had never believed in the words I had learned at a child in order to be confirmed as an Episcopalian: I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, amen.
“I did not believe in the resurrection of the body.”
That one set of footprints
Harris had an explanation: Most memoirs are written during the bereavement of Year 1—that year of craziness and haziness, when you’re so very angry that you have been robbed of someone dear to you. She speculated that Didion might have a different perspective now. She recalled the old story of “Footprints in the Sand,” about the person who looks back and sees a single set of footprints and asks God, “Where were you?” And God responds, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints is when I carried you.” Harris added that those who grieve often feel that God is not there for them, but they look back later and recognize that it was God carried them through their grief.
Shortly afterwards, I saw a young friend whose brother had died as a child. She named all the couples in her church who had lost children. “In every case, they say that God carried them through.”
Our children’s pediatrician cared for many of those children. He told Lev and me that he became a believer because he saw a very visible difference in how parents of faith coped with their children’s serious accidents, injuries and death.
We don’t offer sacrifices to a pagan god with the superstitious hope that he will ward off evil. We live in a broken world where bad things happen to good people.
Life is not fair
“It’s not fair,” I protested to Dr. Vernon Elmore, my pastor, when Daddy was diagnosed with always-fatal multiple myeloma in 1979. “He’s a good man. He doesn’t drink. He quit smoking 30 years ago.”
I thought then that Dr. Elmore’s answer was cold: “Ella, life is not fair. We will only find fairness in heaven.” Now, I am old enough to know that he was right. Life isn’t fair. “Living happily ever after” is the ending in fairy tales.
My own comfort: “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
And from 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” If the Apostle Paul did not fully understand or have all the answers this side of eternity, then why should I expect to?
Photo: Jetty Beach, Nantucket, at sunset, 25 Aug 2014