“Mystery is not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend.”
You know those moments when you’ve been sleeping deeply and suddenly a loud noise has you wide awake, sitting bolt upright, your mind on full alert, ready to jump into action?
I’ll never forget a night like that when I was just thirteen. I was living with my family in a remote, dusty little town in Pakistan – a tiny little town right on the border between democracy and tribal-law. My family and the Melbourne family we lived alongside had sought special permission to work there and we were the first foreigners to have made it our home.
It was the Christmas holidays and our two families (with ten kids between us) had travelled twenty-four hours by train from our boarding school in the Himalayas to our family homes. I shared a room with my two younger brothers – they on a bunk-bed and me on a single-bed behind a partition. As the story often goes, one of my brothers fell from the top bunk while he slept. As he landed, he hit his head on a metal trunk next to the bed. The noise must have been substantial and I was woken immediately. I rushed around the corner to find my brother delirious, babbling incoherently and clearly not his usual self.
My dad rounded the corner soon after me and started to quickly determine the situation and what needed to be done. There were no hospitals or emergency services nearby but dad was a nurse and his colleague next-door was a doctor so after the initial check of my brother, my dad moved to get help from next-door. At that moment, before dad could move away, I said, “Wait, dad, we need to pray.” And there, before any other plan of action, my dad stopped in his tracks and stood with me to pray.
I sometimes look back at that moment and wonder at my faith. At just thirteen, I felt with absolute conviction, that the first thing to do was to pray. I had no doubt that there was a God of love that could be absolutely trusted and was worth calling out to. We didn’t understand the whole situation, we didn’t know the damage, we didn’t know the future, but we knew that we could pray.
I wish I could say that the certainty of my faith continued to remain so sure, but my faith took a battering on returning to Australia and into my adult years. Especially during my time at university, the questions, the doubts and the ‘logical’ explanations about life and our origins abounded. I listened to the naysayers, I heard the ridicule of those who think believing in God – any God – is medieval, unscientific, naive or weak. I heard I cried, I searched, I angered, I read and I prayed.
At the time it felt like tearing my heart out. I searched myself deeply and questioned my long-held beliefs in a quest to personally understand what I’d known since my childhood. I got to a point where my certainty about religion, tradition and theology was teetering precariously. I began to earnestly strip back the ‘easy answers’ when confronted with an often cruel, confusing and complex world. The journey was not a short one, but as I sifted through all the murkiness, I found at my core a simple faith that I couldn’t turn my back on; a very core belief in the absolute love of God. It was solid, it was sure and it was real.
That faith has stood the test of time and I now know that I can struggle with my doubts and questions about the state of the world while still believing in the ultimate existence of God. To be honest, I find that an element of uncertainty is a more comfortable companion than absolute certainty. There seems to be more room for kindness and compassion in this world when we can learn to listen and understand both sides of a story, and when we refrain from dishing out ‘easy answers’ to difficult questions. I believe in a God who can be trusted with my uncertainty and I pray along with the ancient prayer: ‘That I may understand anew how wide, how long, how high and how deep is the love of God, and that in his love I may find rest’.
Perhaps you think I’m crazy, or just deluded…but the unconditional love of God is one of those things I just can’t shake.