Straight Path

Just last month, our family had a mini-reunion for my brother’s wedding. Like many, family is a mixed bag for me. Though I was glad to see them again, I dreaded having to deal with the differences that existed between each of us. Personalities. Ways we do life. What we like to talk about. How we express (or don’t) ourselves. The list can go on and on.

My first exchange with my dad after coming home from picking him up from the airport was his affectionate hug with my awkward one and his not-too-serious-but-still-sincere “Are you okay?” with my quick yeses, hoping for the conversation to be over as soon as possible. I knew he had said that because he finally knew that I had difficulties with my parents’ rocky relationship. In my head, I thought: “Thanks, but that definitely isn’t enough. You do care, but outside of words you’re just really bad at it.” From our last conversation several months ago, I knew that he considered their ceaseless fighting, disrespectful words, and absence of love for each other as little more than small bumps on the road to growing up.

When I reflect on the many tumultuous times that led up all the way to that uneasy moment, several thoughts come to me. First and foremost are the things I had wanted for a long time (and still want) from my dad: For him to realize the kind of pain their dysfunction caused. To understand that he is not always right. To know that every single relationship has differences to work through. To apologize, with an understanding of what he’s apologizing for. But secondly and more importantly, I remember the things I had bitterly wanted from God even only a short while ago: For Him to know how lonely I felt. For Him to see that I felt so betrayed and wronged. For Him to make things right, if He were really there.

During my years in college, my parents’ relationship was at one of its lowest points. Like I said, I desperately wanted God to make things right. There was pain, there were prayers, and there were honest talks that might have been breakthroughs. I tried to hold onto the belief that suffering has purpose. I tried to be as patient as I could because I believed that God worked in His own time. I tried to “let go, and let God.” After all, He was the Prince of Peace who would be faithful to answer me. But whether by my inability to listen, God’s decision to be silent, or something else, I heard nothing but my own voice trying to make sense of everything, going in circles about how this might be God, that might be Him talking, trying to pull epiphanies out of thin air until confusion overcame everything and swept up any desire to make sense of anything anymore.

Eventually, I broke. My parents’ relationship kept exploding in my face, so I turned away from them and away from God. Prayer? I was done hearing my own voice saying habitual phrases and racking my brain to figure out whether a fleeting thought was something from God or exactly what it probably should have been – a fleeting thought. Reading the Bible? I was done trying to forcefully connect the dots from the Bible passage back to my own life. My feet still took me to church as they have all my life, but in these times I truly felt unreachable. I quietly seethed with distrust and contempt whenever even a hint of “God’s goodness” or “faithfulness” was mentioned. People all around me either seemed to attribute every frivolous thing in their lives to God or had spiritual experiences that were profound, perhaps, yet too singular to comfort my damaged condition. But that was okay, because that damage was good reason to live my life the way I wanted to and to only concern myself with the things I wanted to be concerned with.

I think the following few years were most interesting (for lack of a better word). At my core, I could not ignore the story of Jesus and was still convinced that Jesus was the ultimate hope; I think that was the reason I still went to church, despite the anger and disbelief I felt most of the time. But also at my core, I could no longer bring myself to trust God and all the great things about God that I had heard all my life. I felt that I had been fooled into believing something that only held water for those willing to bend their experiences and realities to its “truth.” The end result? I would periodically muster up the energy to rehash my complaints to God, only to hit a wall. Every time I approached God with the intention of understanding, submitting, making things right with Him, I vividly relived the times I felt abandoned and deceived. Anger would take over, then afterwards partly subside, and the cycle repeated.

Last May during a sermon, I learned anew the story of Thomas the Apostle (John 20:24-29). He has the unfortunate nickname “doubting Thomas,” because he refused to believe the resurrection of Jesus when the other disciples first gave him the news, forever pinning himself as the stubbornly doubt-filled man. But delving into who Thomas was prior to Jesus’s death paints a very different picture of his negative response to the resurrection:

One of the previous stories, one of my favorites, is [when] the disciples are gathered, and Jesus [says] “I’m going back to Jerusalem.” And it was where people had just tried to stone him. People had just tried to kill him […] Everyone [said] “Uh… are you sure you want to go back there?” And Thomas speaks up. He [says] “Jesus, we will go with you, and we will die with you.” So – Thomas is down. Thomas is a gangster. Thomas is [saying] “We are in this! We are in it. We are gonna die. I’m up for that. Sign me up!” And so […] it’s such a bad thing to think of him as this weak faith-ed, doubting sort of person.

But here’s where if you think about Thomas as being someone who is down, somebody who is all in, somebody who is super passionate, I think it makes sense, his reaction on the other end. […] The people who doubt the most, sometimes, are the ones who believe the most. The people who are the most cynical are the ones who at one point, had the most faith. And here is Thomas, who used to be “I am all about this,” when Jesus dies and nothing makes sense […] there’s a way in which Thomas, takes it harder, I think, than the other disciples. [1]

Thomas is not even with the disciples when Jesus first appears to them. Though the Bible does not say why, it isn’t hard to believe that Thomas did not want to be anywhere near the other disciples. They reminded him of his time with Jesus, the guy that went off and died on a cross when he was supposed to change everything. He didn’t want to deal with the anger, disappointment, and grief. So he went away, and he wasn’t coming back. Eventually the disciples had to go talk to him to get him to return. Again, we have to fill in some blanks but can imagine that the conversation went something like this:

They go to Thomas and say, “That guy Jesus, he beat death. He beat death! Dude, he beat death.” And Thomas’s reaction […] lets you know where he is at. His answer is basically, “So what?”

He goes, “I’ve seen Jesus feed the five thousand. I’ve seen him walk on water. I’ve seen him raise Lazarus from the dead. I’ve seen him calm the wind and the waves, I’ve seen that. I know! I know all this stuff […] But, unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side – I will not believe.” [1]

And many of us know the rest of the story. When Jesus shows himself again to the disciples, he invites Thomas to see his wounds. In those moments Thomas’s doubts turns into passion, with the exclamation “My Lord and My God!”

This story was a game-changer for me. Not only did it confirm that my experience was normal, but also it showed me that my experience was shared by someone who was so close to Jesus and who in the end, remained close to him. However, serious questions remained for me. What about the way that I had acted thus far? What of my accusations against God? My reaction wasn’t the “Christian” thing to do. Shouldn’t I have endured my suffering no matter what the cost? I had clearly veered from the straight path. But then again, wasn’t my pain real? Wasn’t it something worth being angry about? Confused about? And moreover, I didn’t just give up; I tried so hard but failed. Was I supposed to “just try harder”? How is that fair? All these various questions culminated in this: What did that straight path that I seemingly had veered from, the one that I should have taken, look like? And most importantly, was it ever possible for me to have taken it?

Here are some reflections that I’ve put together to try to make sense of those questions and my hardship with God.

For me, the hardest moments were the wrestles with doubt. Though I tried to be faithful and patient while trying to mend the broken relationships in my family, I eventually gave out under the weight of the situation. Then the doubts flooded in: Is God really good? Does He really care about me? Does He even exist? And unluckily, the Bible seems to reproach doubt in several different places (Take James 1:5-8 for example). Especially in these difficult moments, it seemed as though God demanded so much faith, so much self-control and holiness, asking for something resembling perfection even with the gift of His forgiveness of my imperfections. As fights worsened and prayers remained unanswered, I became doubly discouraged at my inability to remain faithful and God’s apparent refusal to act. I think here, I started to tire out and become frustrated, festering my discouragement into resentment.

But with that said, I think the discouragement, frustration, or resentment that we feel sometimes starts from a willingness to persevere and obey. The willingness to face our wrongdoing. Willingness to ask for forgiveness and to receive it again and again. The willingness to take our faith with us as we go into places of hurt, anger, and sadness. The willingness to try to embrace our faith as we face doubts. I do think some see triumph quickly, and we hear these stories often. But there are others, like Thomas, who don’t immediately succeed; rather, they become confused, hurt, captured by the very things they set out to overcome. Deviate from the “straight path,” so to speak. But I’m willing to believe that in the end, God honors all that, wherever one may be – just like how Jesus came to show his wounds to a man who cried “I will not believe” so that his passion could return. Feeling confused, doubtful, or angry – we commonly think these things don’t have a place where there is faith, perseverance, and God. But perhaps all of these, to a certain extent, inevitably co-exist.

And so I think God knew that I tried. He knew how lonely I was and how I felt betrayed. But I have reason to believe that I was not deceived and that better things will come. Could somebody have handled my situation with more patience, prayer, and faith? Absolutely. Even for Thomas, Jesus ends with this: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) But what is it to me, if someone could have done it another way? If this was the path ordained for me by God – and now I believe it is so – then so be it; this will be my straight path.

[1] Kim, Larry. “Stepping Out, Week 4.” Cambridge Community Fellowship Church. 3 May 2015. Sermon Recordings. Web. 7 Sept. 2015. < >.

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